Immortal Voices: Uncle Walt’s Band

Essential Austin trio get first national release

Certified legends amongst old Austin heads, Uncle Walt’s Band has elsewhere remained a cult fascination, hallowed by roots music connoisseurs, record collectors, and fans of each member’s subsequent successes.

Uncle Walt’s Band: (l-r) Champ Hood, Walter Hyatt, David Ball (Courtesy of Omnivore Records)

Now, the trio of Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood, and David Ball – who hodge-podged folk, bluegrass, and progressive country, then imbued that with beautiful three-part harmonies – are seeing renewed attention with a proper anthology. It will be the first time UWB’s music has been released digitally.

Championed by Los Angeles reissue specialists Omnivore Records, the collection compiles material from Blame It on the Bossa Nova/Self-Titled (1974), An American in Texas (1982), Recorded Live (1982), and the cassette-only Six-Twenty Six-Seventy Nine, plus five previously unreleased tracks. Its title, Those Boys From Carolina, They Sure Enough Could Sing, comes from UWB super fan Lyle Lovett, who details the band’s musical diaspora from Spartanburg, S.C., to Austin in his song “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas).”

Those boys from Carolina,
They sure enough could sing.
But when they came on down to Texas,
We showed them how to swing.
Now David’s on the radio,
And old Champ’s still on the guitar.
And Uncle Walt, he’s home with Heidi,
Hiding in her loving arms

“When we showed up in Austin, we were so different,” says UWB bassist/vocalist David Ball, who went on to become a platinum-selling country artist. “I’d go hear these bands and they’d have a fiddle and steel, and lots of people onstage and one kind of token singer. We were just the opposite, a small band with three real strong singers.

“The way we sang was what set us apart,” he continues. “That was the whole focus. The instrumentation we used, all acoustic, was just supposed to back up the vocals real good. Champ had a great ear and would cover the widest range, including this falsetto he used a lot.”

The vocal magic of Austin’s answer to Crosby, Stills & Nash is evident on “Getaway,” an unearthed live favorite recorded at UWB’s home stage: Waterloo Ice House.

On the song, Hyatt and company bridge the gaps between folk, southern gospel, and island music. Hood, who became one of Austin’s most celebrated instrumentalists, strums his fiddle like a mandolin to unique effect on the track. Ball believes it’s the only UWB song that all three members contributed lyrics to.

Hyatt, who launched his own much-revered solo career after UWB disbanded in 1983, perished in the infamous, 1996 ValueJet crash. Hood died young as well, passing in 2001 from cancer.

Still, Uncle Walt’s Band music lives on, not only via the new collection, but through Ball performing with Champ’s musical next of kin, son and fiddle phenom Warren Hood, and nephew, guitarist Marshall Hood, as That Carolina Sound.

“Marshall actually reminds me a lot of his uncle,” says Ball. “He’s a lot like Champ. They play the same way, coming up with interesting things to play.”

David Ball and That Carolina Sound appears at the Saxon Pub on March 9 – the same day the anthology drops.

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Uncle Walt's Band, Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood, David Ball, Warren Hood, Marshall Hood, Lyle Lovett, Omnivore Records

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