The 13-hour flight to Stockholm that Joshua Ray Walker took in October for a 32-date European tour was his first time on a plane.
Walker, who is from East Dallas, released his first album, “Wish You Were Here,” in January.
“I grew up in a lower-income family,” he says. “If we took a vacation, it was usually a road trip. As a musician, it’s practical to travel by car. The opportunity hasn’t presented itself, I guess. It never came up before.”
Walker finished recording his second album with State Fair Records before embarking on Europe. He also plays lead guitar in Ottoman Turks, the 10-year-old East Dallas dive bar band that’s suddenly having a come-up. They headlined the Granada Theater earlier this year.
Walker recorded a video for his song “Last Call” at Sons of Hermann Hall with Dallas country band 1100 Springs backing him. Walker and 1100 Springs also played the opening day of the State Fair of Texas.
Walker still lives in the Casa Linda-area duplex where he grew up with his grandparents on one side and his family on the other. He took over the mortgage almost five years ago after his grandparents died. Now he lives next door to dear ol’ mom.
How did you learn to play music?
I started playing the banjo at 4 or 5 and guitar at 5 or 6. My grandfather was from Union County, Tennessee, at the base of the Cumberland Gap. He had a lot of bluegrass records, and he always had a lot of instruments, so I just picked one up and tried to play along with the record. Eventually I got an electric guitar and started playing in bands in junior high and high school. I actually smashed my first electric guitar when we played the Granada. That was cool to get to do that. It was a nice send-off for that guitar. I couldn’t get rid of it for sentimental reasons, but it wasn’t a very good guitar. Now my label is having it mounted in a box with a poster from that night.
What high school did you go to?
I went to just about every high school around here: Lake Highlands, Hillcrest, Woodrow and Bryan Adams when I dropped out. I finally finished at Richland College.
Tell us about Ottoman Turks.
I joined them seven years ago. They had already been a band for two and a half years. They put out an album called “Juarez.” We had a lineup change, and we recorded an EP and rebranded the band. It just keeps getting heavier and faster and more rock ’n’ roll. Nathan Mongol Wells is the frontman and one of my best friends. I love playing lead guitar for him.
How did y’all wind up headlining the Granada?
We always had a decent following in the dive bar scene in Dallas, but last spring we played an awful show. We were all tired and beat down from playing shows and pursuing our solo careers. Life was getting in the way — money problems, life in general. We liquidated our band account and decided that we weren’t going to pursue booking shows anymore, and we would just take offers as they came in — maybe play one or two shows a year at the Double Wide or something. Literally the next email we got was to play for some guaranteed money at Sundown at Granada. We had never played that venue. I guess we were just really determined to play a better show, and we were playing for fun because there was no pressure. Shortly after, they offered us our first opening spot at the Granada Theater.
What was that like?
That was our dream. Playing the Granada is the peak of your local music career. We headlined in August, and they said it was one of the best-selling local acts the Granada has had in years. Since then, Rolling Stone has mentioned us and American Songwriter. No Depression put us on a playlist. Bloodshot Records put us on a Spotify playlist. This is the first time we’ve gotten any national attention in the last month or so.
How did you start writing songs?
When my father passed in 2009, I went home from the hospital and picked up a guitar. My first song that I ever wrote just came out all at once. I didn’t write another song for two years. Then another one just came out all at once. “Fondly.” The first two songs were really personal, so I always thought of songwriting as a personal thing. I didn’t realize that co-writing is so prevalent. So I’ve been going to Nashville to do co-writes the past year and a half. I write with John Pedigo a lot and my bandmates in Ottoman Turks, Billy Law and Nathan. Both of those guys are really good songwriters. Everybody in Ottoman Turks except the drummer writes and plays their own solo stuff, which I think is unique for a rock band.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.