Jeff Walls died yesterday after battling a rare pulmonary disease. He was a mainstay in the Atlanta and Athens music scenes of the ’80s, ’90s and beyond, first as guitarist of Guadalcanal Diary and later as a member of Hillbilly Frankenstein and The Woggles.
Walls and singer Murray Attaway were friends in high school in Marietta, Ga., just outside of Atlanta. Along with bassist Rhett Crowe and drummer John Poe, they formed Guadalcanal Diary in 1981, releasing their first EP Watusi Rodeo on DB Records two years later. They would go on to release four albums on Elektra from 1984 to 1989, including 2×4, which Paste named one of the 80 Best Albums of the 1980s.
Walls and Crowe married and in 1988 and had a daughter the following year. The band announced they were breaking up and played their final show in the fall of 1989. It was a free show at the University of Georgia, where I’d just started my freshman year, and it happened to be the first time I got to see them live. I’d fallen in love with their music my senior year of high school and was elated to finally get to see them play even if it was their final show (I’d catch a couple of reunion shows decades later).
Attaway wrote on Facebook: “Today at 4:16pm, surrounded by family, Jeff Walls left us. I have no other words.”
Attaway had launched a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $45,000 for a planned double-lung transplant. Benefit concerts are scheduled June 7 at The Earl in Atlanta and June 23 at The Foundry in Athens. The update on the GoFundMe page 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.”
With Walls’ and Attaway’s jangling guitars on songs “Watusi Rodeo,” “Litany (Life Goes On)” and “Always Saturday,” the band often got lumped in with the Athens scene, but they were right at the heart of a thriving Atlanta music community.
Towards the band’s initial run, Walls formed a rockabilly side-project Hillbilly Frankenstein in Athens with singer Alice Berry, which would take on a life of its own, mixing twang, surf rock, zydeco, garage and whatever else the hell they felt like. Walls adopted the moniker The Fleshhammer (Berry was Miss Formica Dinette). The band lasted until 1995.
Walls went on to join Atlanta garage band The Woggles, as well as reunite with Guadalcanal Diary in the late 1990s and again in 2011. He and Attaway more recently played shows under the monikers Bomber City and Blaster Cap.
The Woggles shared the sad news on Twitter yesterday:
Watch the video for “Always Saturday” from Guadalcanal Diary’s final studio album, Flip-Flop.