July 7, 2022 would have been Wade Allison's 40th birthday, and I really miss him. The late Iron Age guitarist left this world when I needed him most. In the cruel cliche that death comes in threes, Allison passed away on September 10, 2020, just a couple weeks after Power Trip’s beloved frontman Riley Gale died. Two months after Allison, I lost my mother. She consoled me through the loss of both of them. Writing this has me in tears.
Wade Allison brought life to any room he entered. He brought something more to every stage he commanded with his Les Paul. “Effortless” best describes his playing: he would compose a song or rip a solo with the ease of a stretch or yawn. On stage, Allison was a swan in Air Jordans, his fingers gliding up and down the fretboard with a mastery.
Iron Age's 2009 record The Sleeping Eye is, to me, a bar few bands can get over. Allison brought it to life with his soulful, southern, Duane Allman-esque solos; his Master Of Puppets-level riffage hit like lightning bolts. And though they could play on that level, Iron Age were no arena band. They were for the people. You would find them sharing bottles and blunts with the hoi polloi in Brooklyn basements or on bridges in Austin. If you have never listened to Iron Age, now is the best time to rectify that.
To celebrate his birthday, CREEM reached out to Allison's bandmates, peers, and friends to share their memories of him. Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Jason Tarpey (Iron Age, Eternal Champion)
In the early days of Iron Age, [after the band formed in 2004,] we shared one bedroom apartments between three, sometimes four people. Wade, [guitarist] Steve Norman aka "Bottleneck" and I would rotate between sleeping in the living room with two people and then getting the bedroom to oneself every few months. This allowed us to keep our overhead low as we started to get this new band off the ground.
During that time, right after we released our demo, we toured as much as possible, the legends behind Wade were born. The downright barbarism of our journeying earned him a reputation that preceded him wherever we went. I don't want to be responsible for the demystification of any of these events, but for those that demand the gore[y details,] I can only say that [there are] stories involving: Fighting with Chase [Money, Iron Age’s closest confidant, a dude so inextricable to the band he’s often referred to as their 6th man] and fighting against Chase; bringing a keg to gigs; friendly combat with box cutters; coat-hanger brandings; Wade getting a gun pulled on him and calling the would-be assailants bluff. They are all true.
What I remember most about those days of very little personal space: even though we'd come back from living in a van together, to sharing a one bedroom apartment, Wade and I could still stand each other enough that we sought work together between tours. We dug ditches, did plumber's assistant work, and cleaned boats on Lake Travis [North of Austin.] It was always manual labor, but it allowed us to hang out more, discuss life, and make plans, which made the work less daunting.
All the themes and musical influences for [our 2006 album] Constant Struggle and The Sleeping Eye, we talked about them to death during those years of toiling. Those are my favorite memories of Wade, and they were the foundation that we needed to get us through the years of The Sleeping Eye. It was an era of frequent disagreement between him and I. Iron Age shows during that period were unpredictable and chaotic, but touring was still an adventure and our friendship always prevailed.
Let me indulge in one quick story from that period: It’s November 2009, the first or second show of our European tour with Rise and Fall in Essen, Germany. After the gig, Wade goes to the bar and politely asks the bartender for a beer. The rest of us are walking by, loading out the last of the gear. The bartender, most likely annoyed that the Americans are asking for drinks after the show is over, makes a fatal mistake and mutters something to the effect of, "Your mother wants another beer."
Immediately, in a knee-jerk-yet-reasonable defense of his mother's name, Wade gives him a quick right cross from over the bar. The bartender holds his face, yells in German through his cupped hands to the promoter, who in turn comes out to tell us that what transpired was "extreme," and that it was time to go. We giggled at this clash of cultures while loading out as quickly as possible. Moral of the story: don't talk about Sandy Allison like that.
It is obvious to say that Wade was a unique person. Everybody is in their way. But there isn't anyone even similar to Wade. There’s no one to compare him to, no sense of humor like his, no style like his, and he leaves a gaping hole in our world. A musical genius, an honest man, and a caring father, Wade was the best friend anyone could ask for and I am extremely lucky to have had almost two decades by his side.
Chase Money (Iron Age 6th man)
Wade was my right hand and I was his left. In the early 2000s, you could find us up to no good, hanging out in Austin at Red 7, the old Emo’s, or by the Texas-shaped pool. Everyone has their favorite Wade or Iron Age story. And here are a few, completely free of context—if you know, you know: being asked to leave the state of Georgia, waking up behind dumpsters, fighting each other in front of [Youngblood Records’] Sean Youngblood, playing a set dressed up as Jesus, and so on. My favorite is from his 25th Birthday.
Wade, Ryan “Hood” Williams [Power Trip’s 6th man/roader], Justin “Ribz” Mason [Iron Age’s bassist], and I are drinking margaritas at Chuy’s, [a Tex-Mex restaurant in] Barton Springs [in Austin, Texas.] Wade tells us he’s too old to get a tattoo. [But] somehow, getting branded is brought up, and Wade [decides he] wants to do it. We’re driving to Jared [Allison’s place,] where it’s decided he’ll get a "CS," for Constant Struggle, on his right shoulder. Jared fixes up a coat hanger with a CS and Wade sits down with a 25lb weight in each hand. The hot hanger was like a knife through butter when it touched his skin. The weights went flying and Wade made almost no sound. He stood up, covered the mess with a paper towel, and the party continued. Wade was tough as nails. Pour out some Evan Williams, and don’t brand your friends. The smell is awful.
Wade was tough as nails. Pour out some Evan Williams, and don’t brand your friends. The smell is awful.
Blake Ibanez (Power Trip)
Every time I pick up my guitar to write, Wade crosses my mind: when I'm scanning the fretboard for chords, when I'm running over songs I like in my head, when I'm thinking about how they eventually need to be recorded. And not just because he was so unfairly skilled at everything having to do with the instrument—tasteful in the execution of his ideas, equal parts calculated and nonchalant—but because so much of the music I've been exposed to, the people and friends I've met over the last 15 plus years, and the things I've been lucky enough to do in my life stem from the first time I saw him playing guitar.
I trace [my career] back to those moments, listening to his records or watching him perform, and how everything that followed was a byproduct of his spirit, his art, his humor, and his character. I, along with many others, owe a lot to him for that. We all admired Wade as a friend and person and musical hero. He was all of the above, and a lot more. We're lucky to have existed alongside him. Thanks, Wade.
Jacob Duarte (Narrowhead, Skourge, Iron Age)
The first time I met Wade, I must've been 18 years old. It was one of my first nights of debauchery at a [now defunct] festival called Badass Weekend in Houston, Tex. [Hometown heroes/hardcore band] Back to Back started playing and everyone went nuts. I was moshing and I did a cartwheel into the crowd. I ended up smashing this dude in the face with my Jordan 1's. Dude was, straight up, wearing a suit with Air Max 95's. After the cartwheel, I felt a beer fly at me, followed by punches being thrown at my head. I turn around to see the guy getting dragged out. Next thing I know, everyone was shouting, "Dude! The guy from Iron Age was trying to kick your ass!" I’d cartwheeled into Wade. I had never met him, and he had no idea who I was. I saw him a few times after that. When we were finally introduced, he never brought it up. Although I wanted to clear the air, I decided to play it cool.
We’re standing next to each other taking a piss in the urinals. He leans over to me and says, “Sorry for kicking your ass.”
A year or two later my band, Skourge, played with Iron Age in Dallas. I ran into Wade in the bathroom after the gig. We're standing next to each other taking a piss in the urinals. He leans over to me and says, "Sorry for kicking your ass." I look at him and say, "Is that how you remember it? All I remember is you getting dragged out, bro!" We both laughed, and ended up leaving together to go to a party.
It was homie shit from then on out. Fast forward a couple more years, and I'm playing in Iron Age on the bridge [in Austin] with No Warning and Integrity. After that set, I remember telling Wade, "We've come a long way since you tried to kick my ass." He looked at me and said, "That was your initiation into Iron Age.”
I took that to heart. Without that first interaction, maybe we never would've become friends. I looked up to the guy. We were peers, but he was like a big brother to me. He knew that but treated me as an equal. He always had my back, and we would meet up every time I would go to Austin. He always made time to hang with me. Rest In Power.
Jonah Falco (Fucked Up, Career Suicide)
My memories of Wade hold an omnipotent quality—all of them weave together in the aggregate of what his personality was like: kind, welcoming, and close, while simultaneously maintaining a distance that allowed all of us to create a mythology about him in our heads.
There was a southern formality about him; it extended to his playing, too. He was a hugely conscious musician, who crafted new pathways around his own music constantly. Of the dozens of Iron Age shows I saw, I often found myself fixated on Wade’s playing—from his soundchecking [Charlie Parker’s] “Now’s the Time” or some juicy jazz chords with [brother/drummer] Jared, to his ability to splice unheard passages of half-written songs into classics.
I can remember a night in Toronto, at Sneaky Dees, a once-fantastic but now slightly useless venue in the no man’s land between Chinatown and Little Italy. Every band's amps were stacked on stage the way a child might make a fort, and Wade was nestled on stage right with his patinated Les Paul, shirtless, a towel covering his face. During one of the songs from the yet-to-be-released The Sleeping Eye (I think it was "Sleeping Eye of the Watcher”), Wade geared up for his solo by doing the sign of the cross and taking a knee, as though he was about to pitch game 7 of the World Series. His guitar jolted back and forth to flip the pick up. While the rest of the Iron Age engine purred away, Wade [riffed] on one knee for 16 bars, only to stand up and turn his back to the audience at the end of this trance, as if to thank the hutch of amplifiers for being able to keep up. It is a good memory.
Kevin "Mookie" Dowell (War Hungry)
I was a senior in high school when Constant Struggle dropped and it was the only record I cared about. My band, War Hungry, was very active in the hardcore scene at that time, but nothing current really inspired what we were doing until Iron Age appeared. Wade was already writing The Sleeping Eye while touring their first release, so the first sets I saw were sprinkled with these unreleased songs that were unlike anything I had ever heard.
A few years later, when Wade, [Jason] Tarpey, and Jared were in the process of recording The Sleeping Eye, Iron Age had a full-U.S. tour scheduled with Trash Talk, Cold World, and Rise and Fall. Jared was too busy with work to take the time off, so they asked me to come to Austin for a few weeks and take on drum duties for the trek. I was 19, and my favorite band was asking me to cover for their drummer, which feels like something out of a movie. The underground music scene can be like that, though. Your favorite bands are also your peers, your friends, and in this case, your big brothers.
While playing with Iron Age, Wade was undoubtedly in charge. It would be impossible for anyone in the crowd to notice it, but if you found yourself dragging in the slightest, or missing a transition, his head would tilt back and he’d turn over his shoulder just enough to throw this disapproving, subtle glare. It felt so bad. It was the “You're fuckin up!” look, some scared straight shit. It forced me to change the way I approached playing because I never wanted to see that look again.
Chris Corry (Mind Eraser, Magic Circle)
Wade was popular and magnetic without ever trying to be either. He was the kind of person others simply wanted to be around. He was loved for a reason, and his loss still stings because we loved him so much.
I don’t have a “crazy night out” story with Wade to recollect. He never saved my life or knocked some sense into me at a pivotal time. Our bands just played together. We would talk and joke around. We would watch each other on stage and I would be in awe of how fearlessly he played. Sometimes I would wonder if he knew where he was going with a lead, but he had a knack for never letting on that he was winging it. I think a lot of his life was lived that way.
It feels selfish to say what I’ll miss most are our momentary asides, like discussing Dio-era Black Sabbath in a stairwell at a gig. We had many affable chats over the years; the last time I saw him, we discussed his use of a Boss Blues Driver on stage. But Wade left behind a loving family, loyal friends, and many admirers. All of that matters more. Many of those people have lost more than I can even bear to think about. I just know the world is a shade darker for all of us without him.