Houston Blues Legend Big Walter "The Thunderbird" Dies At 97

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Big Walter "The Thunderbird" Price, the elder statesman of Houston blues who continued performing well into his nineties, died overnight, according to a Facebook post by local blues musician Steve Krase of Steve Krase & the In Crowd.

Price was 97 and had been in a nursing home in north Houston. As recently as August 2009, he wowed the crowd with a version of Fats Domino's "My Girl Josephine" at his 95th birthday party at the Big Easy, as well as his own "Pack Fair and Square."

The dapper Price, whose driving boogie-woogie piano sound was an important influence on early rock and roll, was born in Gonzales in 1914 and moved to San Antonio around age 11, according to Dutch Web site www.rockabilly.nl. He recorded three singles for San Antonio's TNT label in 1955, and began calling his band "Big Walter and the Thunderbirds."

In 1955, Price moved to Houston, where he cut several singles for Don Robey's Peacock label, including "Pack Fair and Square," which he recorded with several members of Little Richard's band including current Big Easy regular Grady Gaines. Besides R&B, Price also recorded several swamp pop songs around this time, including "Shirley Jean" for Peacock and "Oh Ramona" for Lake Charles' Goldband Records.

Price recorded for several other labels in the 1960s, but often felt cheated by the music business. He also owned a record store, worked in a strip club, was a disc jockey for Houston's KCOH, and owned his own publishing company, Dinosaur. But he never stopped performing.

After years of seeing his records get released without his consent, in 2004 the Sons of Sunshine label released four CDs, with 46 songs in all: Tell Me, Pain In My Heart, Six Weeks of Misery and Cool Breeze. His last appearance for a U.S. label appears to be on the 2006 CD Texas Southside Kings on Austin's Dialtone Records.

Price never had a hit record, but most rock and roll and R&B musicians in the '60s and '70s knew the Thunderbird. The J. Geils Band covered "Pack Fair and Square" in the 1970s.

Funeral details are forthcoming.

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