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Crooked Eye Tommy

Crooked Eye Tommy
'Butterflies and Snakes'
By T.E. Mattox

Butterflies and Snakes CD cover

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 really possible."

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… how? "Actually 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."

Tommy and Paddy Marsh
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… bluegrass."

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."

– Paddy Marsh

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And this current lineup and collaboration… "Sammy 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 St. Patricks… we'd go to Hawaii." Tommy again, "We know tons of people that we grew up with that are remarkable players, world-class."

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… "Absolutely, 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… and I'm still tryin'. (laughing)

Crooked Eye Tommy and the writer
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… "It's 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 (Dodson)… 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 tune."

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… "There 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."

Crooked Eye Tommy members with the writer
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 play… 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 there…

We're definitely not in it for the money… we'd 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… divorce…"

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.

Related Articles:
Dennis 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


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Let Tim know what you think about his traveling adventure.

I was there at the Shrine to see Bob come in riding on a baby elephant. He says in the interview it was either '68 or 69: it was both – it was New Year's Eve (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Debbie Hollier, Nevada City, CA

* * * *

Who else played with Canned Heat and Deep Purple at the Shrine in '68?

Bill, LA

I think the Shrine show on New Years in '68, where Bob Hite rode out on the elephant, also featured Poco, Lee Michaels, Black Pearl, Love Army and Sweetwater. Don't know that Deep Purple was booked on that evening.

Bill, maybe you're thinking about the International Pop Fest in San Francisco a few months earlier that featured these fine folks... Procol Harum, Iron Butterfly, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon And The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grass Roots, The Chambers Brothers, Deep Purple, Fraternity of Man & Canned Heat or possibly the following year in Jan of 1970 when Deep Purple appeared with Canned Heat and Renaissance on a triple-bill in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

One final note: The current Johnny Otis piece didn't mention it, but it was Mr. Otis that took Canned Heat into the studio the very first time to record in 1966. Small world, ain't it?

Tim

* * * *

Thank u for posting it! Bob is still boogin' around!! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Stefano Di Leonardo, Fisciano (Salerno, Italy)

* * * *

Great Read! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite) I will post it on Bob "THE BEAR" Hite Official Facebook Page,

Dave Tohill, Brandon, UK

* * * *

Hello Tim, thank you so much for letting a huge Canned Heat fan check out this
interview with the Bear. I really enjoyed it.

Best regards,

Rick Caldwell, Fairfield, Ohio

* * * *

I knew Bob Hite in the 60's. Canned Heat played at our high school prom 1966 Rexford High. The Family Dog, Chet Helms, Skip Taylor.

Max Kalik, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Tim,

I just discovered you from an email I received from Preston Smith disclosing his next event. I wanted to tap into his website Prestonsmithmusic but it would not link from your site for some reason. I have to say Preston really is a genius and I met him in Glendale at a jazz club about three years ago, after a fatal accident. By chance, I was invited to spend time hanging out with Preston and some friends after his gig. He is everything you say and I will never forget his amazing creativity and his positive influence in my life.

Janelle, Palm Springs, CA

Love the article! (on Lowell George) Lowell was my father.

Forrest George, Warren, Vermont

This Bob Hite interview is the most interesting thing I have read concerning Canned Heat. I have Fito's book, but I always was interested in learning more about Bob Hite. You did it here my friend...great interview!!!!!

Tony Musto - Pittston, PA

Hey Tim, Great article on Preston! I really enjoyed it and you did your homework. I'll probably catch PS this weekend.

Best,

Dave - Northridge, CA

* * * *

Hello, what a great article on Preston Smith! I actually met Preston one evening after an Acoustic set of my own at the Prestigeous Carlton Hotel here in Atascadero, Ca. We were loading up and he happened to be walking down the sidewalk and stop to say hello. I must say that he is a truly interesting and talented man that NEVER forgets to let me know when he is playing around the Central Coast where I live. It was so fun to read about who he truly is...(as if you don't know him the first time you meet him)! My adventures have only just begun as I recently returned from Nashville recording my self titled debut EP. I can only hope that my adventures down the road are as enlightening as Preston's and that I have the honor of a great writer such as yourself to share them with the world. Thank you for doing just that, sharing "Preston Smith" with the world.

Sincerely,

Amy Estrada - Atascadero, CA

Hi Tim,

My name is Bert, I'm from Italy and I'm a blues harmonica player...I read your article and it reminded me of the two trips I made in the Delta, in 2008 and 2009. I love Frank's music and I think it's a shame people don't really know his work. It's important that people like you write about him. Thank you! In the Delta I was only a "stupid" tourist, but it was a great, unique experience I consider one of the most important in my life: driving on the highways, Listening to the blues everywhere, jamming in places like Red's and ground Zero in Clarksdale or the Blues Bar in Greenville... are priceless things, something I will keep in my heart for the rest of my life. I met a beautiful, lovely woman there too (named Hope), but I behaved like a stupid kid and I lost her... Alas! I will never forget that days and the chance I had to find happiness...Well, I also wrote something about Frank on a website, but it's in Italian... I give you the link of the first part (the second will be published in the next weeks) anyway if you know some Italian or somebody who can understand it... Even if I'm thinking of making a translation ...www.bluessummit.com

Cheers,

Bert - Pavia, Italy

I wanna be Tim!

Brent, Seattle, WA

* * *

Those pictures give you an idea of what the Rockin' Pneumonia actually looks like and it looks BAD! But the man can still play! Enjoyed the article - give us more TRAVELING BLUES BOY!

Steve Thomas - NA, INDIANA

* * *

Good Stuff, Tim. Having been a Johnny Winter fan since the first time I heard Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo, it was great hearing his take on some his highlight moments that defined his blues career. His affiliation with Muddy Waters was particularly interesting. Kudos for bringing that out. Thanks to your dedication to covering the blues scene, this "one of a kind" music still lives for servicemen & women around the world. Keep it Up!

Brandon Williams, Moreno Valley, CA

* * *

Impressive! What a legend and how cool that you got so much time with him, Tim.

Don, Louisville, KY

Tim - Great article, enjoyed Little Feat/Lowell George story, really brought me back in time. Did not know he was a fishin' man! Wonder what surfaces out of the abyss of your memory next?

Steve Thomas, New Albany, IN

* * * *

Tim,

I really liked your travel back in time with Lowell and Little Feat. As a long time Feat fan (mostly the stuff with Lowell) it was cool to read. I learned several of their songs back in the day and they still stand up today when played live. Another singer I really liked from back then is TimBuckley. Thanks for the article.

Chet Hogoboom, Arroyo Grande, CA

Loved your last issue of TB, especially the Mayall piece. I want that guy's job!

Brent, Seattle, WA

Tim,

This is a great write up. Has it been printed in any magazines? It's better than a lot of things I read in my guitar magazines, so props for that.

Caejar, Moreno Valley, CA

Tim,

I can tell that you have this passion for jazz. I wonder if you yourself play any instrument. Or are you just a groupie like most of us?

I talked with a mid-aged flute jazz artist a few weeks ago and he lamented that despite his talents (and he is extremely talented) he says that the industry hasn't been kind to him. He said jobs are few and far between. He said the music industry is combating piracy and competition due to technology being readily available to private homes and that they are not as profitable as before. So they are replacing live talent for synthesized or digital instruments.

Do you see the same trend in your relationships with your music network?

Bob, Pasadena, CA



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