From Austin the sad news comes that Don Walser has died at 72, from complications from diabetes. “Walser, who turned 72 last Thursday, was a country music icon in Austin. He had the fortune of a late-life career revival. He was a regular performer at Jovita’s, The Broken Spoke, the Continental Club. And he was also famous for bringing country music to Emo’s. He attracted a unique fan base, often opening for the Butthole Surfers. He’s also known for keeping western swing alive by performing the music of Bob Wills and Eddie Arnold. A reviewer for Playboy magazine once referred to Walser as “the Pavarotti of the Plains.” Another writeup goes on with, “Don Walser’s career didn’t really get off the ground until the late 1980s. … [his] biggest success came at age 64 when he signed with Sire Records, the label of Madonna and the Ramones. He debuted at the Grand Ol’ Opry in 1999 but was most interested in exposing country music to new audiences, the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday. Walser opened for rock bands like the Butthole Surfers, introducing younger crowds to Western classics like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Cherokee Maidens.” “He loved it when some kid with a ring in their nose would bring their parents and their grandparents,” Kalish told The Associated Press. “It was part of his genuineness that came across.” Walser’s career didn’t really get off the ground until the late 1980s, when he began playing small venues after spending 45 years with the National Guard. In 2000, Walser was given the National Heritage Award in Washington. He is survived by his wife Pat and their four children.”
My connection with Don Walser’s Pure Texas Band starts in Spring 1994, when I first visited Austin with my friend Scott. We saw them play at Babe’s, in part because his backing band consisted of steel guitar player Jimmy Day, a famed steel guitarist who had played with Hank Williams Sr., Lefty Frizzell, Elvis Presley, Ernest Tubb and Willie Nelson (among others). The musicianship of all of the players amazed me, and Don’s singing fit perfectly. It was especially impressive since I’d never experienced that type of traditional country music, and certainly not in some small room off 6th Street in Austin. The next day I picked up an early cd of his. Years later, while living in Austin, I saw Don and the band play a handful of times, including a stint at The Broken Spoke, South Austin’s old country dance hall where young and old alike did the two step waltz; a Texas memory I’ll keep. As the years have gone an I’ve always meant to buy more of his cds, but still only own that one; still, it’s the only cd I have of the genre, and I break it out anytime I want to hear the sounds of old time West Texas swing, accompanied by Don’s signature tenor yodeling. Give a listen to some clips of his music from his site.
Walser set a fitting tribute to himself in an interview where he stated, “If you think of me 20 years from now after I’m gone, with some of music, I’ll feel good about it. But it’s got to earn it like those old songs that I’m singing, you got to earn it.”comments powered by Disqus