Thursday, March 22, 2012
Ralph Waller remembered
By SUE WATSON
It was year 2010 and the Holly Springs Main Street promotions committee dreamed of a weekly bikers rally downtown to draw attention to the city.
An occasional blues player with guitar was envisioned on the street corner where bikers were to gather – to include bikers in town and from away.
Andy McMillon and Charles Terry had appeared before the board of aldermen to get permission for an event that was to play from mid-July to September 30.
Bikers Rally grew fruit and the fruit was the Blues Alley event that took the fore that year.
One of the most prominent bands that played almost every Thursday that year and drew crowds of dancers was Ralph Waller and the Tuff Street Band.
The leader died March 9 but his contributions and spirit live on in this little artistic town.
McMillon retold how he remembers Ralph Waller becoming involved.
“The first year we had Bikers Night Out, Ralph came to see what was happening,” McMillon said. “He asked what he could do to help and Charles Terry told him, ‘we need some music.’ Ralph said he would be back. Then he went and got his band members together and they started playing that night for us. He understood that we were doing this for free and that we had no money to pay him or his band. He was fine with that. He said he just wanted an opportunity to play and that he would help us anytime he could.
“Well, you know that anytime was almost every week. When the second year (2011) rolled around, we called Ralph and found out he was sick. He told us he was not strong enough to play right then, but hopefully he could play for us later in the year. We stayed in touch with him and took him a fruit basket a couple of times just to check on him. We talked to him about this year as well and his hope was that he would be well soon.
“Ralph wasn’t just a blues musician who wanted to help us; he was a friend to us and Holly Springs, who just wanted to see people enjoy themselves.
“We will miss him.”
Terry knew Waller as a friend growing up.
“Ralph and I have been knowing each other every since our teenage years, even though we lived on different sides of town, him on the east side and me on the west side,” Terry said. “Even though we attended different schools we had a good relationship.
“What I remember most about Ralph is the first night we started Bikers Night, we were blocking off the streets for the night and Ralph stopped and Ralph asked what was going on.
“I told him and he said to let him see if he could get his band together that late. He did and they put on a great show. He never asked for any pay but was always willing to perform.
“The second year he got sick and was unable to perform, but was always looking forward to returning. You couldn’t beat his band playing ‘Mississippi Country Boy.’ In the last year we have lost two of our supporters, Chief Robert Pearson (biker) and now Ralph. Both will be greatly missed. I hope we can dedicate this year to both of them.”
Waller was joined on stage by many musicians and singers. Among them were James Lester, who played guitar.
“I met Ralph on West Street by the mechanic shop about 11 years ago,” Lester said. “He was on the porch playing with another guy named Greg. I heard them playing and I told Greg, ‘let me see that guitar.’ We started from there.
“He was a good friend. He loved his kids and grandkids. Yeah, Buddy, I’m going to miss him.”
Judy Smith, former executive director of Main Street, remembers Waller’s contributions.
“In 2009, Blues Alley ‘Bikers Night Out’ was only an idea,” Smith said, “but Ralph Waller along with other community bands made it a reality. The one thing that impressed me about Ralph and the Tuff Street Band was the hidden talent they unleashed on this community.
“Standing back and observing the whole ‘Bikers Night Out’ music scene, I saw Ralph quietly provide leadership and a true sense of cooperation, especially when working with the other musicians. I applaud Ralph for stepping up to help provide this community, sadly to say, with ‘uncompensated’ entertainment. Hopefully, as a tribute to Ralph Waller and the other bands, ‘Blues Alley Bikers Night Out’ will become a legacy,” Smith said.
Others who played or sang with the Tuff Street Band included, Brown Sugar (singer), Kenny Kimbrough (drummer), Willie Mae Tidwell (singer), Eric Crane (drummer and guitarist), Reggie Brooks, and Waller’s late sister Sheila Waller (dancer), according to his son, Duvan Balfour.
Waller often featured Little Johnnie Taylor as singer, according to Willie Wilkinson, blues documentarian and founder of the Hill Country Blues Foundation.
“He started his musical career in Milwaukee, Wis., and played with the Star Ivy Band and the Chi-Lites, where he said he was taught about music and performance,” Wilkinson said. “He played openings for Jay Blackfoot and Bobby Rush, and played for parties and social events.
“He was on the Soul side in music. When he moved back to Holly Springs, he just fit right in. Styled different from the Hill Country Blues, he could play any of it. He will be greatly missed within the local community.”
Waller wrote and produced two CDs but they were not marketed, Wilkinson said.
Balfour said his father played at the house as he grew up and it was in or about year 2000 that he formed the Tuff Street Band.
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