By T.E. Mattox
hen you load the CD Butterflies and Snakes into your sound
system, you know from the onset Crooked Eye Tommy isn't your run-of-the-mill
blues band. The entire recording is based around multiple styles, assorted
genres and two lifetimes of influence. From the swamp-like vibe of the
opening track through the weeping steel guitar highlighting the finale
there's a brand new, old school familiarity that resonates throughout
each one of the eleven original songs.
Brothers Tommy and Paddy Marsh grew up surrounded by
music, so when I ran into them in the remote, gold-mining town of Julian,
California (long story) it only seemed natural to start with the unique
musical collaboration that is Crooked Eye Tommy. "I don't think
we define ourselves in any straight up genre," says Tommy.
"I think if you listen to our music you'll hear all the influences
that we grew up with
certainly blues, Southern rock, country music,
bluegrass, we grew up in the Central Valley (California) and
there's a tune on the record that's straight country, it's a straight
country tune. It's hard to pigeon hole us, I don't think that that's
Let's talk about who's playing in the band? "My
brother, Paddy Marsh, he's a songwriter and wrote three of the songs
that are on the record and we do a couple of more of his tunes live.
Josh Herbst is our drummer, on the bass, Samuel Correa who is a fantastic
bass player and formerly with the Dennis Jones Band. Currently on keyboards
and vocals Michael Katnic, and on Hammond B3 Bill Bilhou who played
on the CD and who is an old friend that I've known for twenty plus years."
And you all came together as a band
Billy (Bilhou) and I met strangely enough when we both applied
to play in another band," Tommy says. "We both answered
an ad to play music with a guy named Bobby Lee, a country guy. We answered
the ad and met that day and became friends and ended up working together
for about five years in a day job and played music together at night.
So he's been family, you know? Paddy and I of course have been playing
together since we were children."
Crooked Eye Tommy rip. Courtesy photo
Was your family musical? "Yes, our mother was
a classically-trained pianist." Brother Paddy says. "She
was amazing; she studied performance at UOP until she got valley fever
and had to go home. Man, her touch was so good. Our dad played guitar,
he did Irish folk music and old folk tunes. Dave Van Ronk, the Seekers
and that kinda' stuff
Tommy adds, "Both our older siblings, an older
sister played guitar, our older brother played guitar and were choir
geeks so we were kinda' destined, I suppose." Paddy finishes
the thought, "We were surrounded by it."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"I'm not a very good story
teller, I have to have lived it
it had to break me
somehow to get something to come out."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
And this current lineup and collaboration
came to be a part of our group after I met him at Bloozapalooza. A few
years ago we were doing an after party show and I had invited Dennis
Jones and his band because Dennis was playing at that festival and
the after party was kind of a jam, so I had invited Dennis and he came
by with Sam and Mike Turner. Mike Turner and Sammy got up and played
with us and it was like we'd been playing together for awhile. It was
just one of those moments, an instant connection. We had another guy
that was playing with us, but when that started going south, Sammy was
the first person I thought of. I wasn't sure if he would be interested,
but we hit him up about a whole year later and it just worked out."
Where in Central California was home? "Porterville
Billy was born there as well. It's about half way between Bakersfield
and Fresno, up against the foothills."
There are a number of musicians from that area
I actually know a drummer from there, Marty Dodson. "Marty's
a good friend of ours!" Tommy laughs. "We were in our
first band together with Marty." says Paddy, then adds. "And
the Mofo Party Band, with John Clifton."
What's in the water up there? "When we were
growing up music in the schools was huge and everybody was involved."
Tommy tells me and Paddy adds. "It was either band or choir,
or orchestra. The music programs were really strong back in those days.
It was on par with the sports programs, it was very, very cool. We went
on trips and tours. In choir we'd go to San Francisco and go sing at
we'd go to Hawaii." Tommy again, "We
know tons of people that we grew up with that are remarkable players,
Outside the family, who were some of your earliest musical
influences? "We were fortunate that our older brother came home
with some really, really bitchin' records. He had everything from Yes
and Supertramp, the Stones, Beatles, Santana
'Bring it Back Alive'
with the Outlaws, Lady In Waiting. That was a huge influence on us.
'One More from the Road' by Lynyrd Skynyrd was seminal."
That's also Buck Owens country up there
a lot of country music in the area, but our dad was more into folk and
bluegrass, he was going to festivals and he played and our older brother
Buzz is quite a fine flat pick steel picker, a great picker. He played
the rags and Doc Watson was a huge influence, that type of stuff. I
started playing mandolin after I heard Tim O'Brien play
still tryin'. (laughing)
Crooked Eye Tommy and a fan with a new T-shirt.
Photo credit: Jeff Beeler
Diversity seems to be the norm for Crooked Eye Tommy.
"It's always been like that." Paddy says. "The
core sound is because Tommy and I write the songs and Billy ladles that
gravy, the Hammond over the top of everything. The core sound is basically
the same but the rhythm section brings a different configuration. We
had another band which was good, but it had a different flavor because
we had a different bass player and a different drummer. Some of the
same songs, the character is kinda' the same but it's a little spicier
and with these guys it's just so easy. The reason Josh is with us is
because Sammy and Josh worked together on another project and we were
looking for someone to go on a trip with us."
You're starting to tour now as a band
really our first big trip. A weekend in the Bay Area and three shows
in the San Jose area. We've really started to get busy, the record has
been a very positive experience and everyone seems to like it a lot.
Betsie (Brown) has a lot to do with that, she's awesome and exactly
what we needed."
The tour is in support of your latest project Butterflies
and Snakes. "It came out last year and it's all original
material. It's sort of an anthology at this point for Paddy and me because
we haven't really recorded, so this covers a wide swath. The last song
on there is 'Southern Heart' and I wrote that in 1994. And some
of the tunes, we had a band called the Tule Devils and some of these
tunes we had from that era. That's the river that comes through Porterville,
the Tule River. And half of the songs on there are newer, but this is
the first time they've been recorded. Again, it's a wide, eclectic range
of country, a little Latin feel in a couple of the tunes. The town we
grew up in, Porterville is very diverse; we grew up listening to mariachi
music with some great friends of ours. I played in a jazz band and a
lot of those guys also played mariachi, so you also have some of that
in there. It's not real prominent, but it's there."
Paddy adds, "I got turned on to Gov't Mule years
ago and I turned everyone I knew on to that band, and the song, 'Tide
Pool' is kind of a slow, and a little heavier style. There's some
straight up blues stuff. I wrote a song called, 'I Stole the Blues'
which is just about that. It's funny, because you mentioned Marty
I was still working in Visalia and living with my
son and Tommy had moved to Ventura and he called and said, 'Dude, you
gotta' come down here, it's so cool and the music scenes great.' I said,
'that sounds great, but (son) Patrick's still in school, so I'd
come down and visit. I want to move, but I can't. Patrick graduates,
I lost my job and am on unemployment so we're living in a campground
on the beach. If my son was here, he'd tell you it was one of the best
times of our lives. And we went down and visited Marty one weekend and
Tommy called me and said, 'I want to put together this band to do this
contest thing, if we win we go to Memphis.' I said, 'I don't want to
do a contest, that's horseshit, I don't want to do that.' So he goes,
'what else you got, what are you doing? You got something else to do?
(laughing) I guess not. (laughing)
And then he adds, 'we need to write some new songs.'
So we drive down to visit Marty and we stayed up to like four o'clock
in the morning, catching up. We had a long history of surfing and hanging
out, so we're talking about the old days and listening to Muddy's 'Hard
Again.' So I got back to the campground the next day and pulled
out my guitar and sat down and I wrote 'I Stole the Blues.' The
quotes in there about running off with Muddy's little girl and all the
influences and every guitar player in the world, whether they admit
to it or not, has ripped somebody off, to get to where they are. So
just admit it."
"So when I'm asked about my songwriting process
I'm not a very good story teller, I'm working on it, I want to be that
guy, I think I could do that, I just haven't done it. I have to have
lived it, it had to break me somehow to get something to come out and
that's what those songs are all about, personal experience and there's
a lot of meaning in there."
You do covers in your 'live' shows what are some of
your favorites? "We do B.B.
King, I love him and we do three or four of his. 'The Thrill
is Gone' I know it's done by a lot of people but we have our own
angle on it, we cut heads on it. (laughing) We do some Robert
Cray, Paddy does some Johnny
Winter. We do some Merle Haggard. Every crowd is a little different,
one of our tunes that we get a lot of response from is 'Love Devine.'
'Over and Over' is a slow blues we get a lot of response from
and 'Come on In,' everybody loves that song, it's a brilliant
What's next, anything new in the works? "We
are working on some new songs. We have probably a new album worth of
tunes, we haven't even played on gigs yet. Their lying in dormancy and
we're just waiting to break them out. Probably early next year we'll
try to get in the studio with those."
Give us your craziest bar or club story
was one night in Julian. (laughing)
"We were playing in a place called the Tachi
Palace, which is an Indian Casino in the Central Valley and it was one
of our last shows. We had a cat playing with us that was a talented
guy, but a little bit of a train wreck. There was a little bit of a
negative thing that happened when it fell apart. He went behind our
back and stole the gig and the band. He had loaned me this guitar and
I was planning of returning it that night, but I was upset about the
gig, so I got a pair of cutters and I cut the strings on the guitar.
So when he opened the case the strings were cut. He got really upset
about that. The gig is over and we're pushing the gear out to the car
and this guy's brother is just mouthing us all the way, calling us every
name in the book. I had my Stratocaster on the top of the stack and
he runs up and grabs the Stratocaster and takes off with it. Oh, that
was the wrong thing to do. So I was on him, took the guitar away from
him and we started fighting a little bit, I kicked him in the nuts and
he started saying in a very high-pitched voice, 'I can't believe you
kicked me in the nuts?' I said, 'Dude, you stole my guitar.' And then
he started throwing rocks at us. (laughing) It's a casino, so
there are cameras everywhere, and the cops finally show up and they
arrested him. I think that was about the wildest."
Shooting the breeze with Crooked Eye Tommy. Photo
credit: Jeff Beeler
Any plans to travel out to the East Coast, maybe Texas?
"We'd love to play on the East Coast and Texas. You know how
it is, there are so many groups out there
until someone's heard
of you, you have to tell them the story, so we're working on it. I think
the records been really well received, a bunch of great reviews of it,
it's been in the Roots Music Report, a couple of songs on the Contemporary
blues chart, I think it was number 28."
I love live music, that's why I came out to see you
Paddy is already nodding his head. "When it's live,
it changes, it lives. We'll take it places
Tommy was talking
about 'Love Devine' we've modified that and put this thing on
the end of it, it's just mind-blowing for me. I love it, I love
it! It makes me very happy.
Tommy says, "We've shared we have some Southern
Rock background, but to be honest, that's what we love. That's the guitar
work that speaks to us, so when you see a Crooked Eye Tommy show that's
where it's going. You're going to see the dual guitar work, the interaction
between Paddy and me
the Allman Brothers vibe, and some Dead in
We're definitely not in it for the money
love to do a live record, maybe in the future. We played as young men,
and we've played as middle-age men, and on and off as brothers we'd
fight and split up but we're finally in the place where we're meant
to be. We got through all the challenges that we had as brothers, but
also as humans
Paddy says, "My definition of success is continuing.
Leveling up is good, but just to be able to continue doing it."
Tommy smiles and finishes the thought, "We're going to continue
doing what we're doing, it would be great to go out on tour for a long
time, but we just want to play cooler shows, some bigger shows, festivals
and share what we've done."
For the latest on the Crooked Eye Tommy tour, club dates
and recording projects check out their website www.crookedeyetommy.com.
You can thank me later.
Jones: Between Rock... and a Blues Place; BB
King: The Blues is Like a Family; Johnny
Winter: A Fire Still Burns in Winter; San
Diego's Mr. Natural: Billy Watson; Nathan
James: Southern California Roots Run Delta Deep