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Episode #707 – Van “Piano Man” Walls

Air Week: November 20-26, 2023

Van “Piano Man” Walls

Harry Vann began playing piano in Beulah’s Church in Charleston, WV around the age of 10, but thanks to hearing Jay McShann records on the radio, he was bitten by the blues bug while in his teens. After settling in Columbus, Ohio in the late-1940s, Vann was making a name for himself playing in the local clubs. He changed his name to Van Walls, taking Walls as his surname from his step-father. Tenor saxophonist and bandleader Frank Culley passed through Columbus and asked Van Walls to bring his band to New York to make some records for the fledgling Atlantic Label. After the session, the band went home, but Van Walls stayed in New York, becoming one of Atlantic’s star session players. This week, Matt The Cat looks at the incredible debt that early R&B owes to Van “Piano Man” Walls. His boogie woogie piano is featured on Frank “Floorshow” Culley’s hit records, “Cole Slaw” and “After Hour Session,” as well as major hits by Big Joe Turner, The Clovers, Ruth Brown, The Drifters and many of Atlantic’s other early acts. The label released a few records under his own name, which we’ll also hear. The spotlight shines bright on an eccentric R&B legend this week as we get the story behind the story on Van “Piano Man” Walls on the “Juke In The Back.”


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