Don Walser – Down at the Sky Vue Drive In
The evening started with a an almost picture perfect sunset, the golden sun glistening off the waves of the lake as Bubba Sean and I had cigars at a coffee spot on the lake. Really good cigars, A. Fuente 8-5/8’s. Really, really good. The kind of cigar that leaves me with a pleasant buzz, looking at the world like it’s a better place. Top that off with a couple of strong coffee sludge drinks topped with foamy steamed milk, and I was in good condition and high spirits.
Then he dropped me by Threadgill’s so I could catch a light dinner — as if signature chicken friend steak is a light meal — and as soon as I walked in, one of may favorite food serving employees greeted me. It just doesn’t get much better. Or so I thought.
It’s been my intention to actually sit down and listen to a full set by Don Walser and his Pure Texas Band. I’ve heard him in snippets, occasionally on the radio or read about him. For the complete biography, hit his website at www.donwalser.com. I can sum it up in a quick synopsis. He’s been singing country music for a long time. He’s been married to the same woman for 47 years. Happily married, judging by what I saw this evening. Don Walser is a Virgo, too, for what’s it’s worth. There was some dispute about the year, but then I’m only 29 so I understand.
I talked to Don Walser before his set, that’s when I learned he had just celebrated being married for 47 years, “To the same woman.” He gave his wife a pleasant “I love you honey bunny” look.
I had a few questions about country music, real country as opposed to Hot Country which looks an awful lot like rock and roll to me. Sounds like it, and from what I’ve seen of the Country Music videos, it’s merely rock, maybe southern rock, but nonetheless rock with cowboy hats and token fiddle or steel guitar thrown in.
“Country only has one format…” Don started, “rock has three or four formats, maybe more…”
The set started about 7:30, no introduction, just a fiddle, a drum kit, a bass, a pedal steel, and Don on his six string. He introduced the band and the featured pedal player after the first song, and then they got down to business.
This is pure country. It’s not rock. It’s not jazz. It’s plain, simple tunes, and the lyrics are delivered in Don’s silky smooth voice. Then he yodels. Every time he held a note, I would get chills. It’s the most amazing musical “thing” I’ve heard in a long, long time. Maybe forever. He played a song about the Texas Playboys, he played some swing songs. He played old Hank Williams.
“That first note, it’s hauntingly beautiful” the server noticed, “isn’t it?”
It is. It’s that high, almost piercingly beautiful noise called a yodel.
I also like watching people, the folks who listen to this music, and there was pretty diverse crowd. There were a couple of dancers, doing a stately and elegant two step. There was the requisite cowboy hats. There were also kids with spiky hair and black clothes. Don’t be mislead about Texas stereotypes. The music is appealing for the typical Austin crowd, and typical crowd defies normal taxonomy. But the music? It’s Pure Texas, like the band’s name.
The second set opened with a traditional fiddle reel that rocked. I guess that’s the wrong word to use. Maybe my age is showing, but in my distant past, I did grow up on this music. About the time I figured out what it was that I wanted. Then I discovered that this sort of music was too provincial for a cosmopolitan person. Now I’m back at it.
There’s also an ideal, something behind the music that helps strengthen the feeling it imparts. On the cover of the latest Don Walser CD, there’s a picture of two heads and guitar in the front seat of car, looking at the screen of the Sky Vue Drive In. It’s Don and his wife. Watching Don’s eyes throughout the set is amazing because he keeps slow and leisurely pace, looking around at the folks. He seems to be taking it all in, but he sits terribly still. He keeps his mouth just the right distance from the microphone. Amazing control. Of course, every time he gets to touching “I love you lyric” he glances at his wife.
When I was trying to choose which CD to buy this time, I asked his wife if he took her with him, all his time on the road as a musician. From my own experience, being on the road can be hell on a relationship.
“Take me? I do the driving!” was her answer.
I cannot recommend his work high enough. It has the feeling, the guts, of real Texas in it. It’s that old time country music. When he plays some of the swing band era music, there’s no mistaking where the roots are. Right here in Texas. and the yodel? That’s the best part. In person, he can send chills up and down your spine.
12/17/98 (c) Kramer Wetzel