Houston Blues Legend Big Walter "The Thunderbird" Dies At 97

Big Walter peacock march 7.jpg
Big Walter "The Thunderbird" Price, the elder statesman of Houston blues who continued performing well into his nineties, died overnight, according to a Facebook post by local blues musician Steve Krase of Steve Krase & the In Crowd.

Price was 97 and had been in a nursing home in north Houston. As recently as August 2009, he wowed the crowd with a version of Fats Domino's "My Girl Josephine" at his 95th birthday party at the Big Easy, as well as his own "Pack Fair and Square."

The dapper Price, whose driving boogie-woogie piano sound was an important influence on early rock and roll, was born in Gonzales in 1914 and moved to San Antonio around age 11, according to Dutch Web site www.rockabilly.nl. He recorded three singles for San Antonio's TNT label in 1955, and began calling his band "Big Walter and the Thunderbirds."

In 1955, Price moved to Houston, where he cut several singles for Don Robey's Peacock label, including "Pack Fair and Square," which he recorded with several members of Little Richard's band including current Big Easy regular Grady Gaines. Besides R&B, Price also recorded several swamp pop songs around this time, including "Shirley Jean" for Peacock and "Oh Ramona" for Lake Charles' Goldband Records.

big walter reg big easy bday march 7.jpg
Photo by Reg Burns
Big Walter the Thunderbird at his 95th birthday party at the Big Easy, 2009
Price recorded for several other labels in the 1960s, but often felt cheated by the music business. He also owned a record store, worked in a strip club, was a disc jockey for Houston's KCOH, and owned his own publishing company, Dinosaur. But he never stopped performing.

After years of seeing his records get released without his consent, in 2004 the Sons of Sunshine label released four CDs, with 46 songs in all: Tell Me, Pain In My Heart, Six Weeks of Misery and Cool Breeze. His last appearance for a U.S. label appears to be on the 2006 CD Texas Southside Kings on Austin's Dialtone Records.

Price never had a hit record, but most rock and roll and R&B musicians in the '60s and '70s knew the Thunderbird. The J. Geils Band covered "Pack Fair and Square" in the 1970s.

Funeral details are forthcoming.



Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.


Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
11 comments
RockheadedMama
RockheadedMama

My mother's name was Shirley Jean. As a little kids, my brothers and I would play that ol' 45 over and over and over again. My father would tease my mother by singing out, "Why, why you treat me so mean?" and we'd all squeal with laughter. I never met Mr. Price, never saw him perform live, although I lived in Houston most of my life. Even so, Mr. Price played a special part in my family through his music. Both of my parents are long gone now -- even my closest brother is gone -- so I am probably the only one left who remembers our family this way, but it is a very special memory to me. Thank you Mr. Price. RIP

cecilshaw
cecilshaw

Producing the last record on Big Walter Price "The Thunderbird" ..." What Fool Is That Knocking"/"Walking Down Life"s Hi way".... was an Honor!........ Rest In Peace.

til death do us part
til death do us part

Big Walter so many words that can't really express the last  3 years spent with you. So much learned and so much I said I would never do (pig feet) lol. Taught me so much and always told me to come home. Many never know and won't believe so why tell. I love and miss you Big Walter and your love I will forever hold on flying so swift from coast to coast.... It is Big Walter.... I love You, Bye Bye, Mrs. Price

Carlosjohnson
Carlosjohnson

Once agin, thanks to everyone for sharing & showering our family with all the kind words & actions in our time of need. They were truely heart felt. To some, they know the legend as Mr. Walter Price, Big Walter, Friend, Walter, Mr. Walter, Family and even as  Big Walter "The Thunderbird" Price, Teacher. Even some may simply know the legend as "The Thunderbird" Who Flow So High... how ever you knew him your life has truely been blessed and changed & so has mine.

Without any further words at this time because I know we've all been waiting! I would like to welcome to some & introduce to others. I simply knew him as the man that tought me that, "If you here me knocking; Hell let me in!" I knew the man, the myth & the legend. The One! The Only! As my Uncle Walter....!  

My Door Stands on Welcomed HingesCarlos,

Sbt
Sbt

I performed at several Juneteenth Blues Festival productions backing up Big Walter at Miller Outdoor Theatre along with countless gigs when I was a member of Jerry Lightfoot's Essential Blues Band in the early to mid eighties. He changed chords whenever he wanted much like Lightnin Hopkins. The key to doing a good job playing with Walter was to follow his vocals and not his piano. if you tried to follow him any other way, it was a train wreck waiting to happen. Still good blues because it was Walter but I saw it happen many times. Those are lessons todays protege's will never get the chance to learn. Walter was an excellent songwriter with lucid mind pretty all the way to the end. His songs were covered by Albert Collins as well as rockers The J Geil's Band.  That raw lowdown blues piano style and ragged meter is part of a bygone era. 

Jessedayton
Jessedayton

 Big Walter loved the Road Kings & would get us up at Etta's Lounge between sets...when we we're kids we used to play w/ him at the Local Charm too....Johnny Brown, Joe Hughes, Grady Gaines, Walter and then us little white stragglers tryin to play a Jimmy Reed song quiet enough for them to sing or play on it...Walter was a true legend in the Houston blues scene...sad to hear, but 97 is a very long life for a bluesman! RIP

                                                                                                         Jesse DaytonPS his version of the Johnny Ace story was the best!

Kay
Kay

You will be missed Big Walter Playing with the angels..

Carlos Johnson
Carlos Johnson

I Carlos Johnson, got to see Big Walter and the Thunderbirds live in concert & let me tell you... he gave shows to remember! To use the words of one of his biggest fans Ruby Johnson, " He could make a Piano Talk to you" He will be missed...

Steve Gilbert
Steve Gilbert

Rest in peace, Big Walter.  You will be missed.  :(

Anonymous
Anonymous

 Pray tell.  What was his version?

Now Trending

Houston Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Loading...