Joe Shifalo, aka Pig Iron, loved music and played guitar and harmonica. He was a lawyer and civil rights activist, and he retired as executive director of the Little Five Points Community Center. The unofficial ‘Mayor of Little Five Points’. (photo on right by Boyd Lewis)
Joe’s partner Toni Shifalo is a local celebrity in her own right as La Banana.
Among other accomplishments she founded the Groundhog Day Juggler’s Festival. She was interviewed a year after Joe’s death and gave an interesting counterpoint to Pig Iron’s story. Amazing how they parallel.
All recordings copyright the strip project
Coming to Atlanta – Joe
Coming to Atlanta – Toni
Living on 15th Street – Toni
Walking The Strip – Joe Shifalo
Toni on The Strip
A headstart trippin’ through the delta – Joe Shifalo
Shifalo Druid Wedding on 15th Street
Druid Wedding by the High Museum – Toni
Leaving The Strip area
Toni’s bad experience
The Allman Brothers in Piedmont Park
The Piedmont Police Riot – Joe Shifalo
Rebellion in the park and the streets – Joe Shufalo
Toni on Piedmont Park
Music in Piedmont Park – Joe Shifalo
Toni on Richards
Toni’s Woodstock Tale
The Woodstock album cover – Toni Shifalo
Little Five Points – Toni
Acid Sun – Toni
Joe on Toni
Robert ‘Joe’ Shifalo, musician, ‘mayor’ of Little Five Points
By HOLLY CRENSHAW The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday, March 29, 2009
There were too many forces pulling at Joe Shifalo — too many battles to fight, too many songs to sing, too many passionate pursuits to take up — for him to settle into a predictable life.
The unofficial mayor of Little Five Points, Mr. Shifalo was a lawyer with a beat poet’s soul. He battled poverty, spun blues records and folksy Southern tales on the radio, and championed the underdog whenever he could.
“If he could have made a living from music, he probably would have done that,” said his wife, Christena Bledsoe of Atlanta. “But he often said that then he would have missed out, because he also was very much the social activist.”
Robert M. “Joe” Shifalo, 65, died of a heart attack March 22 at his Atlanta residence. The body was cremated. Memorial service plans will be announced. R.T. Patterson Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
The Florida native lived in New York City in the late 1960s, where he fell in with Dave Van Ronk and other Greenwich Village folk singers. He sang, played guitar and harmonica and performed jug band music and blues songs for the rest of his life.
Most Atlantans knew him under the stage moniker of Pig Iron, but after a bout with lung cancer, he jokingly referred to himself as the bluesy-sounding “Half-Lung.”
He recorded two albums and six CDs, appeared at festivals, coffeehouses and blues clubs, and often performed with his former wife and still-close friend, Toni Shifalo, holding down the beat on her washtub bass.
When the listener-supported radio station WRFG launched in 1973, Mr. Shifalo served as one of its original on-air personalities and launched its long-running “Good Morning Blues” program.
He persuaded the Atlanta Board of Education to rent an abandoned school building for $1 a year and transformed it into the Little Five Points Community Center. The building now houses WRFG and a handful of other arts and community nonprofit groups that help give the neighborhood its bohemian character.
He volunteered with the Atlanta Planning Board, spearheaded neighborhood groups and helped save the Candler Park golf course, on top of his career as an attorney and civil rights activist.
Armed with a degree from John Marshall Law School, he fought poverty through his work with Economic Opportunity Atlanta and battled discrimination as executive director of Metro Fair Housing Services.
“Joe was a child of the ’60s,” said Foster Corbin of East Point, the current executive director of Metro Fair Housing. “He thought all people should have equal access to housing and to the law and to all the things that white, straight males get in this country.”
Mr. Shifalo was free-thinking, unconventional and unconcerned with how people dressed or looked, his wife said. He created folk art paintings and loved to study the exotic birds near his second home in Cedar Keys, Fla. He gravitated to science-fiction novels, she said, because they made him think about the future.
“Joe really believed in social change,” his wife said. “He thought by now we’d be further ahead than where we are, but he loved to talk about how much things had changed since his childhood.”
When he retired in January as executive director of the Little Five Points Community Center, his send-off was a sprawling, sentimental shindig. When his death was announced on WRFG, admirers lit up the phone lines.
“Joe was a performer, but on a private level he was very tender,” his wife said. “After they told me he had died, I was touching him and could still feel all of this love coming out of him, because he had so much love for so many people.”
There are no other immediate survivors.
You survive in the folks of Little Five Points, Pig Iron.