In his beautifully-written liner notes to a newly-released compilation of vintage recordings by Uncle Walt’s Band, writer and musician Peter Cooper described the seminal trio’s 1974 debut album as “a glorious endeavor, a mesh of American roots music forms that pre-dated ‘Americana’ by a quarter-century.”
He also noted that “the damned thing didn’t sell all that well.”
Thankfully, I’ve been around Spartanburg — the city that gave birth to Uncle Walt’s Band — for quite some time. Otherwise, who knows how much exposure I would have had to the group’s magnificent music prior to last week’s release of “Anthology: Those Boys from Carolina, They Sure Enough Could Sing ...” on the Omnivore Recordings label?
Although Uncle Walt’s Band certainly has a dedicated following in Spartanburg and its adopted hometown of Austin, Texas (where its music had the greatest impact), the reality is that not many people are familiar with the group outside those specific locales.
From a purely artistic standpoint, that seems unfathomable. Omnivore’s 21-track anthology is a testament to just how amazingly brilliant Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood and David Ball, who comprised Uncle Walt’s Band, were as a collective unit during the 1970s and ‘80s.
In Cooper’s liner notes, acclaimed Texas singer-songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore refers to the distinctive, harmony-driven sound created by Uncle Walt’s Band as “perfect music.” As hyperbolic as that description seems, he might be on to something.
Uncle Walt’s Band wasn’t merely a good group that was overlooked commercially; it was a musical phenomenon worthy of exalted status, at least in acoustic music circles.
Given that the term didn’t yet exist during the band’s heyday, there’s an argument to be made that what’s now known as Americana music was essentially born in a log cabin behind Union Street in Spartanburg. Hyatt lived there as a youth, and its basement is where he, Hood and Ball rehearsed during the infancy of Uncle Walt’s Band.
Hyatt was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1996 and Hood died of cancer in 2001, but their creative spirit lives via the powerful original songs featured on “Anthology.”
Listening to such top-notch material as “Sea of Logic,” “High Hill,” “Don’t You Feel It Too,” “Deeper Than Love,” “As The Crow Flies,” “Bluebird,” “So Long Baby,” “Getaway” and “I’ll Come Knockin’” reveals Uncle Walt’s Band as a group of artists who were clued in to a wide array of influences that ran the gamut from Beatles-esque pop and traditional bluegrass to calypso and ragtime jazz.
In the rock ‘n’ roll world, bands such as the Velvet Underground and Big Star achieved greater commercial success long after they’d broken up. Is the music of Uncle Walt’s Band perhaps ripe for a similar resurgence in Americana circles?
Like those now-iconic groups, Uncle Walt’s Band has many high-profile musicians in their corner, including Gilmore and legendary singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett. The subtitle of Omnivore Recordings’ “Anthology” release was taken from a lyric in Lovett’s 1996 song, “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas),” which paid tribute to Hyatt, Hood and Ball.
Uncle Walt’s Band might not have created “perfect music” as Gilmore said, but “those boys from Carolina, they sure enough could sing” and hopefully more people will soon be attune to their legacy through Omnivore’s highly-recommended new release.
A closer look at some of this week’s area shows:
The Josh Brannon Band will perform at 10 p.m. Friday at Dolly’s Western Saloon in Spartanburg. Brannon’s country-fueled music, which draws from such influences as Chris Stapleton, Jamey Johnson and Drake White, has been described as “authentic, original and Southern to the core.”
Antiseen will perform, along with The Independents and The Scurvy, at 7 p.m. Saturday at Ground Zero in Spartanburg. The veteran Charlotte, N.C.-based outfit delivers a passionate brand of old-school punk rock that once earned the respect of cult punk icon GG Allin.
Barleycove will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at Stomping Grounds in Greer. The band, whose music typically blends modern folk and classic rock influences, is sure to emphasize lead vocalist Laura Jones-Thomas’ Irish roots for this St. Patrick’s Day performance.
Zach Parks will perform at 8 p.m. Sunday at Brickhouse Fresh Pizzeria in Spartanburg. A talented singer-songwriter with a rough-hewn vocal style that demands attention, Parks offers powerful blue-collar anthems that fall somewhere between contemporary alt-country renegade Whitey Morgan and early Steve Earle.
County music superstars Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town will bring their “The Bandwagon” tour to the PNC Music Pavilion in Charlotte, N.C., for a 7 p.m. performance July 12. Tickets are $33.25-$93 and go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday. For more information, call 800-745-3000 or visit www.livenation.com.