Walter Hyatt (October 25, 1949 - May 11, 1996) American singer and songwriter. His band, known as Uncle Walt's Band, was involved in the alternative music scene in Austin, Texas, from its inception and is credited by many with being the Godfather of Americana Music or the Original Americana Artist, never easily pegged into any one musical genre or format of commercial music styles.
Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Walter Hyatt was exposed to different styles of music at an early age, including styles favored by his parents and the multifaceted nature of pop radio of the time. He started playing the guitar at age 13, using a Mel Bay chord book to learn all the music chords, and formed his first band in his mid-teen years. Walter attended Wofford College for two years but left before graduation to pursue his music career.
At age 20, Hyatt formed Uncle Walt's Band with Champ Hood and David Ball, two of his fellow Spartanburg citizens. They moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1972, where they caught the attention of Willis Alan Ramsey, a famous and revered Texas singer and songwriter. Luring them to his studio, Ramsey would become the band's first noted fan.
The band returned to the Carolinas in 1974, recording Blame It On The Bossanova, their first record, at Charlotte, North Carolina's Arthur Smith Studios.
A year later, Uncle Walt's Band split up, with Hyatt returning to Nashville and forming a new band, The Contenders, with Champ Hood and Nashville musicians Steve Runkle, Tommy Goldsmith, and drummer Jimbeau Walsh.
In 1978, Uncle Walt's Band played a reunion gig in Austin, and the success that followed kept the band together in subsequent years. That success wasn't limited to the South, however. Uncle Walt's Band gained a cult following around the world, ranging from the University of California - Berkeley to Moscow University in Russia. UWB released three more albums on what is now considered Austin, Texas's original Indy labels, Lespedeza Record Company: An American in Texas, Uncle Walt's Band Recorded Live, and Six * Twenty Six * Seventy Nine.
In 1987, Hyatt returned to Nashville with his wife, Heidi Hyatt, and there he embarked on a solo career. The work that resulted from this career move, while artistically fruitful and critically acclaimed, was never a commercial success. In 1990, Hyatt became the first vocalist for MCA's Master Series label. His first solo album from this label titled, King Tears, was produced by Lyle Lovett, who was a big fan of Uncle Walt's Band in his college days at Texas A&M University. Lovett would later offer Hyatt the opening-act slot during his own music tours. In 1993, Hyatt released his second solo album, Music Town, on the Sugar Hill label.
Hyatt's Some Unfinished Business, Volume One was released January 22, 2008 to rave reviews. Taken from the last songs Hyatt recorded before his death, "Volume One" brings artists and musicians together to add the finishing touches to Uncle Walt's extraordinary music. Producer Michael Killen, working with Heidi Hyatt, assembled a who's who of Nashville musicians to accomplish this task. Killen scoured tape after tape left behind by Walter to find the best performance of each song. Together with Nashville engineer Nick Sparks, the two prepared each track for overdubbing. Killen envisioned three CD's of Walter's songs. A country album, an R&B rock album, and a jazz/ballad flavored album. Enough tracks were recorded for all three. The songs on Some Unfinished Business, Volume One - 2008, and Some Unfinished Business, Volume Two - 2010, represent these distinct Walter Hyatt styles.
Following a gig in Key West with the King Tears Band, Hyatt was killed in the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 on May 11, 1996. Walter Hyatt was 47. He was survived by his wife Heidi and their two children, Taylor and Rose Evelyn, also Walter's daughter Haley.
In 1997, an episode of the PBS show Austin City Limits featured a tribute to Hyatt put together by Lyle Lovett and various musicians who have had associations with him. Among the performers were Junior Brown, Shawn Colvin, Allison Moorer, Marcia Ball, David Halley, Willis Alan Ramsey, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Lyle Lovett, and his Uncle Walt's Band bandmates, Champ Hood and David Ball. Most who knew Walter would attest to his sincere interest in his music, and his kindness and gentle personality.
In 2008, the Austin Music Awards put together a tribute to Walter. Lyle Lovett and David Ball were joined by Champ Hood's son, singer and fiddle player Warren Hood, as well as Champ Hood's nephew, singer and guitarist Marshall Hood of The Belleville Outfit.
In the song "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)" from the 1996 album The Road To Ensenada, Lyle Lovett pays tribute to Walter Hyatt and Uncle Walt's band when he sings, "Now David's on the radio/ And Old Champ's still on the guitar/ And Uncle Walt he's home with Heidi / Lying in her loving arms."
- Everett, Rich, Falling Stars: Air Crashes that Filled Rock & Roll Heaven. 167
- Official website
- Austin City Limits (Lyle Lovett and Friends: A Tribute to Walter Hyatt)
- SegWay City - Hyatt article