Early in 1976 four young men from the Carolinas met in Nashville to try playing and singing their songs in a new format. They had been talking about it for a year or so and the time seemed right. Two of them, Tommy Goldsmith and Steve Runkle, had come to town from Raleigh, NC in ‘71 as the Pritchard Avenue Band, a two-guitar act featuring their own songs and others by such influences as Leadbelly, Charlie Poole, the Stanley Brothers and Percy Sledge. They quickly made a name for themselves and by virtue of their well crafted songs came close to landing publishing and recording deals but none panned out. Eventually Goldsmith and Runkle’s paths separated with Tommy heading down to Austin, Texas to take part in that vibrant music scene while Steve remained in Nashville.

Another group who arrived there at about the same time was Uncle Walt’s Band, an acoustic trio from Spartanburg, SC who built their sound around the two guitars of DesChamps (Champ) Hood and Walter Hyatt, supported by David Ball with his string bass. Known for their smooth and tight harmonies, UWB had great original songs but drew inspiration from older sources too, though with more of a jazzy, swing flavor than the rootsier NC duo. After trying Nashville for a while they, too, moved on to Austin, finding steady work and a loyal following for themselves there. Eventually, though, the group disbanded and the idea arose to form an electric band with Tommy, Steve, Champ and Walter.

As the four convened in Nashville they found they had all the ingredients of a great rock & roll band: a deep bag of songs, four outstanding voices, two guitar virtuosos in Tommy and Champ, Walter’s rock-solid acoustic rhythm, a knack for original sounding arrangements, a vocal blend capable of hair-raising harmonies and attitude to spare. Only one thing was needed- a drummer. Jimbeau Walsh was a Chicago boy who had met and jammed with the PAB and UWB guys on a 1972 visit to Nashville and had liked what he heard. They did, too, and four years later at the formation of The Contenders a call went north to try to lure Jimbeau to Tennessee. It took a bit of convincing but when rehearsals began everyone soon knew that his musical ear and sensitivity to the songs made it the right fit. Our boys practiced hard for six weeks or so, at first switching instruments on some songs but finally settling in with Champ and Tommy both on lead guitar and fiddles, Walter on rhythm, Steve on bass and Jimbeau at the drums. Before long they were joined by road manager and sound man Bill Johnson and began touring the college bar and beach club circuit of the Southeast.

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UncleWalt's Band: Champ Hood, David Ball, Walter Hyatt - photo by Allen Stoddard

The Pritchard Avenue Band: Steve Runkle and Tommy Goldsmith
The Contenders' first band photo, Nashville, 1976. Walter is holding Jimbeau's son, Aaron
Warming up for a show at Peabody College, 1976. Photo by Jackson DeParis.