Born Walter Travis Price, 2 August 1917, Gonzales, Texas.
Though singer / pianist Big Walter Price never had a national hit, he is often
Walter Price was brought up by his aunt, who would beat him when he didn't pick enough cotton. He describes his childhood in Gonzales as "horrible". Around the age of eleven, he moved to San Antonio and has lived in big cities ever since. "I never have fooled with cotton no more". He received very little schooling ("first grade is as far as I ever went") and worked at all sorts of low-paying jobs until he got involved in music in the 1940s. That's when he began writing songs (all of Price's recordings are his own compositions) and learned to play the piano.
Price was already in his early forties when he made his first records, for Bob Tanner's TNT label in San Antonio. Three TNT singles were released in 1955, the first of which, "Calling Margie", sold quite well locally. They were credited to "Big Walter and his Thunderbirds". Soon Price would call himself "Big Walter the Thunderbird". Later in 1955, Walter moved to Houston and joined his friend Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown at Don Robey's Peacock label. Of the five Peacock singles that were issued in 1956-57, the first two are the best known and also the strongest sellers. "Shirley Jean" (Peacock 1661) sounds like an early swamp pop song and was later recorded by several "real" swamp pop artists from Louisiana. On "Pack Fair And Square" (clearly inspired by "Flip Flop And Fly"), Price was backed by a few members of Little Richard's band, the Upsetters (Grady Gaines, Clifford Burks, Nat Douglas). The song was revived in the 1970s by the J. Geils Band and Nine Below Zero.
In 1958, Price recorded two singles for Eddie Shuler's Goldband label in Lake Charles, LA, "San Antonio" and "Oh Ramona". John Broven calls these records "good rumbustious efforts" in his book "South To Louisiana", but they failed to sell.
The 1960s saw further unsuccessful releases on Myrl, Global, Tear Drop and Jet Stream. By then, Price was working in a striptease club in Houston. He kept on performing, but also owned a record shop, a publishing company (Dinosaur), worked as a disc jockey (KCOH) and acted in movies. The 1980s saw three Big Walter LP releases with previously unissued material (on Lunar, Ace and P-Vine), but according to Price, he never received any royalties. Four CD's issued between 1994 and 2003 are also considered as bootlegs by Big Walter and on his official website, http://www.bigwalter.org/index.htm he mentions these explicitly and advises not to buy them. He has always been very bitter about the way he has been treated by record companies and has been involved in several lawsuits. In spite of his lack of education, Price was always supremely confident. At his 90th birthday party in 2004, he launched the release of the first of four CD's issued with his authorization, on the Sons Of Sunshine label.These four CD's (46 tracks altogether) contain more or less his complete studio recordings.
Acknowledgements: Apart from the official website, which includes a long interview from Living Blues magazine, the discography by Pete Hoppula was very useful. There is no direct link. Go to http://www.wangdangdula.com/ then Discographies, then All discographies A-E and scroll down to the B of Big Walter.
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