Walter Hyatt Tribute – Paramount Theatre (Austin, TX)
Editor’s note: Walter Hyatt was one of the 110 people who died in the ValuJet Flight 592 crash in the Florida everglades earlier this year. We noted his passing in the “Farther Along” column of the Summer 1996 issue of No Depression, but a recent series of activities commemorating Hyatt’s life and music motivated us to devote further coverage to him in this issue.
Tributes to Hyatt were performed at the Ryman in Nashville in June and at the Paramount in Austin in October; the day after the Austin tribute, several of the same participating musicians taped an hour-long special of Austin City Limits devoted to Hyatt’s music that will air in mid-February on PBS (Feb. 15 in most markets). And in November, MCA reissued Hyatt’s 1990 solo album King Tears.
What follows is a review of the Austin tribute concert and of the King Tears reissue, as well as a review of a recent homecoming weekend of shows in South Carolina by Champ Hood, Hyatt’s longtime friend and former bandmate in Uncle Walt’s Band.
A trust fund has been established to benefit Hyatt’s family. Donations may be sent to: The Walter Hyatt Fund, Second Presbyterian Church, 3511 Belmont Blvd., Nashville, TN 37215.
The stately Paramount Theatre, just a couple of blocks from the state capitol building in Austin, was a fitting location to pay tribute to Walter Hyatt’s music. Uncle Walt’s Band had played there a couple of times in 1970s, once opening for Ry Cooder; perhaps more significantly, their home base had been the original Waterloo Ice House, just a couple blocks up the street on Congress Avenue.
A broad gathering of Hyatt’s friends and admirers, a virtual living history of Austin songwriters, performed to raise money for his three children and his wife, Heidi. Each performer was asked to sing a favorite song Hyatt had written and to share a memory of him, which served to showcase both his vast catalog as a songwriter and his legacy as a person.
Among the Austinites who took part in the three-hour show were Champ Hood, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Marcia Ball, Junior Brown, Shawn Colvin, Tish Hinojosa, David Halley, Jerry Jeff Walker and Sarah Elizabeth Campbell. Coming in from Nashville (where Hyatt had lived for the past several years) and elsewhere were Lyle Lovett, David Ball, John Simon, Shake Russell, Dana Cooper and Willis Alan Ramsey. They were all backed by Hyatt’s group, the King Tears Band.
Even with such a uniformly stellar lineup, some performances set themselves apart. David Ball and Champ Hood’s version of “Message In A Bottle”, with John Hagen joining on cello, was a spine-tingler and probably the biggest crowd-pleaser. Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s Appalachian-colored rendition of “Georgia Rose” was lonesome and stunning as well. The last song before the group finale, a duet between Lovett and Colvin, was the smoky, jazz-tinged “Babes In The Woods” — so blue and perfect in its mood that no one could follow it. The entire lineup returned for the closing number, “Aloha”, with Brown on guit-steel setting the musical ambiance.