Hold onto your belt buckles, Dave Cobb fans! The Midas-touch producer behind acclaimed LPs by Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and Stapleton just finished buffing one of country music's most brazen, bawdy dustheaps to ever grace the iTunes soundscape. Wheeler Walker Jr.'s debut LP Redneck Shit drops Feb. 12, two days after the crass, mysterious alpha-country parody persona's first headlining show at Exit/In. Considering the music videos for his first two singles, "Fuck You Bitch" and "Drop 'Em Out" (the latter of which debuted on PornHub in early December), it's safe to say the album is NSFW.
But after work hours, with a few Miller Lites in the gizzard and some hearty Willie and Waylon appreciation, Walker's salty twang and guitar-country cocktail aren't too hard to imbibe. "All those old country songs are about fucking in some way or another," he tells the Scene. "And my stuff is traditional in that way, it's just lyrically, I didn't have anyone telling me how to do it. I wanted to say the same thing in a new, interesting way."
"Interesting" might be an understatement for frequenters of SiriusXM's Outlaw Country channel, which started spinning "Fuck You Bitch" on regular rotation in recent months. But Walker says the attention is long overdue.
"I've been in Nashville 15 years," he claims, "and I've had a bunch of major label deals that all went to shit. But I made enough money to get me through."
A year ago, he says, he took the rest of that money and threw it into making a record produced by Grammy-nominated Dave Cobb, whom he met through mutual acquaintance Sturgill Simpson after the singer showed Cobb his demos. Cobb invited Walker to his home studio, where the two, along with famed session players Leroy Powell, Chris Powell and Brian Allen, recorded Redneck Shit over five days. "Dave is a natural at what he does," Walker says. "All these producers are looking for some big secret, but he sits down with his good ears and his good taste and lets people into a freeing environment where they can do their thing, I mean, compared to those label fuckers who try to slick up my music. I don't get along with them, or the dogshit pop-country people on the radio."
Even with his misanthropic tendencies, Walker isn't unfamiliar with the rumors surrounding his ambiguous identity — most accurately that he is not really Wheeler Walker Jr., guitar-slinger extraordinaire, but instead that he is Ben Hoffman, Kentucky comedian and host of Comedy Central's The Ben Show, which aired a few years back. Google searches support this conspiracy theory, with results leading to Cobb's own website, Justia Trademarks' public records, and a couple of shared jokes on the TV show and in Walker's act. But what's the point in investigating the facade? Whether or not Walker is Hoffman's countrified answer to Tony Clifton, Redneck Shit isn't about hiding behind some made-up, fit-for-TV persona or cryptic lyrical prose. It's about candid, unabashed country music written by and for heartbroken souls with a hankering for Hank-toned breakup ballads.
About his alter-ego, Walker says: "Yeah, somebody told me I'm this guy Ben Hoffman who used to have some TV show. I looked him up, his show only lasted eight episodes, so he must suck."
In that vein, here's to hoping Walker's career lasts much longer, because if it doesn't, the man, whoever he is, is out of the game. "If it fails," he says. "I'll just sit my ass at home. I'm no spring chicken."
Based on the raw, grizzled humanity surging in his music, he probably never was.