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Our American roots

They traded in their Alaskan dream home for a camper that took them to the hills where bluegrass and the sounds of Americana originated. Now, Walker Family Band and The Redhead Express are bringing their many instruments and eclectic family style to Hutchins Street Square for a night of singing, picking and clogging.

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Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 7:40 am

Some believe that in order to master a craft, you have to immerse yourself in it.

The Walker family didn’t cut any corners when it came to mastering country music. They uprooted their lives in Alaska and drove a camper packed with their nine family members to the source of American country music: the Ozark and Appalachian mountains.

There, the young Walker children sat in circles with “old-timers,” who taught them to pick the strings on their guitars and banjos and to play that good, old-fashioned bluegrass.

“If you want to play that style well, you have to know that style well,” said Kendra Walker, a member of Walker Family Band, as well as the offshoot band, The Redhead Express, made up of the four Walker sisters.

The Walker Family Band, now based in Nashville, will bring their collection of instruments to Lodi on Thursday for a one-night performance offering the sounds of Americana. Sponsored by the Lodi Community Concert Association, the acoustic family show will feature a combination of Celtic music, bluegrass, family originals and favorites of the ’50s and ’60s at Hutchins Street Square.

What the Walkers has created is an original American Roots show, which takes listeners on a journey through bluegrass, old-time mountain music with some Irish sounds and classic country. There’s even a little clogging — Irish tap dancing — and gospel. Mom, dad and all seven children play instruments, from the fiddle and upright bass, to the dobro, mandolin and box drum they call a cajon.

Before the Walkers began traveling the country in an RV with their chocolate lab, Cocoa, they were a normal family — perhaps just more musical than the average family. Living in Palmer, Alaska, Apryll Walker had been a piano teacher, and her children received lessons by default. Her children also studied violin for years. The guitar and banjo were the natural next options.

Soon, she realized that her family had formed its own band.

Together, they played shows at Friday night markets and local fairs, and the girls had started their own not-so-acoustic band The Redhead Express.

For both bands, gaining popularity meant they would need to be someplace other than Alaska. However, life was settled. Apryll Walker had almost finished raising her daughters, and was giving a lot of her attention to the younger boys. Kendra Walker was getting ready to start college. And the family had finally finished building their large cabin-style home. Building that house had been their dream.

But so was music. It was time to make a decision.

“We sold everything and bought an RV and trailer,” Apryll Walker said.

Branson. Nashville. The Ozarks. Appalachia. That’s where they would have to go to learn and to record if they were serious about their music.

Kendra Walker was worried about putting college on hold.

“I didn’t know if it was going to go anywhere,” she said. “It was hardest the first year; I wondered, ‘Am I missing out on college life?’”

But the family worked hard, and no one, include Kendra, has regrets. The musicians worked to improve their sounds and their skills. When they came upon old musicians playing in the hills of Virginia and North Carolina, the kids would would join.

“They’d be having jam sessions, and we’d say, ‘What are you doing?’” Apryll Walker said. “We just felt like we needed to know the roots.”

The Walkers are inspired by early Americana, but also by more recent music. The Redhead Express has been inspired by female artists like Alison Krauss and Eva Cassidy, whereas Apryll Walker and her husband have a love for ’80s rock, everything from Boston to Survivor. One of her daughters studied jazz, and is inspired by Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald.

But no matter what they do, it is almost all music. They are happy and dedicated, even when they are doing 250 shows a year.

From a mother’s standpoint, Apryll Walker is proud that her children are so dedicated and friendly to the people they meet.

“I had no idea they would do anything like this,” she said. “They are hard workers; they love what they do and I’m excited to be with them.”

Contact Lodi Living Editor Lauren Nelson at laurenn@lodinews.com.

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