Like all love stories, there is always a series of events that put two people in the same place so that cupid can do his magic. Here is one such story about two of the most revered songwriters in Texas music.
Walt Wilkins and Tina Mitchell met in Nashville in 1994, having both migrated there to pursue a music career. Walt was a 5th generation Texan born in San Antonio while Tina was born in Milwaukee and grew up in Orange, California. Walt grew up in the Lone Star State and got a job in Austin working for the Texas Film Commission in 1989.
“It was a dream job,” he explained. “If a movie was being shot in Texas, I was involved in finding the locations they used.”
He had been writing songs for several years at this point and this job gave him ample time to hone his craft. His songwriting got him noticed by the folks in Nashville and they offered him a publishing deal. It was a tough decision to leave such a cool job but in 1994 he moved to Nashville and started writing songs for BMG and Curb Publishing.
Tina’s journey to Nashville took a slightly different path. Her family took a vacation in the spring of 1975 to visit relatives in Garden Grove, California. The trip was magical and included visits to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, San Diego Zoo, Universal Studios and Tijuana. It produced fond memoirs of jasmine, orange blossoms and jacuzzi’s. They returned home to a brutal Milwaukee snowstorm that had her father shoveling snow away from the door so the kids could go to school. Nine months later he moved the family to Orange, California, to a house that had a swimming pool and an avocado tree. After graduating high school and college, Tina headed to Los Angeles to pursue a singing career.
She found an apartment and started singing in the local clubs. Tina noticed that many of the songwriters playing around town were coming in from Nashville. She took a short trip to the Music City just to check out the music scene and discovered the famous Bluebird Café. It is the melting pot for Nashville songwriters and Tina was blown away by the talent there. She made plans to move to Nashville in the summer of 1994 but thanks to a nasty California earthquake that destroyed her apartment, she moved there in April. Once she got settled, she got a job at a cool Music Row hangout called Sammy B’s. As luck would have it, the BMG building where Walt was writing songs had a back door that led to the parking lot of Sammy B’s.
“I was the daytime bartender,” Tina recalls. “I worked the 10 to 4 shift and lots of music people would come in and sit at the bar. I gave away a lot of soup and bread, but I also sold a lot of beer. Walt would come sit at the bar on his break from his writing sessions. He never had his hair brushed and didn’t talk to me much. He smiled a lot but seemed quite shy. He was usually with co-writers and I loved it when they came in the bar. They laughed at everything I said and were absolutely kind and respectful. I started playing more Texas music and I ordered Texas beer for the bar, which Walt takes credit for. That really sealed the deal and Sammy B’s became the place to hang out for Happy Hour.”
While love may have been in the air at the Nashville bar, Walt and Tina were just friends at first.
“Walt and I were good friends for a long time,” explained Tina. “I had a boyfriend, and he had many girlfriends. He will say he didn’t, but he was an eligible bachelor from Texas with that beautiful head of hair and dang, that talent! He gave me a copy of his Blue Creek Souvenir CD and I prayed that it would be good. I thought he was super cool, and I wanted to look him in the eye the next day and tell him it was good. Well, it blew me away. I cried when I heard ‘Ruby’s Two Sad Daughters.’ I literally melted in front of the stereo.”
Their friendship evolved into love and a long courtship that included some break-ups along the way. True love prevailed though and on Dec. 30, 2000 they were married in White Sands, New Mexico. The reception was held up in the mountains at Cloudcroft and involved friends, snow, tequila, and inner tubes. Since Walt was a Texas boy, he had to tell his grandmother that Tina was from north Texas, rather than Milwaukee. One year later they welcomed their son Luke into the world. Though they loved their community and their Nashville friends, 10 years there was long enough. Walt had family in Waco, and he wanted to raise Luke in Texas, so they moved here in November of 2003.
It’s not common for a marriage to last 20 years in the music business, but Walt and Tina aren’t your average couple. They are both accomplished musicians and are supportive of each other’s career. Together they make an amazing team. At their shows, Tina mingles with the crowd, and is all smiles as she welcomes friends and fans alike. Walt is usually on-stage, tuning his guitar and working on the set list. She is quick to praise Walt’s cooking and his ability to clean the kitchen. They are a hands-on couple when it comes to raising Luke, always making time to be present in his life regardless of how hectic their schedule is. Today he is 19 years old and attending Schreiner University in Kerrville. Walt has a new album titled Pedernales that is set for a spring release. Tina has a single called Twilight that she co-wrote with Walt and friend Randy Sitzler, also set for a spring release.
“Walt’s album will lift you up for sure, it’s full of poetry and goodness,” says Tina. “I can’t wait for it to be out in the world. My new song is a sweet love tune that I love singing. Walt and I don’t write together often but I sure like it when we do. The pandemic forced us to create an outlet to perform and stay connected with our fans, so we jumped on the online shows quickly. We normally play on Thursday nights on Walt’s Facebook page, WaltWilkinsMusic. It has been an incredible journey living here and creating music in Texas. I feel extremely grateful each time I get to sing and perform for the wonderful folks in this state.”