Jeff Wallack's humility and keen sense of humor belied an aspect of his life that everyone who knew him agrees upon - he was a guitar god of virtuosic proportions.
"As a musician, he was obviously talented, but he never let it go to his head," Jim Price, disc jockey for area music station Rocky 104.9 (FM) and long-time columnist for Pennsylvania Musician Magazine, said. "He was humble about his talents, eager to share techniques with other musicians and even teach younger musicians some tricks of the guitar-playing trade. He was definitely a people person."
This year marks the fifth anniversary of Wallack's passing. He died suddenly on April 2, 2005, of an apparent brain aneurysm.
The late Jeff Wallack, local guitarist, and Steve?Oswalt, who had been friends with Wallack since junior high school and performed with him, are shown on stage in 1989 at the old Sebastiano’s Hotel in Altoona. Wallack, well-known for his guitar skills among area musicians, died suddenly in April 2005.
To honor his memory and the music he loved to perform live, friends, family and fellow musicians are staging the Sixth Annual Jeff Wallack Memorial Jam at 9 p.m. Saturday at Aldo's Place in Altoona.
"Music was his life's passion, and each year the memorial jam brings everyone's memories of Jeff alive again," Wallack's sister, Sherri Harpster, 47, of Duncansville said. "The guys who played with him over the years had such great times with him, and this is a way for them to relive those days. ... It's just a great way to get everyone together who knew and loved Jeff and celebrate his life through music."
Wallack, born and raised in Altoona, displayed his mastery of the guitar on area stages throughout the late '80s and early '90s with local metal/rock bands such as Rapid Fire, Shattered China and Dash Riprock, Price said, adding Wallack's fiery brand of shred guitar (a style of playing in the hard rock/metal genre that relies heavily on the execution of ultra-fast passages) was the primary impetus for what he does today.
If you go
What: Sixth Annual Jeff Wallack Memorial Jam
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Aldo's Place, 621 N. Fourth Ave., Altoona
Admission: Tickets are $5 in advance and $8 at the door and can be purchased at Aldo's Place and The Music Emporium, Wal-Mart Plaza, Altoona. Proceeds will benefit area high school students, through the Jeff Wallack Music Education Fund, who plan to study music in college.
More information: Visit http://pl-pl. facebook.com/pages/Jeff-Wallack-Memorial-Jam/331177311272
"I can safely say that one of the reasons I started writing about the (local) music scene was Jeff Wallack," Price, 50, of Altoona said. "When I was first discovering the local music scene, I would watch Jeff doing his thing on guitar with Rapid Fire, often in front of small audiences. There was no local article in Pennsylvania Musician at that time, and somebody had to let local readers - and the world - know that we had this amazing guitar shredder nestled in the west-central Pennsylvania mountains."
Those who've played a major role in putting the event together over the last five years include area musicians Ron Dalansky (guitarist/vocalist for Half Tempted), Bobby Watters (drummer for Felix and the Hurricanes), Mark Triforo (bassist for Flight 19) and Troy Earnest (former Fatal Maim and Riot Act singer).
They all knew and, at some point in time, shared a stage with Wallack.
"Jeff was a great friend, musician, and we all wish he wouldn't have left us so soon," Dalansky, 44, of Altoona said, adding he and other area musicians will perform renditions of songs by Rush, Dio, Black Sabbath, Scorpions and other artists Wallack cherished - metal maestros such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Queensryche, UFO, Dream Theater and Yngwie Malmsteen.
"He definitely liked a wide variety of music, but I'd say his musical interests lied primarily in progressive-oriented metal with a lot of guitar featured," Price said.
Triforo, 44, of Altoona, who chairs the board for this year's jam, recalled how Wallack, a longtime salesmN at Jarrett Music in Altoona, always was quick with a joke.
"I loved the guy the first time I met him," he said. "He was funny and sharp-witted - one of the most upbeat people I ever knew. He always had a smile, and he never took things too serious. Not much could get him down. ... And wow, could he play."
Singer Steve Oswalt met Wallack at Keith Junior High School in 1976 and later played with him in Sea Hag/Waysted Reindeer, Rapid Fire and Shattered China. He described his friend as a fun-loving guy who "was overly humble about his Malmsteen-like ability" on guitar.
"Unlike many musicians, Jeff was not overly concerned about image or with what others thought," Oswalt, 46, of Roaring Spring said. "Jamming live without practicing was his specialty, and it forced others to keep up with him. He figured if we came to the gig knowing some songs in common, we would figure out the rest by the end of the night - or we would laugh like hell at ourselves during and after the show.
"Jeff taught me to be less inhibited and forget about setlists," Oswalt, who sings with Half Tempted on a part-time basis, said. "Having fun was more important than 'being professional.' I just hope that everyone who comes to the jam acknowledges what I've known for years - that Jeff Wallack has achieved local immortality as a metal god."
Triforo said he expects at least 300 people to attend (the average yearly number), adding 500 tickets were printed for this year's show.
"This is simply a tribute to a person who was so liked and loved by his family, peers and friends," he said. "I feel this is the least I could do as his friend to honor his memory."
As in past years, the evening's guest performers will include area musicians young and old from bands of yesterday and today. The show's official flier lists forthcoming performances by members of Felix and the Hurricanes, Five Nations, Flight 19, Half Tempted, Rapid Fire, Lizzy Borden, The Edge, Fatal Maim, I-Enemy, The Need, Bottoms Up, The Front, Tommi-Gun, Shattered China, Bashful, Radio Star, Legacy, Fuse, Psycho and Black Diamond.
Phil Steele, keyboardist and vocalist for Flight 19, predicts this year's jam will be "the biggest yet."
"First off, being a local guitar legend, it seems as though everyone knew Jeff," Steele, 44, of Altoona said. "Many of his peers were also fans, and a whole younger generation coming into the music scene has been inspired by his playing. It's very cool to hear people saying things like, 'I didn't even know Jeff, but he must have been very special that you all do this.'"
And special he was, Harpster added.
"So many people have been involved in this event who've donated countless hours to organize it year after year just to memorialize a great friend," she said. "The Wallack family would like to extend our sincerest appreciation to everyone."
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.