Word has came that on Tuesday March 6, Houston blues and rhythm pianist and vocalist Big Walter "The Thunderbird" Price passed away reportedly at the age of 97. The Houston Chronicle in its brief obituary reported "Believed to be the last blues singer from the storied Peacock label, Big Walter the Thunderbird was 97. Though his birth certificate put him at three years younger, he maintained the disparity was a paperwork error." Interestingly in a letter to Mike Leadbitter in which he told his story (published originally in Blues Unlimited and then in the book Nothin' But The Blues, Price stated "I was born Walter Travis Price on August 2, 1917, in Gonzales, Texas." I assume he later discovered the paperwork error.
Price started recording in the mid-fifties for T.N.T. records and then later for Don Robey's Peacock label on which he waxed what were some of his best known recordings including Shirley Jean and Pack Four and Square. Members of Little Richard's backing band, The Upsetters, backed him on several of these recordings according to the February, 1965 Blues Unlimited article. He also recorded for Goldband among other labels and ran his own label Sunshine as well as a record store and cafe. The Jay Geils Band covered Pack Four and Square, in the 1970's.
At the time he wrote Leadbitter, he also sent a tape of some then unissued recordings. A couple, Nothing But the Blues (If Blues Was Money), and My Tears, were issued initially on a Flyright album, Houston Ghetto Blues along with selections by Juke Boy Bonner and Hop Wilson. My Tears was an especially strong performance with a great vocal and Albert Collins takes us "all the way to London," with a blistering solo, but Price's vocal shows how strong a singer he was. Collins himself later covered a recording Price made for Huey Meaux, Get To Gittin'.
Price carried on a variety of other activities over the years including being a radio deejay, worked in a strip club but most importantly, he never stopped performing. His last recordings likely were for the fine 2006 Dialtone label's Texas Southside Kings. He had been in a nursing home in recent years.
The Houston Chronicle obituary quoted Price from a Living Blues interview with Houston music historian Roger Wood, "You can't classify me as a blues singer exclusively. The only thing, when you classify yourself as a blues singer, you're putting a label on yourself. You can't label me. I'm an artist. … I play Western music. Blues, ballads, country, I'm across the board."
For a fuller obituary on Price, check out the Houston Press' website.