We were all pulling for Jeff Walls. Pulling hard. And praying and donating and encouraging and doing all those dutiful measures we engage in when we feel helpless and at a loss for what else to do. What was deeply troubling in late March, when Walls was hospitalized after blacking out at the Star Bar prior to a Woggles show, turned mortally serious a month later when – following weeks of tests and examinations – he was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of pulmonary hypertension called Pulmonary Veno-Occlusive Disease. The only possible path of survival would involve a double lung transplant, with all of the obstacles and uncertainty involved. My God… I can’t even imagine being faced with such a colossal health hurdle. But Jeff chose to go for it – to tackle the challenge and valiantly attempt to overcome this rotten hand he’d somehow been dealt (there’s no known cause for PVOD.) Keeping us all posted with regular Facebook updates, the 62-year-old was never unrealistic (some of his posts – like the one recounting how he nearly died soon after being transferred to Duke University Hospital when doctors altered his medication – made me shudder), but he always exuded optimism, good cheer and positivity, which in turn gave us sincere confidence that the almighty Flesh Hammer was ultimately gonna emerge victorious.
Sadly, it was not to be. Murray Attaway, his longtime friend and bandmate in Guadalcanal Diary and Bomber City, broke the news with a brief Facebook post the afternoon of May 29: “Today at 4:16pm, surrounded by family, Jeff Walls left us. I have no other words.”
Needless to say, we are heartbroken. Jeff was a wonderful, gregarious gentleman. A good, kind husband and father. A cool dude into everything cool, be it music, cars, movies, pop culture, you name it. And of course, he was an extraordinarily amazing guitar player. I mean, he was a master of that instrument. The last time I ever saw him play, with a combo called The Deadlines (including his wife Phyllis on bass) opening for Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs back on Feb. 1 at the Star Bar, I remember watching him, and listening to what he was doing, in total awe. They were just playing a bunch of old ’60s rock ‘n’ roll covers, a lot of British Invasion stuff, nothing out of the ordinary, but man… he had such a total command of riffs, and power, and sound, and tones, and economical/perfect leads… I paid attention to him in whatever band he played with, because he always propelled everything forward with such fiery energy, but with The Woggles or Guadalcanal he wasn’t the frontperson, so there were always other factors vying for my attention. But on this night, I really focused almost solely on him. It reinforced my point of view that he’s one of the most talented guitarists Georgia’s ever given birth to.
Anyway, this is just rambling… not really meant to be any sort of proper send-off. Upon hearing of his passing, I had initially planned to have an extensive memorial/celebration of his life and talent in the June issue, but our own deadlines make that impossible. Everyone’s too shellshocked right now anyway, it all happened so quickly. So look for a more wide-ranging piece about Jeff Walls, with input from some of his friends and bandmates, in the July issue.
In the meantime, the medical fundraiser for Walls’ family’s overwhelming expenses is still taking place on Friday, June 7 at The Foundry in Athens. It’s now a memorial in his honor, and will feature performances by Attaway, Don Dixon, Trent Allen & Barry Marler (Dreams So Real), the Michael Guthrie Band, Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs, The Mockingbirds, The Pinx and who knows who else may show up. Doors are at 6 p.m., music starts at 7. And The Woggles (with Shane Pringle guesting on guitar) will topline another benefit June 23 at The EARL with Rod Hamdallah and Tiger! Tiger! In addition, Attaway’s GoFundMe page for Walls is still up and taking donations, if you care to contribute.
Photo by John Boydston.