Luther Tucker

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Luther Tucker
Tucker playing May 12, 1964 Photo: Louis Ramirez
Tucker playing May 12, 1964 Photo: Louis Ramirez
Background information
Born(1936-01-20)January 20, 1936
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
DiedJune 18, 1993(1993-06-18) (aged 57)
Greenbrae, California, United States
GenresChicago Blues, blues, soul, rock, jazz, gospel
Occupation(s)Musician
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals
Years active1952–1993
LabelsLonestar Records
Rock'it Records
Antone's

Luther Tucker (January 20, 1936 – June 18, 1993)[1][2] was an American blues guitarist.

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. He variously worked with Little Walter, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, The James Cotton Blues Band and Elvin Bishop.[2]

Career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Tucker was born in Memphis, Tennessee.[1] 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. Tucker went on to become Robert Jr.'s protégé, a guitarist and an individual for whom he had the greatest admiration and respect. Tucker always referred to him as "Mr. Robert Jr. Lockwood".[1] Tucker's family moved from Memphis to Chicago, Illinois, when he was nine years old,[3] in his teenage years his contemporaries and friends included Freddie King, Magic Sam and Otis Rush.

Luther Tucker in France, in 1980

Playing with bands[edit]

In 1952, he began playing with his uncle, J.T. "Boogie" Brown, saxophonist, studio musician, and sideman to Elmore James. Tucker was soon back with Lockwood, who was one of the most sought after sidemen and studio guitarists on the Chicago blues scene. Lockwood 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. Lockwood had been B.B. King's rhythm guitarist between 1948 and 1949. Lockwood educated Tucker about minor diminished ninth and thirteenth chords to big bar-chords, and the subtle nuances of jazz guitar. Initially, Lockwood 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. They worked with Little Walter off and on for seven years.[3] First, as part of a twosome with Lockwood, 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.[3] He also recorded with Otis Rush, Snooky Pryor, and after moving to the West Coast, John Lee Hooker, Robben Ford, and Elvin Bishop.[4]

In the late 1960s, Tucker worked 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; bassist and alumni of Howlin' Wolf's band, Bobby Anderson; Alberto Gianquinto, a pianist comfortable playing jazz, blues or classical music; and harmonica player 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. After a while, Sam Lay was replaced by Francis Clay. Clay 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 Lockwood. 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 countries. 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.[3]

For several years he worked with John Lee Hooker's band, Grayson Street Houserockers, L. C. Robinson, and as a house musician at Clifford Antone's club in Austin, Texas. He formed the Luther Tucker Band where he became known as a very competent and soulful singer.[1] 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,[3] in Greenbrae, California, at the age of 57.[2][5] His body was returned to Chicago, where he is buried in Restvale Cemetery in an unmarked plot.[5] 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.

Discography[edit]

Solo[edit]

  • 1990: Sad Hours (Lonestar / Antone's)
  • 1995: Luther Tucker and the Ford Blues Band (Rock'it Records)

As sideman[edit]

With John Lee Hooker

With Sonny Boy Williamson

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Michael Erlewine. "Luther Tucker | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
  2. ^ a b c Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1992 - 1993". Thedeadrockstarsclub.com. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
  3. ^ a b c d e Colin Larkin, ed. (1995). The Guinness Who's Who of Blues (Second ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 353. ISBN 0-85112-673-1.
  4. ^ "Luther Tucker Bio | Luther Tucker Career | MTV". Cmt.com. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
  5. ^ a b [1] Archived March 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine