Tracy Walker at Peach’s in Yellow Springs
Tracy Walker has been at the forefront of the Cincinnati folk scene since cofounding the group Ain’t Helen in the mid-1990s. Since branching out on her own, she has self-released three albums: Naked in 1998, All This Time in 2003 and Coetaneous Vibrations in 2013. Walker blends funk, R&B and jazz into her singer/songwriter presentation. Her diverse style stems directly from a childhood that was full of music. She said she still could quote Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar word-for-word to this day.
“I can’t even remember when I fell in love with music,” Walker said. “I’ve just always played it, even when I was a little kid banging on pots and pans. I started when I was 7 or 8, playing guitar, and then I played alto saxophone from sixth grade through high school. I got back to the guitar again later in my 20s and began taking it more seriously. Before that I had kind of played around and had not really considered it as a profession. It’s always been a part of the way I express myself.”
When asked about influences, she said funk grabbed her fairly early. Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and the Commodores served as the soundtrack of her adolescence. She also cited Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Ani DiFranco, Tracy Chapman and David Gray.
Her five year stint in Ain’t Helen showed her that music as a profession was possible, and while she enjoys performing solo, there is no substitute for the magic from playing with others.
“I really love what the other musicians bring to the songs and the performance, their energy and the way we communicate on stage,” Walker said. “I kind of write my parts and what I want to do, the general framework of the song, and then allow the other musicians to do what they feel within that framework.”
Ever the independent spirit, Walker has always self-released her albums. She said the freedom of doing what she wants trumps any benefit that might come with working with any label.
“Labels, unless they can help get you to the next level, they don’t have anything to offer,” Walker said. “With the Internet being what it is, and digital recording and so forth, the cost has come down and makes it much more attainable. Even when I was with Ain’t Helen, we decided to release our own stuff, because as nice as it might have been to have a record deal, we didn’t want all of our energy to focus on chasing that down. The down side is you have to come up with the money on your own, but the upside is you really have a lot of control about what songs are on there, what the instrumentation is, artwork, when it comes out – you really get to control everything. I think a lot of the record labels and booking agencies and so forth, want to work with you almost right when you don’t need them. So, if you build your own independent career enough and do a lot of the leg work, then they’ll pick you up.”
Like most songwriters, she said the best way to find a song is to allow it to come to you. However, she has learned to “write on assignment,” so to speak, and looks to try different approaches to her craft in the coming months. She was asked to write a song a few years ago to promote shopping locally and supporting the local economy. The resulting song “Who We Are” became one of her personal favorites, and while inspiration certainly plays the biggest role, she also realizes expanding how she works can only be a positive.
“I want to do more of that in 2014,” Walker said. “I made a little basket of ideas and I’m going to pick one out and write about whatever that idea is.”
The show at Peach’s will feature songs from all of her albums, but she’s also cooked up some new, never-before-heard tracks to throw in the mix. While bringing in new music is equal parts excitement and terror, Walker looks forward to seeing how they go over.
“You don’t know how it will be received,” Walker said. “You have to have that fear in your head, and kind of swallow it, because if you allow that fear to be the loudest voice then it will never get out there.”
Tracy Walker will perform Saturday, Jan. 11 at Peach’s Bar and Grille, 104 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs. Doors at 9 p.m. The show is 18 and up and free. For more information, please visit tracywalker.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.