"The last time I recorded in Nashville," says Don Walser, "...I'd always wanted to play with those guys, like Buddy Emmons, Buddy Spicher and Charlie McCoy. It was a real good experience, but there's nothing like playing with your own band."
That's why the genial, 66-year-old former Texas National Guardsman used his regular guys on his latest album, ³I'll Hold You In My Heart," for everything but one cut originally done for the ³Hi Lo Country" soundtrack of last year.
The album was his first for Valley Entertainment after a string of releases for Watermelon - his first when he was 60, then Watermelon/Sire, and finally Sire Records.
"We did that one in Ft. Worth, with the trumpets and fiddles, and most of the guys on it were old western swing musicians, like Tommy Allsupp and all those guys," Walser notes, adding that Marty Stuart co-produced the track.
Beyond that, though it's basically the trademark classic country stylings of Walser's Pure Texas Band - steel guitarist Scott Walls, fiddler Howard Kalish, Skinny Don Keeling on bass, Phillip Farjardo on drums and ringer Floyd Domino on piano - playing Texas swing and Walser singing and yodeling away in his distinctive voice.
"He (Domino) plays with me on most of the big gigs," he says of the in-demand player, ³at least if he's not busy, he plays with me at least once a month. So, I've counted him as part of my band for years," Walser laughs.
George Strait's Ace In The Hole Band veterans Rick McRay and Benny McArthur provide lead guitars, but the essential sound is as close to his live one as Walser's come on a recording.
The new album is also noteworthy for including a generous helping of Walser's own songs. There are five originals, ranging from a vintage-sounding shuffle, ³If You Don't Want To See Me Going (Turn And Look The Other Way)" to ³Rock-A-Billy Rage" and the humorous ³Buck And Merle."
"I'm not a great songwriter, but I've got a few good songs, and I didn't want to put them all on one CD, so I've been kind of piecemealing them out. But this time, I decided to put more of them on there because I'm getting older, and I want to try to record as much of my stuff as I can," he explains.
"I wrote 'If You Don't Want To See Me Going' about four years ago," he continues. ³Somebody gave me that line, and I wrote the song around it. I guess you could say I put all the shuffles in one song. I like shuffles, but they're all kind of alike. (Austin musician) Cornell Hurd said that every time I write a song, it sounds likeŠand he named one of those old Ray Price songs. He's not entirely wrong because most of them sound kind of alike, but they're all good, too. Ray Price had a hundred songs that sounded alike, but they were all good."
"The shuffle is a great dance," the Lamesa, Texas native continues. ³When I play at the Broken Spoke (an Austin club), I do a lot more shuffles than I normally do because usually I like to sing all kinds of songs. You know, when I was growing up and playing music, I never did play the Top 40 game, because there are so many in the Top 40 - it doesn't matter what area you're in - that are just junk. And if you're throwing away good songs to learn some junk, well, I never would do that. If I got lots of requests for something or if it touched me, I'd learn it, and if it didn't, I didn't bother with learning it."
"So, I don't know anything, but a bunch of good old songs. And they were written, most of them, before 'television, when people had more time to concentrate on what they were trying to say and to tell stories. That kind of shaped my life, listening to that old music years ago. It taught me how to live. I remember one song, I'd like to record it some day, called 'Rocking Alone In An Old Rocking Chair.' The first time I heard that, I was just a little boy, and I said 'boy, I won't ever let my grandmother be alone like that.' These songs taught me things that were true, that were good to live by."
For Walser, living by the things he learned from the country music he grew up on meant putting his family first.
Though he had some success with his musical career back in the late 1950's and early 1960's, he chose the security of a full-time job with the Texas National Guard over the uncertainties of a musician's life until his children were grown and he had reached retirement age.
That may help to explain why he realized one of his biggest goals - to play the Grand Ole Opry - just last year. ³Oh, that was even more exciting than I expected," he laughs. ³I just grinned all the time I was there."
"I always had two goals," Walser recalls, ³to play at the Opry and at Cain's Ballroom (in Tulsa), where Bob Wills was. And the first time I played Cain's Ballroom, I saw Cindy Walker's picture on the wall, and I told the guy there, 'I sure wish I could meet her someday, she's written so many wonderful songs.' He said, 'well, let's just go call her,' and we did. I talked to her for about an hour, and I told her, 'I've done Cain's, and now I want to do the Grand Ole Opry, and I'll have my goals in life finished.'"