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Straight Outta Ironton

By Chris Manson February 19, 2009 Issue

Musicians Wally Christian and James Waldo both hail from Ironton, Ohio—home to a once-prosperous iron industry and the birthplace of country music great Bobby Bare—but the two didn’t team up until 1998. “(Waldo) was a rock and blues artist,” says Christian. “I was mostly country and Jimmy Buffett-type ‘fun’ music.”

Christian spent many years on the road, working with big names like Jones, Haggard and Price. When he got tired of touring, he returned to Ironton and teamed up with Waldo, a bar owner and practicing attorney. Together they recorded Just Passin’ Thru, which they are selling at their debut gig at Destin’s Trader Vic’s.

A few years ago, Waldo moved to Destin. “I came by boat all the way down the Mississippi,” he says. “I was going to stay here two weeks, but it turned into four years.” Christian soon followed.

“This is going to be home for us,” says Christian. “It’s important for us to meet the community.” As Christian and James, the duo performs at Twisted Palm Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m., Trader Vic’s on Saturday nights starting at 7, and—once the tourist season kicks in—Destin’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

“We’re serious musicians who play good fun-time music,” says Christian, who sings and plays guitar. In the ‘70s, he recorded for United Artists and MCA Records. Fellow Ironton resident Bare took Christian under his wing when the latter returned from Vietnam in 1969. Christian’s other mentors include Del Reeves and Tommy Cash. “I spent 12 years with Del Reeves, who recently died,” he adds. “By working with him, I was able to pick up a lot of things.”

Keyboardist and vocalist Waldo is a veteran of numerous blues bands. Collectively, the two men have played music for eight decades. “We know music to cover that time span,” says Christian. “We do ‘American’ music, a little bit of everything for everybody.” Their songbook includes material popularized by Buffett, Jones, James Taylor, Nat King Cole, B.B. King, Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong.

After the release of Just Passin’ Thru, Christian and James toured in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. But, Christian says, “We weren’t spring chickens then. One nighters every night for two years…!”

The population in Ironton always stays the same, Christian says. “When someone gets pregnant, someone else leaves town. (The city) named a street after Bobby Bare and an alley after us!

“Ironton is a poor town. All the factories left in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The people are great, but they live in such stressful conditions. But without them, we wouldn’t have gotten our start. Those roots are still with us. We’re old country boys.”

Waldo calls Bare “a good guy. He doesn’t come home very often, though.” Christian and James perform about a dozen of Bare’s songs, including “Detroit City” and “500 Miles Away from Home.” In 1994, the duo hosted a major show for Ironton’s local musicians, something they hope to do here as well.

“We’re looking for a venue to inspire young musicians,” says Christian. “Give them an opportunity to be heard.” The duo is also looking to record new material and is seeking a local recording studio’s services.

Despite a few technical glitches, Christian and James’ Trader Vic’s debut seems to go well. A small group of fans has already followed them from Twisted Palm, while a young woman asks them to “play a polka.” Christian and James are looking to provide a total entertainment package, ripping through crowd-pleasers like “Hey Bartender” and “Mustang Sally” along with surprises like “There’s a Kind of Hush” and the death-rock staple “Last Kiss.” There are jokes, too—bad ones—but it’s all in the spirit of fun.

Watch a video of Christian and James performing their original song “We Gotta Regatta” at www.youtube.com/user/beachcomberdestin.

Friends of the Beat
We’re happy to see that Beachcomber Music Award winning Best Alternative Band Newfangled Theory have at least one high-profile gig coming up, at Inlet Beach’s Shades at the Loop Feb. 28 beginning at 7 p.m. If the crawfish boil doesn’t suck you in, the great music certainly will. Frontman Derek Givans informs me that the band is also in the recording studio—can’t wait to hear more from these guys.

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