By Eileen Tilson
Musicians and friends that knew, worked, played, drank, sobered, loved, hated, sinned and prayed with Wally Gates will pay tribute to him in the best way they know how – a night of Wally Gates’ favorite music performed live by his friends. Wally Gates, a respected and dedicated musician and producer, had made his mark in two local music scenes (New Haven, Conn. and Atlanta, Ga.). During his life, he played, produced and assisted many rock, powerpop and alt-country bands in both cities, most notably 100 Faces (New Haven), Kathleen Turner Overdrive and Loudflower (Atlanta). Gates battled depression for many years before taking his own life in December 2009.
We spoke with Wally’s dear friend and fellow musician, Trish Thompson about how the event came to fruition.
How did you meet Wally? How long did you know him?
I met Wally in front of my house on a warm night in the early ’90s. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend, Sally. Wally and Sally picked me up and we drove to Athens to see Insane Jane, quite a popular Atlanta band, at the time. Wally later ended up playing in Legend of the Giant Squid, with Insane Jane guitarist, Tom Branch. Wally says that I was the first person he met when he got to Atlanta, we weaved in and out of each others’ lives for 17, 18 years or so.
You said you “played with Wally in a very unconventional duo called “Screwtape and Wormwood” for several years” – describe further; unconventional how?
Wally and I both came from a background of original bands. The thought of starting another band and pouring your heart out to a crowd of 11 on a Tuesday didn’t sound fun. So we decided to just get together and learn a bunch of songs we loved (both being huge British Invasion and powerpop fans). As we began to explore our musical influences we found ourselves drawn to playing the mid-’70s hits of the day (in retrospect, I guess we were going back to the innocence of our childhood). Paul Simon, Captain and Tenille, Led Zeppelin, Wings, Randy Newman, Stevie Wonder, any genre, we didn’t care as long as it was a good song. It made us a little hard to book, but we had great fun at many an art opening or last minute opening slot. We did all of these tunes with one guitar and vocal. By the end of our five years of sporadic playing, we had both strengthened our repertoires, our ability to play and sing, and our friendship. It was fun and liberating and not your typical steakhouse cover act.
One of Wally’s friends, Christopher Arnott of the New Haven Advocate, said that his band 100 Faces “stuck out” on every bill they ever played. Did you ever see that band play? What was your reaction to them?
I never saw 100 Faces. Since Wally’s Death, I have been sent songs that Wally recorded in his New Haven/100 Faces days. The lyrics to Wally’s songs are surprisingly introspective and enlightened considering they were being written by someone in their mid-20s that worshipped KISS. Honestly, they are heartbreaking. I have been in touch with one of Wally’s bandmates, Dean Falcone, from 100 Faces over the last few months (he will be accompanying me at the tribute). He explained to me that 100 Faces used to have an energy and comic element that set them apart from the rest of what was going on in the Northeast, at the time.
The same friend said that “he wrapped dark and ugly themes in pretty packages” – can you expand on that?
Wally’s songs have pop melodies, beautifully layered guitars with chord changes that, personally, blow me away. But the lyrics are hauntingly dark but, still at times, hopeful.
Were you close to Wally towards the end of his life?
Wally and I were at our closest a few years back. In the most recent months, as the depression progressed, and as our lives changed, we became increasingly distant.
Where did you get the idea to do the tribute to Wally at The EARL? What was your motivation? Why you?
The tribute idea actually came from Hannibal Heredia (Stovall), Kevin Elrod (Stovall), who also used to play in a band with Wally, and Ed Burdell (formerly owner of Furies Studios and guitarist for The Mirthmakers). I was asked to participate and assist because of my musical and personal relationship with Wally. Our motivation is to try to make something good come of something tragic. We chose to give proceeds from the show (we are also taking donations) to Wally’s son, Hunter. Another motivation is the therapeutic fellowship of getting together to play songs that we know Wally loved.
How did you pick the bands that will play at the tribute? Did you ask them or are they friends of Wally’s who volunteered?
All the musicians volunteered. Kathleen Turner Overdrive (a band that Wally played bass in for a short while) only recently confirmed since some of the members are now in Drivin’ n’ Cryin’. Since there is no DnC date, they are able to participate in the tribute. We were very happy to hear they would be there since, Dave (drummer), had also become a close, personal friend of Wally’s through the years.
Gonzo Rock: A Tribute To Wally Gates will take place at The EARL on March 20. Tickets are on sale now at Ticket Alternative.