Better Than Playing With Inflatable Balls at Walmart - The Clay Shelburn Story
It’s the same old story.
You’ve all heard it before.
Guy has a dream in his heart and a guitar in his hands.
Fingers create vibrations, vibrations become chords, chords become songs, and the songs lead him to Nashville.
The struggling musician has stars in his eyes, and those stars allow him the patience to travel the necessary galaxies one must go through before their music conquers the universe.
In other words, musicians take a lot of crappy gigs, strumming their way to Demonbreun street or maybe even Broadway one day, knowing that all the grandeur of Bridgestone Arena awaits the lucky few who transcend the local country music scene to win the ears and hearts of the world.
All it takes is picking up that $22 Disney acoustic guitar and baring your soul at the local Walmart at 3am in the morning.
You know, the same old story.
No, the story of Clay Shelburn isn’t quite the same old story, though the notes do ring true in the ears of his fanbase when he arrives in their town to sharpen his craft, though he did move to Nashville with the dream of finding a stage to share his art with the masses.
Originally a Fort Worth, Texas native, Shelburn moved to Nashville roughly six months ago and currently resides in the Bellevue area with his wife and manager Tiffany Shelburn. Interestingly enough, Clay also wrote a song called “Black Widow,” which, instead of being about the Scarlett Johansen solo Marvel movie we all desperately need, is about the biological fact that “after mating, the female black widows kill the males.”
Though it was about the pain of an old relationship, Clay obviously harbors no such feelings about the current woman in his life. “Having my wife as a manager is very comforting to me, I don’t have to worry about a manager’s intent because she has a personal stake in the results desired from the services.”
Good point, no one will fight harder for your money than someone who profits from the struggle, and I’m guessing she makes more than the typical “manager’s fee” of ten percent.
When asked if it was difficult to balance business and pleasure with his partner, Clay added that “finding the balance between manager wife and spouse wife can be tricky sometimes, but it’s worth the growth that comes of it.”
They must be doing something right, because he has been working as a professional musician for 17 years. Music is, as Clay puts it, “my love, my obsession, my therapeutic outlet, my livelihood, and my future.”
Before he met his wife, Clay found his first love inside the sweet melodies hidden within a guitar. When he was ten, he started learning ways to coax the six stringed instrument to reveal her secrets, the notes that would define who he was to become as an adult. It had been a year since his parents had divorced, and playing the guitar offered the kid much needed release and even a therapeutical outlet.
Where words fail, music prevails.
The connection his fingers developed with the strings of a guitar eventually found their way to a young Clay’s soul, his very being in existence. Or, as he puts it, “As I got better, I found that it could be something I see myself doing forever because it came pretty naturally and I enjoy it so much.”
When asked what song did he learn first, Clay shrugged his shoulders and replied, “I’m sure the first song I learned was some old Merle Haggard tune; my dad is a strummer and loves the classics.” As music helped a son connect with his father, he soon learned that he “could connect with other people thru my suffering musically.”
As Clay grew, he began to develop a flavor for songwriting. He started to craft melodic tunes that were catchy as well as being deeply autobiographic. This is where the artist began to really connect with other people in earnest, as he learned that some of the themes in his life were universally experienced by others.
In 2015, Clay Shelburn released an album named “Defined,” which can only be described as ten stories straight from Clay’s personal journals, all accompanied by a mix of country, soul and bluesy beds of music. One of the song titles is “This Is Me,” and you really don’t get much more autobiographical than that.
Many of Clay’s trails and tribulations can be found on this disc, though that phrase kinda falls flat these days.
Perhaps I should say many of Clay’s trails and tribulations can be found in this digitally encoded information being streamed to your smartphone, then decoded by your earbuds or Beats headphones?
Nah, let’s stick to “disc,” it’s got a new old school vibe to it.
The song on this disc that is closest to Clay’s heart would be “A Day at a Time,” which is “about preserverance in the face of a sometimes harsh and seemingly unfair world. It knocks us down and we have to have the gumption to get back up and keep moving forward despite it.” It chronicles his efforts to “keep his head held high” while “haters gonna hate.”
It’s a very Taylor Swiftian anthem that floats on a bed of swirly organs, soothing female background vocals and laidback guitar licks, going down smooth while succeeding as a song that empowers while it also providing a sense of peace to the listener.
I believe it was Tom Hanks as the fictitious Vietnam War vet/ping pong enthusiast/shrimp boat captain/early Apple computers invester/man obsessed with Jennnnnnny character named Forrest Gump who once said “Mama said you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.”
This quote is a “defining” theme behind the “Defined” album, as a few of the songs tell tales of the man’s past that are equal parts unfortunate and cathartic. You can feel Clay pay tribute to the man that he was, as he strums along to the tempo of old sins, using his strings to perform a soulful, bluesy exorcism of the demons that no longer define the Nashville transplant. The album cover itself is black and white, suggesting that it deals with the past, except for the singer’s eyes that shine bright baby blue, seeing the bright future that lies ahead.
“I Feel a Sin” tells a compelling story of a younger Clay struggling with temptations of the flesh, declaring himself to have never been a good boy, choosing whiskey and late nights over following the rules. When he sings “I feel a sin coming on,” you can feel him pleading for forgiveness while his devils are drenched in bluesy guitar regret with a bit of groove to it.
Another confession can be found inside “Livin’ a Lovin’ Lie,” a song about “putting on a facade to gain a lover’s love and approval. I was dating a divorcee that felt that way about her ex. I guess it hit close to home because you can get sucked into thinking that way if you have zero self esteem and self worth.”
The landscapes created by Clay’s lyrics can at times seem rather morose, but are also intensely relatable, which has become one of the foundations he has built his career on, pure, unfiltered honesty.
The other foundation?
Let’s be real for a minute.
Clay can shred.
The accomplished musician knows his way around the instrument, electric or acoustic, he makes it weep, talk, groove and straight up electrify the air around him. Several of the songs on “Defined” have a guitar solo on them, and they have to. More like, you get the sense that Clay has something to say with his fingers that can’t quite fully translate into lyrics.
And say it he does.
For me, the highlight of the entire album is “Flavors of Funkytown,” a slightly over four minute instrumental that is buried in the back of the disc. You can feel the sheer joy as Clay lets loose on his guitar, wailing away with a stellar group of backing musicians. All of the struggles in the world mean nothing as the music they create rises above everything in this world that holds him down.
It was in this song that I felt Clay, understood why he was meant to play music to enrich God’s green earth. This is the point in the record where you truly see that he is more than another country artist trying to make a buck in Music City. To reference the track title, it is truly funky, showcasing his various styles and how well they can gel together to uplift the masses.
I would listen to a Clay Shelburn instrumental album like this all day, and I believe he possesses the musical chops and diversity to pull off such a task without it ending up boring and pretentious.
The track is quite essentially the point where he is truly “Defined,” and as I previously stated is one of the highlights of the album. Yeah, the statement bears repeating, which is why I repeated it.
Artists this good are usually not bound by the stale rules of tradition, pomp and circumstance, and Clay is no exception.
In fact, the moment in his career which has become what he is most known for, occurred at a nonconventional place, with a very nonconventional instrument.
The instrument? A $22 Disney acoustic toy guitar.
The place? A local Walmart.
It all happened way back in Fall 2013.
It was 3am one night, or early morning depending on how you look at it.
Clay and fellow artist Zac Stokes were aimlessly wandering around a Walmart, as we all have been prone to do from time to time.
Of course, when I wandered around Walmart at that time of the night, I’d usually find myself playing an impromptu round of basketball with the huge inflatable bouncy balls, launching them back into the metal cage from whence they came.
“Playing with the giant inflatable balls doesn’t appeal to me because I love music,” counters Clay, which is probably a good thing for him to say, as this fundamental difference between me and the artist I’m interviewing ended up being a good thing for him.
What did Clay and Zac do instead?
Clay picked up a toy guitar from the shelves and started strumming an off the cuff cover of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Pride and Joy,” also singing the lyrics to the song while Zac harmonized with him.
We’ve all seen people perform these type of spontaneous jams before, but usually they weren’t with a toy guitar and not in the middle of a Walmart.
They also weren’t uploaded onto YouTube.
As of right now, the video has over 7 million views on the website. Here’s a link to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=600ykNF3md4,
When you look past the sheer absurdity of the situation, you can hear Clay’s musicianship shine through, even on a toy guitar. Much like the band Self’s album “Gizmodgery,” an album solely recorded with toy instruments, Clay’s Stevie Ray Vaughn cover sounds good no matter what he plays it on.
Clay had no idea that this video would go viral, joking in the comments section that “I sure woulda sang full voice if I knew this goofy video was gonna blow up.”
It is his calling card, even his wife/manager introduced him as the “Walmart Rockstar”, since she knows that that is the biggest thing he is known for. Isn’t it crazy in this day and age, that a musician who crafts songs and albums can achieve notoriety for a goofy rendition of a classic song on the internet?
The clip became such a hit that Walmart actually flew Clay and Zac out to an amphitheater called “Walmart AMP” to recreate the viral video experience for around 1500 to 2000 Walmart managers from all over the country, little guitar and all. The notorious Disney guitar even went up in price from $22 to $25.33! No word yet on whether the price has gone back down since, though.
So he’s rocked large venues and retail stores alike.
He’s crafted an album that tells the stories of his past.
What’s next for Clay Shelburn?
Right now, the artist is “writing as much as I can and adapting to survive in a different atmosphere.” He is also “building a band that I’m confident in in Nashville and working towards the ultimate goal of touring anywhere and everywhere.” He feels the pressure of playing in what he calls “Musician Graduate School,” a place where he wants to “make money instead of going into Belmont/Berkeley level debt.”
Having painted pictures of his life on a canvas for his fans to hear, he has been pushing himself to “step outside of myself and write from other perspectives. Hence why I moved to Nashville. The writing scene here is sooo much deeper and comprehensive than in Texas.” Perhaps his fans will be treated to a storybook album in the future?
As for how he wishes his legacy to be “defined,” Clay solemnly stated that “This is the legacy of a man that made something from nothing with constant hard work on himself in his personal life as well as professionally through dedication, resilience, honesty, integrity, morality, and compassion for the hearts of the inhabitants of the planet with the sole intent to make the world a better place through the power of music.”
Sounds a little better than playing with inflatable balls at Walmart, eh?
You can find Clay Shelburn’s “Defined” album, as well as other songs, on Apple Music, Spotify and Soundcloud.
You can find up what the artist is up to by visiting http://www.clayshelburn.com, or follow Clay Shelburn Music on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and of course, the one and only Facebook!
Social Media, ain’t it great?!
Written by Charles Bridgers IV