Live until I Die: Clay Walker Had a Five-Year Plan to Reach Country Music Stardom. Now Facing Multiple Sclerosis, He's Got New Plans-And They're No Less Ambitious
Reagan, Karyn, Success
Clay Walker grew up in rural Southeast Texas in an extended family of musicians; he learned to play guitar at 9 and, at 13, got a standing ovation at a high school talent contest for his rendition of Lionel Richie's "All Night Long." At 17, he wrote his first song, "Live Until I Die," which he describes as "an autobiography put to music."
The summer after high school graduation, Walker decided to put everything he had into pursuing his dream of becoming a country music star. He bought a day planner and plotted the steps he would take over the next five years, with the culmination being a hoped-for record deal.
"I mapped out precisely how I would get to the release of my first album, right down to the kinds of clothes my band would wear," Walker tells SUCCESS. He went over the ratio of original music to cover tunes they would play, the type of venues where they would perform and how they would progress over time.
In 1992, four years later, James Stroud, a record producer and president of what was then Giant Records, saw 22-year-old Walker and his band at a gig. Stroud walked out after hearing a few songs, looking unimpressed. Walker wasn't about to let him get away without talking to him. "I finished the last song, chased Stroud to his limousine and asked him if everything was OK. He said yes and that he would see me in a couple of weeks to start recording an album."
Walker's self-titled debut album produced five hit singles, including that first song he wrote, "Live Until I Die." Since then, Walker has released 13 albums, the first four achieving platinum status. Two have reached the gold level of certification. His fourteenth work, She Won't Be Lonely Long, was released in June.
"My mother still has the day planner and is amazed how every detail came to pass exactly as I had written," says Walker, now 41. Although hard work, persistence and a positive attitude contributed to his success, Walker is quick to say, "If you can't see it, you can't be it." Not only did he visualize his dream, but he also wrote it down and referred to it often, giving it additional life.
"I came from a poor family, and that poverty acted as my motivation to find a different way. Some people are happy with a little, but those who are not have the power to achieve all they can envision," Walker says.
"I purposefully strived to become what I wanted to be. Then, when opportunity presented itself, my band and I were prepared, polished and ready."
As Walker's music was topping the charts, something happened that he never would have scheduled or planned; in 1996, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His immediate reaction was shock and disbelief. He told the doctor he must have the wrong medical charts. "I really couldn't accept it. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion. Then I prayed with the heart of a sincere, humble and broken man."
After a couple of weeks spent coming to terms with the news, Walker steadied himself and regained his fighting spirit. "No matter what I have had to face in life, I do it with a positive attitude," he says. "I deal with adversity head-on and don't hide from it. …