Clay Walker, Percy Sledge Sing to Help Fight MS

"Welcome to Texas, y'all," mimicked the auctioneer at the Clay Walker Gala, held Thursday evening at the House of Blues.

The auctioneer, a New Yorker, said he knew he landed in Houston by the sound of the stewardess' recognizable Southern twang. A stereotypical assumption, but all in good fun.

The Clay Walker Gala was a night of country, charity and celebrity for the country music star's multiple sclerosis charity, Bands Against MS (BAMS). Walker was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1996, and founded BAMS in 2003. BAMS has raised $2 million and after Thursday night, probably more.

A packed room of people -- including Texans players Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates, there to cheer on their boss, honored guest Bob McNair -- contributed their efforts to researching and possibly ending MS by participating in both a live and silent auction. Lucky guests went home with resort packages, trips to Disneyland - and for the highest bid of the night, $12,500, a trip to the 2013 Grammy Awards.

After the auction (and a luxurious double entrée dinner of filet mignon and salmon), guests were treated to an intimate performance that could have rivaled any of the Reliant Arena's offerings.

First up to bat was country newcomer Sarah Marince. The starlet has only been singing professionally for a few years, but her career is moving at a fast pace. One of the songs she performed, "Line In a Song," was co-written by Walker himself. How's that for career climbing?

The performer who came next was none other than legendary singer Percy Sledge, who entertained and endeared all with a bawdy mix of hits, including, of course, "When a Man Loves a Woman."

"It's a wonderful feeling in my heart to be invited to play by Clay tonight, and to be in Texas," said Sledge. "It's such a pleasure to be invited to something so special."

Indeed, the honor was all Walker's, who gushed over Sledge before bringing him out.

"Of all the singers out there, there's a handful of those that are purists, that you can tell that they scratched it out of the dirt," said Walker during his introduction of the soul singer. "Every note that this guy sings is implanted in my DNA. You can't define it. You can't describe it. He's one of the greatest living legends."

In addition to his obligatory staple song, Sledge also performed a few other hits: "Cover Me," "Take Time to Know Her" and a cover of The Temptations classic, "My Girl," to which he boogied all over the place - before running out of steam.

"Let me catch my breath," the 71-year-old wheezed. "I'm not 27 anymore."

Younger R&B acts could take a lesson from Sledge; he warmed the crowd up quite nicely, and set a perfect stage for Walker, who ended things with a bang of hits, including a "Knock on Wood" tribute to Sledge, back-to-back hits "If I Could Make a Living" and "She Won't Be Lonely Long," as well as his new single, "Like We Never Said Goodbye."

The night may have started with a little good-natured ribbing from a good-natured Yankee, but it ended with a great concert, and more importantly, with a lot of money going to an amazing, life-saving charity.

Today at 11, Walker will host an MS Forum that will explore funding research and finding a cure at the Four Seasons Hotel. Admission is free.

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Altamese Osborne
Contact: Altamese Osborne