Wheeler Walker, Jr.: The Spread Eagle Tour (21+)
Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia
1009 Canal Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19123
Doors: 7:00 PM Show: 8:00 PM
Wheeler Walker Jr.
Whatever you do, don’t you dare tell Wheeler Walker Jr. who he is or what he does. “I don’t play by the rules,” says the no-nonsense, straight-talking musician who ever since his chart-topping debut album, 2016’s Redneck Shit, has been giving the proverbial middle finger to anyone who doubts him. “I don’t want people to tell me what the fuck to do. I’m not a one-trick pony,” says the man who has already notched a gold album with the fan-favorite “Fuck You Bitch.” Yes, while Wheeler has undoubtedly made a major name for himself in recent years by shaking up the country music industry, now he has his eyes set on ripping down new goalposts. “I’m getting sick of Nashville and country music and the current Nashville scene,” he says without a moment of hesitation. “I mean, seriously, what’s the last good country album that’s come out? I think it’s been years.”
It’s why Wheeler now returns with Ram, his boldest effort yet— a hard charging hurricane of a rock album that’s every bit as pummeling, raunchy and riotous as his best work to date. “It’s pretty intense,” Wheeler says of the 10-track, Dave Cobb-produced LP full of ass-kicking anthems with titles including “Born to Fuck,” “Money n’ Bitches” and “Fingerblast.” To hear him tell it, making a tried-and-true Southern rock album was principally about going back to his roots. Raised on the ripping riffs of bands such as Nirvana, the Misfits, the Replacements and Guns N’ Roses, Wheeler not only adored the heavier sounds those bands offered, but he also cherished rock’s “fuck-the-man” attitude. “This was the album I wanted to make,” he explains of Ram. “I knew it was a risk, but I felt like I hadn’t really taken any big risks for a while. And when I play it too safe, I get nervous. Whereas when I say, “Who gives a fuck? Maybe I’ll go bankrupt and it’ll all fall to shit and my manager might call and say, ‘You fucked up your career,”” that’s when it gets exciting to me.”
Wheeler has never minced words. His feelings on where things stand in his career at the moment is no exception. “First of all, fuck the music industry. I don’t gotta prove shit to the industry. They’re a bunch of fucking swine and thieves and assholes. Now I gotta find new ways to piss people off,” he says with a laugh. “So now let’s fuck with rock. If my competition is Greta Van Fleet, I’m going to win that every day.”
What excites him most, he says is the thrill of living on the edge. Where he could have stuck to his successful country-leaning formula and played it safe, he was willing to fall on his face in the name of his creative pursuit. “I wanted to go back to not giving a shit,” he says. “And to not give a shit you’ve got to throw it all away. People don’t understand -- as an independent artist, what you’re doing with every album is you’re going to Vegas and you’re putting all your chips on the table every fucking time. If it tanks, you’re back at bankrupt. I wanted to risk bankruptcy again, to be blunt about it. I could see the headline: Wheeler Ruins Career. But if I do that and made the album I wanted to make, I could give two fucks.”
Following last year’s Sex, Drugs & Country Music — an album Wheeler says was purposely a party album following the dismal COVID years — he channeled his pent-up anger this go-round into Ram. “Maybe it took a while for the anger to settle in about how pissed off I am about so much shit going on right now,” he offers. “I just wanted to put that into my music. When I was a kid and I was pissed and in a bad mood, I would just crank AC/DC and Skynyrd. When I got pissed, I didn’t listen to George Jones; I cranked Appetite for Destruction.”
“Because rock is fuck-the-man music,” he continues. “Country used to be. Country has turned into I-love-the-man music. What does the man tell me to do? He tells me to play this song and use this pop producer. Yes sir. When I see Jason Aldean and I see Luke Bryan, those are corporate fucking slobs. Those motherfuckers have sold their fucking soul. It’s not music but a product. I don’t want a fucking product. I want to make the music I want to make. Even if Luke Bryan knew what a good song was, his label wouldn’t let him make it. He’s a corporate sellout. I’m not a corporate sellout. There is no corporation behind anything I do. Period. I cannot be cancelled. I don’t talk to corporate radio. I don’t talk to corporate record labels. There’s nothing you can do to me. If the fans want it, it’s out there. If Jason Aldean is country, I want to be something else.”
The Ram era kicked off in earnest with a call to the Grammy-winning Cobb, Wheeler’s trusted confidante and one of the most successful producers in recent years having helmed records for an array of celebrated artists from Chris Stapleton to Sammy Hagar and Jason Isbell. “I called Cobb up and said, “I want to do something that makes it sound like the first record. I’ve been writing these songs that are kind of rock. Would you make a rock album?” I thought he’d say, “You’re a country artist. That’s not what you do.” But he just said, “Let’s do it!”
Wheeler in turn gave a simple credo to his trusted band of top-tier Nashville musicians: “Don’t bring your pedal steel. Bring all your amps. Because we’re fucking rocking out!”
The results are undeniable: Ram’s opening track “Born to Fuck” is an ode to a man’s true-bred calling while “Dumptruck” lavishes praise upon “the beautiful large Southern asses of America.” And then there’s “Sniffer’s Row,” a salute to the front row of the strip club. Because, as Wheeler says, “if you’re a real strip club guy you want to sit in the front row.” “Money n’ Bitches” meanwhile is a take-no-prisoners tribute to the finer things in life… at least according to Wheeler.
“This isn’t Paul Simon. We’re not going too deep here. We’re not talking about poverty in South Africa. We’re talking about money and bitches. Plus, I got into music because I wanted money and bitches. Wheeler is Wheeler because he doesn’t use metaphors. I just say what it is.”
It's this attitude – take me for who I am – that has always endeared Wheeler to his legion of hardcore fans. And its why his live show is and always has been paramount to his career. There’s a certain kinship with his fans, Wheeler explains, one that goes far deeper than the music itself.
“What I love about my fans is they’re all kind of the not-cool kids,” he says. “I wasn’t a cool kid growing up at school. I got made fun of all the time. I see that in my audience and I feel like again, fingers crossed, they get that uncool kids do what they wanna do and don’t give a shit what the jocks think. When I look out at the audience, I see more people like me out there. Guys who I would hang out with and remind me of me at that age. The outcasts.”
As for what the future holds, Wheeler is doing what he’s long done: betting on himself. “I think people will love Ram but I’m also perfectly willing for it to be the end of my career,” Wheeler says with a smile. “If I’m going to go down, I’m gonna go down fucking swinging.”