Champ Hood – Bert’s Bar (Sullivan’s Island, SC) / Bowen’s Island Restaurant (Charleston, SC)
Famous within and outside his current hometown of Austin, Texas, native South Carolinian DesChamps “Champ” Hood needs no introduction in the Southeast. As one-third of the legendary Texas-by-way-of-Carolina acoustic trio Uncle Walt’s Band, and as a consummate guitarist and fiddler with artists ranging from Lyle Lovett to Toni Price to Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Hood has been followed and appreciated through years of playing here, in Texas, and on record.
So it was with great anticipation that Charleston welcomed the Spartanburg native to two sold-out gigs — at Bert’s Bar, a low-ceilinged, smoky, quintessential beach bar; and at Bowen’s Island Restaurant, a concrete block building at the edge of the Folly River and the funkiest shrimp-and-oyster house east of New Orleans.
These out-of-Austin gigs for Hood were less a tribute to Hood’s bandmate and friend Walter Hyatt, who was killed last May in the ValuJet crash, than a homecoming and a chance to play with friends. Accompanying Hood were Nashville drummer Billy Block, who plays with the Bum Steers; traditional-music aficionados Vollie McKenzie, an Asheville, N.C., guitarist and singer, and Danny Harlowe, a mandolinist and tenor from Bristol, Va.; local fiddler Roger Bellow; and guitarist/songwriters David Ezell and Jim Orr. Hood sang and doubled on fiddle and a turquoise-fading-to-green guitar with tasty lead licks, reaching under and over the neck with a beer-bottle slide.
At Bowen’s Island, a 50-year-old restaurant, fans sat in very old wooden chairs at very old wooden tables amidst an ambiance that hasn’t changed much in 30 years — walls covered with scribble, pictures of Jesus and bad paintings of blues musicians; a corner of stacked-up TVs (remnants of founder Mr. Bowen, who would place the new set on top of each old dead one); ratty armchairs and a sofa; seafood on paper plates from the kitchen in the back; marsh, moss and saltwater just outside.
In a space of barely 23 beer-filled hours on Saturday night (roughly 10 to 2) and Sunday afternoon (roughly 4 to 8), they played a prodigious amount of music, digging up great oaky roots of American folk and country — the Louvin Brothers, Hank Williams, Bob Wills, a swing-jazz version of “Red Robin”, bluegrass gospel, songs by David Lindley, Richard Thompson, Arthur Alexander, even a dose of Aretha-rocking soul. Ezell and Orr performed each other’s fine originals. It was an afternoon of more twang than torch, but Jill Block got up briefly to sing blues.
Hood’s solo set led off with his staple “Deep River Blues” and included the songs he wrote for Uncle Walt’s Band (whose albums have been reissued on CD by Sugar Hill Records): The beautiful ballad “High Hill”, the fiddle tune “An American in Texas”, and “Last One to Know”. “Chain of Emotion” reached back to another band he used to be in, the Contenders.
Hood and the band also included several of Hyatt’s songs: the gorgeous “Georgia Rose”, “Goin’ to New Orleans”, the never-recorded “Number One”, and the never-released “The River Road” and “The Early Years With You”, as well as “I’m Calling” from Hyatt’s last album, “Music Town” and the all-time funky fave “Diggaroo”.
The ancient classic “The Ramblin’ Blues” and the country chestnut “Ashes of Love” also were rendered. They’re included on Hood’s most recent CD project, Supper Sessions: Second Helpings (Watermelon Records), the second live recording at Threadgill’s restaurant in Austin, where Hood is host of a weekly Wednesday night gig that starts at suppertime.
Though he claims to be “a bits and pieces kind of guy,” not possessing the kind of thousands-of-songs repertoires of his Uncle Walt’s bandmates David Ball and Hyatt, Hood’s diversity (his taste as a teenager ran from Jimmie Rodgers to Django Reinhardt), talent and knowledge have ingrained in him a deep versatility as a superb utility musician. Austin’s got him, but Charleston wants him back soon.