Spartanburg has a rich history of music greats, from gritty singer-songwriter Marshall Chapman to classic Southern rockers The Marshall Tucker Band to the iconic bluesman Pink Anderson. But perhaps the most underappreciated group among those musical luminaries, at least while they were together, was Uncle Walt’s Band, with members singers/guitarists Champ Hood and Walter Hyatt, and singer/upright bassist David Ball.
The band’s music, recently revisited on an anthology called “Those Carolina Boys, They Sure Enough Could Sing,” is dazzling in its simplicity, adventurous spirit, and aching, high-lonesome vocal harmonies. There was a general disregard for genre in Uncle Walt’s Band’s acoustic music; the trio nodded toward country, bluegrass, blues, soul, and folk throughout their catalog (two studio albums and two live albums). Ball’s bass provides rhythmic propulsion while the three men weave their vocals together like some sort of Americana version of Crosby, Stills & Nash.
For years, the trio was largely unknown outside of Spartanburg or their second home, Austin, Texas, where they moved in the early 1970s, but as time went by, musicians like Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, and Marcia Ball began singing their praises. David Ball managed to bring some of that down-home authenticity with him to a country music solo career, even scoring a platinum album in the mid-1990s with “Thinkin’ Problem,” but Hood and Hyatt died in 1996 and 2001, respectively, before the revived interest in their music really took hold.
Now, with the anthology shining a new light on their material, Ball has banded together with Champ Hood’s son Warren and Warren’s cousin Marshall to form That Carolina Sound, a touring tribute to Uncle Walt’s Band that both revisits their material and reinterprets some of Ball’s solo work in the acoustic, three-part-harmony format.
“It’s been really great,” says Ball, who will perform two shows at the FR8yard in Spartanburg this weekend with That Carolina Sound. “I’ve always loved that music, and to get to play it with Warren and Marshall, who I’ve known for a long time, it’s been wonderful. I hope we can do it justice.”
Doing the music justice was a bit of a challenge for Ball at first, not just because his singing voice isn’t as high as it used to be, but because he hadn’t remembered how complex some of those simple-sounding acoustic songs really were.
“I was surprised how hard it really was,” he says. “Some of the stuff is very hard to play, and it’s hard for me to sing a lot of the songs I sang back then.”
Up until the past few years, Ball, who is working on an album due out later this year, wasn’t really expecting to have to sing the songs of Uncle Walt’s Band again, because he didn’t know about the growing legacy that the band (which broke up when Ball went solo in 1983) had.
“I wasn’t really aware of it,” he says. “I remember the impact we had for that little period of time in Austin, and I guess those people kind of carried it with them all over the country.”
As for why that trickle never became a flood, Ball says the band just didn’t fit in with its time.
“We started this thing at a time when people weren’t really playing this kind of music,” he says, “and it didn’t become as popular. But we were free, because people never knew what to expect from us, or what song we were going to play next. We’d go anywhere we wanted to and play whatever captured our imaginations. That’s one of the things I loved about it: Me, Champ, and Walter, we played a lot of good music.”
David Ball, Marshall Hood, Warren Hood & Friends: That Carolina Sound
Where: FR8yard, 125 E. Main St., Spartanburg
When: 6 p.m. Friday, July 13, and Saturday, July 14
Wednesday, July 11, 1:46 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect the correct anthology title of “Those Carolina Boys, They Sure Enough Could Sing.” An earlier version said, “Those Carolina Boys, They Sure Could Sing.” The Journal regrets the error.