Ian Wallace: High and Mighty Traps
Ian Wallace -- who drummed on Dylan's albums STREET LEGAL, INFIDELS and LIVE AT BUDOKAN, and occasionally with The Traveling Wilburys, but who is best remembered as the drummer for the 1971-73 incarnation of King Crimson (ISLANDS, EARTHBOUND, LADIES OF THE ROAD) and their tribute bands The 21st Century Schizoid Band and Crimson Jazz Trio -- passed away yesterday at age 59, after a five-month bout with esophogeal cancer.
As an interested member of his audience with the latter two projects, I was a former daily reader of Ian's online diary but I drifted away when his suddenly resumed touring/recording career took him away from those writing duties for long stretches of time. We swapped one or two e-mails during those times, I'm sure, and I was very surprised to learn about his passing and his illness when I got online today.
When you read someone's daily diary online, you feel you know them, though it's debatable whether such knowing exists unless they also know you as well. Ian had a tremendous knack not only for diarizing, but for lively, humorous writing, and I encouraged him to apply his twinkle toward a more ambitious writing project, as other regulars did. But then the opportunity to replace Michael Giles in the 21st Century Schizoid Band came along, and Ian seized it. I suspect from his many blogs about the pleasure he took in dining with his fellow Nashvillian, King Crimson frontman Adrian Belew, that it would have been his greatest wish to rejoin King Crimson, which wasn't likely to happen given their current musical direction. His stints with the 21CSB and the Crimson Jazz Trio (whose debut album is most inventive and impressive) were the consolation prizes that allowed him to close his career by reaffirming his place in the band's history and its music's future.
The core of Ian's blog readership was made up of King Crimson fans, though the true measure of his contribution to the band didn't become fully apparent until Discipline Global Mobile (KC's self-goverened label) began issuing KCCC (King Crimson Collectors Club) live discs from their website some years back. Ian's two Crimson albums, ISLANDS and EARTHBOUND, have always been the least understood/appreciated of the oft-mutating band's releases; EARTHBOUND, a live recording, suffered from harsh sound quality and I've personally found that ISLANDS never quite blossomed as a listening experience until its latest remastering. It was usually seen as the weakest of their first four studio albums, but time has been kinder to it than perhaps to either IN THE WAKE OF POSEIDON or LIZARD (once my favorite of the first four); it contains at least two bonafide KC classics, "The Sailor's Tale" and "Ladies of the Road," both of which are memorably propelled by Ian's high-and-mighty traps. The live discs of the Wallace KC, which featured Boz Burrell (who passed away last year) on bass and vocals, salvaged the reputation of that lineup, especially the 9th KCCC set recorded at Denver, Colorado's Summit Studios in March 1972. Other such releases, like the 18th volume from Detroit in November 1971, offered perfected versions of the album that EARTHBOUND should have been. A selection of the best of this material was subsequently issued under the title LADIES OF THE ROAD.
When King Crimson dissolved in 1973, only to be reborn as a radically different, experimental unit in 1974, Ian Wallace moved on to drum for Bob Dylan. His playing on 1975's STREET LEGAL, while less "Dionysian" (to use another critic's word) than his phase-heavy drum solo on EARTHBOUND's "Groon," sounds infinitely more chipper; his airy but buoyant drumming on the underrated classic "The Changing of the Guards" allows the grave lyric to levitate, and he kicks "Where Are You Tonight?" into a zone only an avenue or two away from "Positively 4th Street." "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)" also gives him opportunities to infuse Dylan's work with solemnity and atmosphere. He later rejoined Dylan for 1983's INFIDELS, where many of the songs, including the classics "Jokerman" and "I and I", are launched from Ian's distinctive, reggae-flavored, opening drum fills.
The DGM site has created a page in remembrance of Ian Wallace, which offers two free mp3 downloads, one of them "The Sailor's Tale" (which also features one of Robert Fripp's finest guitar solos, and perhaps his earliest truly characteristic one). Take advantage and give them a listen. Then pop over to his website and read some of his older blog pages and, if you've a mind to, continue reading through his wife Margie's account of his last months -- a document of their mutual bravery. My heart goes out to Margie because, as much as I remember the musician on this sad day, I remember the man of words, of heart and humor, who turned my respect for Ian Wallace into fondness.