In the past few months music has been coming back into the fore front of my life more and more. I've been writing some more pieces for my Elm & McKinley Suite, and going to hear live music in town. After all I live in Music City ! I just saw tremendous concert last week with tunesmith extroadanaire Jimmy Webb, ( who is an absolute inspiration to me), Glen Campbell and the Nashville symphony. This weekend I will be seeing two live gigs, one with Nashville musician Chuck Schlacter, a newly discovered kindred spirit and fellow 7 string guitarist, and one with old soul and co writer Bob Cheevers who is coming in from Austin, Texas to do a show at the Bluebird Cafe.

A recent e mail from an old friend and fan from my Long Island bar band DAZE in the '60's asked about this photo of Tony Bennett on the website and I told her there is quite a story behind it.


I decided the best way to tell her why Erik is smirking and I look shell shocked, was by using these excerpts from the music bio audio book, I wrote in the late 1990's ...and then thought why not share it with whom ever else cares to read about it too.....

Excerpt From Chapter 24 Of

" If The Devil Danced In Empty Pockets ...He'd Have A Ball In Mine"


One Sunday morning when I was around six years old, my father took me to see an unforgettable sight. He was in The Mastic Beach Volunteer Fire Department then and they were called out on Saturday night to help quell a brawl in a beach bar. Actually it was a pavilion owned by the Mastic Beach Property Owners. Well things got a tad unsocial at the social club. The aftermath that morning reminded me of the saloon fight they used to show at the opening of F- Troop That wild TV Western Comedy in the '60's

Tony was a Long Island boy having started out in Astoria, Queens singing in a saloon. He had some friends who owned a club near our house in Mastic Beach. He used to show up occasionally there and just sing for the hell of it. I recall my folks going to see him once or twice over there. As I mentioned in chapter two, at our house there was always a lot of music playing. I grew up listening to all kinds of music and I’m glad I did. My folks would play Dorsey, Sinatra, Bennett, Como, Crosby, Three Suns, and my sister, well she had Alan Freed and WINS coming out of the radio or her phonograph spining 45's all the time. Around late ‘59- '60, WINS became an all news station, and Alan Freed got into trouble. The same trouble that rolled off of Dick Clark’s back.

Jump ahead to 1993, Tony Bennett was coming to play in Nashville. It was Valentines day, I wanted to take Anne, but then I thought, gee why not expose Erik too, to a living legend. He might come away with a story to tell his kids someday. I also planned to combine a bit of business with pleasure, as I had a song in my catalog that was right up Tony’s alley, which is a lot different than the alleys around music row. I called his management company in NY City and made arrangements to pitch him a song. They left three backstage passes for me.

The show was great, even though we were in the top row of the balcony. Tony is incredible if you have never seen him live GO NOW. He turned off the mike for one song and did Fly Me To The Moon. The man has power WOW!!!!.He also did Cold Cold Heart and remarked that he hoped to find more great songs in Music City. Well I had one for him right in my pocket.

The line to meet him in the backstage corridor afterwards was like going to see Santa at Macy’s on December 23rd. Right in front of us was record producer Brent Maher ( The Judds, Michael Johnson and more ) with his newest artist, Shelby Lynne. Brent and I made small talk and I could tell Shelby was very excited about meeting Tony. But those who know Shelby, also know she is an excitable girl to say the least. When we actually got through the door into the reception area, you could really feel the electricity. And there was Tony smiling away in the center of the room meeting, greeting and posing for photos . I hoped to tell Tony the Juke Box Story if there was enough time. Well Brent and Shelby got their photo taken with him and as they returned and were getting their coats on, I showed Brent the cassette tape in my hand and said, “I’m mixing a little business with pleasure. Well Shelby had this look of shock on her face, and she just laid into me. “You can’t do that, THAT’S TONY BENNETT FOR CHRISAKE!” Brent just kind of grinned that elfish smile he wears a lot, as I’m sure he was no stranger to the “Nashville Handshake”. But Shelby would not let up. “Give it to his roady...the man is an icon....YOU CAN'T DO THAT! ” Well at that point, I knew there was no point in explaining that my pitching a song to Tony had been prearranged with his management (Namely Tony's son Danny) Anne and Erik were already standing with Tony and shouting, “KEN...TONY IS WAITING!.” Well I was really thrown off my stride and I couldn’t think straight. I felt like Ralphie in the movie The Christmas Story when he finally gets to meet Santa at the department store to make his pitch for a BB gun and Santa says "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out Kid." Well Shelby shot my brain out....... I was almost speechless when we met face to face. Tony did sign my 45 record of Cold Cold Heart / Because Of You and I almost forgot to give him the tape. As I handed it to him the I said. something like, “I hope you do well enough with this song to earn me another one of these”and I pointed to the ASCAP #1 pin on my lapel. He smiled and thanked me. But there was no telling him the stories of my folks encounters with him in the ‘50’s or the juke box caper. I looked around and thank goodness Shelby was gone. We rode a backstage elevator down and who gets in it but, Ralph Sharon, Tony’s accompanist for twenty five years. He is also his chief finder of songs, and I wish I had a second copy then to give to Ralph. For Tony’s next album, he did a live one from his concert on MTV. It was the same show we saw. Then he followed that album the next year with a collection of hits made famous by women singers.

Weeks later I tried to follow up with the Ralph Sharon connection. I got his phone number from the union in Los Angeles. The day I called he had just come off the road and an earthquake had struck, When I called back a few weeks later, they were in Europe. The life of a songplugger is not of a writer / plugger even harder.......I LEFT YOUR TAPE....





That Is The Incredible RONNIE GODFREY Doing The Vocal & Piano

and that Juke is very reminiscent of the one in the wrecked beach bar where I first heard Tony circa 1952


Michael McCall sets it up here with this excerpt from his review of my book

......... For all his experiences, it's likely that Spooner's Nashville stories will resonate deepest. His segment on life in Music City dwells on three experiences: struggling to make connections while holding a job under the demeaning factory system at Gibson Guitars; penning a No. 1 country hit and all the outrageous events that led to it and followed it; and his songwriting relationship with the late Walter Hyatt, whom Spooner describes in saintly terms.

.........Spooner cowrote four songs on Hyatt's 1993 album, Music Town, and he explains that the late singer -songwriter, who was killed in the Florida ValuJet crash on the eve of Spooner's 49th birthday, has had a profound effect on him both as an artist and as a person. His segment dealing with his own illness and the death of his close friend is deeply moving without being maudlin.

And so skipping ahead several years and chapters after the Tony Bennett caper, here are some excerpts from what happened here in the weeks that followed Walter's death that revolve around the planning of and some of the actual events of the night of the benefit / memorial concert held at the Ryman Auditorium in June of 1996

FROM CHAPTER 27 " The Time Went Sailing By"

........ On the Walter Hyatt benefit burner were several projects. John Baeder , was the first one I heard say “It needs to be held at The Ryman”. Heidi thought so too and Lyle Lovett started the wheels turning.

I stopped by one day in the early planning stages and was talking to Lynn Robertson (Heidi Hyatt’s partner in Glass Design Studio) Lynn asked me what song I was planning to do. I said “The Sheik of ShBoom”. She said ."Shelby’s doing that one." Then I thought well there are two versions, I'll do the original one, but then I thought about my encounter with Shelby several years ago at Tony Bennett’s concert. I didn’t want to set her off or call any of her attention to me. Songwriter Tom Mitchell really put it into reality and said “We can’t have ANYTHING mess up Walter’s night”. He was right on. the money. In fact I was even nervous about Shelby seeing me on the show and thought maybe I shouldn’t participate. Then I thought wait a minute, I don’t think anyone else had as many co-written songs with Walter recorded. Then I thought about all the years we wrote together and how our songs had reached people. Jon Yudkin had said in an interview, “The Walter Hyatt song that absolutely nails me to the wall is Evening Train” I heard through the grapevine that Hal Ketcham had picked that one. Then Heidi asked me to do “Here Today”, and that settled it.

As the weeks went by more names were added to the ever growing list. Songwriter artist Matraca Berg and her husband Jeff Hanna and Jimmy Fadden from The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Townes Van Zant, and last but not least B.J. Thomas, who was the first major artist to record a song of Walters. I was going to lobby for Ronnie Godfrey to come on and do “Out Where The Blue Begins”,but dropped the idea when someone said Lyle was going to do that one and the bill was pretty darn full. True they didn’t need any more performers but Ronnie really could deliver that song and it would of been another showstopper.


During the days that lingered after Walter’s death, I thought of many ways that I could contribute something to honor and remember this man. It seems everyone had an idea or opinion. But my big idea came right from the source. On our last day together, we were in his kitchen and he was reading my liner notes for my CD He said, “Man,.....I love the way you tell a story, I really like the way you write.” That’s when it hit me ......

........ The book will be titled “IF YOU EVER MISS YOUR SONGMAN.....Just Write The White Azalea Hotel. That line appears in one of his finest songs “I’m Going To New Orleans”. I first heard Walter do it at a show when Music Town came out. Afterwards I said, “Man ....Why Didn’t You Record That One” I think he said, “Because I just wrote it”.

A week or so after I spoke to Heidi about writing the book, we were just finishing diner, and I had his Music Town CD on. The funny thing was I had just started listening to it again after a long absence from my CD player, about three weeks before the crash. “Last Call” was playing and as I picked up the phone book to call someone, the page opened to the Hyatt name at the top in bold print. I went white, showed it to Anne as she saw me do it, and said, “I’m glad you were here to see that

JUNE 14, 1996 : Walter’s music had all kinds of messages in it. After the accident, some of them became a lot clearer. One word though always seemed to ring true, regardless of the subject he might be trying to deal with. And that word was sweetness., even when it was bitter. I know I was not in the best of moods on Friday morning June 14. I’d driven Anne to work and Erik to strings camp. A drive to town and back leaves my muscles very stiff and sore and it sometimes takes me a minute to get out of the car seat. As I passed through the gate that leads to the mile plus drive to our apartment, images and lines started coming in like radio signals.........

............ It took no time at all really, just long enough to let my cereal get soggy. Later on I transferred it into the computer. When I was finished I wrote the date on it. I thought that was very strange because I never date anything, especially a poem, and that is what I had decided this would be from the start, no more, no less. That afternoon I took a copy of it over to Heidi, she was out some where but her business partner Lynne took it from me. We chatted briefly out on their veranda. Lynn said it was nice that I had brought it by today because, “that girl could use some cheer today, it’s their wedding anniversary. “ That's Walter , I thought.....

Uncle Walt’s Band

Out where the blue begins Beyond That Lucky Star
Johnny D’Angelico Is Carving A Guitar
For The New Cat In Town Who Play’s Without A Fault
He’s Got The Whole Town Talking They Call Him Uncle Walt

Yes They Go To Catch Him Nightly At The Azalea Hotel
He’s In A Little Trio All The Old Cats Wish Him Well
They Play Country, Folk And Jazz
A Little Rhythm....Little Blues
Lot’s Of Standards And Some Gospel
They Play Anything.....They Choose

And It All Sounds So Good Lord I Wish I Was There
Picking & A Grinnin' In A Rockin’ Chair
But To Everything There Is A Season
And So I Play My Hand While Waiting On The Call
To Join Uncle Walt’s Band



There were two days set up for rehearsing over at Nashville Cartage & Sound. I was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. When Erik and I walked in there were about ten people plus the band. Shelby was there ! I watched her do the Sheik ..... from a great distance and tried to look as inconspicous as possible. After she was finished , she starts walking straight towards me. OH SHIT I THOUGHT.... here comes trouble. Erik was once again very amused. She walks up and introduces her self and I did likewise. She then asked. "What tune are you doing? " I said I was going to do the Sheik, but it's a real pleasure to hear you do it. She then yells "YOU WROTE THAT WITH WALTER!!! ? ..... GET OUT !" and with that she hits me with two hands to the chest Elaine from Seinfeld style. BAM ..... “Man that’s too cool a song, I’m gonna cut that with my big band” ..... "That would be great ....Shelby", I said. as I breathed a big sigh of relief, and knew from that point on, that Walter wasn’t going to allow ANYTHING to mess this up.


The Ryman,.... man that’s history. I visited the exterior of it my first night in town nine years back. I wrote a song about it“A diamond in the Ryman, plowing new ground, It was Hank’s Nashville, a big cowtown. The stories that building could tell would fill many books. From it’s beginnings in the late 1800’s as a Tabernacle, it’s famous concerts with Caruso, Chaplin, at the turn of the century, to it’s long run as the home of the Opry from 1943 till 1972. The great music that has seasoned it’s rafters has been sweet and true. Well tonight was to be no exception. The line up was as follows (Notes taken from the program written by Tommy Goldsmith)


David Ball: Warner Brothers Recording Artist- Brought to national attention with the success of his hit single “Thinkin Problem” David Ball (upright bass,vocals, songwriter) was a founding member of Uncle Walt’s Band, along with Walter Hyatt and Cham

Champ Hood: Also from Spartanburg, SC, multi-instrumentalist Champ Hood (lead guitar,fiddle, vocals) founded the seminal acoustic trio Uncle Walt’s Band along with David and Walter in 1969. Known for their exquisite harmonies , eclectic musical mix, and wonderful songwriting, Uncle Walts Band greatly influenced the burgeoning Texas singer-songwriter scene which included Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and Butch Hancock. They released three albums, re -released by Sugar Hill in 1991 on two compilation albums, “An American In Texas” and “The Girl On The Sunny Shore”. Champ was also a member of “The Contenders” (along with Walter, Steve Runkle, Tommy Goldsmith, and Jimbeau Walsh) He play’s acoustic lead guitar and provides harmony vocals on both KING TEARS and MUSIC TOWN.

Willis Alan Ramsey: Acclaimed singer/songwriter,

The Pritchard Avenue Band: Tommy Goldsmith & Steve Runkle -

David Olney: Rounder Recording Artist- David Olney met Walter in Nashville in 1976 after Walter returned to Nashville during the temporary break up of Uncle Walt’s Band. They’ve done some touring together including recent shows in South Carolina.

Tom Mitchell: Singer/Songwriter

Carol Elliot: Singer /Songwriter Carol Elliot was a member of The Caroling Troubadours along with Walter & Sarah Martin. She recently recorded “Sheik of Shboom” with Walter on guitar for her upcoming CD.

Allison Moorer: A talented singer and songwriter, Allison, along with her husband Butch, was a familiar face at Walter Hyatt/king Tears’ Monday Nights at the Sutler.

Shelby Lynne: Magnatone Recording Artist. “The best voice in Country Music” (Tammy Wynette), Shelby was named “Best New Female Artist” by the Academy of Country Music in 1991. She’s released 5 albums including her Magnatone Records release, “Restless”.

Hal Ketchum: Curb Records Recording Artist. Hal Ketchum has released four albums on Curb Records and was recently inducted as the 71st member of the Grand Ole Opry. Hal was a follower of Uncle Walt’s Band in Austin during the 70s and 80s. As a budding singer/songwriter, he would often take the stage while Uncle Walt’s Band was on break

Townes Van Zandt: Best known for his song “Poncho & Lefty”, legendary Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt has released 14 albums, including the recent “No Deeper Blue” (Sugar Hill).

Ken Spooner: Ken Spooner wrote the country hit “If the Devil Danced in Empty Pockets” (Joe Diffie). Ken and Walter wrote several songs together including “The Evening Train”, “Out Where the Blue Begins”, “Here Today”, “Last Call” and “The Sheik of Shboom”.

Sarah Martin : An admirer of Uncle Walt’s band in Dallas in the early ‘80’s, Sarah co-wrote “Must I Fall” “The Standoff” and Reach For Me” and sang in the Caroling Troubadours.

Jeff Hanna & Jimmy Fadden : founding members / singer songwriters of the Grammy award winning group , Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (celebrating their 30th anniversary this year 1996 ). Walter opened several shows on their 1994 acoustic tour

Victor Mecyssne : Singer/songwriter Mecessyne was a fan of Uncle Walt’s Band back in Texa

Matraca Berg : Singer/songwriter Matraca Berg has released two solo albums 1990’s “Lying To The Moon” RCA and “The Speed Of Grace” RCA 1993. A talented songwriter her songs have been recorded by Patty Loveless (“Im That Kind Of Girl,” “You Can Feel Bad”) Trisha Yearwood (“Wrong Side Of Memphis”) and Martina McBride (“Wild Angels” )

Walt Wilkins : A follower of Uncle Walt’s Band in Austin, Walt co-wrote “Sandy Loam”

Marshall Chapman : Margaritaville Recording Artist, A childhood friend, Marshall Chapman has known Walter since the attendee elementary school together back in Spartanburg, Marshall starred in the video of his song “Are We There Yet Mamma”

John Tirro : A songwriting partner of Walter’s John co-wrote the songs “Are We There Yet Mamma” and “When Your Down To Your Last Quarter” both on “Music Town”

Lyle Lovett : MCA/Curb Recording Artist . One of Uncle Walt’s Band’s biggest admirers in the early 80’s

B.J. Thomas : Five time Grammy Award winner B.J. Thomas has had hits in country, gospel and pop music. He recorded Walter’s song “Aloha” in 1978 227

King Tears Band : Rick Gordon (guitar vocals) Rick Plant (bass vocals) and Billy Block (drums) Walter’s band for the past year
Jim Hoke : multi instrumentalist (Sax Clarinet Harmonica) Jim co-produced “Music Town”

Jim Rooney (MC) Legendary Producer / Songwriter Publisher

..............................Well off we motored to the Ryman, it was a very hot and muggy evening, but I never felt it, even in a suit jacket. For me it was going to be an incredible evening, that could not be spoiled. As we walked up to the mother church, there were some encouraging signs of how special it would be. Several people were holding signs saying “NEED TICKETS”. Once inside, that “Ryman feeling” came over me. It always has every time I‘ve been inside the place. I left the family in the lobby, said I’d see them later and walked into the auditorium . Lyle was finishing up his sound check. Walter’s song, “I’m Calling” which started out on my balcony in the trees in 1991 was reverberating through the rafters. The opening line he wrote to a groove we were playing that day is "Tree Top Mama....." Some how I felt he was calling indeed, calling to all who would be coming for one reason, The Music......It was so important to him. I don’t think the man could of ever been happy doing anything else .........

.........When they renovated the Ryman, they added some sorely needed dressing rooms. I think originally the place had about three. Now it sported multi level rooms on both sides of the back stage. There was a lot of activity going on there as people were filing in to take their seats. Last minute impromptu run throughs and jams, just like there were in the Opry’s Hay Days. Right before the curtain went up. I was standing in the stage left wing near the monitor console. One of the techs announced, “Better Lock Down The Power Boys, A BIG ELECTRICAL STORM IS COMING!”. And it certainly was. From the minute David and Champ took the stage and sang ““I’m Going To New Orleans" a storm of music, full of tears and laughter, passion and pain rose to the rafters Yes.....Walter’s life was a life well spent. Though it was physically extinguished way too soon, it was still breathing spirit into all of us. Jim Rooney MC’d the evening in a stellar fashion, introducing all the performers and made them feel welcome to the Ryman stage. Jim also summed up Walter very eloquently.

He was an ordinary man, with eyes to see with, a heart to feel with, and a mind to think with, yet when he combined them, something extraordinary happened.”

...................................OOOH WHAT AN EVENING IT WAS..

There were many highlights, and I’m so glad it was recorded. I’ve heard the rough mixes and I’m happy to report just like Jim Rooney did as the show drew to a close. “Well this evening turned out even better than expected” The King Tears Band of Billy Block, Rick Gordon, and Rick Plant was augmented by Champ Hood and Jim Hoke. Man what a unit they made. They played major league ALL STAR hardball, and just came out swinging for the fences. And as exciting as they were, one of the quiet moments that will always come mind for me, was when Carol Elliot and Matt Rollings took the stage. With Matt on the piano, Carol did Walter's In A Christmas Dream a song Arron Neville recorded. Besides the magical performance they turned in, there was some other magic going on. The Ryman was built as a tabernacle and the backwall is loaded with stained glass windows. As Carol sang about Walter's Christmas Dream the lightning storm provided a light show through the stained glass for all on stage or in the wings. I couldn't believe it, but then again I could.

Dave Olney thought all the performers “did their Sunday best” and he’s right, but the ladies seemed to rule. But then hasn’t it always been that way. What would us guys ever do without them? Ahh.. sweet inspiration in the mother church. Sarah Martin brought a touch of New York jazz cafe circa 1958 with her “Standoff” . Hoke’s sax set the perfect mood for it. When she returned later to belt along with Matraca Berg, in “Reach For Me”, well I thought, Bonnie Raitt needs to hear this one. Marshall Chapman and John Tirro had the whole joint rockin’ and singin’ along to “Are We There Yet Mamma?” Audrey Ball sang along with her dad on “Houston Town” which reminds me of the sixties folk rock era. As soon as Allison Moorer sang the first three notes of “Tell Me Baby”....the audience went WOW!!! Rooney’s intro was right,...... she knocked ‘em flat.

NOTE : Allison Moorer is Shelby Lynn's little sister. The strength of that performance that night set the wheels in motion for Allison to get a major label record deal with MCA.

Tom Mitchell later confided in me that he was shaking in his boots, but there's no need to shake when you’ve co written a song like “In November”. Johnny Tirro once said to me “I wonder how many of us realize we have written our best songs with Walter” To hear The “Sheik Of Shboom” done by Shelby erased any bad vibes from the past. Go Woman Go, When she did “Desire’” man o man... I hope your career soars. When Hal Ketchum did “Evening Train” the whole scenario of writing it with Walter came rushing back. I thanked both of them afterwards for both of us. When my turn came up, It was like I was in another world. I knew where I was, but there was no consciousness of it. The music just truly set me free, and the band swung hard. Here Today.....Then It’s Gone..... Thanks Walt for that incredible moment in time. Click on it and listen in


Walter Watching With Glee As "Tree Top Mamma" Heidi Shows Taylor How To Become A Pinball Wizard


I had been standing all evening, and needed to sit a spell. I chose Lyle’s set to do that and went up to the balcony. The balcony is the place to listen in the Ryman. especially on either side of the center stage, that’s where the hall mixes in it’s magic, and the notes blend with those who have gone before, Caruso, Cline, Williams etc. Lyle was Lyle and that’s all he needs to be. When it was time for his last number, he said that Walter had called him up from the Florida Keys for no particular reason, but before he hung up told Lyle “If you run into anyone I know, tell them I said hello” Then he went into “I’m Calling” and I went into my seat, like the guy in the Memorex tape ad.

When BJ Thomas took the stage I was excited, and saddened as I knew it the curtain was coming down . BJ sounded just like he always did STRONG. He did a special number for the family and it just keeps growing on me called “I’m Going Home”. When he went into “Aloha” everyone else came out on stage to join him. I hauled ass out of the balcony to join in, thankfully they stretched it out a bit. Later on the backstage visiting was incredible, and lots of photos were taken. There is one of me and Shelby and her sister that I have the most chesire manic grin , that I dare not show it here.

In the days that followed the excitement of the evening kept replaying in my mind. I came down with strep, and the night’s memories proved to be good medicine.


"Mister Music" Multi Instrumentalist JIM HOKE, Outstanding Vocalist AUDREY BALL ( daughter of DAVID BALL "Thinkin' Problem" & "Riding With Private Malone"

songwriter extraordinare' SARAH MARTIN , the one and only B. J. THOMAS

one and only LYLE LOVETT & stellar songwriter TOM MITCHELL, Tom like yours truly, is originally from New York

Yours Truly , songwriter / artist / CAROL ELLIOT Carol was the first artist to cut The Sheik Of Shboom, that Walter, Austin Church & I wrote. When another songwriter wants to cut your song it is a double honor. ALLISON & WILLIS ALAN RAMSEY (Willis is a songwriting legend in Texas ) I first heard in him when I toured the college circuit in 1975, and quickly added his "Ballad Of Spider John" into my own sets.






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