Wally Miles was feeling a little maudlin over the holidays when he went down the Google rabbit hole.
Miles — who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, a battle I detailed in this column last July — has always been something of a nostalgic guy. A child of the ’80s, he still prefers the big guitar sounds, pulsing synthesizers and New Wave/hair metal anthems of that decade. His cousin, Michael “Gunnz” Hurst, leads the glam-rock outfit The Dirty Gunnz, so you could say it’s in his blood. After he and I spoke last summer, he teamed up with another Gunnz member, guitarist Vince Ingle, whom he’d known since childhood.
“Vince and I started playing in middle school, jamming together after class,” Miles told me this week. “We both had a mutual love of Guns ‘n’ Roses and Van Halen, but we haven’t made music together since 2005. After (The Daily Times interview), in which I talked about how I was wanting to write and maybe start blogging, I started writing lyrics again for the first time in a long time.
“I talked to Vince about these lyrics, and he said, ‘I’ve got some pretty cool music we could probably put to it.’ Everything started flowing and coming out, and now we have an album actually slated to come out on April 11, the one-year anniversary of the day I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.”
The new band is billed as Miles/Ingle; Vince provides the studio wizardry, cobbling together everything from the guitars to the drums to the synthesizers to the orchestration, and Wally provides the vocals. It’s a natural extension of speech therapy for his illness, which he started after his voice began to diminish, and now it’s a regular routine that’s providing musical benefits as well.
“It’s all just a part of Parkinson’s therapy, but I’m getting great music out of it somehow,” he said with a laugh.
Miles also does the videos for the band’s singles, and one in particular has become a viral sensation on Facebook — thanks to a holiday trip through the wayback machine that is Google. The song is “Booze City Blues,” and it originally was intended as an instrumental bridge between two full songs. But in cobbling together a video, Miles began pulling together footage of his hometown — Maryville — from years and decades past.
“It was right after Christmas, and I was talking to my dad (Cye Miles) about the old days and missing my brother (Ted Long, who died in 2014), so I had that in mind when I started working with this song,” he said. “We were thinking of these ’50s pulp images, cops-on-the-beat kind of thing, but when I started looking for footage, I thought, ‘Why don’t I look at my hometown? If I’m going to invest my time researching old times, I want to look at my town.’”
And so he put together a hodgepodge of Maryville snapshots, from horse and buggies tied up along the thoroughfare that would become Broadway to a 1910 snapshot of a wedding in front of the old J.H. Greer Clothing Store to a shot looking down Broadway during the 1930s/’40s, when Proffitt’s Department Store stood at the intersection with Cusick. There are still images of long-gone establishments like Buddy’s Super Market and Cline’s Grill and Sundries, footage of parades from the old Hillbilly Homecoming, panoramic views of the old Sky City plaza and so much more. He started with a Google search for Hill’s Department Store, and when his wife arose the next morning, he had yet to go to bed.
“It’s very cool, because all of it gives me a point of reference,” he said. “I grew up here; my whole family has, but when they talked about ‘going to town,’ I never really understood what they meant. Everything is town to me. Now, I get it, seeing things so alive and vibrant, especially in the downtown Maryville area.”
And it’s struck a chord with viewers. He wasn’t expecting much — “35 views, maybe, with 10 of them being me critiquing my work!” he said — but on Facebook, the video for “Booze City Blues” is quickly approaching 75,000 views. It’s crazy, Miles added, but then again, everything about his post-Parkinson’s journey has included equal doses of merriment and madness.
“The last time we talked, I wanted to advocate, to get out and raise awareness, but I had to figure out what the action behind that was,” he said. “If there’s any kind of action that comes from this, it’s letting people know that your life isn’t over. There are new possibilities, and this is one of them. Making music has helped my mental state and helped me improve, but most important, I forget I have Parkinson’s when I’m writing lyrics.”
At the moment, there are no plans for Miles/Ingle to be anything more than a studio project, but if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s to never say never.
“Who knows? I don’t want to close the door on it, because if you’d told me a year ago I’d be making music again, I’d have thought you were crazy!” he said. “I just want to show that you can still be rebellious, that you can still push the envelope as far as you can.”