Q&A with Crooked Eye Tommy (Tommy & Paddy Marsh) - a musical journey from Blues to Southern Rock

"The music reached across racial boundaries and connected with young white people. This could not have been done by other means. Music is a force for change and the blues has had a huge role in the process here in the US."

Crooked Eye Tommy: Big Blues Men

The story behind Crooked Eye Tommy is really the story of two brothers’ musical journey. Tommy and Paddy Marsh are the creative force behind the band and their life long musical journey had humble beginnings. Born in the small town of Porterville in California’s Central Valley in the early 60’s the brothers grew up in a musical family. In high school the brothers both switched to playing guitar and by the time they graduated were both accomplished. The brothers gravitated to blues centric music with a distinct Southern Rock flair and are huge fans of Allmans, Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet as well as Muddy and Johnny Winter. Throughout the years since high school the brothers have played in several bands (The Amos Rose Band, Sacrifice, Brotherville and The Tule Devils). The common theme of these bands was original and highly stylistic songs. Never really resorting to being a cover band in the true sense. They have always sought to make each song their own and perform them with their own flair.   (Tommy & Paddy Marsh / Photo by Seth Brandes)

Crooked Eye Tommy was formed in late 2013 when the brothers were once again reunited in the same zip code. The name Crooked Eye Tommy was coined when the band needed a name to compete in the International Blues Challenge. Tommy was born with a condition known as Lazy Eye where the eye muscles are longer than needed so the eye rests to the side. It turned out to be perfect as a connection to the brothers’ youth. Laughing and fighting about the imperfection and acceptance of the same is part of what makes us who we are. After reaching the semi-finals at the 2014 IBC, Crooked Eye Tommy went into the studio and recorded their debut, “Butterflies & Snakes.” Drawing from both Tommy & Paddy’s songwriting and singing skills the record is a bold excursion and a musical journey for the listener. A true album in the sense that the songs flow from one to another and tell a tale of the brothers’ life experiences old and new. Crooked Eye Tommy enlisted longtime friend Bill Bilhou to play Hammond Organ and keys, veteran bassist Samuel Correa and Kerry Weismann on drums.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ Roll & Blues culture and what does the blues mean to you?

Tommy: Music of all kinds has always had an effect on me and I think as I get older I find that the Rock and Roll and Blues music I grew up with really has stood the test of time. Blues is such a personal relationship for everyone who loves it. Some love it for the way the lyrics speak to them, others find that the simplicity of the music speaks of a simpler time and a more raw and emotional experience. As for me, to me The Blues is a mirror. When I am feeling great and all is well Blues music reinforces that and I find joy in it… When I am down and out then I find comfort in the songs that the great men of the blues wrote because they went through some very difficult times and their music gives me strength to move ahead.

Paddy: The only culture that really matters to me has less to do with gators and fedoras, and more to do with the personal connections we make as we play different places. We are very fortunate to have made some very good friends in our travels around this musical world of ours. Blues has always been, and will always be a way for me to express myself, and dump out all the junk from the day. I’m amazed at how whatever I’m feeling shapes what comes out of me. The same notes or phrases will sound vastly different depending on the mood I’m in. It’s always healing and it’s cheaper than therapy.

How do you describe Crooked Eye Tommy sound and songbook?

Paddy: Big men playing big guitars! Tommy and I are both around 6’4” and closer to 300 lbs than not. And we have always loved the righteous guitar jams of Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Outlaws, and The Allman Brothers. We have sections of our shows where we improvise and trade licks every night, playing off of each other, more or less making it up up as we go.

"I would decree that all children should be exposed to many different styles of music in school. Each Day for 20 minutes a different style of music would be played for them to listen and respond to. Jazz, Blues, Classical, Spanish, Madrigal, Punk, Metal etc. etc." (Photo by Chris Jensen)

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Tommy: I have been so very fortunate to meet some amazing people in my lifetime. As a young man I met Joe DiMaggio at a celebrity golf tournament that I was working at with the College Jazz band. He was very nice to us musicians and I remember thinking how great it is that a man who is so famous around the world was so nice to the band. This had an effect on me because it gave me an example to live up to. Well this is an old story but it is the most memorable advice I ever got. My first car was a 1964 Studebaker Commander. I bought it for 100 dollars and an old guitar. Anyway I had had the car for about a year and I was complaining to my dad about it. The car used oil and so I always had to go and buy oil for it. Every couple days I would have to go and buy a can of oil. So this went on for a while. I kept complaining about it and finally one day my dad had heard enough of the complaining and he said this. “Son, of all the parts you could have to buy Oil is probably the cheapest”. In the moment I did not really understand what he was trying to teach me. As time went by I realized that he was trying to teach me something about complaining. He was absolutely right about oil being the cheapest part money could buy but he was trying to show me that I shouldn’t spend my time complaining about the small inconveniences.

Paddy: Years ago, I asked Joey Delgado how he got such great tone, and he just held up his hands and said “It’s all right here.” I hated that answer at first, because I was staring at his pedalboard and amp settings all night, trying to figure it out… It makes sense to me now.

What has made you laugh with ‘Crooked Eye’ and your brother?

Tommy: I guess you could say that I am always laughing amazement about how much success the record has had. It is unbelievable and every time we get another opportunity to play and amazing venue or we get a really great review of the recording I laugh out loud. It is a wonderful and happy thing that has happened to us this last year.

Paddy: I always laugh at Tommy and his handsome white socks!! I know how to find him in a crowd in the summer time… I tease him a lot, but I love my brother so much, and I’m lucky he lets me play in the band with him.  The whole process seemed pretty enchanted, but when Tommy cut his solo for Over and Over, that one gave me chicken skin.

"Blues has always been, and will always be a way for me to express myself, and dump out all the junk from the day. I’m amazed at how whatever I’m feeling shapes what comes out of me."

What touched (emotionally) you from Butterflies & Snakes sessions?

Tommy: Paddy and I have played music together off and on our whole lives and I have always known him to be critical of his own performances. Butterflies & Snakes is the first record we have ever done so this was the first experience in a major studio. While we were recording the record there was a moment after we had laid down the first track that will stay with me my whole life. We finished recording the track and we came back into the control room to listen to it. It sounded really great and I looked over at my brother and he was in awe. He was like that little brother on Christmas day with his eyes wide and his heart pounding. The experience changed him forever.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Tommy: I would have to say that the opportunities we have had to play with so many wonderful artists have been amazing. Playing on stage with Coco Montoya on two separate occasions was really remarkable. He is such a great guy and of course a monster player. Going to The International Blues Challenge in 2014 and 2016 was also a high moment for both Paddy and I. That is an experience that was above and beyond our wildest expectations. We reached the Semi Finals our first trip and we are very proud of this achievement.

Paddy: Getting to play on stage with Alan ‘BB Chung King’ Mirikitani was a big treat. That man had more soul than most full bands. 

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Tommy: I think that music as an “ARTFORM” has faded away somewhat into a money making scheme and I think that the quality of songs has suffered. As with anything we humans do it seems we must break it down to a money making machine rather than allowing it to evolve naturally. I think I miss the raw emotion that music evoked in the past. Real people dealing with real issues and pouring their hearts out into a song. I hope that the amazing ride we have had this last year never ends. My biggest hope for the future is that humanity will find a way to live and let live. So much of the world’s attention is spent on terror and its path of destruction.

Paddy: I don’t know, I’m kinda good with whatever, because I can still listen to all of the great music from the past. There is some amazing new music that we can discover if we would just seek it out.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Tommy: If I were King? I would decree that all children should be exposed to many different styles of music in school. Each Day for 20 minutes a different style of music would be played for them to listen and respond to. Jazz, Blues, Classical, Spanish, Madrigal, Punk, Metal etc. etc. Break down the musical barriers people put up and open up their hearts to all of the musical possibilies while they are young.

Paddy: Establish clearly marked NO DJ and NO KARAOKE zones, strictly enforced with the full deadly force of all the angry bouncers of the world.

"Blues is such a personal relationship for everyone who loves it. Some love it for the way the lyrics speak to them, others find that the simplicity of the music speaks of a simpler time and a more raw and emotional experience. As for me, to me The Blues is a mirror." (Photo by Amanda Peacock)

Make an account of the case of the blues in California. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Tommy: ALIVE AND WELL. The entire West Coast from San Diego California to Seattle Washington is alive with the blues. We just finished our 1st trip to Oregon performing and it was amazing. Great Venues and wonderful fans! That is a tough question. Honestly every period is interesting for different reasons. Since I have only lived in this area for 7 years I can only speak for this time period. What is most interesting to me is how many different types of people are attracted to the blues. Young and old… wealthy and homeless the music and the characters that play it continue to do well here. Ventura is a wonderful place to be. 40 plus clubs have live music here and many of them 5 to 7 nights a week. It is a pleasure to be a part of the music scene here.

Paddy: If you mess around with the blues in California, you are bound to get burned… It’s smoking hot out here, son.       

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Tommy: Anyone who has spent time around the blues knows how the music was a force of change in the American South in the 50s & 60s. Blues Artists like BB King opened up doors that previous efforts by the legal system could never have opened. The music reached across racial boundaries and connected with young white people. This could not have been done by other means. Music is a force for change and the blues has had a huge role in the process here in the US.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Tommy: That is easy. Saturday October 24th 1964 Memphis Tn.   Muddy Waters VS Howling Wolf at The Paradise Club...Seeing these two perform together would have been a true pleasure…

Paddy: October 1977, The School House studio in Westport Connecticut. The session was for Hard Again by Muddy Waters, produced by Johnny Winter. This was the one that changed my life forever, and I allude to it in I Stole the Blues. You know, they sound like they were just having the time of their lives in there. In my opinion, it is the very best blues album of all time.

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