local music scene south carolina
Uncle Walt's Band
Uncle Walt’s Band pioneered a new form of progressive folk music, blending country and acoustic music to create an entirely new style all their own. The group featured David Ball, as well as the late Walter Hyatt and Champ Hood. It is important to understand the contributions these three individual men have made to the fabric of American music, both American folk music and what has become contemporary country music. More so for us as South Carolinians it is important that we understand and cherish their collective works and celebrate with pride their influence on the body of American music. My thanks to Heidi Hyatt for allowing me to share this history with our great state and music lovers everywhere and to David Bethany for recommending them to me…
"Those Boys From Carolina, They Sure Enough Could Sing... "
Lyle Lovett (That's Right You're Not From Texas")
Walter Hyatt and his fellow High School classmates Champ Hood and David Ball began their musical careers in 1969 forming Uncle Walt’s Band in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Hood played guitar while Ball worked the upright bass and the elder of the three, Hyatt served as leader and charismatic front man on rhythm guitar. All three contributed to the task of songwriting and their effortless blending of vocal harmonies became a trademark of the Uncle Walt sound. Nicknamed “the Hub City” because of its culmination of transportation routes, Spartanburg was a confluence of musical styles. Bluegrass flowed down from the mountains, while soul swept up from the south and Nashville country was trucked in from the west. It provided a wellspring of musical diversity that Uncle Walt’s Band encompassed fully. Their renditions of jazz, swing, country and ballads eventually drew huge crowds around Spartanburg to coffee houses and clubs alike. Leaving Wofford College after his second year Walter moved the trio to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1972, where they found little work and fewer breaks but did catch the attention of Willis Alan Ramsey, a famous and revered Texas singer and songwriter who would become the band's first noted fan. Ramsey convinced them to relocate to Austin, Texas where they found more work than they could handle. David Ball recalls how much the three loved the area, it was so cheap to live there that it allowed them time to do nothing but play music. Uncle Walt’s performances in and around Austin are now legendary in the Texas capital and their impact on the Texas music scene has been undeniable. The band returned to the Carolinas in 1974, recording their first release “Blame It On The Bossanova”, at Charlotte, North Carolina's Arthur Smith Studios. They split up soon after making the first album, but re-united when the record proved to be popular with their fans. The group moved back to Austin, Texas in 1978. It was here that they flourished performing countless live shows and releasing a few LP and cassettes along the way. All three members of Uncle Walt's Band were extremely and uniquely talented individuals and capable of leading, so in 1983 they broke up to pursue solo careers. The three remained close friends always respectful of the others talent and work. There were occasional reunions, most notably as the backup singing group on "Once Is Enough" from the 1989 Grammy winning release "Lyle Lovett and His Large Band" album. Lyle had opened for Uncle Walt's Band in his early days as a singer-songwriter, and 10 years later returned the favor by taking Walter Hyatt on the road with him as his opening act.
David Ball returned to Nashville after the final breakup of Uncle Walt’s Band in 1983 where he quickly went to work writing and performing out live until landing a recording contract with Warner Bros. Success was quick. “Thinkin' Problem”, his 1994 release for the label, went double platinum and spawned three hit singles. The following year, he was nominated for a Male Vocalist of the Year Grammy. He returned in 1996 with “Starlite Lounge”, which continued to display his penchant for dressed-up honky tonk. In 1999 he released “Play” followed by the traditional country of 2001's “Amigo”, and he kept to the traditional course with 2004's “Freewheeler” and 2007's “Heartaches by the Number”. 2010 saw the release of “Sparkle City” which proved once again his enormous talent for writing country music based in a traditional sense while being fully capable of delivering hits as vibrant and contemporary as anything out today. His career thus far has reflected nothing less than a consistency in quality and talent.
Following the final breakup of Uncle Walt’s Band Walter and Heidi Hyatt returned to Nashville and in 1990 he released his first solo album on the MCA Master Series label titled “King Tears”. Produced by Lyle Lovett this work would be considered his masterpiece still highly sought after today. His second solo album, “Music Town”, was released in 1993 on the Sugar Hill label. Walter Hyatt died on May 11, 1996 when the plane he was a passenger on crashed in the Florida Everglades. He was 47 years old and is survived by his wife Heidi, their two children, Taylor and Rose Evelyn and a daughter, Haley from a previous marriage. Following his untimely death “Some Unfinished Business Volume One” was released in 2008 to rave reviews. Taken from the last songs he had recorded before his death it brought artists and musicians together to add the finishing touches to his extraordinary music. Producer Michael Killen, working with Heidi Hyatt, assembled a who's who of Nashville musicians to accomplish this task. Killen scoured tape after tape left behind by Walter to find the best performance of each song. Together with Nashville engineer Nick Sparks, the two prepared each track for overdubbing. Killen envisioned three CD's of Walter's songs. A country album, an R&B rock album, and a jazz/ballad flavored album. Enough tracks were recorded for all three. The songs on “Some Unfinished Business, Volume One” – 2008, and “Some Unfinished Business, Volume Two” – 2010, represent these distinct Walter Hyatt styles. Heidi Hyatt has been central in championing the music of Uncle Walt’s Band by making it available to an entirely new generation of music enthusiasts. In 2010 she made available previously unreleased collections of the bands music on CD transferring the material from original LP masters in their original sequence including the rare studio collection, “6-26-79”.
Though Hyatt and Ball would seek careers in Nashville, Champ Hood would remain in Texas until he died. A singer and performer in his own right and an accomplished songwriter he became best known in Austin as a session player to more names than can be listed here. During the 1990’s he began a long tenure as blues singer Toni Price’s most prominent sideman. Price herself would develop a cult following in Texas, which rivaled that of Uncle Walt’s Band. When Walter Hyatt perished in the 1996 ValuJet crash in Florida, Hood had lost his best friend and musical partner since childhood. Driving into Austin from a gig upon learning of Walter’s death, he went straight to KUT radio where DJ Larry Monroe was paying tribute to Hyatt. Champ walked into the control booth with unreleased Hyatt demo tapes that happened to be in his car. He handed them to Monroe and let them hit the airwaves, unadorned. Champ would let the music speak for itself right up until the very end of his life. He hid his illness from even his closest of friends as long as he could, while continuing to play his heart out at every Toni Price gig. Champ Hood succumbed to lung cancer on November 3, 2001, he was 49 years old. He left behind a legacy of kindness and genuine humility in his craft and toward his fame. Survived by his son, Warren Hood, an accomplished musician who plays violin, fiddle, mandolin, and composes and sings as well. Warren lives in Austin, Texas and performs with his local band, the Warren Hood Band. Champ's nephew, Marshall Hood, started the band The DesChamps Band as a tribute to Uncle Walt's Band. The band began by playing small scale shows and private parties around Spartanburg, South Carolina. Soon they had an extensive set of original songs and were known for their truly original sound and exceptional instrumental and vocal work. Warren now plays guitar for Toni Price as did his uncle, bringing to her sound his own style of playing and performing.
Walter Hyatt – Vocals, Guitar
Champ Hood – Vocals, Guitar
David Ball – Vocals, Bass