To write “They Call Me Doc,” Walker McGuire had to stop being songwriters. The duo tell Taste of Country they had to ignore their instincts to serve a greater purpose: helping a Navy veteran heal.
The song came out of a partnership with CreatiVets. Shaun Bott was a Navy Corpsman suffering from PTSD, and the organization wanted to bring him to Nashville to write with Jordan Walker and Johnny McGuire in hopes that creative expression would help him heal.
It wasn’t easy. Bott wasn’t used to pouring his heart out in this way, for starters. As a Corpsman he was responsible for coming in after crisis. He bandaged, counseled, listened to screams of agony and did what he could to triage victims. He did not have a PhD, but everyone called him “Doc.”
“The one word every story started with was, ‘Hey Doc!’ We just thought that was a great, great, great start,” Walker remembers. The song “They Call Me Doc” debuted four years ago and has become an essential part of the duo’s live show. After playing it on the syndicated Big D & Bubba radio show, their conversations with fans changed quickly. One woman came up to the pair in a meet and greet line and thanked them.
“My husband couldn’t tell me anything about the war, about what he’d seen,” Walker recalls her saying. “And then he heard your song and he broke down and he really opened up, and it saved my marriage.”
In the songwriting room, Bott and the country duo didn’t immediately click, but with each passing year the importance of this track becomes more clear. “He definitely took a little time just feeling it out, and the next thing you know there’s five guys crying in a room,” McGuire says.
While both Walker and McGuire have family in the military, neither have served themselves — something they like fans to know, as they don’t want to misrepresent where the song came from. In a way they were merely conduits of a song on this day, much like a pen or guitar would be. Bott drove with his brutal honesty. The most chilling lines come at the bridge:
“You’ll never know the heartache of looking a grown man in the eye / And he asks ‘Am I gonna make it’ / And you gotta lie,” Walker McGuire sing.
“And he would have to lie to them,” Walker says. “Knowing deep down there’s a chance that that person is not gonna make it.”
Songwriters often work from a fly-on-the-wall vantage point, meaning they can see emotion and action they’re not necessarily attached to. From there they’ll shape a song, adding exaggerations or color in the name of making a hit. That wouldn’t cut it during the writing of “They Call Me Doc.” Constantly Walker McGuire would ask, “Is this OK? Is this OK?”
“There were moments where we were sitting there and we’d turn into songwriters and we’d want to paint this picture, but then we’d go, ‘OK this isn’t about us,” Walker says. “This isn’t about us trying to write a big massive hit. This is us trying to help heal the person across the room.’”
In doing that, they managed to help thousands more find peace as well.