It wasn’t until Lyle Lovett released Step Inside This House, and album that included no less than four songs from Texas songwriter Walter Hyatt that many of us first became aware of the legendary Uncle Walt’s Band. Like the Flatlanders, also a trio of singer-songwriters, Uncle Walt’s Band, flew under the radar and were not fully appreciated until later. Such was the nature of the early ‘70s. Omnivore Records, a label that specializes in re-issues and the unearthing of legends has now released Uncle Walt’s Band, the trio of Walter Hyatt, David Ball, and Champ Hood, who got their start in Spartanburg, SC before finding their way to Austin around 1974. The remastered version included 11 previously unissued tracks and new liner notes.
These notes include words from Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood, and surviving member David Ball. They also have remembrances from Lovett, Marci Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Marshall Chapman, and journalists Peter Cooper, Doug Freeman and Michael Hall. There’s a wealth of precious anecdotes within. These folks relate the impact the band had on them, as Uncle Walt’s Band, despite many attempts, never caught on nationally and remained a regional treasure. The music is essentially old-time folk music, that lies somewhere between the Appalachian string bands and African-American string bands, like the Mississippi Sheiks, from an earlier time. There are several nods to Django Reinhardt and Tin Pan Alley and New Orleans too. Aside from their songwriting which featured contributions from each of them, their calling card was their lilting, melodious three-part harmonies.
These recordings are a re-issue of the band’s South Carolina self-released, Blame It on the Bossa Nova, (those are worth a lot of money in collector circles), which was released under the name Uncle Walt’s Band in Texas. They recorded a second album, An American in Texas, in 1980 followed by a live album in 1982. Unable to gain traction, they split in 1983 to pursue solo careers. Hyatt released several albums, one produced by Lovett, while Hood became a Texas Hall of Fame sideman and Ball had some big country hits with “Thinkin’ Problem” and “Riding With Private Malone.”
As is the case with many re-issues of this type, it leverages some previous similar attempts, in this case, the career spanning Anthology: Those Boys From Carolina, They Sure Enough Could Sing, released earlier this year. Interestingly, of the eleven tracks on the original album (which has now been reissued six times with different covers an s sequences back to the ‘70s), only five were written by a band member. “High Hill” and ‘Don’t You Think I Feel It Too” are among the most memorable from the original while “Trap For Two” and Hyatt’s “Rollin’ My Blues” are popular ones from the bonus material. Covers include Robert Johnson’s “Four ‘Til Late,” the traditional “Little Sadie” and the old field song “Gimme Some Skin.” Hood was the most skilled musician in the group playing fiddle, guitar, and mandolin. Ball, the bassist, with his upper register voice, has long been considered the best vocalist while Hyatt certainly remains the most enduring songwriter. Note that on the eleven bonus tracks, nine are written by band members, the exceptions being the well-known “After You’ve Gone” and “Rock Island Line.”
While the music sounds like and is from a much earlier period, music historians have noted that their sound pre-dated what is now going on in the Americana genre by three decades. Here are some other observations from the Austin-American Statesman – “Their deceptively sophisticated amalgam of blues, jazz, country and folk was less reminiscent of Willie Nelson than of classic Southern tunesmiths such as Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael..”
Uncle Walt’s Band is soothing, totally acoustic music. Bask in its beauty and charming harmonies.