Uncle Walt was Walter Hyatt, his band was Champ Hood and David Ball. The group became a legend on an Austin music scene already crowded with legends and the three members can certainly be considered to have similar status. Hyatt's death in the 1997 ValuJet plane crash in the Florida Everglades was kind of a grisly gilding of his already respected name. Death will do that to a musician, especially if the circumstances are shocking. Too bad good old Uncle Walt wasn't around to write a song about what happened; maybe he would have looked at it from the point of view of the alligators, like the Ted Hughes about the hawk.
Uncle Walt's Band actually formed in Spartanburg, SC, not Austin. The group was assembled while Hyatt was still going to high school, with Hood playing guitar and bassist Ball having a ball on the bottom end. From the beginning, the trio developed a lovely blend of vocal harmonies that, combined with skilled picking, was just the stuff to attract a loyal following. Touring, of course, was the ticket since Spartanburg played the same part in the Uncle Walt's Band members' lives that it did for every musician from there; as in, the town is a good place to get out of. After graduating in 1971, the trio moved to Nashville. Over the next year, Uncle Walt's Band worked many Nashville clubs for the average pay in the 20-dollar range, and "that ain't each," as the stingy barowner with bad English used to explain it. The group decided to try its luck in Austin, which had a much more progressive country music scene.
Lyle Lovett was one of the many young Texas college kids who was a fan of the band in its hungry days, part of an audience that always included a large number of musicians whose tongues were hanging out of their ears. A relationship developed between the band and Lovett, who would become into an extremely talented country singer/songwriter and actor. Lovett did an opening act for Uncle Walt's Band as he began his career and a decade later would turn the tables, hiring Hyatt as his opening act on national tours. The group's progress in the music business was just as up and down as Hyatt's solo career would be. At first, it seemed like Uncle Walt's Band was going to be one of those combos that called it quits right after its first album hits the streets. Yet this first album, the result of finally making some industry contacts in Nashville, slowly bubbled rather than doing a quick fade. There seemed to be a lot of new fans as a result, encouraging the bandmembers to give it another or try. The group continued bouncing between Nashville and Austin, finally settling in the latter town for good in 1978. It finally seemed as if things were going to work out, especially from the point of view of the group's packed live shows. There were never any changes in membership, but it was the leadership potential of each of the three that created the band's final breakup in 1983. Ball, Hood, and Hyatt pursued solo careers from then on out, but there have been a few Uncle Walt's Band reunions. The three got together to sing backup on the track "Once Is Enough" from Lovett's 1989 Grammy-winning album Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. Hyatt's solo album, King Tears, produced by Lovett for MCA, can also be considered sort of a band album since all three members play together on it. A second Hyatt solo effort, on the other hand, features his old bandmates, but never all three at the same time, so it's not really a reunion. The Antone's label released the tribute collection, entitled Uncle Walt's Band and Friends Celebrate the Songs of Walter Hyatt, following Hyatt's demise. Hood and Ball are featured, naturally, along with several van loads of Austin musicians. While the band's original album pressings would be considered a mother lode if found in a used record pile, the Sugar Hill label has released a fine pair of compact discs compiling tunes from these recordings. ~ Eugene Chadbourne