Texas Country & Cult Icon Chris Wall Has Died
“Chris Wall is a cowboy savior/hero/poet who, with his words and music gives us redemption from the atrocities of this illusion that is presently known as country music.”
–Ray Wylie Hubbard
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Another guy that paid all the dues and left a crater of an impact, even though he never hit the big time has passed onto that honky tonk in the sky. His name was Chris Wall, and even if you’ve never heard of him or his music, you’ve certainly heard his influence in many of your favorite artists from Texas and beyond. Word came down on Friday, July 30th that Chris Wall has passed away.
“Chris Wall died last night in hospice care at St. David’s Medical Center South [Austin] after a lengthy battle with cancer,” a statement from his family read. “Many thanks to the ICU staff for providing excellent care, while treating this wonderful man with respect, dignity and kindness. We mourn the loss of a poet, songwriter and musician, but most of all, he was our family and friend.”
Chris Wall was born in Newport Beach, California, and grew up on Balboa Island, graduating from Corona del Mar High School. His father was a singer who once collaborated with Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers. Wall later attended Orange Coast College, and then receiving a master’s degree in history from Whittier College. Afterward he taught history and coached football at Corona del Mar High.
But the death of Wall’s father on Eastern Sunday in 1980 sent him off the straight and narrow path to the life of a singing troubadour. He moved to Montana to immerse himself in cowboy culture, and eventually ended up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, pouring drinks at the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. In his spare time, Wall started writing songs. Then due to a case of laryngitis with the lead singer of Pinto Bennett & the Famous Motel Cowboys (Pinto Bennett also recently passed away), Chris Wall was drafted into the music business.
Wall got his big break when he met Guy Clark in 1986 at the Northern Rockies Folk Festival in Idaho. The two swapped songs over dinner, and Guy eventually turned Chris Wall onto Jerry Jeff Walker, who later saw Chris perform a song called “Trashy Women” in Jackson Hole, invited Chris up to his hotel room to teach him the song, and convinced Chris to move down to Austin, which he did in 1988.
Wall was managed by Jerry Jeff Walker’s wife Susan, and started playing every honky tonk in Texas that would have him. He recorded a couple of records in Honky Tonk Heart in 1990, and No Sweat in 1991, garnering Wall a serious cult following in the Lone Star State. It also helped when Jerry Jeff Walker recorded and released Chris Wall’s song “Trashy Women.”
But differences in opinion with the Walkers had Chris Wall striking out on his own a few years later. Chris was frustrated, and felt his music wasn’t being promoted properly. His luck quickly changed when Confederate Railroad heard “Trashy Women,” and decided to cut it for their debut album. It hit #10 in country in 1993, and soon Chris Wall was being courted as a songwriter by numerous publishing houses. But instead of going the songwriter route, Chris took his royalty money from the song and started his own label called Cold Spring Records.
Through his new label, Chris Wall released the album Cowboy Nation in 1994, a live album Any Saturday Night in Texas in 1997, and 1998’s Tainted Angel. At this time, Chris Wall was touring the country, including with current Cody Jinks guitarist Chris Clarity. Though the Cold Springs label was only meant to be for his own music, Chris Wall started to branch out. At one point he had the Asylum Street Spankers on the label, and up-and-coming country traditionalist by the name of James “Slim” Hand, and none other than Reckless Kelly, who also worked as Chris Wall’s backing band on the album Tainted Angel.
Now Chris Wall wasn’t only influencing through his music, but through his label which boasted multiple full-time employees. Instead of bellyaching about how Nashville was locking out many deserving artists in Texas, Chris Wall did something about it, helping to cast the infrastructure that is still in place in Texas music today.
Chris Wall’s songs were a mix of cowboy poetry, sarcasm, and self-awareness. He also wrote songs for Pat Green, and co-wrote “Hello, I’m An Old Country Song” with Dale Watson. Sunny Sweeney’s 2017 record Trophy includes one of Chris Wall’s most cherished compositions, “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight.” His fingerprints are all over music from Austin and Texas. After an extended time away from the studio, Wall released another album in El Western Motel in 2012 that was very well-received, and added to his legacy.
For many, Chris Wall embodied the true spirit of what it meant to be an independent country singer and songwriter. He inspired many with his words, his music, and his actions. And most importantly, was considered a good guy.
“Chris was a lover of our National Parks, especially Yellowstone and Glacier in his beloved Montana,” his family states. “Please consider making a memorial donation in his name to support them. In accordance with his wishes, there will be no funeral. A memorial service will be planned at a later date. He is already greatly missed…”
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Information sourced from the LA Times and All Music is included in this story.
July 30, 2021 @ 2:02 pm
JJW did several of Wall’s songs on the Live at Gruene Hall album. I think that is were I first heard of him.
One of my favorites by Chris right here:
July 30, 2021 @ 2:03 pm
Its been a tough few years. Guy Clark, Hal Ketchum, Jery Jeff, Chris Wall. Its getting lonely out here.
July 30, 2021 @ 8:20 pm
Listened to the live album as I was typing a recap. Saw Chris my first visit to Austin in 1997.
July 30, 2021 @ 2:15 pm
Chris Wall doesn’t get the credit deserved. His impact was enormous. He was a cornerstone of the soundtrack of Texas in the 90s and the early 2000s.
June 26, 2022 @ 8:38 pm
Loved his music. He painted pictures with his songs and his voice had a great tone. No bad songs on his albums.
July 30, 2021 @ 2:43 pm
Cowboy Nation is a great album. I’ve been meaning to check out more of his music, and now I’m gonna do it. I feel like Chris Wall tonight. May he rest in peace.
July 30, 2021 @ 3:01 pm
His song “Three Across” is probably the best damn song that most people haven’t heard.
July 30, 2021 @ 5:34 pm
No question. That song knocked me out the first time I heard it. It would’ve been a #1 hit in a sane world.
July 31, 2021 @ 3:56 pm
Or, from that same Tainted Angel album, “The Empty Seat Beside Me.”
March 31, 2022 @ 7:57 pm
I had the previlige to hang out with him one night in Denton Texas. Dan’s Silver leaf. We had plenty beers, and a did get him many shots of crown. It was a night I’ll never forget. Thank you sir, never forget you.
July 30, 2021 @ 5:23 pm
Chris Wall is one of my favorites. Shame more folks didn’t know his tunes. I picked up his album Honky Tonk Heart in Austin several years back. Great album. Think I will be listening to a good amount of his music tonight. I hadn’t realized he had been sick until I read the Facebook post. RIP Chris. Prayers to his family and friends.
July 30, 2021 @ 5:44 pm
Rob Leines & The Guys Tearing. It. Up! at Duke’s INDY
July 30, 2021 @ 6:51 pm
Damn. This is a kick in the teeth. I was a student at Texas when Chris first started playing around town. Saw him at all of the spots in Austin and at many parties that he was playing in those days. Had several beers with him as he was always happy to have a chat. I think he was undervalued as a songwriter…” My Old Martin Guitar”, “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight”, “Gal From San Antone” and many others. I’m cracking a beer and listing to “Pawn Shop Guitars”. RIP Cris.
Hank Van Hawkins
July 30, 2021 @ 7:51 pm
RIP my friend. There isn’t a better friend that an outlaw songwriter could ask for; Chris was a jewel. I’ll miss him
July 30, 2021 @ 9:23 pm
What a loss! I was just thinking of him and listening to him on a drive through Montana a few weeks ago. I didn’t know he was sick but knew how he loved it there. He has a song where he sings “the night I heard you were gone, I stayed up and drank I played your records all night long.” Think I’ll do some of that tonight. May he Rest In Peace.
July 31, 2021 @ 11:05 am
When Jerry Jeff, my Texas Hero, died last year … Chris Wall said “there are no words”. Now Chris passed away. There are no words, too. That’s the way of things but it cannot console us ! Godspeed Chris Wall. You were a savior and I’m happy you came to France in 1995 and I was able to talk with you before the show !
July 31, 2021 @ 4:33 pm
One of my absolute favorites; now the Montana kid is gone and we will miss him. Peed with him at Blanca’s.
July 31, 2021 @ 5:53 pm
I definitely have not spent as much time with his discography as I should have. Having said that, when people act surprised that I listen to country music, I point them to that song. I think it’s the perfect Country & Western song.
I’m heartbroken for his family and wish them all the strength. RIP, Chris Wall.
July 31, 2021 @ 8:50 pm
So sad to hear this news. I created Chris’ website many years ago and still host it. I enjoyed working with him on projects related to it. We just spoke a month ago, so it is hard to believe such a great person like Chris has passed on!
A happy memory for me was when I put all the versions of his “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” song that others from around the world had recorded and posted on YouTube in a special link collection for Chris to watch. He was amazed at how so many found his words so memorable. It was an honor to have known him, and he will be missed!
Thanks so much for the article about him. I heard from Merel Bregante about his passing and then found your website through a Google search.
August 1, 2021 @ 9:20 am
I just thought the world of Chris. I got to travel with him in Montana, Iowa and Wyoming. It was a pleasure knowing him and I still have his songs on my regular playlist. Someone should cover ‘I feel like Hank Williams tonight’
August 1, 2021 @ 6:11 pm
Damn. I wish I would have known more about Chris before. I had heard him sing with Dale Watson, but I didn’t know a lot of music. Definitely an uncovered gem for me. I love the sound and the songwriting.
Daniel W Freeman
August 1, 2021 @ 7:16 pm
I will really miss Chris. That group of guys in College Station back in the mid-90’s had a blast everytime he came to town.
August 5, 2021 @ 6:16 pm
Chris was the soundtrack of my 20s, I tried to make it everytime he played the Three Teardrops Tavern or The White Elephant. Enjoyed many a beer when he took breaks. Chris was a true gentleman…loved how his love of our language was expressed in his music. Guy, Jerry Jeff, and Chris left a musical legacy in my heart.
August 8, 2021 @ 9:18 am
Check out my 2 hour tribute to Chris Wall on NOT EXACTLY NASHVILLE on WCNI 90.9 New London, CT at http://www.wcniradio.org. Check the archived shows and select SAT 12-3PM 8/7/21 show which also features an hour birthday salute to Tony Villaneuva, formerly of the The Derailers.
September 11, 2021 @ 12:37 pm
Damn. When Chris used to play the Broken Spoke in the 1990’s a gang of us used to all go down and have the best time drinking beers and dancing. He was one if the nicest gentleman, and a decade later had I gotten a hold of him a few weeks earlier, he said he could have and would have played at my wedding almost 20 years ago. I still get a huge smile remembering him returning my call.
Just got back from Montana and Yellowstone with that same bride where I was humming songs from Cowboy Nation as we drove that great state. Thanks to all of you who were close to him and loved him.
And thank you, Chris. Your words and poetry are indelible in my memory and you make a damn good hero.
October 16, 2021 @ 12:24 pm
Introduced to Chris by my son who worked on many venues with him in Austin. Loved his clear voice and insightful lyrics. Enjoyed hearing him on several small venues in Houston. He was a refreshing change from the twangy Nashville sound. R.I.P.
November 13, 2021 @ 10:44 pm
Baseball is done and my pinstripes and your Dodger blue didn’t meet again as we’d hoped. You told me it would be a sad day for me if they did, but we’ll never know I reckon. I’m working on a new book, Duke. Was reviewing your past kind words and just got to missing talking literature and baseball with ya, Hoss. You are one hell of a poet, mi amigo and poets words are burned in stone forever. Keep the campfire burning catch ya later down the trail, I hope.
December 28, 2021 @ 5:59 pm
I was at the live album taping, Texas Independence Day in 1996; pictures of me and my two sons are on the CD insert. I met him personally many times and in the mid-90s we even looked alike before we both got old. The last time I saw him was opening for Billy Joe Shaver in Luckenbach. I still play his music all the time. RIP Chris.
Anne Donovan 🎶❣️
April 25, 2022 @ 10:35 am
Chris was our family’s favorite Western Entertainer.
He played at many of our events and visited with us quite often. He has a special place in our lives.
The Donovan Family..
Jerry (d), Anne, Chris, Tim, Rick, Gregg
New Braunfels Tx