James Dawson Walters was the pedal steel guitar master of the Heartbeats. He grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and lived in that area for the first 30 years of his life. Musical ability ran in the family; his mother and younger sister both played piano.
J. D. began playing music at the tender age of six. His father William Edward "Doc" Walters arranged for him to take steel guitar lessons on a cheap beginner six-string acoustic guitar that he'd bought.
It was difficult learning at first because J.D. had just started school and couldn't yet read or do basic math. It was difficult for him to understand the numbering chart method they used on the steel guitar. However, he persisted, and by Christmas time, he found he'd developed an "ear" for music and was able to pick out and play "Silent Night" and other Christmas tunes. His playing ability grew dramatically better. As a result, his father bought him a real six-string electric steel guitar.
As J. D.'s skills progressed, the influence of the western swing sounds of Pee Wee Whitewing, Bob White and Curly Chalker worked their way into his playing style. He was also influenced by Buddy Emmons. You can hear the unique blend of these styles when J. D. plays.
J.D.'s wife was expecting their first child when he first went to work with Freddie. They were so broke they didn't have any insurance. One day Freddie called him into the back room and gave him enough money to pay all of the expenses.
"Freddie was good to me," he was quoted as saying.
The money problem went bye-bye when "Easy Lovin'" hit the radio. In a September 14, 2000 article entitled "Hart concert reunites singer (with former steel player)," by John Wooley of Tulsa World Entertainment, J.D. chuckled as he was quoted as saying:
"I remember that we'd have to play it three or four times at every concert, especially the year it came out. We'd play two or three songs and people would start screaming for it. We'd play it, and then we'd play two or three more songs, and they'd start screaming for it again. I've played `Easy Lovin' ' so many times. I didn't write it, but it sure made me a great living."
In November 1986, J. D. and his wife Linda decided it was time to come off the road, so they packed up the family and moved from Nashville to Linda's hometown of Bellingham, Massachusetts. They wanted to give their children the quality time they needed. There, they worked in a local band called The Wyoming Machinery Company which included two of the former Heartbeats.
In that same article by John Wooley, Freddie was quoted as saying this about the man: "I can't say enough good about all the Heartbeats, and J.D. was the biggest component of that. He was a great leader, and, as a steel man, he can't be beat."
J. D. and his family eventually moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He found himself in the same town that Bob and Johnnie Lee Wills built.
J.D. was inducted into the Pioneers of Western Swing in 2005.
More recently, he's been a member of the Brazos Valley Boys, a country/western swing band. Recently put out a couple of CD's; the first, entitled Remembering: Now and Then. J.D. Walters and Special Guests available for $15 plus shipping from their website at www.brazosvalleyboys.com. And, in 2013 he put out a CD entitled “Honolulu Tennessee,” featuring Duane Boyd.