In the 1970s and early '80s, an acoustic trio from Spartanburg made its mark with well-crafted tunes featuring beautiful harmonies. Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood and David Ball were known as Uncle Walt's Band. Their blend of folk, swing, and bluegrass influences attracted audiences wherever they lived - including Spartanburg, Nashville and, ultimately, Austin, Texas. But, strangely, the enthusiasm of their fans never went beyond a faithful cult following.
"I thought they should have been playing stadiums and stuff," said Paul Riddle, a friend and Uncle Walt's fan who was building his own career at the time with another Spartanburg musical outfit, the Marshall Tucker Band. "I thought they should be a household name with everyone. They were just incredible."
Ball, the only member now living, said the band was naive enough to expect record companies to line up to sign it to a contract. When that didn't happen, the three friends returned to home territory to make their own record at Arthur Smith's studio in Charlotte. "The engineer at this place was a very smart guy...and he got it, he knew what we were doing. And this guy...took an interest in what we were doing and was helping us."
Chip Smith of Spartanburg is a music promoter and another friend who saw great potential in Uncle Walt's Band. "I knew all of 'em had talent," he said. "But the three of 'em together was just magic." But despite more self-released records and great popularity in Texas, national success eluded them. Even so, their intricate harmonies, original arrangements and compositions, and Champ Hood's expert guitar work had a great influence on other musicians who would become famous, such as Lyle Lovett, Marcia Ball and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
"People used to describe Uncle Walt's Band as 'musicians' musicians,'" said Ball, who achieved country music stardom in Nashville. "The musicians liked to come hear us play. I think that was because this was something we created. We weren't copying somebody else's style."
Because of its blend of various genres of music, Uncle Walt's Band has been cited as a forerunner of Americana. It continues to have a cult following in such far-flung places as Berkeley, California and Moscow University in Russia, as well as Texas and South Carolina. This continued interest led to the re-release March 29 of the group's first album, "Uncle Walt's Band," which contains 11 bonus tracks in addition to the original songs.
Ball and Riddle hope the re-release will bring new listeners to Uncle Walt's Band, which Smith said was ahead of its time. They say the music is "just too good to be missed" this time around.