Born 1969, Cartersville
I was born in Rome and grew up in Cartersville. It was, at the time, a pretty rural farm town. We always joked that it had one McDonald’s and a farm. It’s about five times the size now.
Walker, around age sixteen, with his band, Badd Boyz; photograph courtesy of Butch Walker
When I was a teenager and was exploring putting bands together, I ventured out to Rome where a lot more teenage musicians lived. I started taking guitar lessons from this guy named Jerry King in Rome. He was amazing; a Berklee graduate in music and gifted guitarist and transcriber of jazz and classical and rock and roll. He would literally pick me up from school and take me to my lesson, and Mom, after work, would drive thirty minutes to Rome and pick me up once a week.
I was a drummer in an Elvis Presley tribute band when I was eleven. It was with cops and truck drivers and dudes all in their thirties. I was the only drummer in town then.
Walton High School [in Roswell] had the drummer, bass player, and keyboard player who would eventually be in my Top 40 cover band. The keyboard player was a senior and the girl to take my virginity. We became lovers instantly. I was fifteen and couldn’t even drive yet. I’d never seen a girl like this in real life. In Cartersville it was all cheerleaders and rednecks. This girl came to rehearsals with bandannas all over and leopard-skin spandex pants and crazy, wild, bleached-blond hair. And she could sing and play keyboards, so I was smitten. I was like, “I’m in.” I quit being a little Christian schoolboy from that day forward.
No one in my school listened to hard rock or wanted to be in rock and roll. It was a very religious, right-wing town. Very "Footloose." I was a loner, but I was never picked on. I was sleeping with an eighteen-year-old senior who looked like Pat Benatar, so I didn’t give a shit about anybody in my school.
I wanted to graduate just to get out. I didn’t want to quit; I didn’t want to let my pop down. He begged me not to quit. My dad and mom knew that my heart was set on getting out of Cartersville.
I’m only speaking harshly about Cartersville because I’ve come full circle. Most of those feelings were harbored when I was in my twenties, when I was living out in California; there are a lot of things you get nostalgic for by the time you hit forty.
My parents still live in Cartersville. I want to get a farm out in the country where I grew up. My parents, and especially my dad, you know, he’s not going to be around forever, and so I really want to have something I can call home there for the rest of my life.
My sisters are still in Cartersville. Within a couple years we’re all gonna be back there. After touring the world a lot and seeing the most pretty and ugliest places on the planet, I realized how beautiful my little conservative hometown is, especially outside of it, where I grew up going in the woods and riding bikes. I think I know where I want to have some roots laid down.
—As told to Scott Roberts
Butch Walker is a singer, songwriter, and producer who has worked with artists like Katy Perry and Weezer. After living in Los Angeles, he moved back to Atlanta in 1991. His autobiography, Drinking With Strangers: Music Lessons from a Teenage Bullet Belt, cowritten with Matt Diehl, was released last fall. He recently toured with his band the Black Widows, promoting his latest release, The Spade.