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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Back In The Saddle

Staring his own mortality in the face in 1996, Clay Walker blinked and then went on with his life.

On tour in Calgary, the 26-year-old Texan fell while playing basketball with his band. He couldn’t move his right arm or leg, his hand tingled and his vision was blurred. But the symptoms subsided, and the rising country star climbed back up on stage that night.

“Thank God I was off for a few weeks after that,” he told People magazine. He went home to Brenham and underwent some medical tests in nearby Houston.

Walker was badly shaken when a brain scan and spinal tap showed that he could have either a fatal disease or multiple sclerosis, an incurable attack on the nervous system. Some 350,000 Americans have the often crippling disorder, and about 25 percent end up in wheelchairs.

Walker and his wife, Lori, were relieved to learn that Clay would be around to raise their little girl, MaClay, now 2 years old.

“My first reaction was devastation,” he said. “But my second was to find out exactly what I was dealing with before I came to any conclusions.”

Soon after getting used to the therapy and drug treatment, Walker hit the road again. “For the first few shows, I wasn’t sure if my leg would give out, but now I’m more active than ever,” he said.

“This hasn’t affected me physically, and I have reason to believe it won’t.”

He’ll be wearing his trademark black hat when he performs at the Spokane Arena on Saturday along with Diamond Rio and Daryle Singletary. The last time Walker came to town, in the summer of ‘95, he played at Playfair Race Course.

Walker’s current single a Caribbean-flavored ditty called “Then What?” is No. 7 on Billboard’s country chart this week. He hit the country scene with a bullet when his first single, “What’s It To You,” zoomed to the top of the chart in 1993.

Since then, he’s scored seven more No. 1 songs. Overall, Walker has sold some 6 million albums, with his first three each over a million and his latest, “Rumor Has It,” just about there, too.

On that release, Walker returned to the roots he planted with his first album. “I wanted this album to be even more country. I felt the sounds on the records were beginning to get a little stock and sounded, to me anyway, predictable. I felt it needed to get back to a much more rural sound, like we had on my first album.”

He’s currently working on a greatest hits package. While the hits may come and go, Walker looks elsewhere for satisfaction.

“I don’t measure my happiness by how many albums I sell,” he said. “Success comes and goes. I’d rather measure my success and happiness by something more realistic, like enjoying my family and my ranch or enjoying the fans that make all of this possible.”

While his multiple sclerosis has forced some life changes, including a new diet with lots of fish and little grease, Walker’s positive about the future. “Everything really looks fabulous for me,” he said.

“My MS is not of the progressive nature at this point, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be. I feel very fortunate and blessed. I thank God for that.”

Diamond Rio

The reigning Country Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year has been a force in Nashville since 1991.

Only one of the guys grew up in the country music mecca. The other five wandered in packing big dreams in the mid-‘80s. In the band’s early days, lead guitarist Jimmy Olander even mowed lawns to make ends meet.

But a showcase for Arista Records in 1990 changed their fortune. Their single “Meet in the Middle” hit No. 1 the next year.

“People have sent us wedding videos where they used ‘Meet in the Middle’ as their wedding march, walking down along fence posts and everything,” says lead singer Marty Roe. “And you know what? We watch ‘em.”

The band has racked up five No. 1 hits on its five albums, which includes last year’s “Greatest Hits.” They also notched a Grammy nomination this year for best country group performance for “How Your Love Makes Me Feel.”

“In those early years, it was neverending, grueling,” says bassist and singer Dana Williams. “We’ve been through all this and never hardly had a spat… . All we ever fight about is leaving the TV set on in the bus.”

The good times are rolling, literally. The band spends a lot of time on that bus, playing some 200 concerts a year. But they’re not lugging a mower.

Daryle Singletary

This Georgia farm boy released his third album, “Ain’t It The Truth,” just last month.

Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald gave it a thumbs up: “A protege of Randy Travis, Daryle Singletary possesses a similar deep baritone that can cut to the heart of a traditional country song. On his third - and best - album, he’s using it on worthy narrative-driven material like the rising single, ‘The Note.”’

His self-titled debut album held two top five hits, “I Let Her Lie” and “Too Much Fun.” He hit No. 2 on the country chart with “Amen Kind of Love,” off his second disc, “All Because of You.”

Singletary, who showed hogs in high school, has come a long way from home. He’s no longer sweeping floors or fixing peanut combines at a tractor shop. “Right after I made the decision to move to Nashville and try to make it as a singer, that tractor dealership up and closed,” he says. Now he’s singing around the country.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CONCERT Clay Walker, Diamond Rio and Daryle Singletary perform at the Spokane Arena on Saturday beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $22.50, available at G&B Select-a-Seat outlets or call (800) 325-SEAT.

This sidebar appeared with the story: CONCERT Clay Walker, Diamond Rio and Daryle Singletary perform at the Spokane Arena on Saturday beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $22.50, available at G&B; Select-a-Seat outlets or call (800) 325-SEAT.

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