Features, Print March 6, 2020

Into The Original: Tyler Walker & John DeWitt at the RMCMAs

by Dan England

As the talent booker for the Greeley Stampede’s music acts, John DeWitt always liked the Tyler Walker Band. They were crowd pleasers who played both covers and original tunes – a good fit with the headlining, young-country acts DeWitt brought to the Stampede every year. They kept the fun going on the Free Stage after the crowd, still buzzing from the big act, cleared the Island Grove Arena. They were also good guys who did what DeWitt asked, without complaint, even when the Stampede couldn’t pay them what he knew they deserved. But now that he’s in the band, he’s an even bigger fan.

“I left my other two bands for Tyler’s because he’s an amazing songwriter,” DeWitt said in an interview for BandWagon. “Tyler was my favorite. I believed in him for a lot of different reasons.”

Tyler Walker Band will be featured at the Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards at the UCCC in Greeley Friday, March 13. You can also catch them March 19 at the 97 Day Stampede Kick-Off.

This story is really two stories, but since last April, when Walker proposed DeWitt joining the band on keyboards, you can’t have Tyler’s story without the John’s.

DeWitt, a successful real estate agent who currently builds houses, was the eventual chairman of the Stampede committee, a volunteer, go-gettin’ organization that runs Greeley’s biggest event of the year, but now he’s living the dream for a third time as a musician. 

That appears to be working out for him: He was nominated for Musician of the Year in the Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards, a show iHeartRadio presents to honor the best country music from the nine-state Rocky Mountain region. This year’s show takes place March 13 in downtown Greeley’s Civic Center. Walker and his band both have garnered numerous honors in the past, and Walker will make an appearance in a tribute to Chris Ledoux this year.

But the formation of the Tyler Walker Band’s lineup was a bit less glamorous. Brian Sunde, TWB’s other original member, was the only one to respond to Walker’s first Craig’s List ad asking anyone interested to put a band together. Sometimes those internet connections spark magic, as is the case with DeWitt joining the band. Sunde saw DeWitt playing in a rock and roll fantasy camp on Facebook, a platform full of dreamers who pay big to “play alongside,” shall we say, veteran rock musicians via the internet. But the clip impressed Sunde, who admitted that he didn’t know DeWitt could actually play. DeWitt, whose nomination shows his real chops, loved the experience so much that it stoked the fire in his belly to play again, even though he was a busy agent. Now he’s even busier. 

John DeWitt (left) and Tyler Walker

Though serendipitous, DeWitt and Walker honestly seemed like a mismatch despite DeWitt’s respect for the band. DeWitt loved hair metal and rock and roll — he put together VOA, a Sammy Hagar tribute band — and his bio doesn’t hide it, stating that he takes full credit for the comeback of the keytar. Walker also isn’t interested in running a party band: He’s trying to make it as a real country artist playing his own originals, opening for bigger acts and turning down the security of four-hour bar gigs. But DeWitt and the band welcome that change, with sights set on long-term goals.

“That means we play less,” Walker said, acknowledging that even when the band gets gigs, they’re usually for an hour as an opener. “But the payoff in the end is greater if we sacrifice now.”

Walker himself received a recent honor when he was chosen to be part of a writer’s roundtable at the well-known Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. He received feedback on his songs from respected peers in the industry.

“It gave me some insight to the publishing side of things and what they are looking for,” Walker said. “Reactions to music are so personal and relative, but they gave me some good tips, even though you have to take them with some salt.”

The end-goal is worth it, but it’s harder to make it as a band that writes and plays only originals, even if it does present the opportunity to open for touring acts such as Big & Rich.

“It’s hard to get out of that cover band mindset because covers are such a crowd pleaser,” Walker said, “They want to dance. You get more of a reaction. But we are trying to step out of that.”

The band will continue to work toward that, entering the studio at the end of March to record songs that Walker hopes to release by this summer, one single at a time. 

“That’s the goal every couple years: to put out new music and promote it,” Walker said, “and you just hope something will get some attention.”

The Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards featuring Tyler Walker and John DeWitt among others, starts at 6 pm on Friday, March 13 at the Union Colony Civic Center, 701 10th Avenue in downtown Greeley. Go to big979.iheart.com/calendar or just click here for tickets. Catch Tyler at the Stampede 97 day Kickoff show on march 19 as well.