If you come from Liverpool, then the chances are you will know the legend that is Hank Walters and His Dusty Road Ramblers. If you’re not from Liverpool, then you have probably never heard of him.
For the last three years, I have been researching and writing my latest book, “The Country of Liverpool: Nashville of The North”, which details the country music scene in Liverpool from the 1940s on, the country roots of the Beatles and the biography of Phil Brady. The book is due out soon.
When it comes to tracing the country roots of Liverpool, you soon discover why we were known as The Nashville of The North, with the biggest country music scene in Europe.
Hank Walters, born William Ralph Walters in 1933, is rightly accepted as the father of Country music in Liverpool. He picked up the nickname of “Hank” due to his love of Hank Williams. His love of Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music, got him into trouble at school.
“There was a program that came on the radio called Morning Star and they played Jimmie Rodgers. I was fascinated by his voice. I listened to the whole
program, which finished about 8:50am, and then I ran to school. When I got there, the headmaster said; ‘Where you been?’, because if you were late you used to get the stick in those days – so I got a good belting with the stick – and I said; ‘I’ve been listening to Jimmie Rodgers’. He said; ‘Well you tell Jimmie Rodgers that when I’ve finished with you, I will give him the same!”
Ralph picked up the accordion at the age of 10 and became one of the best accordion players in Liverpool. “The first Hank Williams record in Liverpool was bought by me,” insisted Ralph. “Actually I got it off the jukebox at the Bluebird Cafe and the manager pinched the record. I was so madly in love with the record and before he could change the record over he stole it off and gave it to me. It was ‘Lovesick Blues’. So this was about 1949.
“He gave me the record, but it was all scratched and he said; ‘they won’t miss it’. I went and got a catalogue and ordered a new one and it was on MGM; it was printed in the EMI catalogue as the “Lovesick Belles”; a misprint. And I drove the neighbours mad with this record.” (Good Old Boys Episode 2)
When a teacher, Isaac Savelow, put together a “Hillbilly band” for the school’s Christmas Concert, Ralph formed “Spike Walters and his City Slickers” (after Spike Jones), which became Spike and the Hillbillies. They played in local pubs and social events. He spent every Saturday afternoon in a record shop, spending his money on Hank Williams records. In 1948 he left school and began work at
Kardomah Tea Blenders, then for a tyre company – The Biro Rubber Company – on Aintree Road. In 1951 he did his two years of National Service in Chester with the King’s Regiment.
When on National Service in Middle East, Ralph returned from one sortie looking dishevelled. His CO told him and his friends when they walked in all covered in sand that they looked like a group of “Dusty Road Ramblers”, and so he used that name for his group! The band played in the Sergeant’s Mess. Then, in 1951, on a radio show, Round The Bend, the band’s first radio broadcast coming from the Canal Zone. In 1953, Ralph came home from the army.
Over the following decades, Hank Walters became a regular fixture on the local club scene and inspired many other local musicians.
Hank appeared on records and wrote many original songs, carrying on performing for as long as he could, including with his daughters.
It has been a pleasure to research his life and career and speak to many local musicians who knew him.
On 27th January 1992, Ralph received the “Special Award for Services to Country Music” at The Tent Public house in Huyton.
Hank had been in poor health for a while and last time I saw him, it was at Phil Brady’s birthday party last year.
RIP Hank Walters.