Musicians of a Feather

Friends of drummer Wally Ingram stage benefit shows


Drummer Wally, a.k.a. "The Wally Llama," Ingram has been banging the skins since he was a kid. Throughout his career, he has developed an eclectic percussive style and managed to work with artists in most genres of music. Though you may not know his name, you've probably heard his drumming. His resume reads like a "who's who" of famous musicians. During the last 20 years, Ingram has recorded and/or toured with artists such as Sheryl Crow, Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Timbuk 3 and--most recently--the newest incarnation of Eric Burdon and The Animals. For every musician Ingram has worked with, there are another dozen or so who call him a friend. And it's a good thing, because when things get rough, a guy needs friends.

Trouble came knocking on Ingram's door last year. In June 2006, Ingram's throat and sinuses started to hurt. He assumed it was just allergies or a sinus infection--and initial doctor visits confirmed that--so Ingram started taking extra vitamins and getting plenty of rest. Despite his efforts, his condition did not improve, and after two months of misdiagnoses, Ingram was told his illness was not merely a sinus infection. Maybe it was the smoky venues he often played, or endless hours in a tour van, but for whatever pathological reason, Ingram, a non-smoker, was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in his tonsils and neck. It was a devastating blow. He abandoned touring and concentrated on beating the disease, undergoing bouts of surgery, radiation and intensive chemotherapy. During the aggressive treatments, Ingram never complained. "I am experiencing some gnarly side effects," he wrote in a blog he kept during treatment, "but this is a fair trade to eradicate the beast!"

Four months of treatments paid off. In January 2007, Ingram's oncologist announced that the cancer had gone from stage 4a (metastatic) to remission. It was, to say the least, good news for Ingram and those who love him. It was especially joyful news for Ingram's wife Laurie, who he says, was steadfast in her love for him even as the surgeries and radiation left him looking like what he called a "Freddy Kreuger meets Fire Marshall Bob horror." "My love for my wife runs deeper than the Grand Canyon," Ingram wrote. "I thank her for her strength, compassion and incredible heart and hands."

As is the case with many cancer survivors, the disease was not only hell on his body and emotions--it also drained his bank account, leaving him in debt. To help with the mounting medical bills, Ingram's friends decided to kick in and help out in the best way they knew how--by playing music.

Some of the first to sign on were Browne, Lindley and Crow. Other musicians volunteered in droves, including heavy hitters such as Butch Vig (Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins producer and member of the band Garbage), Eric McFadden, Jerry Joseph, Freddy Johnston and a slew of other top-notch artists. In an interview with BW, singer/guitarist McFadden says, "It seems a great injustice that this sort of thing could come upon such a guy, but this tragedy has demonstrated how much love people have for Wally and how apt he is to overcome [this]. How can one know Wally and not love him?"

The two upcoming Boise shows promise to be a gathering of some remarkable musicians. Among them are McFadden, Joseph, James Whiton, Juan Nelson and percussionist Leon Mobley. That musicians of this caliber would fly into Boise on a moment's notice is a testament to their love for Ingram. Nelson is the bassist for Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals, and Mobley, who also plays with Harper, is a Grammy Award-winning djembe player. To round out the event, artist Norton Wisdom will be creating interpretive visual art during the performances.

During the shows at Reef, attendees may bid on one of Ben Harper's stage played guitars--a custom Asher lap steel--signed by Harper. Concertgoers will also be able to bid on the visual art created by Wisdom during the gigs. The music performances will differ on the two nights: Wednesday night, Valentine's Day, will be an acoustic evening, and Thursday night will be a rocking electric gig.

As relentless as cancer can be, Ingram's musician friends have been just as persistent in their support and had only positive things to say about him. "[I've known] Wally for about nine years," says Nelson. "Wally is a great person. Even if he wasn't a musician, he'd be the guy you wanted to help because he is such a nice guy. I was so surprised he got cancer. I believe the Lord has plans for special people, and I thank the Lord he didn't take him away."

Joseph says that a lot of the best musicians are also the biggest jerks. "Wally is not," he asserts. "For a guy like Wally to have gotten so far in his career is a testament to his love and heart."

McFadden, who has known Ingram for over a decade, says, "He's the Wally Llama! To know the Wally Llama is to love the Wally Llama. People like being around Wally. He makes you feel good. He is a great friend and drummer and he's hilarious. It's cool to see people being so supportive of a friend in need," adding he's looking forward to visiting Boise.

All of the musicians involved say that Boise is the perfect setting for one of the benefit gigs. Joseph and McFadden have devoted fan bases in the area, as do the other musicians on the bill.

Nelson sums up his feelings on the gig by saying, "[I am] definitely looking forward to being in Boise. I'm looking forward to doing this with Wally--he's a great cat. When you are in a creative mode and making beautiful music, it is a beautiful thing. It makes sense for us to stick together."

February 14 and 15, 8 p.m., $20 in advance, $23 at the door. A limited number of "Gold Tickets" are available for $60. They include priority reserved seating, dinner and a signed artist poster. Tickets are available through Ticketweb outlets and Reef. Reef, 105 S. 6th St., 208-287-9200.