Saturday, September 29, 2012
Big Walter Price - Boogie
Price was a master of the barrelhouse style of piano, and he was described by the late blues guitar great Jerry Lightfoot as "a national treasure from the state of Texas."
His far-flung style also included big band and swing, ballads and sounds from New Orleans; he was also known to sing songs in Spanish. His career in the blues spanned more than a half century.
"You can't classify me as a blues singer exclusively," he told Houston blues historian Roger Wood in Living Blues magazine. "The only thing, when you classify yourself as a blues singer, you're putting a label on yourself. You can't label me. I'm an artist. … I play Western music. Blues, ballads, country, I'm across the board."
Revered in Houston's blues scene, Price's renown should have been greater nationally, but like so many other blues players of his vintage, he was often neglected by a music business that failed to compensate him for the recordings he made. Here he was treated like a local treasure, though, the toast of an annual birthday celebration fitting for a man who was an integral part of the city's blues history.
Price's recordings require a bit of a hunt today, but they're often worth it. His best-known song is "Pack Fair and Square," a robust and driving kiss-off of a song that was covered by the J. Geils Band. Price's version can be found on the rare "Texas Music, Vol. 1: Postwar Blues Combos" or, for those who don't like digging, it can also be heard on Price's MySpace page along with a few other Big Walter tracks.
Price was born Aug. 2, 1914, in Gonzales, just east of San Antonio. He described a rough childhood picking cotton and receiving beatings from an aunt if he didn't meet her quotas. He grew up in San Antonio and told Wood that there wasn't much music in the house when he was a child.
"My family had a piano, one of them old upright pianos, and I couldn't never understand why the piano was sitting outside with an old wagon sheet over it," he said.
While working for the railroad in Fort Worth, Price was encouraged by a co-worker to sing. He made his first recording, a song called "Calling Margie," in 1955, which didn't earn him a penny. Later that year, he moved to Houston and began working with the musicians at Peacock.
Price's career took him to several other labels, and he recorded numerous other sides, but his financial compensation was limited.
"I don't want to be rich," he told Wood. "I want to go to heaven when I die. You understand where I'm coming from, man? I just want to make a decent living, have a decent family and treat people like they ought to be treated, and make sure that they get the same decent life that I would like to live for myself. That's the bottom line."