“Sometimes you have to remind yourself why you started something in the first place,” muses Seth Walker. On his stellar new album, ‘Gotta Get Back,’ he does precisely that, excavating the roots of his love affair with music and reuniting with the family that helped spark the fire all those years ago. The record is as remarkable as the story behind it, which stretches from Walker’s childhood living on a commune in North Carolina to stints in Austin, Nashville, New York and New Orleans.
When it came time to record ‘Gotta Get Back,’ though, Walker was caught up in the elusive dance with the muse, fatigue of the road, and the slippery slope & inevitable collision of art and business. In search of inspiration and rejuvenation, he turned to the people that taught him the joys of making music in the first place: his family.
“My whole family was very musically and artistically inclined, and it goes back generations” explains Walker. “My grandfather was in the Navy band and served in WWII aboard the USS Hornet aircraft carrier in the South Pacific. He later became a band and choir director, and got my father into music, who now teaches cello and Irish fiddle. My mother also came from an amazingly broadminded, forward-thinking family that encouraged the arts and and she became a violinist and talented artist. A sense of expression was coming from all sides.” One of Walker’s uncles is an accomplished jazz bassist who hosted a blues radio show in Jacksonville, Florida. Each week he would faithfully send the young budding musician cassette tapes of the broadcasts, exposing him to legends T-Bone Walker, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Son House, and Lightnin’ Hopkins, to mention a few. Another uncle is an incredible luthier with Moriah Guitarworks, and Walker recruited him to build a custom acoustic guitar for the ‘Gotta Get Back’ sessions.
“I wanted to see if we could throw our worlds together,” says Walker, “so I sent my dad the new music along with some Al Green, Louis Armstrong, old Ray Charles and Nelson Riddle string arrangements to check out. He sent me back parts for these new songs that were so beautiful, and then we were off to the races. The family and I got together along with some friends in Chapel Hill for these sessions and it was an amazing experience that really brought us a lot closer. It was very special to me for them to be able to put everything else aside so we could play music together for the first time in many years. A dream come true. We had the strings set up in a semi-circle and I was right there with them singing and playing guitar. It about brought a tear to this old boy’s eye.”
‘Gotta Get Back’ opens up with the funky ‘High Time,’ a song co-written with longtime collaborator Gary Nicholson and referencing Walker’s newly adopted home of New Orleans. The city proved to be a fount of inspiration for Walker, who penned a number of songs on the album there, including the swampy “Fire In The Belly” and Caribbean-influenced “Dreamer.” “I lived in Austin for 15 years, and as I got more into songwriting, I was led me to music hub of Nashville.But ultimately, the raw, inspired, blues and jazz of the southland called me to New Orleans,” explains Walker. “The city is just so perfectly crooked. It’s kind of unhinged down there, there’s not much calculation, and that can be a really good thing as an artist to help you get that looseness back. I think I unlearned some things in a good way there.” While travel and movement are recurring themes throughout the record, the heart and soul of the album lay in the idea of home and family, of looking to the past in order to find your way into the future. Facing doubt and uncertain of his next steps, Walker was able to dig deep and find his way by reconnecting with the place in which he grew up with the loved ones who ultimately set him on his life’s path.
“My family always encouraged me, from my childhood, to the early dive bars, to the open mic days (when I’m sure they had their doubts), to where the journey has taken me now,” reflects Walker. “They have been the engine and inspiration that drives me to continue this zany beautiful life of music. I think that the communal feeling of making this record with these people takes me back to my early roots in North Carolina. We all gotta take our turn tending to the garden.” Or as Walker sings on the title track, “I’ve gotta get back / Before I can move ahead,” and he does both here with startling beauty and striking sophistication.
Upcoming Tour Dates
August 19 – Jersey City, NJ – the Parlour at Fox & Crow
August 20 – Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live *** w/ Blind Boys of Alabama
August 27-28 – Ontonagon, MI – Porcupine Mountains Festival
September 6 – Richmond, VA – Capital Ale House
September 7 – Roanoke, VA – The Spot on Kirk
September 8 – Asheville, NC – Isis
September 9 – Hickory, NC – Sails Music Series
September 10 – Charlotte, NC – Evening Muse
September 14 – Carrboro, NC – The Cat’s Cradle
September 15 – Knoxville, TN – Barley’s
September 16 – Decatur, GA – Eddie’s Attic
September 17-18 – Bristol, TN – Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion
October 22 – Tallahassee, FL – The Warehouse
October 23 – Montgomery, AL – Capital Oyster Bar
October 30 – Poconos, PA – Poconos Music Festival
November 10 – Goshen, IN – Ignition Garage
November 11 – Evanston, IL – Space
November 12 – Indianapolis, IN – Jazz Kitchen