As long as he can afford a peanut butter sandwich every now and again, one former Liberty County resident is OK with where his country music career is heading.
Cody Walden grew up in Liberty County, where his mother is a teacher and his father works for Georgia Power and is a county commissioner. But he left in 2009, to move to Nashville, Tenn. where he hopes to earn his peanut butter as a songwriter and musician.
"I left because the job market was poor and I figured I could be broke in Hinesville, or I could be broke in Nashville. So I here I am."
When Walden, 24, started singing in chorus as a student at Joseph Martin Elementary, his teachers said they thought he had talent, something he put stock in as moved forward in life.
"It’s just me up here," he said. "I loaded everything I own into a U-Haul and left. Get busy living, or get busy dying … I was scared, but it was an excited scared, like a first date kind of feeling. I love Liberty County. The people and the place helped make me who I am today. It’s just that there’s so much more out there and I want to see it all."
On Jan. 19, he signed a contract with SESAC, a company that represents musicians’ rights when their music is played in public. It isn’t exactly a publishing deal, but Walden hopes it is a step toward signing with a record label.
"I don’t really see it as a big deal … just another step in the right direction," Walden said. "SESAC oversees publishing, collects royalties and will help me further my craft by putting my material in the hands of others in the music business."
The company has represented Bob Dylan, Mariah Carey and Lady Antebellum, according to the SESAC’s website.
"I guess it all started at Joseph Martin Elementary, right here in Hinesville," Walden said. "Lynn Poppell, a music teacher, told me I could sing ... and I believed her. Karen Stagmeier, my second-grade teacher, told me I could be anything I wanted to be... and I believed her. Fifth grade teacher Connie Klein told me I was a good creative writer and encouraged me to keep at it. She also told me to go to the principal’s office ... on a regular basis."
Ryan Troha, Walden’s best friend, said they were inseparable growing up. Although Troha says he personally has "no talent" for singing, he fondly remembers the moment he shared the stage with his buddy and sang Garth Brooks’ "Rodeo" during a talent show.
"I know in elementary school they had a talent show for students and he asked me to sing with him. That was, I guess, was my first experience singing with him," Troha said.
Troha said the moment he realized Walden had written and produced his album, "Songs, Stories & Bold Face Lies," was when he knew the former Liberty Countian was going somewhere big.
"When he started distributing that [album] … I realized it was something that he could go somewhere with. It wasn’t just a hobby," Troha said.
And while he is waiting to make it even bigger in the industry, Walden works in a pawn shop — just as Troha does here — to pay the bills. The musician plays gigs three to four times a week after work. On the nights he isn’t performing, Walden composes.
"There is no shortage of hungry writers and musicians in this town," Walden said. "Some of the most amazing guitar pickers I’ve ever heard play for spare change on the streets of Lower Broadway."
The singer/songwriter is convinced he won’t be one of the guitar players sitting on a street corner because he knows what it means to put in hard work.
"My grandpa always said that there is always a job somewhere ... for a man who is willing to work," he said. "The truth is, most of the starving people are too proud to scrub a toilet or dig a ditch. I’m not."
Eddie Walden said he always encouraged his three children to follow their dreams as much as possible.
"We’ve always encouraged him to do what he felt like he wanted to do," the musician’s father said. "I cautioned him that it was a big world."
While his son was growing up, Eddie Walden said his wife Kathy always had a guitar around the house and Cody taught himself. Neither have musical aspirations or much singing talent. It’s something his son started to enjoy and took off with it, he said.
"It is definitely not me. I can barely put in a CD," he said.
Even though his son is pursuing his dreams in country music’s capital, there is no doubt in Eddie Walden’s mind that his son is doing what he loves and will remember how he got there.
"I don’t believe he will ever forget where he got his first pair of shoes. He won’t ever forget this is home. Regardless of whether he makes it big or not, he’s still Cody Walden."