The Spartanburg Herald-Journal  Nov. 13, 2001

Huge crowd gathers to pay respects to Hood

Staff Writer

Work my hands in wire and wood
And I sing like a whippoorwill
And every night
there's one thing on my mind
Only that you love me
until the day I die...
From the song, ''High Hill''
By Deschamps Hood

AUSTIN, Texas - It was never about the money for Champ Hood. It was the music he played from the left side of the stage that mattered.

Music that floated off violin strings and captivated hearts. Music that made listeners believe they were the only ones who heard it. Music that came from some place only Champ Hood knew about.

It was these things, his tenor voice, and his gentle ways that brought more than 1,000 friends, family members and fellow musicians to Austin's First Unitarian Universalist Church Sunday afternoon to pay their final respects to the Spartanburg-born singer.

Hood, 49, died just before dawn a week ago Saturday. A large photograph of Hood rested on a chair. Hood's guitar sat on a stand beside it. The Rev. Warren Hayes, the singer's former father-in-law and an Episcopal priest from New York City, opened the service.

''This is the same service used at First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg in August when Champ's mother died,'' Hayes said. ''And his father before that.'' Hayes' eulogy to Hood was a trip through the singer's life, a journey that took him from his home off Union Street to Sunday's sad event in Austin.

''I loved Champ,'' Hayes said. ''He was God's troubadour, and brought such joy to the world.''

Some would say Hood, who grew up in Spartanburg's Duncan Park, adopted Austin as hometown. But in truth, Austin, and Texas, adopted Hood. Audiences across Texas took to Hood like no place else. They made him a member of the Texas Music Hall of Fame. And they played his music all day on radio stations the Saturday he died.

Marsha Hood, Hood's sister-in-law from Spartanburg, began the one-and-a-half-hour service playing a flute solo of the hymn "Amazing Grace."

''It's been a life-changing experience to see how much people here loved Champ,'' Mrs. Hood said.

Singer Lyle Lovett and Hood became friends when Lovett was working on a journalism degree at the University of Texas. Years later, Hood signed on and traveled he United States and Europe as part of Lyle Lovett's Large Band.

On Sunday, the Texas singer walked on stage with his guitar and paid tribute to his friend. Hood's 18-year-old son, Warren, stood to the Lovett's right -- the place his father occupied countless times. Eyes in the crowd that had been dry quickly filled with tears as Warren placed his violin on his shoulder and Lovett sang the words, ''If you want me, I'll come knocking...''

''It is such a privilege to be included in Champ's family,'' Lovett said. ''I feel honored I got to play with his son.''

Hood and fellow Spartanburg High School graduates Walter Hyatt and David Ball began their musical careers in the 1970s, as Uncle Walt's Band. Their renditions of jazz, swing, country and ballads drew huge crowds to a Spartanburg club called Hooley's at the old Franklin Hotel on Main Street, and in the Wofford College Coffeehouse.

The trio left their hometown for Nashville in 1973, but eventually landed in Austin. The city, and the state of Texas, made the Spartanburg musicians part of their ''family.'' Uncle Walt's performances at Austin's Waterloo Ice House are legendary in Texas capital. Their impact on the state's music writers in incalculable.

Hyatt and Ball returned to Nashville for their own successful careers after Uncle Walt's Band broke up in the 1980s, but Hood, who'd by then formed an unbreakable bond with the city, stayed on to become one of Austin's most beloved musicians -- and a member of the Texas Music Hall of Fame.

Walter Hyatt died five years ago when a ValuJet en route from Miami to Nashville crashed in the Florida Everglades. George Hyatt, Walter Hyatt's brother, brought both tears and laughter to the crowd that overflowed the church.

Hundreds stood beneath large live oak trees and listened to the service over speakers, he recounted early days of the alliance that formed Uncle Walt's Band.

''If Champ was around, there was going to be some laughing,'' Hyatt, also from the Duncan Park area of the city, said. "All of us Carolina want to thank Austin and Texas for taking care of Champ.''

Ball, whose father was a longtime pastor at Fernwood Baptist Church, has a song, ''Riding With Private Malone,'' that is in the Top 10 on country music charts.

A week ago, Ball was on tour in Mississippi when he got the news that his longtime friend had died. When Ball's bus broke down, he and five other band members set out hitchhiking back to Nashville, so he could be with his family.

''It was a pretty interesting trip,'' Ball said. ''I can't say much, it's too hard right now.''

On of he most moving moments at the service when Ball and Warren sang ''High Hill,'' a song written by Hood, that became a signature song for the band's shows all over the South.

Though it's been 25 years since Hood left his hometown, news of an upcoming appearance in Spartanburg still was cause for celebration among his fans.

At his last few shows, Warren, who is already being called a prodigy, played alongside his father. Their last Spartanburg performance was in June, at the ''Bring It On Home Concert'' for the School for the Deaf and the Blind at Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium. In a performance that now takes its place in the city's storied musical history, Hood was joined by friend David Ball, and his son, Warren.

John Bell Hines, a Spartanburg architect, was one of several from the city who traveled to Texas for Hood's funeral. ''I've known Champ since the 7th grade at Evans Junior High School,'' Hines said. ''I felt I had to come here. The thing I'll always remember about Champ is he'd laugh when you told him a joke, even if it wasn't funny.''

Hood learned in March he had incurable lung cancer. A shy and private man, Hood did not reveal the news of his approaching death, even to friends or family members, until just a few weeks ago. Hood died at his home, on a hilltop, outside Austin.

Family members from Spartanburg and Austin's musical community moved Hood to the house in the rolling hills in late September. Before that, he lived in the same modest house he rented more than two decades ago.

Hood's musical family took turns taking care of him during the final weeks of his life. Until he grew too weak to do so, Hood spent much of his time with a fiddle on his shoulder or a guitar in his hand, playing music on the front porch, with his son, Warren.

Hood, a member of blues singer Toni Price's band, worked his last show a month before his death.

With all the prayers prayed, the hymns sung and the eulogies said Sunday, it was time to leave. But there was one thing left to do. Spontaneously, Lyle Lovett, David Ball, and Warren Hood stepped back to the stage with other Austin musicians to sing one last song.

Champ Hood's funeral ended with 1,000 people in Austin, Texas singing the old gospel song, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?"