Wang for Waller.

motownstory_cover

Don Waller was a friend of The Boogaloo Bag writers for more than forty years. Suffice to say that he was pretty close to Phast Phreddie, especially during the latter’s years in Los Angeles (early Seventies to 1991, when he moved to New York). Early in their lives they influenced each other in very positive ways, most of which involved music. Waller died on November 17, after a battle with lung cancer that lasted nearly a year.

The Boogaloo Bag writers are much too saddened by Don’s death to supply much background information on their dear friend. They suggest you read his obituaries in the L.A. Times, the L.A. Weekly and one that our friend Steve Hochman wrote for buzzbands. By doing so, you will start to understand the scope of the person Waller was.

There is one truth in this world: No matter what happens, no matter if the event is tragic, terrifying, ground-breaking, or no matter how extreme, life will go on. The death of Don Waller has been devastating to us here at The Boogaloo Bag because he meant so much to us. However, life goes on; and so do DJ gigs.

It was with Don Waller in mind, about a week after his passing, that we selected records for our November gig at The Commodore. Waller dug all kinds of reet music. In the early Seventies, he turned us on to The Stooges, Mott the Hoople and The New York Dolls. Blue Öyster Cult adapted one of his songs, “This Ain’t the Summer of Love.” He dug The Clash and The Sex Pistols, X and The Blasters, The Faces and The Rolling Stones. He wrote a book about the great soul music record company Motown.

Don Waller loved soul music. After his book came out in 1985, he became the go-to guy for soul music information. He interviewed just about every living soul singing legend, semi-legend, and one-hit wonder still alive in the Eighties, from James Brown on down. He enjoyed every minute of it.

When it came time to select records for The Commodore DJ night, Phast Phreddie the Boogaloo Omnibus found himself picking records connected to Don Waller—either ones that Waller had played when they DJ’d together, had turned the Phast Man on to, had written about or had some other association with Waller. So The Boog decided to turn the night into his own personal celebration of Don Waller and their friendship. In all, about 300 or so 45s must have been pulled—way more than the Phast Man could ever play in the five hours allotted at the Friday night gig. It was hard to edit them down: He would only have time to play less than half that many records and his box only held about 160. So it was decided: Leave the hard rock, punk rock, and garage rock at home and bring only the soul and funk records.

The Boog did a little homework. He found a Waller set list from a DJ gig he did a few years ago in an old email and used it as a guide. It included many fabulous funk records, and The Boog noted that the opening and closing records were by Georgie Fame. Obviously, a preponderance of Motown (and associated) records was in order. Waller’s DJ name was Agent Double-O Soul, so the Edwin Starr record was a must (as was the Sonny Stitt instrumental version). When Waller interviewed a soul singer, he asked every one of them this question: Of your performing contemporaries, who do you think was the most underrated? Every one of them, except one, answered that they themselves were underrated. James Brown said Joe Tex. So Joe Tex records had to be played. Waller had seen Labelle play at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, so “Lady Marmalade” was played. Other songs we learned from cassette tapes that were sent to Waller by a Detroit music collector who was helping him with research for the Motown book. In April of 1980, The Clash played a show at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip. DJ Phast Phreddie the Boogaloo Omnibus was the opening act with Don Waller as his assistant. The last record they played before the band went on was Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” At the time, The Clash was opening its shows with a cover of “Time Is Tight” by Booker T & the M.G.’s, which has a very similar riff. The group started playing while the Otis record was spinning and it sounded as if the band was playing along with it. Waller and The Boog cracked up!! So that event was sort of recreated at The Commodore. There was one LP track that was played–a song by Major Lance that Waller dug but was never issued on a 7″ 45 RPM record. The original version of “Back Door Man” by Howlin’ Wolf had to be played, since it was the name of the hard core rock’n’roll fanzine that Waller, Phast and their pals DD Faye and Tom Gardner (among others) worked on during the mid-Seventies. And so it went.

In a sad coincidence, two artists that Waller admired, Mose Allison and Sharon Jones, also recently passed away. So their records were added to the mix as well.

Although few people in New York City knew Don Waller, the folks in attendance at The Commodore enjoyed the evening. Who doesn’t love soul music? Toward the end of the night, during one of the funk portions of the program, the place went absolutely wild, with folks frolicking and falling all over themselves; losing themselves in the music—as did The Boogaloo Bag writers.

For more than twenty years, Don Waller lived with his partner Natalie Nichols—herself an excellent music journalist. Once the tremendous shock of Waller’s death has receded somewhat (it can never recede fully for those of us who knew him), she may plan a proper memorial in Los Angeles, where many hundreds of people knew and loved him. It may be a full-on party, where we can listen to The Stooges and The Miracles and The Sonics and The Zeros and Chocolate Watchband and Wilson Pickett and Patti Smith and Little Richard and watch the video of his band The Imperial Dogs and everyone there will understand and dance and laugh and sing as we celebrate the passing of this great human being.

Maybe then we can stop crying.

Here is a list of all the records played by Phast Phreddie the Boogaloo Omnibus in tribute to his friend Don Waller at The Commodore on November 25, 2016:

None of these records are for sale.

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