Over Thanksgiving weekend, you could see love and grief pouring from all corners of the Philly music community as word got out that veteran drummer, collaborator, and educator Tom Walling passed away suddenly on November 25th. He was 51 years old. Particularly in the Manayunk / Roxborough music scene where he devoted so much of his time, Walling was remembered as a versatile and adaptable drummer, one who could play with precision but was more apt to ease back and flow with the style of whatever players he was sharing the stage or studio with. He’s also thought of warmly as a gentle giant, a formidable presence in person and behind his instrument, but one who — once he opened up to you — was full of camaraderie, compassion, and passion for whatever he put his energy to: his music, his garden, his cooking and more.
Following up on a memorial service on December 3rd in the shore town of Manasquan, New Jersey, where Walling grew up, a celebration of life concert is planned this Saturday, January 14th, at Underground Arts — the venue where Walling was the longtime cook. Many artists who he performed with over the years are slated to play, from singer-songwriter acts like Deb Callahan Band and Matt Santry to a reunion of Walling’s force-of-nature hip-hop fusion outfit Burndown Allstars.
“It’s going to be a pretty amazing event that really shows the breadth of Tom’s involvement in the music community,” says co-organizer Barbara Adams, who first connected with Walling in the 90s when she was the audio engineer at South Philly’s Sonic Studios and Walling was one of her go-to session drummers.
“He was there whenever we needed somebody to play drums,” she says. “I had opportunity to record him with Mia Johnson, Mike Dutton, and so many more.”
Walling was born in Wall Township, New Jersey, on March 15th of 1971, and graduated from Wall High School; he moved to Philadelphia for college, and got his bachelor’s degree in percussion performance and his master’s in music education from University of the Arts. His tastes were wide-ranging and versatile, from Led Zeppelin to John Prine, and in Philly, he connected with a network of similarly adventurous musicians. He played in a jazzy groove-oriented instrumental trio called Gravy while working as a session drummer and live band member for the city’s turn-of-the-millennium singer-songwriters — the folks he connected with through Adams.