Dustin Walker’s love for music was born out of a concert he attended as a little boy.
He picked on a plastic guitar, sat on his grandfather’s shoulders and watched Rick Springfield rock the house before he was summoned to join Springfield on stage.
Today, Walker, a junior at Shorewood Christ's Academy and a resident of Channahon, calls Springfield “Uncle Rick” and is preparing to open for him in a July 27 gig at Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo.
Walker, who plays acoustic guitar and bass, recently signed a three-year deal with Musik and Film. He has a five-song EP—one with Springfield accompanying him on lyrics—that will be released when he opens for his beloved “Uncle Rick.”
In short, Walker is living the dream.
He opened for Springfield at Taste of Joliet in 2010 and stoked a crowd of nearly 20,000 with his high-energy show, full of old-‘80s and pop-‘80s style music and new alternative rock. He said cellos under the electric guitars give his band the sound a heavier vibe.
When they’re on stage together, Springfield, 63, and Walker, 17, have come to be viewed nowadays by as fans as the Old Heartthrob and the Young Heartthrob.
“That’s just amazing to me because he’s always been my hero and my idol,” Walker said. “So, to hear somebody comparing me to him—it is just amazing that I could accomplish something like that. I watch his videos and I’m like, ‘Man, I want to be like that some day.’
“So hearing that—they say I’m ‘Dee-Man’ and he’s ‘Da-Man.’ It’s cool. And you stumble across it. People are just saying it or posting it. And, when they’re saying it naturally, rather than on something they know you’re going to see, it means even more.”
Walker does much of his song writing in his studio—in the basement of his home in Channahon. His father, Jeff, works for Exelon as a senior regulatory specialist at the Dresden Nuclear Power Station. He is a graduate of the University of St. Francis.
Prodigal Son Grows Up
Walker’s grandmother, Lori Stroud, tends to the house, a job that includes looking after the shih-tzu puppies she raises and Walker’s two siblings, Shelby, 13, and Drake, 10. She has watched Dustin develop through his music over the years and learn to carry himself well in adult settings.
“I’m so proud,” Stroud said. “He’s very dedicated. He’s mature beyond his years in his dedication to his music. And the whole family is very proud that he’s sticking to it.”
Walker was 3 years old when he first met Springfield. His dad was a big fan and took him to see Springfield perform—along with the rest of the family.
“I was at a concert, and I was on my grandpa’s shoulders with a little plastic guitar, and his manager came over and asked me and my dad to come to the side,” Walker said. “He said, ‘Hey, does your kid want to go up on stage?’ I was like, ‘No, maybe later.’
“My dad started talking and I said, ‘All right, I’m ready now. I walked right out on stage. Rick (Springfield) pulled me up there. I sang a song with him. I was 3 years old. It was insane. Then, we went backstage after and he said, ‘I’m going to be your Uncle Rick. I’m going to take care of you.’ ”
Since then, Walker has met Springfield after many of his shows. The two have gone out to dinner and swapped stories. Their most memorable caper came during a whirlwind trip to Malibu for the movie premier of An Affair of the Heart, a picture starring Springfield and also featuring Walker.
“He has a 1963 Corvette split-window,” Walker said. “And it was made by George Barris—the guy who did the Batmobile and the Monkeemobile. Before it was even built, he said if you ever get out to L.A., I’ll take you for a ride in it.
“So, he’s like, ‘Hey, man, did you see my Corvette?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ So, then after the premier, me and him got in it and we were doing like 90-mph down Pacific Coast Highway.”
Walker’s presence on stage is every bit as electrifying as a thrill ride on the Coast.
“The kid has got charisma,” said Stephen Wrench, president of Musik and Film and Walker’s manager. “He’s got something you can’t buy and you can’t teach. I’ve seen him perform at several points and on several videos with several different people.
“He takes over the stage. People love him. He’s got great personality.”
He has come a long way from that plastic guitar.
COMING TUESDAY: Log on at 6 a.m. Tuesday to hear Dustin Walker sing I Can't Do Anything for You and watch the Affair of the Heart movie trailer.