Stacey Walker Puts All Her Heart and Soul into Making Music, No Matter the Project
- Written byTanya Monaghan
- Photographed bySummer Hopper
Talented singer-songwriter Stacey Walker came into the world immersed in music. Born to artistic parents who settled in Manhattan Beach in the ’60s, she grew up attending bluegrass music festivals up and down the coast of California. She remembers running through long grass, catching frogs and collecting polished rocks with her sister, Sarah. They would camp under the stars, where everyone would congregate around the fire and play music.
Her father, Tim, played bluegrass fiddle for a band called The Dogtown Philharmonic. Her mother, Norma, sang in the church band and loved playing classic rock records. Stacey’s childhood soundtrack was Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and The Beatles. All of these early experiences forged the path she is on today.
Stacey’s stepbrother taught her how to play guitar when she was 15. Already a budding poet, she used the guitar to put music to her words. By 17, Stacey had produced her first album, self-titled Stacey Ruth, which she recorded at a friend’s studio in Manhattan Beach. Building on that experience, she created the eclectic indie rock band The Mind Blasters with her friend, playing gigs all over Los Angeles and the South Bay.
“It’s the perfect place to be a musician as well as a mom. It offers a wholesome community feel, a beach lifestyle, fresh air, as well as the accessibility to be able to zip up to Venice, L.A. or the Valley. So many people appreciate and love live music here, so I feel really supported by my wonderful community.”
After that band broke up, Stacey created the bluegrass group Headline County with some of her fellow students at Mira Costa High School. The band played at the Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair and won the Battle of the Bands contest that year.
Stacey’s passion for music was strongly nurtured and encouraged by her music classes at Mira Costa. An unexpected opportunity arose when she was asked to play at the wedding of her high school music teacher Jonathan Westerberg. After playing, she was approached by one of the attendees, who wrote jingles for a living. Captivated by her voice, he thought she would be perfect for some of his projects.
Stacey drove to his Venice studio to record and quickly secured huge commercials for Walmart and American Express. You have likely heard her euphonious voice—her jingles have been on commercials for Coca-Cola, Toyota, JC Penney, NFL and many more.
On the back of these successful projects, Stacey booked the coveted New York Lottery commercial. After New York publishing house Zync Music heard the commercial, they quickly picked Stacey up as a client. Zync has a base in Los Angeles and recently partnered with Round Hill Music Nashville to provide a wider catalog. This arrangement also gave her the opportunity to create her own music for commercials or movies and to be paired with producers to write jingles, rather than solely freelancing for others. One of her cover songs was featured on the hit television show Grace and Frankie,and Stacey has a goal of getting one of her songs into a movie next.
Although steady commercial work has kept her busy, Stacey recently found time to produce her latest album, Calistoga Few. The concept for the album began organically when she started writing about her emotions and personal experiences in 2018. The music evokes a dusty, Californian feel. Stacey loves the unexpected, so she incorporated fiddles, saxophone, trumpet, drums and other percussion instruments.
“I wanted the music to possess a driving momentum like a steam train, bringing energy and movement to the songs,” she shares. “I wanted to make it bigger.”
Stacey enlisted Miles Michaud, a member of the popular American psychedelic rock band the Allah-Las, to produce Calistoga Few and cowrite a couple songs. She also collaborated with Gabe Witcher, a founding member of the string ensemble Punch Brothers and Grammy award-winning multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer and arranger who is best known as a fiddle player and singer. The great Benmont Tench, keyboardist and founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, whom Stacey befriended during her time on the bluegrass scene, also plays on three of the album’s songs.
Above Right: Stacey Walker and Benmont Tench | Photographed by Miles Michaud
Unable to tour during the pandemic, Stacey seized the moment to record the album following strict COVID-19 protocols. They spread out their time at three studios in L.A., the most memorable being Valentine Recording Studios, built in 1946. This iconic enterprise produced albums for the likes of The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa and Jackson Browne. After many years of being buried, the historic studio was rediscovered and brought back to its original condition, along with the old-school equipment.
“I wanted to record analog to get that ‘warm in the room’ feel,” says Stacey. “It was a wonderful experience because the base of all our songs has this real organic feel because it’s recorded live to tape with the three instruments. This gives the music a more intimate and closer sound. Those studios are hard to find.”
Stacey has lived in the South Bay her whole life and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. She feels blessed that her entire family is still rooted here.
“It’s the perfect place to be a musician as well as a mom,” she says. “It offers a wholesome community feel, a beach lifestyle, fresh air, as well as the accessibility to be able to zip up to Venice, L.A. or the Valley. So many people appreciate and love live music here, so I feel really supported by my wonderful community.”
Stacey poured her soul into her album alongside some legendary musicians, and Calistoga Few promises to showcase the depths of her many talents. Her writing is vulnerable, open and honest. Her voice is silky, smooth and effortless.
“I want the songs I write to be something I’m proud of and something I’m excited about regardless of where it could be headed,” Stacey says. “You just kind of bless it and let it go where it’s going to go.”