Ben Walls loved many things in life. He loved his wife Noretta. He loved sailing alongside the other members of the Buccaneer Yacht Club. He also loved Downtown Mobile.
In fact, this former Garage employee became quite a fixture in the downtown scene, making many friends through his treks down the streets of LoDa. All of the important people in his life were devastated when Walls was unexpectedly diagnosed with colon cancer.
“We just never knew,” Noretta Walls said. “Ben had no symptoms until he woke up one morning and said, ‘I have a terrible pain.’ They thought that it was his appendix, so he went on to the hospital.”
Upon arrival, Ben was given a CT scan, one that revealed a condition much worse than appendicitis. By the time Noretta arrived at the hospital, the scan had found masses that could only be cancer.
Ben spent the next 22 months going through chemotherapy, surgeries and complications from surgeries. Then, in May 2014, Ben visited his oncologist and received some troubling news.
“They told him there was nothing else he could do,” said Walls. “Ben came home, and we started on hospice, because he didn’t want to go back to the hospital.”
All the while, Ben’s many downtown friends were planning a benefit that would generate funds to assist in his medical expenses, bringing together an impressive line-up of local musicians to perform for a philanthropic crowd from downtown and the yacht club. Nineties alt. rockers Day of the Iguana planned to reunite for a very special performance. Unfortunately, Ben lost his battle to cancer on June 21 (his birthday), just two days before the event.
“People were really freaked out, and they wanted to know if we still wanted to have the memorial,” Walls said. “I said, ‘Yes.’ We changed it to a celebration of life. Honest to God, The Garage looked like how it does at Mardi Gras. I have never seen so many people there.”
As the bands played and Ben’s friends visited, Walls was still in shock over her husband’s death. However, she was touched by the fellowship surrounding the celebration of her husband’s life.
Then, she was struck with an idea of giving something back.
With that in mind, she has joined other charitable individuals to create the Second Annual Ben Walls Memorial Jam Session. This year’s event will generate funds for the family of Daniel Martin. Last April, Martin, a 26 year-old, lost his battle with cancer.
“He died of a very rare cancer that only 50 people in the U.S. get a year,” explained Walls. “His sister and her husband were (also) members of the Buccaneer Yacht Club. So, we knew about it, and we asked his sister if we could help. She said, ‘yes.’ So, we have her involved.”
In addition, some proceeds will be donated to the USA Mitchell Cancer Center.
Eventually, Walls would like to see the event evolve into a non-profit organization, one that would be tasked with generating funds for families facing the horrors of cancer.
The annual Ben Walls Memorial Jam will be a focal point of the organization’s actions. If future jams are anything like this one, then it should continue to be highly successful.
The Garage will be offering a drink special and free crawfish for this year’s jam. There will also be another impressive line-up of musical acts, which once again includes Day of the Iguana. Vocalist Roy Truxillo and Ben were very good friends and shared a love of sailing, but in 2008, Truxillo found another bond with Ben when the front man was diagnosed with lymphoma, which he eventually conquered through a series of treatments.
“When Ben was diagnosed with cancer, it gave us another thing in common, and our conversations naturally turned toward what we had dealt with and what we felt was our obligation to convince our friends to pay attention to their health,” said Truxillo. “This benefit is Ben’s idea of how you deal with having bad things happen to you. Accept your life for what it is, fight for what believe in and help others avoid what you have already been through.”
For Truxillo, this event is a good excuse to once again pool his talent with fellow band members Brian Graves and brothers Chris and Michael Banker. He said joining Graves and the Banker Brothers on stage will be a “refreshing” experience, amplified by the mission of the event.
As far as what Day of the Iguana will bring to the mix, Truxillo was confident the crowd will not be disappointed.
“You can expect Day of the Iguana to be loud, raucous, loud, funny, loud, memorable and loud,” said Truxillo. “I promise you that at some point in the set, the comment, ‘I never thought anybody could do that song’ will be uttered more than once.”
Other bands scheduled to perform include Grits-N-Pieces, Last Call Rodeo, Ryan Balthrop, Markus Fox, Harrison McInnis, Mark Saunders, Chico & Chris, Cool Rayz and The Perry Wall.
“I’m looking forward to the fun and fellowship with my fellow musicians, music lovers and anybody that shows up for this event,” said drummer Chico McCollum (Chico & Chris).
As far as her own predictions, Walls has high hopes. Last year’s event paid for all of Ben’s medical bills and Walls is hoping this year will be a repeat. All the while, she keeps in mind something that her husband would say during his battle with cancer.
“When Ben had cancer, people would say, ‘We’re praying for you.’ He was so humble and would say, ‘Don’t pray for me. Pray for a cure for cancer.’”
Ben Walls Memorial Jam Session
Date: Sun., Jun. 22 at 1 p.m.
Venue: The Garage, 9 S. Washington Ave., 433-2223
Tickets: $10 at the door