Don Walser, Yodeler Extraordinaire

Melissa Block remembers country music singer and yodeler Don Walser, who was known as the Pavarotti of the Plains. He died Wednesday at the age of 72.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Country musician Don Walser was a big man with big fans in his native Texas and way beyond. Walser died yesterday. He had neuropathy and diabetes. He was 72. He embraced classic country, western swing and yodeling.

(Soundbite of Don Walser)

BLOCK: Don Walser's musical fame came late. He started playing and singing as a teenager in West Texas, but set music aside to spend 39 years in the National Guard. He was in his late 50s when he turned to music full time. It started with gigs at bars and dance halls around Austin, turned into a major label record deal.

He performed at the Grand Ole Opry, sang with the Kronos Quartet and received a National Heritage award. Don Walser sang old music that appealed to young people. He told this story in an interview with NPR in 1998.

Mr. DON WALSER (Musician): I'll tell you something that made me almost cry. There was a little girl about five or six years old. And she was just having the biggest time. We were a place there out in the park in Austin. It was a hot sauce convention or something like that.

And she was just having a big time. When we took a break, well, I went over and talked to her a little bit. And she said that's the most beautiful music I ever heard, but do you play any country music? She didn't recognize it. She did not recognize it as country music. And I said, sweetheart that's what we've been playing.

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Hold You in My Heart")

Mr. WALSER: (Singing) I'll hold you in my heart 'till I can hold you in my arms, like you've never been held before.

BLOCK: Don Walser had to retire from performing in 2003. He had chronic pain. Singing became hard. The fiddle player in Walser's pure Texas band remembers him this way - Howard Kalish told the Austin American-Statesman "when he said he was pleased to meet you, he truly was."

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