Wheeler Walker Jr. at the Sinclair
Wheeler Walker Jr.
If, as Kinky Friedman once said, “an artist is a man who’s ahead of his time and behind on his rent,” then consider Wheeler Walker, Jr. the Michelangelo of country music. Now, of course I’m biased, being a dear friend of the man’s for going on damn near thirty years now. But keep in mind: I’m an official Colonel of the Great State of Kentucky. They don’t hand that shit out to just anybody.
You can’t begin to talk about Wheeler without first talking about the Bluegrass State. We ain’t talkin’ ‘bout the Ashley Judd, Rosemary Clooney, Billy Ray Cyrus version of Kentucky. Wheeler comes from that special Kentucky dirt, the dirt that brought us Hunter S. Thompson, Loretta Lynn, the Everly Brothers & Johnny Depp (Just his good movies of course. Not that lame Pirates dogshit.)
I still remember the first time I laid eyes on young “Wheels” (as he was known back then). A local talent contest in nineteen-eighty something. The kid had a gift. Singin’ those Hank Jr. and George Strait songs better than the originals. He didn’t win that day, on account o’ him changing the lyrics of “All My Rowdy Friends are Coming Over Tonight” to “All My Rowdy Friends Will Blow Each Other Tonight”. But a friendship was sealed, and in some ways, the Wheeler I met that day hasn’t changed a lick: Pissin’ people off, can’t win for losin’… but making sure nobody who saw him would ever forget the name Wheeler Walker, Jr.
So it came as no surprise to me (or his lovely, supportive parents) that when I went off to the University of Kentucky, Wheeler decided to skip the whole college thing and instead boarded a bus to Nashville. (I graduated with an English degree. Most Colonels do. Diction is the forte of all Kentucky Colonels, and an integral part of what makes us who we are.)
Wheeler got his first breaks early. Famed country A&R man Ronnie Phillips heard him playing at the Bluebird Café and signed him to Capitol Nashville. He was partying with the new “young bloods” in town: Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban. I remember envying his life in those days: Stayin’ up late, drinkin’ beer, smokin’ grass, knee deep in that sweet Tennessee muff. Wheeler had it all.
Unfortunately Wheeler could never quite get along with “the man”. Wheeler doesn’t like being told what to do. Never has. That’s what his heroes Waylon, Willie, Johnny and Hank taught him.
After refusing to censor his songs, Capitol dropped him. (Wheeler being Wheeler, he broke into the studio to steal back his master tapes – but those studios are dark at night, and he ended up stealing some shitty Lee Greenwood album instead. I’ve still got a framed portrait of the both of us pissing on it while it burned.)
Kasey Tyndall’s sweet southern charm is often rudely interrupted by an impressive collection of rock ’n’ roll t-shirts. AC/DC, Ramones and Guns ’n Roses — crop tops preferably.
“You can help me Mr. Dave, I have so many,” she says looking with wide, innocent eyes toward her manager when pressed to quantify her collection. “Stryper. I just went on tour with them, it was awesome. I wear my Stryper shirt a lot. Some of my other favorite shirts are Bon Jovi, Loverboy, Lucinda Williams, Jason Isbell … ”
Yes, she calls her manager Mr. Dave and her agent Mr. Jay – that’s kind of her thing, recognizable by anyone raised in the south. But she says their name with respect and reverence instead of the sass and flare one would expect from a girl who prefers leather and denim over dresses and heels, just like she prefers a rowdy crowd dancing on a bar top over a seated one golf-clapping after each song.
Don’t be totally fooled — Tyndall isn’t a rocker hiding in a cowgirl town. Her Eastern North Carolina accent and penchant for aching love songs gives her away as a grounded country thoroughbred. The newly released “Everything Is Texas” is a heartbreak song so deep it nearly made the guy she wrote it about cry.
Each night on the road before playing "Everything Is Texas", Kasey Tyndall tells the story behind the song and how the guy she loved, a Texas-native, just disappeared on her. No explanation - just up and left. “His face … I almost felt bad for him,” she says with guilty laughter as she recalls the night he turned up in her crowd and planted himself front row.
The heartfelt song was penned with the help of Lena Stone and Lainey Wilson.
Tyndall’s journey to Nashville was accelerated in 2014 when she won a radio station contest to sing “We Were Us” with Keith Urban. Opportunities came quickly after that late summer performance, including signing with WME’s Jay Williams for booking (Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Dierks Bentley). The then college student was greener than new money when she moved to Music City — during her first co-write she had no idea she was working with Doug Johnson (Randy Travis, Lee Brice, Rascal Flatts) until he stepped away and the other writer in the room, Nick Autry, said, “Do you know who that is?”
“Anyone that’s big … I get super nervous,” Tyndall says, the anxiety flushing her face even as she thinks about writing with some of the veterans and legends she’s sat down with. She’s has opportunity to be nervous a lot lately. Neil Mason from the Cadillac Three, Driver Williams from Eric Church’s band and Tommy Cecil are a few of the seasoned writers she’s worked with. A publishing deal with Sony ATV promises to bring more top-end talent to her door. After working with her, Cecil (Luke Bryan, Jake Owen, North Carolina’s Parmalee) agreed to produce her EP due in March 2017.
During a song like “Who I Ain’t”, a song on Tyndall's upcoming EP, the fire inside this fast-rising singer breaks containment. Between songs and offstage, Tyndall couldn’t be more approachable. She’s quiet, but increasingly confident about who she is, and who she ain’t. “I wasn’t the prettiest or most popular or anywhere remotely close to that,” she says recalling high school. Her multiplying fan base appreciates this and her rock anthems have become their anthem.
“You get on social media and you see society saying ‘That’s what you should look like.’ I instead wanna be a voice of ‘Hey it’s totally OK who you are, just like you are.'”
Tyndall did over 100 tour dates in 2016, doing runs with the likes of Kane Brown, Granger Smith, Casey Donahew, and The Cadillac Three... and there appears to be no slowing down in 2017. As Tyndall explains,“I love to sing and perform and I’m thankful for anyone who wants to listen. It’s almost like my fans and I have this team. It’s kinda the ‘Be who you are’ team. And I’m blessed to have the best team in the world.”