From the Editor: Atlanta/Athens musical maverick Jeff Walls passed away this week from what was described as a rare pulmonary disease. He’d battled it for some time, and a GoFundMe campaign that his old Guadalcanal bandmate Murray Attaway had organized had already raised $45,000 towards a double-lung transplant. At the GoFundMe page a tribute reads, “Jeff Walls passed away on May 29th surrounded by his family. With broken hearts, we will continue this fundraiser and all the scheduled events as a memorial to this remarkable man, and to continue to help his family with the overwhelming medical costs of his care.” To call Walls a mainstay of the Georgia – and the entire Southern – indie/alternative music community would be an understatement; I saw him early on with the legendary Guadalcanal Diary in the mid ’80s, sometime later with his rockabilly project Hillbilly Frankenstein, and in recent years with garage maestros The Woggles (who were also beloved guests at BLURT’s SXSW day parties at the Ginger Man club in Austin – scroll to the bottom for a video clip from that show). You can read a moving remembrance penned by veteran Georgia music journalist Tony Paris here, and below, our man in Atlanta, John Boydston, submits his own memories in words and photos. There will be memorial concerts to help raise funds for his medical bills later this month: June 7 at The Foundry in Athens, and June 23 at The Earl in Atlanta. – FM
TEXT & PHOTOS BY JOHN BOYDSTON
Below: Woggles at Hole In The Wall, Austin SXSW, 2013
Jeff Walls was so up-close and friendly with everyone that you didn’t need to be a personal friend to get his full attention, and have conversations like you were in fact a longtime buddy catching up. A mutual friend describes it well — ‘When you were eye-to-eye with Jeff and he started telling you something, you just shut up and listened cause it was always amazing stuff.’ No matter what he was talking about it was cool and he let you in. His friendliness, candor, and humor were always on. Then throw on top of that what he is best known for: his incredible musical talents, showmanship, and studio chops that were already fully-formed when Guadalcanal Diary cut their first LP in 1984. (True with that whole band in fact.)
And the things I learned just following his Facebook feed and interacting there after I’d met him and shot a couple of SXSW gigs by The Woggles in 2013. That band was a photographer’s dream, even in the darkest of clubs. Especially in the darkest of clubs. They shared my pics that weekend to great acclaim, and Jeff would continue to be highly complimentary of my “shutterbuggery” and thank me for my services every chance he got. That was cool, cause I would learn Jeff didn’t say anything he didn’t mean.
And you got deep thoughts from the guy too – here’s a quote from a private exchange we had on FB talking about the fickle biz he was in – “I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be successful and be admired for music that you secretly hated … Not that I’ve ever had that problem! I think that the less-imaginative, mediocre musicians usually have the opposite problem: They fall in love with everything they do (no matter how god-awful it may sound to others). Otherwise, they wouldn’t keep doing it.”
The next year I caught Jeff in Athens, GA (Ath Popfest) in a retooled version of The Plimsouls, with that band’s original guitarist Eddie Munoz, and Atlanta’s Bryan Malone also filling in for a short East Coast tour. I forget the bar name, but the stage area was set up like a living room, and these guys exploded for a power-set of Plimsouls hits. Jeff played bass. Also got to talk to Jeff before the show and that conversation was mostly about how much he loved his family, many of whom were there and ready to rock. Being a grandparent is the best, he told me.
While I do not have photos, I did catch Guadalcanal Diary twice – once in 1986 at 688, and then a reunion show in 1999. Plus Jeff’s band Hillbilly Frankenstein in 1993 at Atlanta’s Cotton Club. That might be one of the best rock and roll shows I’ve ever seen, and his timing with the retro-upswing of the ’90s was spot on. Night and day from GD’s music, it just proved what brilliant a musician and showman Jeff was.