Silver Celebration for Tracy Walker

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer
Photos and video by Madison Schmidt

Being in business for 25 years, for anyone, is a big deal. Being in the music business for 25 years, well,  that’s an even bigger deal. Cincinnati songstress Tracy Walker has managed to reach that milestone in 2018, celebrating her silver anniversary the way she’s marked every year—by making great music.

You might know Tracy as a solo artist, or as the lead of the Tracy Walker Band. You might not know, however, that music as a profession came later in life.

“I had a zillion interests as a kid,” she said. “I wanted to be an architect, a fire fighter, but what I was always involved in, was music. I used to bang on pots, I wanted to play drums, which my parents wouldn’t let me do, then guitar.

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“I played saxophone in school, was involved in school theater and musicals, but it didn’t seem like a career path. I hadn’t really considered it, I just loved doing it. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s—I had been writing poetry, been sitting in with a band, and I started to realize, hey, I really like this and I’m kind of good at it.”

Advice from another singer-guitarist, KC Phelps, led to a five-year stint in a local group, Ain’t Helen, where Tracy got experience and exposure in this area’s music scene. “But even while KC and I were working together, I started to do solo performances, just to be able to do it,” she said. “And what I realized was, the better I was as a solo performer, the better I was in a group.”

What’s her secret to her longevity? “It’s probably a number of things: One, I just love doing it, so that keeps me coming back. And then one of the things I’ve heard from production people over the years is wow, you made that really easy. I hope people call me back because it’s a good experience for them as well.

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“And I’ve had the good fortune, good sense to work with really great people. A lot of the people in my band, I’ve worked with for a long time. I have great musicians who want to continue playing with me. And that helps. Just like any long term relationship that’s good, it gets better as you find new ways to express what it is you’re doing.”

Whether in her band or by herself, trying to label Tracy’s singing style isn’t simple—and that’s the way she likes it. “I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music, AM radio, Paul Simon, Pablo Cruise, Barry Manilow and Bootsy (Collins), Parliament and Ray Charles, and I still listen to a lot of different music,” she said. “I think that for a lot of musicians, the genre thing is something that’s foisted on us from the industry. I think there is all kinds of music in all of us, it’s just for some, they get known for a particular style.”

So what has changed in Cincinnati music over the last 25 years? “One thing that hasn’t changed is, we make the same amount of money now that we did 25 years ago,” she pointed out. And while Tracy has her familiar venues where she plays (Oktoberfest, Taste of Cincinnati, Myrtle’s Punch House, to name a few), she’d like to see more in the central city district. “I feel there should be more places downtown and Over the Rhine for live music. We had Barrel House way back, and a lot of these new breweries that are popping also are having live music. But I’d like to see more venues downtown, it’s a shame there aren’t more.”

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So how will Tracy celebrate her 25 years of performing? “One of the things I’d like to do, and it’s been on my list for a very long time, is get an electronic setup and dabble in electronic music. Other than that, keep writing and keep living so that I can have stuff to write about. I love being alive and I love new experiences. I’ll go ride an elephant and write about that.”

While we’re waiting for Tracy’s elephant song, she has some advice for other young musicians who want to try their hand in the business. “I think one of the most important things is, you have to find a way to believe in yourself, and to be true to yourself. Because it’s a slippery slope trying to make everybody else happy. You need to make yourself happy and know what you want to do.

“You’ve got to get rooted in what it is you want to do, and the kind of artist-performer, whatever you want to be, and do that. And when you do, your audience will find you, and you’ll find them.”