Relix 44: Wally Ingram
Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on Relix.com throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.
Everybody’s Support System: Wally Ingram
A while back, one of Wally Ingram’s friends came up with an idea for a nifty T-shirt slogan: “Just Add Wally.” “I’ve played with a lot of singer- songwriters who have their acoustic guitar and I’ll stand behind them or sit on a djembe, just trying to support the song and make it sound like there are two, three or four people behind us when there are just two of us,” he says on a warm summer day from his Hollywood, Calif.-based Wally Trax studio before an afternoon session. “I don’t get in the way of the vocals. I just try to be a great support system and help translate the song. I’ve carved my niche as a journeyman sideman doing that.”
The Wisconsin-bred percussionist first made his name playing in the Grammy-nominated Madison, Wis.-based New Wave group Timbuk3 from 1986-1995, but has since grown into a self-described Kevin Bacon-like figure, augmenting Sheryl Crow, Eric Burdon, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Kimock, Anders Osborne and, especially, David Lindley. Recently, Ingram has also brought his signature touch to the Grateful Dead catalog, backing Bob Weir and Phil Lesh on their stripped-down duo tour this past March. Ingram, a cancer survivor, first bonded with Weir on the benefit circuit and, when the Dead co-founders were looking to flesh out their arrangements with some light percussion, they brought Ingram in for a rehearsal-style audition. With a constantly changing setlist and minimal time to practice with his new collaborators, Ingram jumped headfirst into their 300-song repertoire, often cramming by pulling up different takes on Spotify and other streaming platforms backstage each night. “One of the only directives I was told was: ‘Play as if there’s already another drummer playing,’” he says. “What that means is: Don’t focus so much on laying down the kicksnare standard-groove-system and think more about playing around that with accents and colors.”
Ingram says that Weir would sometimes instruct him to “check out this ‘88 version” and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti would offer his advice to “revisit some recent RatDog or Dead & Company versions to hear how this stuff’s going,” but in order to keep in line with Lesh’s approach, he would also go back to a song’s original recording or a classic ‘70s take.
The shows were a complete success, even pulling in guests like Trey Anastasio, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, and Ingram has continued to explore the Dead canon. In June, he returned to East Troy, Wis.’s Alpine Valley, his local childhood shed, to join the Little Feat/Dead offshoot Dead Feat and, in July, he played drums in The Ramblin Roses, featuring Papa Mali, Reed Mathis and Todd Stoops.
He’s continued to work with Weir behind the scenes, too. “We’ve been doing some rehearsing and preparation for whatever might follow with what is essentially a Bob Weir trio featuring a bass player named Paul Ill. We’ve done a couple of private events and are cultivating something that Bobby can do in a trio dynamic—a small group for different appropriate events.”
For a number of years, the percussionist also showed off his improvisational chops with Stockholm Syndrome, a hard-rock jamband supergroup featuring Jerry Joseph, Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, guitarist Eric McFadden, German keyboardist Danny Dziuk and Dziuk’s replacement, Gov’t Mule’s Danny Louis. Though the band has been inactive since 2011, Ingram is currently working with McFadden on an album of reworked songs from their Alektorophobia sessions featuring Les Claypool and Nils Frahm. He isn’t completely ruling out a proper reunion either.
“Stockholm Syndrome is one of those bands where enough time goes by and someone might say, ‘What would it take to do a reunion,’” he says. “There’s some big personalities there, and getting that group on the road scheduling-wise is a little tough, but I can see any number of combinations happening. Dave has produced Jerry’s albums—and I am on one—and people have thrown ideas out there for different things, like getting a lineup together with Schools, Jerry and me. It’s a loud band, but I would love to do an acoustic version.”
And, despite already being the connector between numerous jam-fueled scenes, he freely admits
that his time at Dead Camp is far from over. “I feel like I’m in this for a lifetime of cultivation,” he says, equating the pursuit to studying jazz. “It’s a great thing to always have on your mind. I want to keep gathering knowledge and cultivating.”
This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.