For the publisher see The Genesee Farmer
Tucker playing May 12, 1964 Photo: Louis Ramirez
January 20, 1936|
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
|Died||June 18, 1993
Greenbrae, California, United States
|Genres||Chicago Blues, blues, soul, rock, jazz, gospel|
While soft spoken and shy, Tucker made his presence known through his unique and clearly recognizable guitar style. Tucker helped to define the music known as Chicago Blues, but played everything from blues to soul, rock, jazz and gospel, when given the chance. While never achieving the fame and notoriety of some of his contemporaries he was considered a great guitarist whether playing his own lead style or playing on the recordings of B. B. King, Mel Brown, Pat Hare, or Elmore James. He is considered one of the most prominent rhythm guitarists of Chicago Blues along with Eddie Taylor, Jody Williams and Freddie Robinson.
Tucker was born in Memphis, Tennessee. His father, a carpenter, built Tucker his first guitar, but his first real guitar was a Sears Silvertone that his mother got him to keep him out of trouble. His mother, who played boogie-woogie piano, introduced him to Big Bill Broonzy and to Robert Lockwood Jr., the stepson to Robert Johnson, usually acknowledged as "King of the Delta Blues". Tucker went on to become Robert Jr.'s protégé, a guitarist and an individual for whom he had the greatest admiration and respect. In fact, Tucker always referred to him as "Mr. Robert Jr. Lockwood". Tucker's family moved from Memphis to Chicago when he was a teenager and his teenage contemporaries and friends with whom he traded licks, shared ideas and played included Freddie King, Magic Sam and Otis Rush.
Playing with bands
In 1952 he began playing with his uncle, J.T. "Boogie" Brown, saxophonist, studio musician, and sideman to slide guitarist, Elmore James. Tucker was soon back with Mr. Robert Jr. Lockwood, who was one of the most sought after sidemen and studio guitarists on the Chicago blues scene. Robert Jr. went to the musician's union asking that Tucker be allowed to play in clubs, and reassured the Union that he would act as a guardian to him and keep the 16-year old Tucker out of trouble. Robert Jr., who was capable of playing Delta Blues had been B.B. King's rhythm guitarist in 1948-1949 and brought a unique jazz style to (the new style known as) Chicago Blues. A tough task master, Robert Jr. drilled into Tucker everything from minor diminished ninth and thirteenth chords to big bar-chords and the subtle nuances of jazz guitar. Initially, Robert Jr. played lead guitar and Tucker played bass on a tuned-down six-string guitar (the Fender bass had not yet been invented) or Tucker would play rhythm guitar. Tucker learned to read music and began working as a studio guitarist at an early age. If someone wanted Robert Jr., they also got Tucker as part of the package. They worked with Little Walter off and on for seven years. First, as part of a twosome with Robert Jr., and later as a lead guitarist, Tucker recorded on numerous classic sides behind [(Little Walter)], Sonny Boy Williamson II, Jimmy Rogers, Muddy Waters, and [(Howlin' Wolf)]. He also recorded with Otis Rush, Snooky Pryor, and after moving to the West Coast, John Lee Hooker, Robben Ford, and Elvin Bishop.
In the late 1960s Tucker had been working in Muddy Waters' band along with harmonica player, James Cotton, and drummer, Francis Clay. In 1968, a cooperative band was put together composed of Tucker on guitar; drummer, Sam Lay (best known for his work with Paul Butterfield); bassist and alumni of Howlin' Wolf's band, Bobby Anderson; Alberto Gianquinto, a pianist equally comfortable playing jazz, blues or classical music; and harmonica man and singer, James Cotton. First night out, the emcee at the club asked the band's name so he could announce them. For lack of a name, one of the band said, The James Cotton Blues Band. The name stuck. After a while, Sam Lay was replaced by Francis Clay. Clay, a veteran of Dizzy Gillespie's and Cab Calloway's big bands, Jay McShann's group and Muddy Water's band, brought a new dimension to the band and Tucker further developed his skills, playing soul tunes and jazz arrangements, utilizing the octave, minor and diminished chords he had learned from Robert Jr. The group traveled the country from Fillmore West, in San Francisco to Fillmore East in New York, and on to Great Britain, Europe and other points, sharing the stage with the biggest rock acts of the 1960s and 70's. The band spent a great deal of time in Northern California and in 1973 Tucker left The James Cotton Blues Band and relocated to the town of San Anselmo, California.
For several years he worked with John Lee Hooker's band, Grayson Street, L.C. "Good Rockin'" Robinson, and as a house musician at Clifford Antone's club in Austin, Texas. He finally formed the Luther Tucker Band where he also became known as a very competent and soulful singer. He played in clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area until his death. Tucker played at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1973, 1976, and 1979. He would also play as part of supporting bands behind visiting friends and bluesmen including Fenton Robinson, Freddie King and Jimmy Reed.
Luther Tucker died of a heart attack in June, 1993 in Greenbrae, California, at the age of 57. His body was returned to Chicago, where he is buried in Restvale Cemetery in an unmarked plot. He recorded two albums, one incomplete, both released posthumously.
On May 9, 2009 the second annual White Lake Blues Festival took place at the Howmet Playhouse Theater in Whitehall, Michigan. The concert was organized by executive producer, Steve Salter, of the nonprofit organization Killer Blues to raise monies to honor Tucker's unmarked grave with a headstone. The event was a success, and a headstone was placed in June, 2009.
- 1990: Sad Hours (Lonestar Records)
- 1995: Luther Tucker and the Ford Blues Band (Rock'it Records)