Butch Walker Zooms in on a Lifetime of Music for 'Out of Focus'
"Now, I want you to yell so loud that my dad can hear us from heaven!" musician Butch Walker shouted as the crowd crouched to the floor around him. Like a Baptist minister in the throws of the Holy Spirit, Walker feverishly presided over the sweltering Bootleg Bar in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. The venue was so overwhelmed by friends, family and fans clamoring at the door, that even Walker collaborator P!nk was held up at the ropes. Beautiful old motorcycles belonging to Walker's comrades in chaos, the Venice Vintage Motorcycle Club, lined the sidewalk. You'll never see a man perform with more heart and gut than when he plays in the city he calls home for the people he cares for the most.
In the span of just a few weeks, Walker's biographical documentary Out of Focus dropped, he released his unfinished Peachtree Battle album early as an EP, and his closest confidante and greatest advocate, his father "Big Butch" Walker, passed away as he held his hand. Through fearlessly honest lyrics and stammering speech, Walker gave homage to his best friend earlier in the night, rolling down the sleeve where his heart lay. It was as if all these events that both lifted and shattered the musician had lead up to this cathartic moment.
Walker yelled, we yelled. Walker yelled louder, we yelled louder. As the cacophony of voices ascended and knocked on heaven's door, the audience of Walker disciples was unexpectedly showered in cloud of balloons and confetti as the band kicked in for the final raucous chords of the night. Nobody dances at rock shows in L.A., and here the floor was getting pounded. It was the kind of bittersweet revelry that Walker songwriting exudes so masterfully. And as a child of KISS, this man—whom many call the consider the music industry's "secret weapon"—certainly knows a thing or two about putting on a show.
"As an eight-year-old you're either scared to death of that experience, or you fall in love," reminisced Walker over his morning coffee in New York last week. "I didn't know what was going on, but I loved it and I wanted it for myself. And after that I never looked back." In 1977, little Bradley Glenn Walker begged his middle-class, Southern parents to take him to a KISS show in Atlanta, his first concert ever. "I felt Big Butch at the time was highly regretting taking us... spitting blood and breathing fire, guitars blowing up and people passing joints over us to the next person down. I remember this guy kept spilling his beer behind me, he was in Gene Simmons makeup. My dad was wearing his brand new brown leather blazer his mom, my grandma, got him for his birthday. He turned around and was like, 'If you spill that beer on me you sonofab---h I'm gonna kill you,' stickin' his finger in fake Gene Simmons's face [laughs]. But I think looking back in his later years, he was probably very excited that he took us because it opened up a big door for me to do what I do, and he loves what I did."
Despite the initial parental horrors of seeing his only son's hair grow longer and his guitars get pointier, Big Butch supported Walker's career at every turn, though never financially. "He was never content with giving up, and he wouldn't've been content with me ever giving up," Walker said of his father. "So he always pushed me and encouraged me to keep going. As he would say, 'keep throwin' stuff up on the wall and something's gonna stick'." And music stuck for him. Through a slew of bands including '80s hair metal band SouthGang and '90s soul patch rock band Marvelous 3, Big Butch kept every record, every poster, throwing his son's creations up on the walls of their modest Cartersville, Georgia home.