Like many musicians, Charles Walker Austin-Zimmerman’s musical roots trace back to the piano lessons he was made to take as a young child.
“I was 7 and my mom made me take lessons,” Walker (who uses his middle name professionally) said. “I didn’t love it.”
By age 10, Walker was playing Ozzy Osbourne on the piano and his mom concluded that a guitar might be a better fit.
That is also the age when Walker, now a senior at Independence High School, began, as he said, “getting into music and buying records.”
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Walker did not have any guitar instruction but instead, he said, “I figured it out on my own.”
He also started writing songs. They were often about experiences he hadn’t yet had but imagined, such as a girlfriend leaving for college.
Walker tried starting a band while he was at Piedmont IB Middle School, but “we were horrible,” he said. “We practiced Green Day for months.”
At age 13, Walker decided to put out an album, which he recorded using garage band and the microphone on his laptop computer. His mother’s friend owned a CD duplication company and another friend did the cover art. He released the CD when he was 14 years old and sold the CD, called Arts and Crafts, for $5.
Walker played and performed at venues around town whenever he could, and he continued writing songs.
I am at a pivotal part of my life and I am trying to document that as well as I can with music.
When Walker was 15 years old, he had amassed 20 new songs and was ready to put out another album. His Christmas present that year was converting his walk-in closet in his Mint Hill home into a studio.
“The first CD sounds like a sandstorm is going on in the background,” Walker said. “The second one is so much better because I made it in a studio.”
Walker was struggling to do everything himself when he realized that he had musical friends he could ask to join him. He wrote music for drums, violin, trumpet and bass guitar and got additional vocals as well.
“I took my time working on the album,” Walker said. “Most people have to hurry because they are renting studio space, but since I had the studio for free, I worked on the album for over a year.”
In October 2014, Walker released his second album, “Truth Be Told.”
He also decided to form “a real band” with high school friends who shared his dedication to making music. He initially called the band Toronto in Summer (“I just made it up because I like the city,” Walker said) but he has since changed the name to the Charles Walker band.
His mother, Jill Austin, who used to play in a band herself, suggested he go on tour so that he could take his music to the next level. Walker planned a multi-state tour for August 2015.
“I had to do it all myself,” Walker said, “because I don’t have a manager or publicist.”
He read articles about marketing and did internet research, sending out thousands of emails and letters until he was able to secure five gigs in small venues in Atlanta, Ga.; Greenwood, S.C.; and Asheville, Greensboro and Raleigh in North Carolina.
His band now consists of Katie Marshall, 17, a senior at United Faith Christian Academy on vocals and guitar, Ben Smyth, 17, a senior at South Point High School on bass, and Wil Prewitt, 17, a 2015 graduate of Marvin Ridge High School on drums.
The Charles Walker Band plays an average of one gig per month at venues around Charlotte and they are planning a two-week tour in July 2016.
“After that,” Walker, 17, said, “we will probably break up because we are all heading to college.”
The transition to college will likely inspire new songs.
“I am at a pivotal part of my life,” Walker said, “and I am trying to document that as well as I can with music.”
His advice to other aspiring musicians is to “dedicate as much time as you can to it. If you don’t enjoy it, then it is probably not for you.”
Walker credits music with teaching him lessons that can’t be taught in the classroom.
“Through songwriting, I have learned so much about myself.”
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about Charles Walker and upcoming gigs, visit www.CharlesWalkerMusic.com or follow him on Twitter @CharlesWalker97 and on Instagram @CharlesWalkerNc.