CAREER PATH OF THE SOULEarl Waller’s childhood love of music led him to a career playing and teaching guitar.
Earl Waller remembers running home after school every day to catch “Where the Action Is,” a short-lived spinoff of Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” that featured up-and-coming acts such as Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Everly Brothers and the Byrds. This was 1966, and he was only 10.
“I was truly enamored with all of the music I heard and saw on TV,” he says.
Not long afterward, Waller and his childhood friend, Scott Chestnutt, both received guitars as gifts from their families, so they began playing and practicing together. This was when what he calls his “career path of the soul” began.
Waller, now 60, has enjoyed working for 39 years as a professional guitarist and instructor, having played with local bands such as K.D. Ryzer and 1620 Sunset and performing alongside big names such as Percy Sledge, Jerry Lee Lewis as well as American Idol alum Bo Bice.
“I did it to get girls, mainly,” he jokes. “And 22 years later, it’s proof it worked.”
Waller was referring to his wife, Jenny, a local artist and photographer.
“We met at a show I was playing 27 years ago, and right off the bat we hit it off,” he says.
Waller said the first few years he tried to play were rocky, requiring lots of perseverance and practice. Waller said he would often go visit his cousin Carl in Macon, Georgia, who played bass guitar, and watch him play. He would also practice in his parents’ basement, leading to a humorous encounter with the police who arrived to tell him he was too loud, but then stood and listened for a while before they told him to stop.
“In six years, I went from horrible to awful,” he says. “But I would watch somebody good play, and I would just keep my ears and eyes open.
“Musicians are very gracious and willing to show you what they know,” he says. “I also took a musical theory class while I was at the University of Montevallo, and the things I learned still resonate with me.”
Waller also began teaching guitar lessons in 1989 and began teaching full-time in 2000, mentoring students from local schools including Briarwood Christian School, Oak Mountain intermediate and high schools and Westminster.
“I’ve had up to 60 students in one week, from 5 years old to 60,” Waller says. “After the first lesson, they will leave playing. It’s usually ‘Wipeout’ by the Safaris. I’ve come to realize that God has put this in me to be a positive mentor for these kids.”
Waller’s latest musical gig is playing with the Wringers, a classic rock band that plays songs by bands such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. The band includes Jim Murray, Greg Gentry and Todd Chase. The band has been performing at the Courtyard on 280 every other Friday evening.
“About four or five years ago, I was on the soup aisle at Publix and ran into Greg, and we got to talking and said we should put a band together. I said, ‘Let’s not even rehearse. We all know these songs.’”
Waller also uses his musical talent as a vehicle for his faith, serving as worship leader at Christ the King Lutheran Church on Riverchase Parkway. For six years, he has played at the church on Sunday mornings as well solo acoustic performances at the evening service.
“I carry my witness of Jesus Christ everywhere I play,” Waller says. “I use it as an opportunity to witness.”
One of Waller’s most memorable experiences was when he was part of the band K.D. Ryzer and had the chance to play with Percy Sledge, who sang the classic “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
“I’m hardly ever star-struck, but I recognized that he was a legend,” he says.
Waller says he also fondly recalls getting to play with Bice when he came to Birmingham to do a show along with some members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“My friend Dennis was station manager at Fox 6 and asked if I would come play with him when he came to town,” he says. “That was a surreal moment.”
Waller says his career has been nothing short of soul-enriching, part of his DNA.
“A lot of things happen just because you’re still standing. I’ll probably be playing Sweet Nursing Home Alabama when I’m older.”
Waller can be reached on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org.