GOING DEEP

Surviving MS and the turmoil of the music biz, Clay Walker is back and on top of his game

As any tourist can tell you, New York City can be pretty stressful. But sitting 28 stories above Broadway's bustling theater district, Clay Walker is anything but rattled. After all, when you've survived multiple sclerosis and the music business, a little big-city pressure is nothing.

"I've had a great ride, but by no means do I feel like I'm finished," says Clay. "I've got a lot to prove."

The avid Houston Texans fan (who even wrote the NFL team's fight song) puts it in football terms. "Great quarterbacks don't get good until their seventh or eighth year," he explains. "So this is my seventh album. I'm thinking, 'Hey, I know the plays, I know the defenses -- I can throw it deep if I want to!'"

"Going deep" takes on a whole new meaning on "A Few Questions," Clay's heart-rending new hit.

"It's a very deep song to me," he says. "It really relates to me in a lot of ways, because I think everybody has questions in life.

"The line that really gets me going is, How can two people who've built a loving home/Try for years and never have a child of their own? I think most people who have children are so thankful that they do."

Clay's own new daughter was the first thing he thought of when he was diagnosed in 1996 with MS, a debilitating -- though treatable -- disease of the central nervous system.

"I had a 3-month-old baby, my first child," he recalls, "and I was going, 'How could this be happening?' I was coming off the greatest high of my life, my career was rolling, I had a beautiful little girl that was the light of my life, and then -- bam!"

Now Clay is back on track. "Living with MS hasn't been easy, but I feel blessed to continue to be so healthy," he admits. A regimen of medication has been keeping the disease in check, for which Clay is grateful, and his spirits are boosted by the knowledge that many MS sufferers are nonetheless able to live full, otherwise healthy lives. "I know not everyone who is diagnosed with MS is as lucky as I am."

And dealing with MS hasn't been all bad, he says. "Little things that bothered me before don't faze me," he notes. "And this certainly humbled me in a good way. I've always been a people person, but now when I meet somebody or shake their hand, I like to look in their eyes a little bit longer than I used to."

Besides, Clay is feeling just fine these days. "I ride cutting horses, fish a lot, garden," he says. "I've been running two and a half miles just about every day. We've been doing three-hour performances, and I'm never tired."

As he releases his new album, A Few Questions, Clay says there's no holding him back. "It's kind of like animals," he says with a smile. "The wolves will always eat the weak ones. But they better bring a big damn plate if they're gonna eat me!"

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