Thursday, September 21, 2006
– Don Walser, the Texas country singer and yodeler known as the "Pavarotti of the Plains," died Wednesday at 72 after a long illness.
Walser, who had been a Texas National Guardsman, got a late start in his musical career. He recorded for the small Watermelon Records label out of Austin before signing a deal with Sire Records.
Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson produced Walser's first two albums, "Rolling Stone From Texas" in 1994 and "Texas Tophand" on Watermelon. The label also released "The Archive Series," which re-released his earlier independent recordings.
Walser's recording career stalled when Watermelon experienced financial difficulties. After he was freed of his contract with Watermelon, Sire outbid Sony for the chance to record Walser and in 1998 released "Down at the Sky-Vue Drive In." He also released "Here's to Country Music" in 1999 and "I'll Hold You In My Heart" in 2000.
He never achieved widespread commercial success, but earned a good reputation for quality albums and concerts. He sang in a high-pitched voice and included yodeling as part of his repertoire.
Walser was born in Lamesa, Texas and got into country music as a youth. He formed a band as a teen and stuck with country although rock music was becoming more prevalent. He put music on the backburner to earn a living.
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 in 1999. "Oh, that was even more exciting than I expected," he said in a 2000 interview with Country Standard Time. ³I just grinned all the time I was there."
"I always had two goals," Walser said, 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.'"
Walker tried to get a friend at TNN to book Walser on the show, but without success, but that wasn't the end of the story. ³A new guy (Opry General Manager Pete Fisher) came in," he says, ³and he did it. That's the way I got on it."
In 2000, he received the National Heritage Award in Washington.
In recent years, Walser was too ill to play or travel. He leaves behind a wife and four children.