Alumnus Spotlight: Nick Walker

By Ashley Mott

From pots and pans to auditioning for American Idol, Nick Walker has taken tremendous leaps in his pursuit of a music career. The sound of metal clangs and laughing children could be heard throughout the Walker house at anytime during Walker’s young life. He and his brother would try to make music for his family with various forms of kitchenware, much to his mother’s dismay.

“My mom said I used to take those out and bang on them all the time,” Walker said.

Though playing the drums only lasted through high school,  where he played the quads in the Perry High School marching band, that wasn’t the end of his musical career — just a little pause. This 24-year-old Business Administration graduate of Cleveland State University picked up the guitar a short three years later after wanting to learn how to play “Wagon Wheel” by Darius Rucker. Walker had heard the song playing on the radio and decided that he wanted to be able to do that, to play, write and make music. His junior year at Cleveland State was the start of it all.

While he is a self-taught musician that hasn’t slowed down his passion for playing guitar at all. He never had an eye for reading music, but he does have an ear for picking up songs quickly. He’s never been technically trained, but that hasn’t stopped him from learning by ear.

“I’m not technical by any means. When I hear it, I’ll find the first chord,” Walker said. “Then it goes up four, and that’s where my brain goes.”

With this kind of talent, it was clear  that Walker was going to go somewhere big with music; however, that didn’t mean it was going to be all smooth sailing. He hit about a two-year hiccup in the road when his long-time then-girlfriend didn’t like his music. It came as a surprise to him that she would be so off-put by the idea of him playing music and singing for people.

“She didn’t really like me playing music for some reason. She would walk out of the room when I would do it or just [ask], ‘Why do you always [play]’,” Walker said.

Without the support of someone he very much cared about, it put his music career on pause and left Walker wondering whether or not it was meant to be. He continued on this way, working in sales with no real traction happening in the music industry.

However, that all changed once they broke up. The recently single musician has since blossomed and taken the Cleveland area by storm. He entered a video contest and played in the No Name Town Music Festival in Coshocton, OH  on Aug. 11, 2018. He also played this past weekend on Sept. 29, at the Geneva Grape Jamboree. Not to mention auditioning for American Idol when the Idol bus stopped in Columbus on Sept. 12, 2018. Walker has been offered many condolences on his break up, but according to him it’s okay.

“It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to me in my entire life,” Walker said.

Looking at the success he has had since then, it’s clear to see that he could quite possibly be right. Everything started out slow with a simple YouTube video that sparked an invitation to an open mic-night, but slowly spiralled into Walker being asked to perform multiple places over the summer.

“They were like, ‘Hey can you keep playing?” Walker said.

While he had no clue what he was going to play, he got up there and continued on. By the end of the night, there were lots of people enjoying his music. Shortly after ending his set, the bartender of the establishment asked him if he could be booked to play during the summer.

Walker was confused, but ecstatic and gladly took on the challenge, and according to him, everything snowballed from there, landing him multiple gigs and playing opportunities.

At American Idol, Walker, who has only been playing consistently for about three months, went far for a beginner.

“I was the runner up for ‘White guy with a guitar’,” Walker said.

While most people aren’t sure what kind of category that is, it is still  a testimony to the skill that Walker has for picking up music quickly. However, this isn’t too much of a surprise since Walker’s great-uncle was a piano savant who could play almost anything by ear. That said, Walker’s dad always hints that Walker got his voice from him.

Walker’s successes are an incredible feat for someone with such little experience. The most recent success comes in the form of his brand new single “If You See Kay,” released on Spotify on Sept. 18. Walker went to Nashville in July, recorded it and just two months later, it was released to the public for their listening pleasure.

Not only is launching a song in just three months a huge accomplishment, but there was a time when Walker thought that he would never be able to sing again. When he first started playing three years ago, he had to have a nodule on his vocal cords removed.

“I’m like, ‘There’s no way I can ever be a singer,’ because they just get weaker after you get the surgery,” Walker said.

The concern for his singing career was short-lived, however, because of his two-year break. Now, he is back and better than ever in the music scene. While the nerves have subsided and have been replaced by excitement before a show, it doesn’t mean that mistakes aren’t hard to deal with. Walker has a good attitude about it, though. His years acting in high school have honed his ability to roll with the punches on stage.

“I think that comes back to theater. You just kinda have to roll with it if something goes wrong,” Walker said.

He wasn’t always this confident at first, in fact, his years of theater all started with a girl, a common theme that we are starting to find. We have ourselves a real life Troy Bolton, as Walker’s ex-girlfriend was the reason he started singing and acting as a freshman in high school. After that, he fell in love and played leads in all the plays in the following years of his high school career.

From “Grease” and “Little Shop of Horrors” to “Hairspray,” he played a leading man in them all. Despite the fun and joy that came of it, he has come to realize his dislike of hair gel and stage makeup, but then again, who really likes stage makeup.

His theater days ended in high school, but the lessons that he learned there have carried over into his music career. His work ethic and diligence came from not only theater, but also from a man who Walker claims to be a “Willie Nelson look-alike,” who told him to put his guitar somewhere he could see it all the time and get in the habit of picking it up and playing every day — even if it was just for 15 minutes.

Walker has stuck to this philosophy and plays his Cortez Acoustic Guitar, a model that the Gibson Hummingbird was based off of, daily for as long as he can. Despite the guitar being right handed, that never stopped him. Walker restrung the classic acoustic to fit his left-handed style and has been writing songs on it ever since.

His first song was written years ago and is called “Caffeine and Nicotine.”

“It was just three chords, but it’s fun. It’s catchy,” Walker said.

Obviously, Walker has since expanded his knowledge on chords and has been trying to break into the industry since. His current job affords him the flexibility between clients to call people and network. He has been playing shows almost every Sunday and is hoping to continue to grow his connections in the future. While singing professionally is the goal, Walker is happy with just being in the music industry.

“Whether it’s being in the [singing] industry or writing, I don’t care. There’s a feeling you get when you go to Nashville and … you get goosebumps,” Walker said.

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He is finding the perfect formula for success now and is trying his hand at songwriting. With 328 monthly listeners on Spotify in just 12 days, it is clear that he is doing something right. That said, it is still nerve-wrecking for most who are trying to break into such a tough industry.

“I want to go [to Nashville], and I don’t want to come back. I say that, not because I hate here, but [because] I want to go there, and I don’t want to fail, and it happens,” Walker said.

Through his musical influences and drive, this brother of Delta Sigma Phi and  graduate of Cleveland State is striving for greatness despite all the road bumps he has hit in his journey here. While he likes sales and has always had a knack for it, his true passion lies in music, and those are where his dreams are pointing towards.

“It’s a cool thing doing something that you love,” Walker said.

His current support system — of his friend in Nashville who produced his song, a friend in Los Angeles who is working on his music video, and family that have always been there for him — is what drives him even more each day to keep working. Walker hopes for greater things in the future and can’t wait to see where his music will take him next. 

Originally Published on The Cauldron.

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