While lots of country artists wear hats, few are bona fide hall of fame cowboys like Clay Walker.
The singer was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame earlier this year. And he’s releasing his new album, “Long Live the Cowboy” later this summer. The 45-year-old Texas native brings his songs, and his black hat, to the Gallo Center for the Arts in downtown Modesto on May 22.
Still, it’s been a beat since Walker last delivered some new music – five years in fact. But now the multiplatinum-selling star is ready to release his newest studio album. The time away, he said from the road in Tennessee, has helped him gain perspective on where country music is headed.
“I would say there’s never been a better time to release an album,” he said in a recent phone interview. “The music has gone through a lot of changes and a lot of growth in the last few years. We’ve seen the sound of country music go through a radical change. That’s been good. I’ve been able to have a catbird seat, seeing what people like and dislike.”
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Indeed, the country landscape has changed considerably since 1993 when Walker burst onto the scene with his debut single, “What’s It to You,” which shot to the top of the Billboard charts. In the more than 20 years since, he has sold 11 million albums and charted another five No. 1 singles including “Live Until I Die,” “This Woman and This Man” and “Rumor Has It.”
But Walker isn’t pining for the old days, either. He said the changes in country have helped the genre for the better.
“It’ll never be the same; we will never go back to the way it was in the ’80s or the ’90s or anything like that. Which is good,” he said. “This change in the music has definitely helped country music grow. I think I’ve been able to make an album of music that falls right where it should be.”
And where that is is back to keeping country music more pure, unblurred by other genres like hip-hop and rock, Walker said. The singer describes the dalliances with other musical styles as being like trying on different clothes.
“It’s like there are clothes you’d wear to a club and clothes you’d wear to a wedding,” Walker said. “For a little while it seemed fun to wear club clothes to the wedding. But now it’s like, ‘I think it’d be nice to dress for a wedding to a wedding.’ ”
He said while hip-hop and other genres are popular, even among country fans, country’s recent experiments with other formats have not proven as popular.
“I don’t think the fan base has changed at all. When I was growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s everyone loved hip-hop. That’s not new. There’s no secret there,” he said. “But I do blame our format a little bit for feeling like we needed to add that element to our format.”
Also, don’t get Walker started on artists from those other formats coming into country late into their careers. To put it lightly, he’s not a fan.
“I can’t stand to see outdated rock-and-rollers coming in to play country music. That really pissed me off,” he said. “We have great singers, great country musicians. There’s no reason we have to dilute it by letting people in the format that don’t have any business being in the format.”
Of course, just because Walker doesn’t take kindly to interlopers in country music doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to open himself up to other things. In 2013, the singer ventured into his first acting role, a small part in the historical drama, “Alone Yet Not Alone.”
“It was a humbling experience; I thought I’d be much better at it than I was,” he said. “Now I’m determined to be better at it. I’m practicing and taking lessons and looking for my next role. My No. 1 goal and passion is still music. But if I can use acting as a way to promote that, it’s great.”
While Walker may be new to film, he’s already a regular on TV. The singer is in his third season as host of the Outdoor Channel hunting series “Trophy Hunters.” Walker, who is is a lifelong hunter and cattleman, said he considers the sport part of conservation and wildlife management.
“We have a responsibility, I feel, as human beings to manage wildlife, especially because we’ve built these large cities and crowded the animals out,” he said. “Hosting a TV show is really fun and something that comes natural to me. There’s no rehearsal, it’s just straight-up real life.”
Another part of Walker’s life, which he has been quite public about, is his battle with multiple sclerosis. The star was diagnosed with the disease in 1996 and since then has worked as an advocate to raise money for the cause. He founded Band Against MS (BAMS), a nonprofit charity that funds MS research and education, which has raised more than $2 million over the years.
“All people know we’re not just here on the Earth to drag the sack and rake in money. So are we going to leave this place a better place than when we went in it?” he said. “That’s what I feel about life. A lot of people suffer with MS. I’ve been blessed: I’m still able to walk around and play golf. So I help others not doing as well.”