Coast Guard veteran Bobby "Blackhat" Walters has the blues. That's not an unusual circumstance for the award-winning singer-songwriter from Newport News.
At the moment he has a specific focus -- the partial shutdown of the federal government, now in its fourth week -- and he is venting in the way he knows best.
His new song "Gubment Shutdown Blues," written over the weekend and recorded on Tuesday afternoon, is now being played on local radio stations and finding an audience online and through social media.
"It's shameful, absolutely shameful, what's happening," Walters said. "This did not sneak up on us -- it's a longstanding issue that been brewing and brewing and brewing. The government has a job to do, and that have not done it. It's an epic fail."
The song begins: "Woke up this morning / couldn't go to work / 'cause gubment can't govner / D.C. has gone berserk."
Walters spent 27 years in the Coast Guard, retiring in 2003. Because of the shutdown, he has been told that his next paycheck is not coming. He has friends who are still active-duty who already are missing their pay.
The issue had been riling him for a while, and then last Friday he got a message from Jim Bulleit, a songwriter from Virginia Beach. Bulleit had written a song about the shutdown that he thought Walters might like.
Walters related to the anger he heard, but he said he was uncomfortable with the relatively partisan nature of the lyrics. With Bulleit's permission, he did a re-write that focused more on the suffering of the ordinary citizens, pointing a finger at the totality of the Washington bureaucracy.
In one verse, he sings: "The blue blames the red / the red blames the blue / I blame you all / for the job you failed to do."
"That's the message that we're getting out," Walters said, "I don't want to polarize one side against another. I'd rather focus on the people who are affected, and the people who are supposed to handle it who are doing a pretty poor job."
Walters booked time on Tuesday at Soul Haven Studios in Virginia Beach, and he called on his longtime friend and former bandmate Larry Berwald to provide the stinging acoustic guitar. In a spoken-word bridge representing the voice of furloughed workers, Bulleit provided one vocal and Berwald's wife, Bethany, did the same.
Walters sent the song to radio stations at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Three hours later, Paul Shugrue used it to open his "Out of the Box" show on WHRV-FM 89.5, a show dedicated to the very latest tunes by national and local artists. DJ Neal Steele played in on Xtra91 FM out of Gloucester, and local television stations have sampled it on newscasts.
Walters released his latest album, "Put On Your Red Shoes," last fall, but "Gubmint Shutdown Blues" follows his track record of turning out singles as timely and topical as the week's headlines. Previous inspirations have included the acrimonious 2016 presidential election ("Presidential Cam'pain' Blues") and last year's school shooting in Parkland, Fla. ("Run, Baby, Run"). His "HRBT Blues," a lament on local bridge-tunnel traffic, resonated with Hampton Roads residents and won Song of the Year at the VEER Magazine Local Music Awards.
Now it's the federal government shutdown.
"We really put it together on the fly," Walters said. "Larry and I did one quick rehearsal by Facebook and then put it together for real in the studio. I tried to walk a real fine line with the message, but it's something that needs to be said. They hijacked my paycheck, and I don't like it at all. There's 800,000-plus people who did not have a choice in this, and I don't think it's right."
This article is written by Mike Holtzclaw from Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.