Jeff Nelson
November 04, 2016 11:55 AM

Butch Walker has produced pop hits for everyone from Taylor Swift and Fall Out Boy to Katy Perry and Pink. But the songwriter and rocker’s most personal music has come from his own pain.

In a new episode of Ernie Ball: The Pursuit of Tone, Walker opens up about his relationship with his father and how his dad’s death informed his songwriting — and PEOPLE has an exclusive first look at the poignant episode.

“My dad and I were really close the last half of his life. The first half, I had to earn his respect,” Walker (born Bradley Glenn Walker) said in the clip of his dad, a blue-collar worker in a mining town. “By the time [I] was 17 [I] was wearing [my] sister’s clothes and makeup and playing hard rock music, which my dad did not listen to.”

Walker, 46, says that over the years, he did earn his dad’s respect, thanks to the work ethic he had instilled in him: “He became my biggest fan.”

But, over the years, his dad struggled with heart and lung conditions that landed him in the hospital.

Source: Butch Walker/YouTube
Source: Butch Walker/YouTube

“Usually he would say, ‘I’ll be fine,'” Walker said of his dad, who died in 2013. “When I walked in that last time, he looked at me and said, ‘You’re not leavin’ are ya?’ It changed me, and I remember my brother-in-law looking at me and saying, ‘You’re not a man until you lose your dad.’ That really sunk in.”

Working through the heartbreak of losing a parent, Walker began making music again.

“I went back and just started writing and writing and writing,” he said, noting his dad’s death informs all his solo music now, including 2015 LP Afraid of Ghosts and his new album, Stay Gold. “What would happen there probably decided where I was gonna be musically for the rest of my life because he shaped me. He whipped my ass and made me work for every cent I ever earned and taught me never to take anything for granted.”

Today, Walker is a father himself, and the role has given him new perspective.

“I guess, as a parent myself, it’s important in my later years to recognize the greatness of my parents,” he tells PEOPLE exclusively. “We spend our selfish teen years loathing and running away from them… but when we finally have to ‘adult,’ we realize how badass they actually were. Losing my father will always remind me to never take life for granted.”

Butch Walker’s episode of Ernie Ball: The Pursuit of Tone airs Nov. 11 on the AT&T Audience Network.

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