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Uncle Walt remembered... Houston's extended singer/songwriter family was devastated Mother's Day weekend by the news that much-loved Walter "Uncle Walt" Hyatt was a passenger on ValuJet Flight 592, the 29-year-old DC-9 that crashed into the Everglades May 11. Hyatt, 46, was traveling to his daughter's college graduation after a series of performances in Key West, Florida.

"He was such a gentle soul," says Sisters Morales' Lisa Morales, who had been a friend of Hyatt's since the early '80s. "Walt never met or made an enemy."

Hyatt, a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, lived in Austin for many years and frequently came to Houston to play at Anderson Fair, Chelsea's 804 and McGonigel's Mucky Duck. Uncle Walt's Band -- a sassy, innovative acoustic trio made up of Hyatt, Champ Hood and David Ball -- developed an enthusiastic following in Texas and the Southeast during the '70s and '80s. "They were the Texas cult band of choice for a long time," says Barry Poss, president of Sugar Hill Records, which has reissued much of the material from Uncle Walt's three self-produced albums. "It's ironic. They came out of Carolina, but they put it together in Texas. Then word about them filtered back to the East Coast."

Uncle Walt's Band, noted for its clever songwriting and intricate vocal harmonies, performed an eclectic, sophisticated melange of jazz, country and western swing that anticipated the Squirrel Nut Zippers and other contemporary cocktail-lounge swing acts. Highly original bands whose influences range from Bob Wills to Duke Ellington to Leadbelly to Fats Domino don't always get the attention they deserve; the music press can become paralyzed when faced with an act that can't be compared to anyone else. There was no such paralysis among the Texas and Nashville musicians who counted themselves as both fans and friends of Hyatt, though. Uncle Walt's Band is cited as an influence by many of them; more important, they praise Hyatt's enthusiastic encouragement of their efforts, which often came at critical moments in their careers. "I was doing one of those 'What am I doing here?' gigs in the middle of nowhere up by Nashville," Morales recalls. "Walt and his family showed up for support, and that made it a good night."

Although Uncle Walt's Band split up several times, it was always amicably and never for long. Hyatt's rich baritone and incredible rhythm guitar always sounded best alongside the guitar and fiddle of Hood and the acoustic bass of Ball, both of whom appeared on Hyatt's last release, Music Town.

Hyatt is survived by his wife, Heidi; his daughters Haley, 20, and Rose, eight months; and son Taylor, 6. A Hyatt Family Fund (Second Presbyterian Church, 3511 Belmont Boulevard, Nashville, TN 37215) has been established in the wake of the tragedy. Anyone unaware of how much was lost with Hyatt's passing is encouraged to check out the Sugar Hill reissues, as well as the more recent Music Town and King Tears. -- Jim Sherman

Club news... Deep Phat recently joined the lengthy list of live music venues forced to pack it in due to a lack of the green stuff. "The bottom line is that there wasn't enough money to pay for things like bills and a liquor license," says Kelly Watson, who handled Deep Phat's booking until just weeks before it closed in late April, after less than a year in business. Watson says the club tried its best to offer a middle ground between the more commercial entertainment at the Urban Art Bar and what drew the sloppy, teenage crowds to Fitzgerald's. But the strategy didn't fly. "Some of the shows we were doing were oriented to non-drinking crowds," says Watson. "And with the others, attendance was low. We just couldn't get enough support."

For reasons unknown (to me, at least; no one at the club returned my calls), Millennium has also given up live music, changing its look and setting its sights on the "Top 40 alternative retro dance" crowd, according to its new answering machine message -- as if the city needed another dance club. In any event, it's another local stage gone. "That's Houston," laments Watson.

Local music on line... Trying to flesh out some details on hometown bands? Then check into Houston Sound Below Ground, a new Web site at http://www.insync.net/~abrams. The site features slick graphics and photos, group histories, upcoming show dates and loads more, all arranged in a professional, easy-to-access fashion.

Etc.... On May 17, Zwee and the Graveberries went on-stage at Instant Karma to play their final gig. The end came just months after the band released their first (and only) CD, Human Resources. Band members say they're parting ways to pursue other musical avenues. Texas Johnny Brown and Jimmy "T-99" Nelson will join Double Bayou's Pete Mayes and the Texas Houserockers for a performance June 2 at the 1996 Chicago Blues Festival. A sendoff celebration for the musicians is set for Sunday at Double Bayou Dance Hall. From the looks of the schedule, the local contingent at this year's Kerrville Folk Festival is awfully slim, with singer/songwriters Shake Russell and Jack Saunders the only Houstonites slated to play the event, which starts Thursday and runs through June 16. Pop-metal court jesters Local H join fellow alternative upstarts Limplifter and Stanford Prison Experiment for the 3X5 tour (three bands for five dollars), which arrives in Houston for a show Friday at the Urban Art Bar. While all the acts can whip up a noxious noise, the foul-mouthed, hook-conscious Local H are the over-achievers on this triple bill. Saturday, Direct Events, the company behind Austin's The Backyard and Austin Music Hall, is opening a Galveston version of The Backyard dubbed, fittingly enough, The Backyard at the Beach; the inaugural show features Los Lobos, Storyville, Joe "King" Carrasco and a few unannounced guests. Also Saturday, Billy Blues celebrates Memorial Day weekend with a "blues extravaganza" featuring Milton Hopkins, Jerry Lightfoot, the Sonny Boy Terry Blues Quartet, Ron Crick and Glen Alyn and other favorites. -- Hobart Rowland

 
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