Editor’s note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
When he started taking drum lessons at the age of 7, Beloit native Wally Ingram could never have imagined where his musical journey might take him.
Wally, the son of Walt and Dotty Ingram, bought his first kit with $50 he earned working as a paperboy and began honing his craft. After he graduated from Beloit Memorial High School in 1980, he went off to UW-Madison to earn a degree as a communications specialist.
While in school, Ingram also began studying music extensively. It was in Madison he met up with the legendary Clyde Stubblefield, who became Ingram’s mentor.
Ingram started to make a name for himself in the music business, performing with the likes of Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Butch Vig, Stevie Wonder, Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Bonnie Raitt and others. In 2007, when he was diagnosed with Stage 4A squamous cell carcinoma, his industry friends hosted an all-star fundraiser, “Beat It Wally,” to help pay his medical bills.
Today, Ingram and his wife, Laurie, own a recording studio, Wallytrax, in Hollywood, California. The couple live in California with their 7-year-old daughter, Lydia, and two blind miniature dachshunds, Rex and Cinnamon.
Ingram keeps close state ties as a fan of the Green Bay Packers and as a shareholder in the Holiday Music Motel (holidaymusic motel.com) in Sturgeon Bay. Currently, he is touring Europe with his latest band, Stoppok.
For more about Ingram his music and latest projects, visit WallyIngram.com.
1. Why the drums? I was known to raid the kitchen cabinets as a toddler, making drum sets from my mom’s pots and pans. Mom re-channeled my passion for denting cookware by giving me a pair of real drumsticks and a wooden cutting board to drum on. These were my mom’s own sticks from her college days, when she marched with the University of Iowa Scottish Highlanders Drum and Bagpipe band. When “The Monkees” TV show came out Sept. 12, 1966 (the day before my 4th birthday), I started watching religiously and dreamed of being a drummer in a band.
2. Southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois had a pretty great music scene going when you were growing up. How did that influence your interest in performing? I had broad influences from rock, soul, R&B, funk, jazz and even polka. We lived a couple of blocks from Beloit College and next to student housing with ’60s and ’70s album rock wafting through the neighborhood. I saw Kansas and Cheap Trick on campus at a very young age, as well as jazz greats Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson and Buddy Rich. There were also many great local drummers around such as Tommy Piazza, Jim Kirkpatrick, Jack Farina and Chris Staley. All were big influences.
3. If you weren’t a touring musician, what would you likely be doing for a living? Farmer ... therapist ... orthodontist? I probably would be in communication arts in some capacity. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree as a communication specialist from the communication arts schools at UW-Madison. I was passionate about all aspects of communications. I never had an opportunity to apply my skills in the marketplace as I pretty much hit the ground running in music after graduating in 1984. However, I feel that this background and skill set has helped me navigate the music business jungle and even just being in a band. I have thought about getting my master’s degree, but that’s probably past my expiration date, I’m afraid.
4. I read somewhere that you are the godfather of Sheryl Crow’s adopted son, Wyatt. How did you and she become so close? Actually, I am not Wyatt’s godfather; her brother is. But she and I remain close even though we don’t get to see much of each other these days. I am very proud of the way Sheryl is raising her two boys (also Levi) as a single mother.
5. You’ve performed with many music legends. Have you ever been starstruck? Over and over again, actually. I am a music fan, so it doesn’t take much to be enamored. Last year, we had a new family transfer into my daughter’s school. Guess who? Jack Black! We would pass each other in the hallways and in the parking lot. We started to make small talk and chat about music and our kids. Turns out we had mutual friends and became pals. But my list would also include Stevie Wonder, Bob Weir, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Star, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and nonmusicians such as Bill Clinton, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Ray Lewis, Hank Aaron and Steven Spielberg.
6. Back in 2007, you were diagnosed with Stage 4A squamous cell carcinoma. Can you put into words what helped get you through that period in your life? I had an army of friends, family and doctors behind me, but the most powerful medicine was without a doubt my daughter, Lydia, and my wife, Laurie. Lydia was just 9 months old when I was diagnosed, and I didn’t want to miss being in her life and watching her grow up.
7. If you could eat only one meal each day for the rest of your life, what would it be? Following up all of these “Big C” questions with an answer like bratwurst somehow doesn’t feel right. Probably my first decadent choice though. That’s my Wisconsin roots for you. (Note: My healthy choice for this answer would be Chinese veggie stir fry with chicken or shrimp. I also love New Orleans-style food.)
8. What was the first car you ever owned? A ’57 Dodge pickup truck. My dad bought a farm between Orfordville and Brodhead when I was about 12 or so. The truck came along with the deal. I learned how to drive in it and, when I turned 16, it was mine.
9. What type of music did your parents listen to when you were a child? Did it influence your future tastes? Mainly jazz and big band LPs. I remember really digging Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. We had them all. Both of my sisters played trumpet, so we seemed to have a lot of trumpeters in the archives—Louis Armstrong, Al Hirt, Miles Davis.
10. Name a skill you wish you had. I wish I could really play piano well. I also wish I could speak foreign languages. I have mad respect for those who can.
11. You have two hours of free time. What do you do? A hammock in the shade of a palm tree on the beach anywhere sounds good to me!
12. You were a member of Timbuk 3. What was it like being part of the band when “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” blew up and was being played almost constantly? I wasn’t actually in the band when that song broke; that was a good ol’ drum machine. But they were not much fun to play with live. After three albums and much touring, Timbuk 3 asked me to join the band. I was the last in a long line of Madison drummers to play with them when they were Pat MacDonald and the Essentials, and I had performed “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” many times. It was a bittersweet feeling hearing that song on the radio. In the end, that song helped launch my international touring career.
13. Who are some of the people who have most influenced you not only in music but in life? Musically, Beloit Roosevelt Jr. High School music director Richard Baller; Richard Davis—my black music ensemble and black music history professor at UW-Madison, and the “Funky Drummer” Clyde Stubblefield. Butch Vig, Jackson Browne and David Lindley all had profound effects on shaping me musically. There was also my communication arts adviser, David Mortensen; my mother and father, Dotty and Walt Ingram, and coaches Vince Lombardi and John Wooden. These were all inspirational forces to draw upon.
14. Do you have any pre-gig rituals? When I’m on a bus tour, I quite often will retreat to my bunk after sound check and dinner to be alone and quiet. I’ll nap and or meditate to clear my head before showtime. When I’m in Europe or Japan, I like to take walks and explore new territory and soak up the local ambience and community spirit.
15. What are the best and worst things about the life of a traveling musician? Not being at home with my family. My dad and grandma both warned me about this, saying it could grow old with time. It has been quite a sacrifice. I have some regrets, but mostly I realize it is part of the trade-off for chasing your dreams and taking on an unpredictable career path. I really try to be selective and stay home as much as possible these days. I have a home studio, and I love to work there remotely recording and teaching.
16. What is your astrological sign? I’m a Virgo, but I’m not particularly organized, so I’m not your typical Virgo.
17. Would you rather sit down with a good book or a good movie? These days, I have a hard time slowing down enough to focus on reading books, sadly. It’s even hard to take time out for movies. I do love a good movie, and I’m hoping to do more work with TV and film soundtracks. I have been doing some work on “NCIS: New Orleans” and some indie films and love it. And I love rockumentaries.
18. Do you consider yourself more of an extrovert or introvert? Neither. I’m pretty social and outgoing when I’m feeling good, but I can retreat when things aren’t going so well. I have to work hard at staying positive because that’s when good things seem to flow to you. It’s easier said than done, but it’s important to keep open, motivated and positive—especially with an unpredictable artistic career.
19. You’re a Wisconsin guy, so you must have favorite flavors of ice cream and cheese, right? Can you share them? I pretty much love all ice creams. Mint chip and butter pecan are probably my faves. I used to go to the ice cream shop at the UW-Madison student union regularly. I’m also a big sharp cheddar fan, and I love a good aged Swiss (especially the Swiss cheese on rye sandwich at Baumgartner’s in Monroe).
20. What would you say has, so far, been the highlight of your career in music? That’s a tough one; I have been very fortunate. Maybe playing at the Grammys with Sheryl Crow, or at Woodstock? Taking the Concorde to Europe after three nights in New York with Bob Dylan? Being presented with an International Music Award from Ringo Starr in Monaco and hanging out with Stevie Wonder afterward? I could go on and on down memory lane. But the “Beat It Wally” cancer benefit that Butch Vig and Jackson Browne organized for me has to be the top highlight.