Thursday, April 21, 2011
Even though it was a lifetime or so ago, John “Broadway” Tucker knows exactly when the Broadway Blues Band formed, because it was a week before he married his current wife of 30 years, Stella. On Saturday, Tucker will not only celebrate three decades of matrimony and three decades of his lasting band, he’ll also celebrate the release of his fifth and maybe most surprising CD, Somebody New.
The album, produced by Luca Fredericksen at Roger Eddy’s Monterey studio, features Todd Clickard (saxophone), Michael Lent (guitar), Eddy (saxophone), Dave Tucker (drums), Dennis Murphy (bass), Fredericksen (keys), Ken Arconti (guitar), Tom Ayres (guitar) and several other standout musicians.
Somebody New also reconnects Tucker with longtime collaborator Gary Souza and takes him back to the early days, when the pair cranked out original tunes for Tucker’s first album. That’s particularly salivating for Tucker’s massive local following because he’s stuck to – and thrived on – covers for so long. In fact, the new album began as a collection of covers but, over the course of a year, morphed into 12 brand new tracks. “‘Somebody New’ was one of the first songs I wrote,” he says, “[Now] it will be new to listeners, so I thought Somebody New would be the most appropriate name for the album.”
The title track is rich with soul and savory rhythm and blues riffs carried by the sultry gospel of Tucker’s ageless voice. “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” meanwhile, sparks with an onslaught of horns under Tucker’s Bobby Blue Bland-esque croons about love starvation and infidelity.
Tucker’s lasting appeal rests largely in his notoriously energetic live performances; even as he approaches 70 years old, the potent performer drops to his knees onstage and cries out as if he were leading a Sunday morning church sermon in the South. But when asked how he’s managed to keep the band going for 30 years, Tucker doesn’t highlight his own charisma, preferring to credit all the musicians that have gravitated towards him and collaborated with him over the years, including Fredericksen, Souza, Arconti and Ken Emerson (guitar).
Tucker isn’t sure just who among them will show up to the Broadway Blues Band celebration, but he does know the music will go deep into the night and involve more than a few entertaining stories.
When the Weekly sat down for a chat with the 67-year-old local icon, who was dressed in a royal blue velvet shirt covered with silver sequins, those stories, spanning decades, poured out of Tucker as if they happened yesterday.
He describes sitting in on a 1967 jam session with Jimi Hendrix in Seaside after the Monterey Pop Festival. Hendrix was sans guitar (seems he had burned it on stage the night before) so he had to borrow one from Tucker’s guitarist.
“The band used to tell me that when there’s someone famous on the stage with you, look back at them so you can remember that moment,” Tucker says. “I decided to look back at Hendrix when he was playing a solo and well into it.”
Another time, Tucker had the opportunity to jam with blues great Paul Butterfield. He also got to hang out with Sam Cooke at Stax Records.
Then there are the numerous colorful tales about Tucker’s own gigs, like the time the hood of his new Econo Line van was blown off by powerful El Niño gusts on the way to a rehearsal in Santa Cruz.
While neither Hendrix nor Cooke is around today, Tucker has no intention of slowing down any time soon, and that comes out in every one of his performances – and has earned the undying respect of local musicians and blues fans.
“We want you to know we love you,” Blues Festival president Billy F. DeBerry told Tucker before he took the stage back in 2006.
The upbringing that helped shape the dynamic force he’s become reads like the lyrics to one of his songs: A sharecropper’s son, he grew up in Mississippi and later moved to Memphis at the age of 17, where he began delving into the blues after seeing greats like B.B. King play live.
In 1964, Tucker joined the Army and was shipped off to Germany and got a gig entertaining the troops as a part of the USO. By 1967, Tucker returned to the states and, while stationed at Fort Ord, began performing regularly at a Seaside club on the corner of Fremont and Broadway called Jimbo’s Show Lounge with his cover band, The Invaders.
In 2006, after working his way cross-country and playing 18 Blues Fests, Tucker was given the prestigious Mobay award, an accolade that was also awarded to Etta James and Bobby Blue Bland. It was a moment that Tucker continues to relish five years later.
Saturday will be another one of those landmarks for the musician that he won’t soon forget.
“The reunion will be a great moment for John,” Fredericksen says. “He hasn’t seen many of these guys for years.”
Adds Tucker: “These guys stuck with me through storms and vehicle breakdowns.”
THE JOHN “BROADWAY” TUCKER CD RELEASE party happens at 2pm; anniversary party at 8pm Saturday, April 23, at Marina Lounge (above Red Snapper), 30 Fisherman’s Wharf # 1, Monterey. $5; $2 ($5 suggested donation). 372-1955.