The Legend of Wheeler Walker Jr.
In a now-classic scene from the 1976 Academy Award Winning film Network, newscaster
Howard Beale screams into the television camera, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it
anymore!” Beale — struggling with declining ratings and just learning that he was about to lose
his job – decides to let loose on national television after declaring that “life is bullshit.”
But instead of getting him fired (Beale’s goal), the outburst causes a ratings spike, and Howard
Beale becomes a national hero for angry and frustrated Americans.
Many have compared this scene to the career trajectory of the new king of country music,
Wheeler Walker, Jr. Wheeler moved to Nashville in 2000, with dreams of Garth Brooks in his
head, confident that his golden voice and poetic songs would make him an instant star.
Unfortunately, as Howard Beale noted, life is bullshit.
Wheeler’s first album – the unfortunately titled “No Love For the City” (his ode to preferring
country life over city living) – featured a picture of Wheeler giving a thumbs down in front of the
World Trade Center. Although the album was full of hard-driving, hook-laden honky-tonk, the
record was released on 9/11/01 and had to immediately be pulled from store shelves. Of course,
this mishap was not Wheeler’s fault… but the next decade of missteps certainly were: sleeping
with record company presidents’ wives, burning down the women’s restroom at the Grand Ole
Opry, and getting dropped by label after label for refusing to censor his music.
And then, in 2015, Wheeler had his Howard Beale moment: “Who says you can’t curse on a
country album?” Well, a lot of people, but fuck ‘em… so Wheeler reached out to his old
Kentucky pal Sturgill Simpson for the name of a producer who would let him record his music
the way he wanted to: Sturgill suggested Grammy award winner Dave Cobb, who produced
Simpson’s first two albums. A friendship was born, and Wheeler emptied out his bank account,
wrote a check to Cobb, and the rest is history. To say Wheeler Walker, Jr. was mad as hell and
wasn’t gonna take it anymore is an understatement. A decade of failure in country music (and
life) made its way into every track of Redneck Shit. Assuming correctly that no label in
Nashville would release it, Walker created his own label and distributed the album through
Nashville’s Thirty Tigers.
What came next was the stuff of Nashville legend. With no songs that the FCC would even allow
on US airwaves, the album debuted at #9 on the Billboard Country album charts. (Because of its
filthy content, Billboard also categorized the record as a “comedy” album, which still upsets
Wheeler to this day. Nevertheless, the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Comedy Charts and
ended up being the 2nd best-selling comedy album of 2016, even though Wheeler says, “This
ain’t no fuckin’ comedy record… this is real life”).
Fans from across the country music spectrum flocked to Wheeler’s “don’t give a fuck” attitude.
One of them – Nashville hit maker Shane McAnally – even wrote a song with Wheeler for his
follow-up. Cut to 2017: With an army of Howard Beale-like fans, Wheeler is readying the
release of his new record, Ol’ Wheeler, out into the world. In an age where the President of the
United States is bragging about grabbing women by the pussy, can anyone really get mad about
Wheeler bragging that he’s the “Pussy King?” (Apparently, yes).
The biggest story of Ol’ Wheeler is that everyone thought Redneck Shit was a one-note joke. But
Ol’ Wheeler somehow managed to be even better than its predecessor. Then the trifecta of
perfects records was completed with 2018 releease of WW III. Wheeler’s artisty has progress,
with more serious themes about his family, life on the road and the expectations from being
Nashville’s enemy number one, Wheeler has turned his life into filthy art.
Fuck You Bitch – All Time Greatest Hits record comes just when the world needs to hear about
the simpler things in life. And yes, in case you were asking, there are two new songs and they are
just as dirty . But so is the world around him. And as stores and websites across the globe
boycott the record, it only makes Wheeler bigger. He’s bringing a hip-hop attitude to country
music. One of his friends even referred to him as “Kanye Twitty.”
The legacy of Wheeler Walker, Jr. will surely tell the tale of the best country artists to ever grace
this earth. So go ahead and ignore him, but you’ll be remember as being complicit in denying the
world of the art it needs.