Walter did his time in Austin, and died in the ValuJet plane crash into the Florida Everglades.
The Austin Chronicle asked me to write the obituary, then edited it to my distinct dis-satisfaction. It appears here as I wrote it, with a couple of updates.
Walter Hyatt died on Saturday, May 11, and it was like losing a member of the family. After all, we first knew him as Uncle Walt.
Uncle Walt's Band was there at the beginning of the Austin music scene, and they were in the thick of things early on. A Townsend Miller column dated November 17, 1973 notes:
"It's been a hectic but wonderful week in Austin.
It ends tonight - but what a night it is! Tom T. Hall,
with Chip Taylor, closes four nights at Armadillo,
and energetic Doug Kershaw ends the week with two
shows tonight at Castle Creek. But that's not all:
Uncle Walt's Band is back home with their intriguing
sound at Toad Hall. Steve Fromholz is at Saxon Pub,
Alvin Crow at Cricket Club, Kenneth Threadgill at
Shakey's, Doak Snead at Bevo's, and Freda and the
Firedogs at Tumblewood."
Townsend was a big fan of Uncle Walt's Band, and the trio of Walter, Champ Hood, and David Ball quickly made their way into the hearts of Austinites with their finely blended three part harmonies and expertise on their acoustic instruments. Young college kids like Lyle Lovett admired their inventive arrangements and original songs. Uncle Walt's Band gigs were always packed, and there was always a high percentage of musicians in the crowd.
A few records made it out during those vinyl days, but they are long out of print. Sugar Hill has issued two Uncle Walt's Band compilation CDs: "An American In Texas Revisited" and "The Girl On The Sunny Shore."
Uncle Walt's Band broke up a few times before it took. They split up soon after making their first album, but re-united when the record proved to be popular with their fans. After a year or so in Austin and a stint in Nashville, the group moved back to Austin in 1978. It was here that they flourished for several years of live shows and a few LP and cassette releases. All three members of Uncle Walt's Band were leaders, so in 1983 they broke up to pursue their solo careers. There have been reunions, most notably as the backup singing group on "Once Is Enough" on the 1989 Grammy winning "Lyle Lovett And His Large Band" album. Lyle had opened for Uncle Walt's Band in his early scuffling days as a singer-songwriter, and 10 years later took Walter on the road with him as his opening act.
Lyle's success enabled him to produce other artists for MCA, and Walter's "King Tears" was his first. Walter was specifically presented as a vocalist on the album and he rose to the occasion with tasteful renditions of a couple of Uncle Walt era tunes, some new original compositions, and a simply beautiful version of the classic Ray Charles torch song "Ruby," written by Mitchell Parish. Champ played acoustic guitar throughout, and David joined his old mates on a song from the earliest Uncle Walt days, "Aloha."
Walter drifted through Austin as often as possible after moving to Nashville in the mid-80s, and the Walt and Champ reunions continued. Champ followed Jimmie Dale Gilmore as the leader of the Threadgill's Troubadours, and he became a member of Toni Price's acoustic backup band. David Ball got quite busy as an RCA country recording artist, and didn't make it back to Austin much.
In 1993 Sugar Hill released Walter's second solo album "Music Town." Again, Champ was featured on acoustic lead guitar throughout, and David contributed harmony vocals on four songs. However, there were no actual Uncle Walt's Band reunions on "Music Town." Walter wrote or co-wrote all 12 songs, and like "King Tears," the album has more of a jazz than country tinge to it.
Walter rejoined Champ for the "Threadgill's Supper Sessions Second Helpings" recordings, and he is featured on four of the songs. The session took place on Walter's birthday, and the Troubadours sing an impromptu "Happy Birthday" to him. Though demos and new recordings with his band King Tears exist, the Threadgill's CD contains the latest released recordings of Walter Hyatt.
The plane Walter was on crashed into the Everglades on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday word began to spread in Austin. KVUE-TV came to KUT and did a live report on their 10 PM newscast from our control room while I was doing a three hour Texas Radio tribute to Walter. Emily Kaitz brought in a tape of one of his songs that had been recently recorded, and Caryl P. Weiss stopped by with the Kerrville 1980 album, which had an Uncle Walt's Band track on it.
At about 11:40, as I was trying to figure out how to end the program, Champ Hood walked through the control room door with a little bag of cassettes. He had played his gig with Toni Price at the new Ruby Slipper in Llano and was driving back to Austin to prepare to go to Nashville the next morning. Champ handed me the bag of tapes and said, "I wanted to make sure you didn't run out of stuff to play." We played a three song demo and finished off the show with Champ talking about his dear friend and musical compadre.
From the sheer volume of calls that came into the KUT control room from listeners with tears in their voices, it is clear that Walter Hyatt was highly regarded and dearly loved in Austin.
Sunday night, May 19, there will be a special edition of LiveSet on KUT (90.5 FM) at 10 PM, featuring many of Walter's friends. Champ, Toni Price, Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, Butch Hancock, Mandy Mercier, Christine Albert, and David Heath were scheduled to appear at press time. The booking will continue until show time.
Walter Hyatt was 47. He is survived by his wife Heidi and their two young children, Taylor and Rose Evelyn. Walter's daughter Haley is 20. Sugar Hill is offering all of Walter's CDs at a special sale price, with all proceeds to benefit his family.
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