Americana Highways caught wind of this new remastered rerelease of Uncle Walt’s Band’s first album, due to be released on Omnivore Records on March 29. This album also contains never – released live and demo tracks, and amazingly detailed liner notes, with words by Walter Hyatt, Deschamps Hood, and the band’s only surviving member David Ball, along with Lyle Lovett, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and more. We had to hunt down David Ball to hear more about the story and the some of the history behind this entire project and the band, including the tour dates David Ball has coming up with Champ Hood’s son and nephew.
AH: Can you trace a little of the original evolution of Uncle Walt’s Band for us?
DB: Uncle Walt’s Band has a release coming out that has the original album, along with several unreleased tracks, which was produced in North Carolina in 1974.
Champ Hood, Walter Hyatt and I grew up in Spartanburg, SC. Charlotte, NC is maybe an hour north of there and that’s where the studio was. It was the nicest studio Uncle Walt’s Band had been to at that time. Up in Charlotte, NC, this place was doing local stuff but it was top shelf stuff, it was bluegrass. It was owned by Arthur Smith who had hit records on MGM and was a real musical presence, worldwide and also in Charlotte.
I knew Champ Hood way back in grammar school. I met Walter when he was starting to go to college and I was still in high school. Champ was also a little bit older than I was. Champ and Walter had been playing together, they were already really great when I joined up and started playing the bass; within a year and a half, we took off. Things happened really quick. They were hot to get out to Nashville and I loved the traveling and going to play music so it was a lot of excitement. And then we went to Texas and wound up staying out there. It was a really good time out there.
AH: This album is almost impossible to find anymore, other than this remastered rerelease, is that right?
DB: Yeah, we quit manufacturing a long time ago.
And I’m glad it’s coming out on vinyl. I am so glad vinyl is back now, I really held onto vinyl for a long time and there’s just nothing like it. You get to hold on to it. It was so exciting when it came back. I was a big record collector and buyer, that’s all we did when I was in high school.
AH: The album has 11 bonus tracks: 7 demos and 4 live recordings. Where were these from?
DB: Two of the live takes are from the Waterloo Ice house on Congress Ave in Austin, we’d play there all the time, every month; we would do like a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and we’d play all acoustic. That was one of the few places we’d play all acoustic. Some of these live tracks are from those recordings.
AH: Do you have even more tucked away?
Yes we do! We recorded so many of those shows. And they are all from this same timeframe. Sometimes they are the same song, it was a very relaxing gig for us, we’d be in there yukking it up quite a bit.
AH: Where are the demos from?
DB: After we put this record out the first time, Warner Brothers out in California wanted to hear more stuff, so we went in with them and cut 5 or 6 more songs.
We did some work in Nashville for a year before we recorded in Charlotte, and a couple songs came from that time around 1973 with Buzz Cason: “Lonely in Love,” and “Time on My Hands.”
We are searching for some more that we made back at Arthur Smith’s.
So there’s quite a mixed sample!
AH: What is the story on the song “Your Father’s Frown?”
DB: The one on this album is from a 1970 demo we made. Champ and Walter were playing as a duo before I joined them and that was their song from way back then. I just love that song; it was one of the first songs the three of us worked up. Walter’s lyrics were so great, he was “the guy” for me and Champ; we played that song quite a bit. Walter was a very romantic songwriter. That’s the only world I really saw in writing. To me that is the point of writing songs.
AH: You also all sang so open heartedly!
DB: We all three all would croon and sing in the same way. Walter had been a pretty established folk singer before we joined him and he brought that element to it. I’ve been listening to some tapes that are really old of Walter and Champ before I started playing with them that are really really good.
AH: In “After You’ve Gone” who is playing that violin?
DB: That is David Sebring. This recording of “After You’ve Gone” was one of the ones from the Warner Brothers sessions.
AH: Then you have the gospel a capella version of Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line” song that’s really amazing too!
DB: That’s from that same session!
I remember recording there like it was yesterday!!! That song was really fun to record.
AH: People use a lot of terms to label your style music – folk, country, etc; but I haven’t often seen “gospel” before now.
DB: I know it! And we sang a lot of stuff. But you know, back then, that was called ‘folk music’ stuff like that Leadbelly song, and folk people were all over the place. They’d do cowboy ballads, they’d do old English songs, madrigals, and it was pretty exciting and mixed.
AH: This album is anticipated also because a lot of people have acknowledged Uncle Walt’s Band as very influential to them; for example Lyle Lovett has played your album between sets, you’ve played with him and he has covered your music and calls it “That Carolina Sound.”
DB: That Carolina Sound is what’s what we are calling the band with now, we have Champ’s son Warren who plays violin and sings and his nephew Marshall who plays guitar. They grew up playing this music and listening to it. And then they also have their own evolved music too. I don’t play the bass fiddle with them, but “I might.” (laughs)
When we lived in Nashville we practically starved to death. It was hard and we were looking for a place to play live, we didn’t know anything about the music business. We were there to learn but it was hard. And we kept running into people in Nashville who’d say “you gotta come to Texas, play the Kerrville Folk Festival, and all these places.” And Austin was starting to happen, this was in the early 70s, maybe 1972. So we started making trips down there.
When Uncle Walt’s band moved to Texas we started meeting people. And that’s where we met Lyle. We played this place in College Station Texas where Lyle was a student at Texas A & M. It was a pretty small club in College Station that hold about 60-80 people, it was called Grins, in the Northgate area. Lyle even wrote a song “It’s Closing Time” — he wrote that song about Grins. We all hit it off and we had a show coming up in Austin so we got him to come down and open up and he was very good, he’s always been really good. He’s got that Texas thing, he does that great fingerpickin’ style.
We were so different with all the harmony and he was just a fan and he liked the songs. We’d do about 50% original and the 50% covers we’d try anything, everybody had their own personality but we came together under the Uncle Walt’s Band idea.
AH: Mike Judge has also used your music on Silicon Valley.
DB: Yeah! What a great guy! As long as he doesn’t think I am “Butthead” from Beavis & Butt-Head! (laughs)
AH: You also recently released an album Come See Me. What’s the story behind the song “Little Ranchero” on that album?
That song really fits the style of this record. Come See Me is a strictly a homemade record, and I got out my old upright bass and put that thing together and started recording these tracks I was making. That was another song that Champ and Walter were doing just before I joined the band and once I joined, they quit doing it and they wouldn’t play it anymore! We never played it! But that was my favorite song. So now I’m living my unfulfilled dream by recording “Little Ranchero.” It’s such a fun song, it has that Jerry Jeff kind of jangly Texas thing.
But Uncle Walt’s Band always had an eye on the horizon, we were always pushing and going and exploring new music and whatever caught our fancy. Walter was really strong about that, you couldn’t get him to play the older stuff. He liked always playing something new.
AH: What makes this album Come See Me an “un-Nashville” kind of album?
When you do a Nashville record you use what they call a click track. That keeps the time, and I just did not want to do that, I don’t like a click track. It makes the music to me so limited. I didn’t go that route.
This was just a self-produced record, there was no punching a time card, no click track, no appointments. I just did this record when I felt like it. It got to be pretty inspiring. I had a bunch of songs and I’d demo them, and I’d put them in the car and I’d listen to them there. Some of them sounded good enough just the way they were. So I decided to do something simple.
What I like about it is I could hear how comfortable I was singing, and I was singing better in my home, doing it when I was “in voice,” and felt like singing.
It’s hard to show up at a place at 10:00 in the morning, and you have to go through 3 or 4 people, and them you have to listen to how they said it. And then have to perform right that moment. So on this record I just didn’t do any of that. And I hope it has a certain kind of raw appeal.
AH: It must have been so liberating, just letting it unfold at its own pace, as opposed to forcing it to fit in a schedule and other parameters.
DB: If you have the thousands of dollars to invest in a studio it might be okay, and I do admire the people who produce albums really well. But the whole recording industry was changing and a lot of that is a lost art now. So I’m just fooling around with it and trying to get something that sounds really good and at the same time I am not going to let it drive me crazy.
I do have a few songs that I need to do with a band next time, so for that we will need a studio.
AH: Tell us about the cover art of Come See Me.
My daughter and I made that cover art many years ago, back when she was a kid. It’s a guy from 1590 in the Southwest. A couple of those guys are playing guitars and accordions. It’s a self portrait of me from another life.
I came under such a spell out there in Texas so this cover shows that.
AH: What is the tour schedule for the Uncle Walt’s Band release.
DB: First let me say that the people at Omnivore Records do a really great job, they just did great work getting this album to come together!
We have shows coming up at State Theatre next to the Paramount on Congress in Austin. Two nights there. And then two nights at the Fr8 Yard which is a nice outdoor venue in Spartanburg, and the home crowd will come out for Uncle Walt’s Band show. It’s going to be pretty cool! May 2nd and 3rd – springtime in South Carolina with the dogwoods!