b. Donald Ray Walser, 14 September 1934, Brownfield, Texas, USA, d. 20 September 2006, USA. This singer-songwriter and expert yodeller was often referred to as the ‘Pavarotti of the plains’. He played traditional country music from his early teens, and was instrumental in ensuring the music of legends such as Bob Wills and Elton Britt was not forgotten in an era blighted by anodyne country pop artists.
Walser grew up in the small farm town of Lamesa near Lubbock, and by his early teens was working at the Lamesa Cotton Oil Mill with his father. A short spell on the oil fields followed before Walser elected to concentrate on a career with the National Guard, with whom he had enrolled at the age of 15. He moved to Midland with his family but carried on playing music in his spare time. In the early 60s he joined the Texas Plainsmen, a traditional working man’s country act who, for a couple of years, held down a slot on the local KJBC radio station. During this period Walser released a solo single, ‘Rolling Stone From Texas’. He later moved to El Paso where he played as part of a trio called the El Paso Amigos. Walser relocated to Austin in 1984 where, with his working life winding down, he established a residency with his Pure Texas Band at Henry’s Bar & Grill. He also set about recording new material with writing partner J. Pat Baugham, releasing the results on three independently released cassettes. This material was later released by Walser’s new record label, Watermelon Records, on The Archive Series albums.
Following his retirement from the National Guard Walser finally gained some long overdue recognition when he teamed up with Ray Benson, the co-founder of western swing revivalist’s Asleep At The Wheel, to release 1994’s Rolling Stone From Texas. The album was highly praised for its refusal to kow-tow to any modern trends, a stance characterised by Walser’s peerless yodelling. Texas Top Hand (1996) and Down At The Sky-Vue Drive-In (1998) repeated the formula, mixing Walser originals with country standards from several decades. The latter was his major label debut and marked something of a bittersweet victory for a man who was turned down by Nashville in the early 70s for being too old-fashioned.
In 1999, Walser released his first Nashville recording, Here’s To Country Music, which included duets with Crystal Gayle (‘We Could, You And I’) and Teddy Wilburn (‘Arkansas’). The same October Walser finally got to sing at the Grand Ole Opry. He retired from live performing in 2003 and passed away due to complications from diabetes on September 2006.