There is probably no greater fan, meaning fanatic, for gold old C&W music than my friend Ed Miller. (Known to some as the cool uncle of the Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller.) Thus, there was no greater fan of Don Walser. Like Howard Kalish, Ed gave a talk over Don at his funeral. With his kind permission, here are his comments:
"Hi, folks. Janey Walser asked me to share some stories with you about her Dad today. I told her that it would be one of the honors of my lifetime to speak some words to you about Don Walser.
I first met Don after my friends High Noon told me about him during their recording session in my Fort Worth studio. I used to drive to Austin every Monday night from Fort Worth, and slip just inside the front door of Henry’s, and sit there with tears streaming down my face and listen to Don Walser and Jimmy Day. After a few months of that, Don came over on break and introduced himself. He’d seen me back there crying, and wanted to know just who he and Jimmy were touching so deeply. He used to kid me that it was a good thing he was playing in Austin now, just a 200 mile drive for me each way every Monday night, instead of still being way out in La Meesa, a good thousand mile round trip.
One of my favorite stories about Don concerns his residency at Jovita’s. John Conquest and I urged Brad to put Don in at Jovita’s, back when SXSW was a much newer thing and Brad knew much less about booking music in Austin. A huge international crowd showed up that first night to see Don and the Pure Texas Band. Brad saw the light. Don and the crowd stayed every Tuesday night for years.
Back when my own times were pretty tough, work was hard to find, money was scarce, and meals sometimes few and far between, I used to come to see Don every Tuesday night. Part of his deal with Jovita’s was that they would feed him and the rest of the band before the show. Don always ordered the Deluxe Mexican Dinner, and then, when it was served, pushed it across the table to me, winked, and whispered, “I already ate before I came.” Don was not just a dear friend, and a musical hero, he fed me when I was hungry, and nourished my soul when times were bleak after my Mom died.
Don had something for everybody. We used to joke about all the blue-hairs that came to see him. Some were ladies of a certain age, and others were Mohawked punk rockers with tie-dyed blue hair.
Don was equally at home in front of the tattooed punksters down at Emo’s or the country music purists over at the Broken Spoke, where James White booked him regularly for years.
Eddie Wilson gave Don a lengthy residency at Threadgills - South on Riverside and Barton Springs , where a musical celebration of Don’s life and career will be held starting at 6 PM this evening, featuring his friends and proteges backed by the wonderful Pure Texas Band.
Y’all don’t miss it.
My friend and Texas Country Music specialist Peter Holluch e-mailed me from Berlin this weekend after he heard about Don’s passing to say:
"A very warm-hearted human and a great country singer is gone.
It didn’t come suddenly, and maybe it was a redemption after that last hard year for him.
I remember very clearly how friendly and how shy he was.
I remember "going to church" on Tuesday nights at Jovitas, and Don’s great dances at the Broken Spoke. He will stay always in our hearts.
Someday when the earthly noises are not so loud we will hear Don’s clear voice and yodel sounding from the sky, backed with Jimmy Day's pedal-steel."
What a guy he was, and to so many people..
We used to call him Daddy Don.
Don was the Daddy to us all, to the whole local music scene, and to a bunch of young ‘uns.
From Slaid Cleaves, High Noon, Justin Treviño, Jason Roberts, and Cornell Hurd, all the way over to the Kronos Quartet and the Old 97’s, Don Walser raised up a big ol’ crop of musical young ‘uns.
Don kept the local scene of real country music alive almost single-handedly back when Shania Twain and Garth Brooks dragged our music out of the Opry House, over to Hollywood, then to Nash-Vegas, and finally took contemporary country music all to blazes in their sorry rock and roll hand basket.
We knew Don as the antidote,…The Anti-Garth.
Don just sat there with that beautiful smile on his face like some big ol’ Hill-Billy Buddha, like he knew the answers to all of life’s questions that the rest of us were still struggling with.
He was always generous to share the stage and the spotlight, to help somebody get started, to help some young band keep growing, to give another performer a leg up.
At Henry’s Bar and Grill, Don was famous not only for his own performances, but for giving the other up-and-coming musicians a chance to play to a crowd of enthusiastic country music fans while being backed up by a crack outfit like the Pure Texas Band. Imagine just starting out in the business, and having twin fiddles and Jimmy Day playing pedal steel guitar behind you while you sat in with Don on a Monday night in a smoky side-street beer-joint on the outskirts of Austin, Texas.
Don always said that he played both kinds of music…..Country,…….and Western.
He said that he played Top 40 music….the Top music from 40 years ago.
And he played it like he meant it. Don wanted the band to play it just like it sounded on the record, and not jazz it up with their own ideas of how it might sound. He wanted it played like it did sound.
Don was the real thing. He had the high, pure voice that put him in a league with a group you might call the Texas Tenors, up there with Ray Price and them. And he had that falsetto that soared up so high, and the yodel that became his world-wide trademark.
It was Don’s stated mission in life to keep Traditional Country Music alive, and he did it…all through those dark years of the 80’s and 90’s and into the 21st century, when the commercial country-pop stars recorded by Nashville’s so-called Country Music Establishment sold out our music for their profit.
Don played it as long as he could stand on stage, and after he could no longer stand, as long as he was able to sit on stage, to the point that we were having to help him on and off the stage.
The music was big in Don’s life, and Don was at the center of our lives. He’s gone now, but the music he loved and the people he helped and the good he did live on in testament to the great man he was.
He was Daddy Don."