Wheeler Walker Jr. was pissed off. Walker is often pissed off, but this time he was pissed off for reasons fundamental to his status as the filthiest — and he believes misunderstood — man in contemporary country music. It was 2015, and Walker’s debut album, Redneck Sh*t, had just charted high in its first week. However, it was on the comedy chart, and Walker doesn’t consider what he does comedy, in spite of song titles such as “F**k You Bitch,” “Sit On My Face,” and “Better Off Beatin’ Off.”
“I started yelling at the person who was distributing the record,” recalls Walker, whose album also debuted at No. 9 on the country chart. “I was like, ‘It shouldn’t be on the comedy charts. Before I keep yelling, where is it on the comedy charts? It’s number one? Well, f*ck it.'”
For Walker, a Dylan fanatic who shares his idol’s penchant for self-invention, being classified as a clown is a source of constant frustration. It’s true that Walker is also known as Ben Hoffman, and once hosted a short-lived sketch show on Comedy Central, The Ben Show, in 2013. A fan of The Ben Show, Sturgill Simpson, had a personal connection to Walker — his wife grew up with Walker’s brother in Kentucky. Through Simpson, Walker met super producer Dave Cobb, who’s become one of the biggest names in insurgent country due to his association with Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and Jason Isbell. Cobb went on to produce Redneck Sh*t and Walker’s latest LP, Ol’ Wheeler.
In Walker’s view, while his songs are subversive, irreverent, and very sexually explicit, that doesn’t mean they’re not serious. Especially on his second album Ol’ Wheeler, Walker sees vulgarity as a form of truth-telling, giving the language in his songs verisimilitude.
“That was the breakthrough that I had between the first and the second album, which was I could be more honest by being more vulgar. It would free me up to do ‘Summers In Kentucky,’ which breaks me up every time I play it,” Walker says, referring to a wistful ballad on Ol’ Wheeler about an old high school flame who has fallen on hard times. Oh, and there’s also a digression about cunnilingus.
Is this guy for real? In conversation, Wheeler is steadfastly earnest about his songs and love of old-school country, and didn’t appear to be playing a character during our interview. It’s also worth noting that he’s good at what he does — Ol’ Wheeler is a highly enjoyable throwback country record, so long as you’re not bothered by the NSFW likes of “Poon” and “Pussy In Boots.”