The soul of Bluesmasters, Tim Tucker talks about Hubert Sumlin, Mickey Thomas and Otis & Cassie Taylor

"Blues is the ability to express a feeling through the music. Sometimes, it brings me back down to the ground when I need it."

Tim Tucker: The Truth Of Bluesmasters

The Bluesmasters, originally convened in 2007 by noted session guitarist, bandleader, producer & avatar Tim Tucker and pianist Sean Benjamin, the Bluesmasters reach heights of blues bliss rarely encountered. After the first release in 2010 with singer Mickey Thomas, the second project Volume Two of the Bluesmasters shines a bright light on the exceptionally talented singer/bassist Cassie Taylor, daughter of iconoclastic bluesman Otis. Tucker produced "Blue" for her and she has become a lauded young recording phenom. Subtitled In Memory of Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin and honored with the presence of the two departed immortal blues giants, it also boasts Thomas, the veteran blues singer Hazel Miller and guitar slingers Eric Gales and Rusty Anderson from Paul McCartney’s band.

Fronting a masterful rhythm section of Tucker, Doug Lynn, British blues legend Aynsley Dunbar, Larry Thompson, and Ric Ulsky, they tear through 12 classic and obscure blues covers on a profound as well as immensely entertaining musical odyssey. At the Bluesmasters Concert on August 2012 in Haymarket Park at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, NE, - Tucker is a Lincoln native, a Northeast High School and UNL graduate who still considers the city home - shared on stage Tim Tucker with Cassie Taylor, the Allman Brothers Band, Otis Taylor, Elvin Bishop, Leon Russell, Eric Gales and Mick Fleetwood. Dedicated with affection and respect to the memory of the late blues legends and former Bluesmasters Hubert Sumlin and Pinetop Perkins, was a spectacular performance and tribute to America's greatest gift to world music. Tim Tucker, who plays outstanding blues guitar on the previous Bluesmasters disks as well as Vol. 3, knew Hubert personally for 30 years and played with him on numerous occasions. 

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

 

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues & what does Blues offered?

I grew up playing the blues hanging around a local blues bar, it appealed to me. I made many friendships that I still have today with many now well known blues artists. This is where I first met Hubert Sumlin.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?

It is the ability to express a feeling through the music. Sometimes, it brings me back down to the ground when I need it.

 

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Probably right now. I was in the la session scene in the 80’s and played and so many records with guys like Aynsley Dunbar that it is hard to recall them all. Now I work at my pace on what I want. I am doing projects that mean something to me personally from film to music.

"I grew up playing the blues hanging around a local blues bar, it appealed to me. I made many friendships that I still have today with many now well known blues artists. This is where I first met Hubert Sumlin."

What's been their experience from “studies” from the Zoo Bar in Lincoln, Nebraska?

We recently played with the Allman Brothers in Lincoln, Nebraska and I had a chance to go back to the Zoo. It is still the same place. it allowed me to recall many memories of having developed there musically. After this I feel the closeness to the audience and the access to their energy is probably what I now consider as the most important experience.

 

Tell me a few things about the Bluesmasters, how that came about?

I have known Aynsley Dunbar forever and we have been there and back having done records in many places. His manager, Wendy Dio, actually suggested the project. It evolved and I had been working with Mickey Thomas on other things that became a Starship album yet to be released, and it dawned on me we could make a great blues record. I was already surrounded by the players, had the material and the studio and off we went.

What characterize the sound of the Bluesmasters?

It is simple. Everything is recorded with a real microphone, no sampling or tuning. It is old school. We try and make it sound like it would if you were sitting watching the band. There are never 20 guitar parts or vocal parts. It’s real.

How do you describe your projects philosophy?

I had not seen Mickey for a while and we met on stage at rehearsal for the latest show we did with the Allmans and with press and photographers in tow we stood there and had a very personal conversation. We spoke about Hubert and Pine; we worked with them on the project, how we missed them and what this moment meant to both of us and about life in general. It made me remember Hubert’s words when we were in the studio, we had volume 2 cooking and I got a bit fancy on a few guitar parts and Hubert said: “man, how many guitar players are on this?” I told him, “just me, then you .” Hubert said: “That not right, there is me and you, and then these other guys gotta go…” so I erased a few tracks and what you hear is me and Hubert doing something like a Richards/Wood thing. We played face to face. We laughed a lot.  I guess what I am saying is that it is real, the interaction with players and catching the moment and throwing caution to the wind and seeing what happened.

"That the blues would be back in the main stream again. It has had its moments. Now is a time for it to happen again. The soul of the world needs healing and the blues is the medicine. And there are some great players old and young doing it."

How did you first meet Hubert Sumlin, what kind of a guy was the late Hubert Sumlin?

In the 80’s at the Zoo Bar. He was on his own at that time, the blues wasn't big. People in town thought I was crazy. I was the kid growing up the old guys in cover bands came to learn Van Halen. But I just loved it at the Zoo Bar and getting to meet these guys. Hubert was the same guy when I met him until the last time I saw him. Just a gentle soul full of wisdom and not afraid to tell it like it is.

What advice has given to you, what was your relationship with him and which memory from Hubert Sumlin makes you smile?

I think I discussed the advice already. I just remember leaving the studio and talking about going out and playing and I did not realize that would be the last time I would see him alive. It’s surreal. We shook hands and the way he looked me right in the eye like he knew already.

Do you know why the sound of Pinetop and Hubert is connected to the blues?

That’s like asking if I know a guitar has strings. LOL. Sure. These guys are the blues. Not just the sound or the songs but all of it. They lived it for real. We can talk about it, but they did it. They played with all the greats, they were there. There was no road map to follow; they made it up as they went. Hubert to me embodied everything a guitar player should be in a band, recording, whatever. He was it. I recall reading lately Jimmy Page being quoted as saying “Hubert always played the right thing at the right time” I hope I got that right, but that sums it up. We have all followed in his footsteps, from Page, Clapton, Hendrix, everyone.

What advice Pinetop Perkins has given to you and which memory from him makes you smile?

I was not close with pine. I enjoyed his humor. I recall a lot of photos in the studio and I was standing behind pine is his wheel chair, Jeremy Colson was on his right and one of my artists Alyssa Clotfelter on his left. He looked over in the middle of it all and pointed to Alyssa and told Jeremy “I gonna hit that later” the pictures are great in sequence and the shocked look on her face and Jeremy laughing and Pine was just dead serious.

"In the day they were not faking it, they were making it. They created it from scratch off the top of their heads. Today, it seems we are trying to recapture what was done back in the day. Including song writing." 

Do you have any amusing tales to tell from recording time? Do you remember any fanny?

I have discussed many already. Amusing? Probably when mickey arrived at the Bluesmasters 2 sessions and there was a pizza delivery guy who saw him and freaked out, “oh my god, you are Mickey Thomas” dropping the pizzas on the ground and I thought he was gonna grab him but he just asked for an autograph. Mickey always gracious complied. Glad I do not eat pizza.

What are some of the most memorable tales with Mickey Thomas, Eric Gales and Aynsley Dunbar?

I have many memories having worked with Mickey. He is the real deal. The soul just gushes out of him and pipes. He can sing better now than ever. I do not know where to start. Too many memories, the most recent event is the freshest in my mind, seeing him on my right when we took the stage and it was like being home again. Eric Gales is one of those guys that are hard to get. Branded by many. I see in Eric brilliance. Not just on the guitar but in life. He is really a smart guy. When we played together at the last show we were face to face talking and he cracks you up. Aynsley Dunbar? Wow. Where do I start? I have never played with a more gifted musician. I have seen him do things that defy reason on the drums. Always is the professional. I have lots of stores with Aynsley I am not sure they are appropriate to repeat. LOL.

Are there any memories from the Bluesmasters Concerts, which you’d like to share with us?

I remember so much. What I recall the most is Cassie Taylor. She really has come into her own. She has taken over the band. She is a talented professional and veteran at 24. I have not seen many other artists that have the entire package such as Cassie. She owned the stage, she worked the crowd. I am so proud of her. she has come a long way from when mickey and I first saw her in a bar in Memphis after she quit music to make a short lived domestic run and next thing I knew she was in my studio playing piano and singing and now she is touring year round. I was talking at the latest event with her dad Otis and he so humbly stated “she is more talented than I am” (referring to himself). Otis is a visionary and one hell of a guitar player in his own right that sums it up for me.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

This would have to be the last show we did in Lincoln Nebraska with Cassie and Otis Taylor, Eric Gales, Mickey Thomas, Elvin Bishop and the Allman Brothers. That was a big show and a great summer night. We played Otis’ “Ten Million Slaves”, it did not make the live DVD we did there or the live CD, but there are some bootlegs on the internet. It was magic. Otis is a genius with that banjo. 

Every gig with Mickey Thomas. He is such an amazing singer and showman and never hits a bad note. We have been working together for a while and this also brings a smile. He is just that good. And of course any gig with Aynsley Dunbar. I go back a long ways with Aynsley when we played with Bob Birch who passed last year. That was the best rhythm section I ever played with in my life.

Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?

There are many, the ones that come to mind lately are those of the players that have passed on and what they passed on to me personally. Hubert Sumlin was one, I knew him since I was 16 and he had a tremendous effect on me. I am so happy we got to connect for the Bluesmasters Volume 2 sessions. He came in and said “how many guitar players you got on that?” and I said that I had added a couple over dubs and he said, “naw man, there will be two…you and me and this is how it needs to be”. Watching the DVD we did with him and Pinetop really brings it all home for me and the Mick Fleetwood narration, he really nailed it. Mick lived the blues and saw it grow to where it is today.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

I have to say the worst was driving in la in 1989 and hearing one of my songs on the radio with a major artist. Talk about shock. It was an honest mistake on their part that gave them a number one song at my expense, but they were gracious and with obvious non disclosures paid me and said, “Hey, got any more songs?” I have had many great moments, the first time you hear yourself on the radio, the first hit you play on or write, but what tops it all has been watching my daughter take up music. Her approach is one of wonder and lacks all convention. I recall having dinner with Rusty Anderson and we were talking about kids as he had just had one. I told him about my daughters approach to playing and he responded “that's how I learned” so I just watch and take it in and remember what Otis said.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the Blues

For the blues my wish is that the blues goes main stream again. We have done well (Bluesmasters), better than a lot commercially probably because we have more resources to virally market ourselves. I wish that for all of those in the blues and that the youth of today get to discover that.

"I would go back to the 40’s in Chicago when it all began. There were no rules other than those of race which really were and still are bullshit. But the creativity and freedom for creativity…when you are oppressed in every other way music is the only place to express yourself and that’s what happened, that is probably why nobody has every truly replicated it, we only imitate it."

Are there any memories from “THE ROAD FOR THE BLUES”, which you’d like to share with us?

It is a place to learn for sure. Not just about music but life. The attitude of the music being special, sacred. Did you ever see how Hubert or Pine dressed when they went on stage? They looked their best. The gig was sacred. The music came first. I recall reading a Hubert interview where he said: “Wolf told us no drinks until after the gig, and then I will buy all you want”. These guys made sure they stayed sharp they did not need the booze or drugs to do it. Stevie got sober and played better, Bonnie too, she is at the top of her game right now.

What are your hopes for the future of the blues?

My hope is that we are able to take the blues to places it has never been such as Africa. We are planning on a major tour of Africa next year that will take us where nobody has ever played and I hope we can influence the kids there in the place where it all began. To be able to influence an entire continent and genre, what an honor that will be.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the blues circuits?

I tell you that I try to laugh every day. Playing in the studio for Volume Three with my daughter Kassidy I laughed until I cried. She in her youth just took it all in stride and lived every moment and the things I take for granted she would have her phone out taking pictures and her simple approach to it all was beautiful and a glimpse into the future. We do not make the club circuit, I wish we did, we tend to be playing larger events, but I do miss the club days and the interaction with people as I everything it’s the people that matter the most. Bottom line is that life is not made to be taken so seriously, it is a short thing, but there are serious issues in the world and places where people need help and some of them right here at home. Detroit is one. I stopped at a gas station in Detroit and saw a man sitting on the street with his hat in his lap and the rain hitting his head. He was using his hat to cover his bible. That says it all. With everything the people of Detroit are going through they still have faith. What they need are some places to open up for the blues to heal their souls. We as artists have a responsibility to do what we can to assist anyone we can by our trade.

"My hope is that we are able to take the blues to places it has never been such as Africa. We are planning on a major tour of Africa next year that will take us where nobody has ever played and I hope we can influence the kids there in the place where it all began."

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

That the blues would be back in the main stream again. It has had its moments. Now is a time for it to happen again. The soul of the world needs healing and the blues is the medicine. And there are some great players old and young doing it.

What do you miss most nowadays from the "feeling" of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf’s era?

In the day they were not faking it, they were making it. They created it from scratch off the top of their heads. Today, it seems we are trying to recapture what was done back in the day. Including song writing. I have been asked why we do so many covers and I think the answer is simple and it applies here, all the best blues songs have already been written.

What are the lines that connect the Blues legacy of Mississippi with Texas and continue to Urban and beyond?

Personally, I connect to the blues in many areas. As a kid growing up in the Zoo Bar in Lincoln Nebraska (does not get more urban than that) I played with everyone, most of those obscure players are legends today and many are gone. One major connection to the Delta was Magic Slim. I knew him so long it is hard to believe he is gone from the earth. He had his roots there in the Delta, home of the slide. I never have been a slide player, I play very hard. I love working with Rusty Anderson as he has that touch with a slide. I used to ask Magic how he did his slide and he held out his giant hand and said “I just use my fingas, I just wiggle em around”, that is because when he started he did not have a slide and never learned it, he never needed to. To quote my friend Eric Gales, “you gotta work with what you got”, for me that doesn’t include a slide LOL.

"Everything is recorded with a real microphone, no sampling or tuning. It is old school. We try and make it sound like it would if you were sitting watching the band. There are never 20 guitar parts or vocal parts. It’s real."

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past?

I miss the simplicity of showing up with a guitar and amp and plugging in and playing. No set list, just play. Them were the days.

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

I would go back to the 40’s in Chicago when it all began. There were no rules other than those of race which really were and still are bullshit. But the creativity and freedom for creativity…when you are oppressed in every other way music is the only place to express yourself and that’s what happened, that is probably why nobody has every truly replicated it, we only imitate it.

What are your next plans and The Bluesmasters future?

We have many opportunities to play. Always have had them. It seems to take something special to get all of these special people together at one time. We just released volume 3 and it is doing very well and we will be promoting that for a while yet. There is a new album in the works, there is a DVD and on demand of the concert in Asia and Europe with handpicked films. 

 

 

 

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