“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.