Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 | 2:01 a.m.
Clay Walker Jesse James
Vegas goes country beginning today, as the annual, 10-day Wrangler National Finals Rodeo takes over the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV. Away from campus and the competition, the Strip and downtown become a cornucopia of country music entertainment offerings.
Texas singer Clay Walker, whose career spans two decades, shot straight to No. 1 with his debut single, 1993’s “What’s It to You,” and hit the top again with his follow-up, “Live Until I Die,” the next year.
Walker has amassed 11 No. 1 hits, and, despite a 17-year battle with Multiple Sclerosis that he says is in a largely arrested state, the 44-year-old father of three daughters and one son continues to record, tour the country and maintain an optimistic view on life.
Walker is scheduled to perform the national anthem on the first night of the Wrangler NFR. I spoke with Walker, who was friendly, thoughtful and a gentleman on the phone, on Tuesday ahead of his concerts Friday and Saturday at the Venetian Showroom.
What are you looking forward to the most with your Venetian concerts during National Finals Rodeo weekend?
NFR just makes going to Las Vegas a huge bonus, and the Venetian is probably the nicest venue we’ve ever played, so it’s really great; we’ve never played in such a nice place. Everything about the Venetian has been A-grade — the people have been wonderful to work with; you see it everywhere.
It’s good to get a great gig there. With NFR, it’s my kind of people there, from rural areas, towns of 50,000 or less. It’s a perfect fit, a perfect match, and my shows will be televised. It’s a lot of excitement, a good kind of pressure, and I hope to rise up to the level.
What can the audience expect at your shows?
It’s high energy the music that we do and choose for our shows, especially in the last two years; it’s conducive to creating a lot of energy onstage. It leads to the audience smiling, laughing, clapping and going crazy. If you’re looking for a sit-down, quiet time, this isn’t it!
When can fans expect your 10th studio album, following up 2010’s “She Won’t Be Lonely Long”?
We are working on it now. I’ve recorded five or six tracks, and I’d like to have 10 or 11. After Las Vegas, I’ll get back to work in Nashville and aim to have it out in the first quarter of next year.
Any current artists whose music you’re enjoying now?
I love most of the new music that is out right now — it’s very fresh, new ideas, new productions. It really sounds like art more than commercialism now; it’s healthier with an opportunity to grow. Traditional country music is dead and isn’t being recorded. I’m happy to have one foot in the old and one in the new.
How is your 17-year battle with Multiple Sclerosis going?
It’s a tough thing for anyone who has it. The best we can do is manage it. I’ve been relapse free for 15 years. There can be damage to the brain and nerves, so I’ve been fortunate. I take medication every day; it’s like what a diabetic has to go through every day with a shot. I feel blessed to maintain my health every day.
What continues to be the biggest adjustment in living with MS?
I won’t be able to play in the NFL; it killed my dream (laughs)! I still get to spend time with my family, ride horses, play golf and go fishing. I am very blessed and thankful for my health, that I have been able to sustain it and not be debilitated. And I have hope for a cure. It’s my passion and drive to find a cure with my fundraising organization Band Against MS.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re in Las Vegas?
I like to play blackjack. That’s pretty much it! Roll the dice a little. I love the golf courses; we played TPC Summerlin the last time. They treated me like a resident, like you’re part of the family. We love coming to Vegas, especially during the NFR.
The album is the No. 1 priority for me after Las Vegas. I worked really hard on the songs, and I like to put all my attention on one thing at a time. And I’ll be there at the American Country Awards on Tuesday.
New Year’s resolution?
I stopped doing them because I could never keep them (laughs). I just try to live every day being kinder, more loving and more forgiving. I just try to do it every day.
This is a far-reaching question, but what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your 20-year career?
Let me think about that (pauses). Never try to forget what’s going to happen from one song to the next because no one knows.
And everyone needs someone better than them to help them rise to the next level.
Don Chareunsy is senior editor for arts and entertainment of the Las Vegas Sun.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
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