Don Walser is living proof that dreams can come true. Raised on classic country in Lamesa in far West Texas, he started out singing in honky-tonks as a teen, visions of the Grand Ole Opry no doubt in his head. For more than four decades, the devoutly Mormon Walser played the bars of West Texas as if they were his church, never losing faith in the music he loved. He once shared a stage with a young and yet-to-be-famous Buddy Holly, earned a rave review in Billboard for one of his singles, and even traveled overseas as a musical ambassador for the city of El Paso. Stardom, however, remained elusive.

Yet Walser never broke faith. As he neared retirement age, he moved to Austin and did what he had always done: put together a band and made music. And then, while in his early sixties, fortune suddenly smiled on him. Walser landed a regular gig at Henry's Bar & Grill, a ramshackle beer bar in north Austin. Not too much later, the mantle of hipness descended onto his shoulders. The young Austin audience hungry for authenticity during the reign of Garth Brooks discovered a singer who was the real thing -- someone who loved real country for its own sake. Watermelon Records signed Walser, cut an album with him, and soon Walser's faith was repaid in spades. Critics raved, and audiences across the country loved his sweet singing and undying devotion. In time, Walser even graced the stage of the Opry as well as the boards at the Kennedy Center, where he received a National Heritage Award.

Sure, Walser's mellifluous tenor is no longer the instrument it was even eight or so years ago. His yodels don't wing their way over the hills with the same deft sense of flight as they once did. Health problems force him to perch on a stool as he performs, rather than stand tall. Yet as he plays what he likes to call "Top 40 music that's 40 years old," Walser can still seduce a crowd with his sincerity. As his Pure Texas Band provides backing that's unfettered by trends and pretensions, Don Walser has the ability to convince willing ears that there's nothing as winning as a country song delivered with an honest, Texas-sized heart.

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Rob Patterson