Blues and More with Jimmy Thackery
Jun 21, 2017 11:00AM
By Phil Reser
Story by Phil Reser
Photo courtesy of Jimmy Thackery
Blues singer, guitarist and songwriter Jimmy Thackery combines elements of Nashville twang, swing, surf, hard rock and frequent excursions into the world of jazz and still comes up with a sound that is distinctly the blues.
“I think, like any blues musician, I knew the moment it hit me over the head like a baseball bat. I was at the playground at school fooling with a transistor radio when Slim Harpo came on with a crossover hit called ‘Scratch My Back.’ That was the moment.
“I also remember the first Rolling Stones album was all blues covers. I thought they were Stones songs but as I looked at the credits, I saw names like Ella Bates and McKinley Morganfield. I went on a search for records by these guys, but I couldn’t find anything until someone told me Daniels and Morganfield were Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters. So I found their records and it was all over.”
As a teenager growing up in Washington, D.C., Thackery saw Buddy Guy play in a small church, and the gig had a huge effect on him, though not as big as that of seeing Jimi Hendrix’s first official show in the United States.
He cites Chicago axe master Otis Rush as a primary influence. Moreover, along the way, he learned quite a bit from playing on stage alongside such blues legends as Muddy Waters, James Cotton and Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson.
“Everybody I ever listened to were influences in one way or the other. Even if it was just figuring out what not to do. That’s the way I think you have to approach it, you have to take what you can from everybody’s performance, whether it be a positive or a negative.”
Thackery spent 14 years touring the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan with the Nighthawks, a legendary blues and roots rock ensemble. He was the heart, soul and adrenaline of the Nighthawks sound, having created a distinctively raw, powerful guitar style and establishing a reputation as a dynamic soloist.
After leaving the Nighthawks in 1986, he formed Jimmy Thackery & the Assassins, which toured and recorded three albums before disbanding in 1991. The Assassins at one time included six horns and up to 13 members, including backup singers. Thackery says he reached a point where the band was too large to handle. “The logistics of trying to travel were too difficult, and it was hard to keep harmony.”
He then formed the trio Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, which continues to play blues festivals and clubs and record his original songs, a mainstay of the current blues world.
“My bands have always played hot-rod stuff, up-tempo blues, not the slow down, cry-in-your-beer music. Even the old-time blues musicians, when they played at a roadhouse or wherever they congregated on a Saturday night after slavery, went crazy. They played songs about losing their wives or girlfriends or losing all their money and their house. The beat was so infectious. These guys drew down, so it was a whole layer getting those demons out, you know. So we’re trying to do the same thing. We’re up there trying to help people forget whatever happened during the week.”
Thackery has released 15 albums on the Blind Pig and Telarc labels. Eight of his releases reached the top 15 on Billboard’s Blues charts. After Telarc, Jimmy became independent and started his own label, White River Records, which has released five titles, including his most recent album, “Spare Keys,” an all-original album with six instrumentals and six tunes with vocals. The instrumentals highlight Thackery’s vast styles, influenced by his interest in all varieties of music, from classical to slack-key to country to rock and tropical rock.
“I find that by listening to classical music or old jazz, like Django Reinhardt, some slack-key music by Ledward Kaapana or something like that, that kind of stuff, that melodic thread, sparks my creative juices more than listening to John Lee Hooker or even Muddy Waters anymore. I’ve spent almost a lifetime listening to that stuff, trying to learn how to play it. Now I’m trying to figure out how to inject melody into it.”
Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers with Gina Sicilia
Saturday, July 22, World Records Showcase Theater in Bakersfield