The Texas Piano Players are a group of musicians who primarily (but not always or only) play the piano. The style started to emerge in the Depression and through WWII, inspired by Church music, polka, afro-Caribbean styles, Louisiana folk, and so much more.
The principal musicians of this nebulous “Texas Piano Professor” group, include T.D. Bell, Erbie Bowser, Robert Thomas Williams (better known as Grey Ghost), Lavada Durst (Dr. Hepcat), and Robert Shaw. These men often played together in various combinations for over 50 years, from the time TD Bell and Erbie Bowser started playing clubs in West Texas in the 1940s, til Grey Ghost played his last show at The Continental Club on his 92nd birthday, the Texas Piano Professors have had an indomitable impact on Austin’s Music and Cultural History.
Roosevelt Thomas (Grey Ghost) Williams
Roosevelt Williams was born in Bastrop, Texas, on December 7, 1903. In addition to straight-ahead blues, he performed waltzes, hillbilly, and boogie-woogie "blues at hi-temperature." Williams was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame, and was a featured performer at the New Orleans Jazz and Chicago Blues festivals, and he appeared in the films The Hot Spot and Shady Grove.
Erbie (Irbie) Bowser
When Bowser was five, his family moved to Palestine where he learned to play the piano and sang in the church choir. he teamed up with T.D. Bell and began to play at the Victory Grill in Austin in the early 1950's eventually relocating to Austin in 1953. Bell and Bowser formed a musical partnership that would last more than half a century.
According to musicologist Tary Owens, Bell became the first local musician to use an electric guitar on-stage. Bell played with his band The Cadillacs in towns as far away as Arizona and New Mexico. He toured with Big Mama Thornton and Johnny Ace. In 1994, he participated in a showcase of Texas roots music at Carnegie Hall.
Rev. Lavada (Dr. Hepcat) Durst
Rev. A.L. (Lavada) Durst was born in 1913 in Austin, Texas. In the 1940s, he was the announcer for the Austin Senators, an African American League Professional Baseball Team. John Connelly, who was at that time an owner of KVET Radio, heard the "Hep Talk" of the young announcer and hired him as a disc jockey, making him one of the first African American deejays in America. in 1979, State Representative Wilhelmina Delco, and the City of Austin, recognized him for his distinguished work with the city's African American youth.
Shaw also won awards from Austin Masonic and Eastern Star lodges. Shaw performed at the Berlin Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Heritage Festival, the American Folklife Festival, the Border Folk Festival, Austin City Limits, and is listed in “Who’s Who of The Blues.” In 1985, the Texas Legislature adopted a resolution stating that the 1986 "Celebrate Texas Music" tour, a statewide sesquicentennial celebration, would be dedicated to his memory.