Seth Walker constantly moved when he played centerfield in a pair of cleats on the baseball field.
He never dreamed he’d one day be performing his original country songs in a pair of cowboy boots on stage.
A lot of things Walker, 28, never thought about five years ago now are realities.
“I never thought my album would go to No. 20 on the iTunes chart,” he said. “It’s kind of been almost too fast. We’ve opened up for seven people who are on national radio.”
Walker and his band’s show sold out the last time they played at The Bluff. The line stretched down the block, he said. “I had no idea it was going to lead to something so big.”
Growing up in Memphis, baseball was Walker’s passion. “I played in high school at Christian Brothers. Then I went and played at Northwest Mississippi in college and Lee University.”
He picked up the guitar in high school, but he wasn’t serious about it. “I got like two chords down. I tried, but I just wasn’t dedicated enough to learn it. And then playing baseball all the time - that pretty much took over my whole life.”
Walker’s dream of a baseball career suddenly came to an end. “Right before the draft my senior year I decided to go play basketball with some friends. I tore my patella tendon in my knee. I was going up for a layup and somebody undercut me. I just remember my kneecap being up there. And I had to have surgery the next day. They told me that I probably wouldn’t play baseball again for a long time. I was 22.”
Baseball was his life. “I went into a really bad depression after that ‘cause I thought I was going to do that for the rest of my life. I just got real down. I couldn’t move for a month and a half or two months. I was just watching ‘Criminal Minds’ on the couch for a while. Scared the hell out of me and depressed me even more. It probably wasn’t a good show to watch.”
He picked up a copy of Tim Tebow’s “Through My Eyes.” “It really inspired me to get up off the couch and go to physical therapy. Just the fact that the guy is a winner. His passion for everything that he does. His mental strength. Nobody’s better than him. And he’s going to outwork you no matter what. It just got me off my butt.”
Walker’s brother, Brad, invited him to play in the youth choir at church. Walker showed Brad how to play a couple of chords back in high school.
Walker began selling insurance and was successful at it. “I started coaching at Southwest (Community College). I did that for a year, but it was interfering with my insurance job, so I had to stop.”
In addition to the church group, Walker played guitar and sang “just with friends. Actually, it took me quite a while to sing in front of that many people. It’d just be a bunch of our friends drinking at the pool. Just messing around on the guitar.”
Walker made an insurance call at Coffee in the Attic, a Covington coffee shop. “I went in there to get their business and asked the guy, ‘Do you all have live music?’ My buddy’s like, ‘Man, you should play here.’”
He played one Saturday night. “And that’s how it all started.”
Walker played in front of about 20 people at church, but performing at the coffee shop was a different story. “There were like over 100. I couldn’t even put the capo on my guitar I was so nervous. And I was singing every song so fast. I sang the first song in a minute and a half and it’s a three and a half minute song. Thomas Rhett’s ‘Take You Home.’ It probably sounded like a rap song when I was singing it.”
The crowd reaction was phenomenal.. “I broke the fire code. That was pretty cool. People standing on the bar. There was just too many people in that one place.’
Walker was hooked. “I just wanted to do it again, so I played at the old Dan McGuinness (Pub) on Spottswood. And I just kept playing. Kept developing that following.”
He decided to record a single. “I’d always wanted to put out a song. It was like a dream. Nobody else had done it around here. None of my friends had.”
Walker thought, “I don’t care if it sucks or not, I still want to do it.”
A buddy introduced him to Justin Rimer, co-owner of Crosstrax Studio and a veteran member of bands, including 12 Stones and Breaking Point. Walker recorded “Whiskey and a Dirt Road,” which he and his brother wrote, at Crosstrax. “I spent all my birthday money - 1,400 bucks.”
The song is about “seeing a girl at the bar,” Walker said. “ It could be anywhere. And just not having the nerve to talk to her. Then downing a couple of drinks and talking to her. And just riding backroads. Something we do in Covington.”
Rimer was impressed the first time he heard Walker. “I was like, ‘Man, there’s something going on with this guy,’” he said. “His voice is unique in a world where the country voices are very cliche. And I could see he was very eager. He was humble to a world he didn’t know anything about.
“We did this one song, ‘Whiskey and a Dirt Road,’ and we put it out on social media. And, literally, the next show he played sold out. In any town it’s hard, but it’s especially hard in Memphis. Especially when there’s no air play. There was nothing but a social media presence. And the show sold out.
“When you see something like that it’s like, ‘Wait a second. Something’s going on. People are attracted to this guy. They’re attracted to his music and they want to come out and see him.’ And that’s a rarity these days.”
He and Rimer began hanging out, Walker said. ““He actually became one of my really good friends after ‘Whiskey and a Dirt Road,’” he said. “We would go to (TJ) Mulligan’s on Trinity and hang out. One day he invited me: ‘Hey, I want to talk to you about some things.’”
“I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to start a record label for you and I’m going to sign you,’” Rimer said. “So, I literally started Crosstrax Records for him. And he’s my only artist.”
“I told him, ‘Man, I’m not scared to perform. If you want to do this, it’s on you,’” Walker said. “And we did.”
Said Rimer: “We recorded over the last year, working on different songs. And a month and a half ago we released the EP, 'Seth Walker: Volume 1.' With no radio airplay within 15 hours we were No. 20 on the iTunes country chart.
“Memphis doesn’t have a country guy like this that all of a sudden people are reacting to. You can’t make up sales numbers. And you can’t make up when you’re selling out concerts. It’s a real reaction, man. People are flocking to this guy.”
Walker hand selected the musicians for his band.
He met guitarist/backup vocalist Devin Matthews, 25, on Instagram. They played their first gig together as a duo at the old Double J Smokehouse and Saloon off South Main.
“Somebody taught me to read tabs,” Matthews said. “I never could read music. From then on I’d just figure it out. I played rock music for a really long time. I went through a really bad breakup and I was really depressed. Country. That’s what I fell in love with.”
Walker invited bass player Tim Van Eaton, 24, to play in his band after he heard him play in another band.
Van Eaton, grandson of J. M. Van Eaton, who played drums with Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, acquired the nickname “Three Finger Timmy” after he accidentally stuck his pocketknife into one of his fingers three hours before their first show with a full band and an audience of 800 people. He got 12 stitches in his finger and was back before soundcheck. “I ended up playing the whole gig,” Van Eaton said.
Guitarist Vinnie Longoria, 20, began playing drums before he switched to guitar. His father David Longoria, a touring drummer in the ‘80s and ‘90s, played in several bands, including Roxy Blue, L. A. Guns and Slaughter.
Country wasn’t Vinnie’s first music choice. “I was a metal guitar player and rock guitar player,” he said.
His metal guitar style works in a country band, Vinnie said. “It makes it really full and colorful.”
Drummer Stephen Crump, 26, also comes from a musical family. “My cousin is Larry McCoy and he writes with Thomas Rhett in Nashville,” he said.
“I grew up in church, so most of the guys that I play with are gospel musicians,” Crump said. “My style is not rock and country. I have a very fast right foot. I don’t double bass pedal it. All my feels are very tasty. It’s not rock music at all. When most of these guys around here hear me play, they’re like, ‘I haven’t heard that in a country band. That’s different.’”
For now, Walker and his band are concentrating on performing. The band wants to eventually put out a full-length album.
Asked whether he’d pick baseball over music as a career, Walker said, “I’ve gotten to play baseball in front of 10,000 people and that’s amazing. But there’s no high like what we’ve done. Just played in front of huge crowds. Singing. I mean, it’s pretty cool. When they’re singing a song that we’ve done on the album.”
Seth Walker and his band will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday June 17 at The Bluff at 535 South Highland. Tickets: $10. Call: (901) 454-7771.