Vann "Piano Man" Walls born Harry Eugene Vann was an influential American rhythm and blues piano player, songwriter, studio musician, and professional recording artist. He was a long-standing session player for Atlantic Records, appearing on hits by artists including Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, and The Clovers. Walls performed under a number of different names, and is variously credited as Van Walls, Harry Van Walls, and Captain Van. He led the Harry Van Walls Orchestra, and also performed with Doc Starkes and His Nite Riders, and as Le Capitaine Van.
Walls was born in Middlesboro, Kentucky, and grew up in Charleston, West Virginia. His mother was in her teens (Walls believed she was 13) when he was born. Vann took the name Walls from a man she would marry a few years later, and became Vann Walls (often written as Van Walls). His mother began teaching him piano when he was six years old, and his first experience performing music was in church.
Walls recalls developing his signature performing style of playing while "stand-up dancing" in Charleston's Holy Sanctified Church. His early playing shows the influence of jump blues player Jay McShann. In his late teens, Walls toured the Southern United States with carnivals, circuses, and variety caravans. He returned to Charleston in his 20s where he played in local clubs and had a Saturday afternoon show on WCHS (AM) radio. It was here that bandleader Cal Greer heard Walls, and invited him to join his band, which toured coal-mining camps. After Greer's band broke up, Walls formed his own band, based in Columbus, Ohio.
In the late 1940s, saxophonist Frank "Floorshow" Culley came to Columbus and heard Walls play. Culley invited Walls to join the new Atlantic Records label in New York City as Atlantic's house band pianist. After some initial reluctance, Walls agreed.