Tommy McCoy | 25 Year Retrospect

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25 Year Retrospect

by Tommy McCoy

A soulful singer, scorching lead guitarist, and prolific writer, Tommy McCoy’s uncommon versatility is on full display throughout this jam-packed compilation. By any standard, he has paid his blues dues and then some, as this collection eloquently testifies. The Florida-based guitarist has been performing and recording on a regular basis for well over two decades, and every one of his albums since 1992 is amply represented on this generous career retrospective. Tommy is backed by a variety of well-known musicians, including Commander Cody, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, Lucky Peterson, Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon, Tony Coleman and alumni of the Greg Allman Band. As a bonus, three new original tracks recorded in 2015 make their debut on this recording: the solo acoustic “Sugar Cane,” recorded at Gary Vincent’s studio in Clarksdale, Mississippi, “The King Is Gone,” Tommy's clever tribute to B.B. King; and “I Got A Reason,” a soul funky foray into R&B.
Genre: Blues: Electric Blues
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  Song Share Time Download
1. The King Is Gone
4:58 $0.99
2. I Got a Reason
4:19 $0.99
3. The Change Is In
7:21 $0.99
4. No Love Without Any Green
3:05 $0.99
5. Tropical Depression
4:37 $0.99
6. Ludella
4:49 $0.99
7. Love N' Money
5:39 $0.99
8. They Killed That Man
4:40 $0.99
9. Blues Thing
4:00 $0.99
10. A Man Who Cried
4:29 $0.99
11. Bitter Soul to Heal
7:29 $0.99
12. Talkin' to Myself
4:15 $0.99
13. Ace in the Hole
4:02 $0.99
14. Angels Serenade
2:48 $0.99
15. Spanish Moon
4:25 $0.99
16. Poverty
3:08 $0.99
17. Angel On My Shoulder, Devil On My Back
5:57 $0.99
18. Black Eldorado Red
2:53 $0.99
19. Lay My Demons Down
4:46 $0.99
20. Late in the Lonely Night
4:00 $0.99
21. Money
6:44 $0.99
22. Broke, You're a Joke
2:52 $0.99
23. Sugar Cane
3:16 $0.99
24. Language of Love
4:38 $0.99
25. My Guitar Won't Play Nothin' but the Blues
2:45 $0.99
26. Jive Dive
4:58 $0.99
27. Cars, Bars and Guitars
3:28 $0.99
28. Space Master
4:11 $0.99
29. Hey Now
4:39 $0.99
30. Blue Water Runs Deep
3:58 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes

By any standard, Tommy McCoy has paid his blues dues and then some. The Florida-based guitarist has been recording on a regular basis for well over two decades, and every one of his albums since 1992 is amply represented on this generous career retrospective. A soulful singer, scorching lead guitarist, and prolific writer, McCoy’s uncommon versatility is on full display throughout this jam-packed compilation, which brings us right up to the present.

“I’ve been playing blues since the early ‘60s,” says Tommy, who received his first guitar on his eighth birthday in 1962. “I remember having Chuck Berry’s Greatest Hits album when I was in elementary school. Just listening to him play guitar is really what formulated my lead guitar. And I had Bo Diddley In The Spotlight.” Chuck and Bo weren’t McCoy’s only heroes. “I just went crazy over the British Invasion, but not so much the Beatles,” says the Warren, Ohio native. “I was more listening to the Animals and the Pretty Things and the Yardbirds.”

Older brother Gary had a band, and Tommy followed suit by forming the Rapscallions. “When I was still in sixth grade, I started playing junior high and high school dances,” says Tommy, who joined the local musicians’ union while in eighth grade. His three-piece band, the Quick, opened for the Human Beinz and the James Gang, but blues remained his bedrock. “The Howlin’ Wolf London Sessions was my favorite album when I was in 11th grade,” he says.
Although his family relocated to Florida while he was in high school, Tommy continued to gig steadily in both Florida and Ohio. He was playing bass in an outfit called MF Rattlesnake that also included Gary when disco swept Ohio’s club scene. “When my brother wanted the band to play disco and buy matching suits out of the Penney’s catalogue, I knew it was time to head back to Florida,” says Tommy. “I said, ‘I can’t do it, guys, I can’t do it. I’m going to go down to Florida, open up a used record store, and start a blues band and play Chicago blues!’’’

McCoy formed the Backdoor Blues Band in 1977 and made a name for himself around Orlando. He was fronting another blues outfit, the Screamin’ Bluejays, when he first saw Stevie Ray Vaughan. “He was at Brassy’s, a club in Cocoa Beach. I’d heard his cassette. It had come into the used record store. We dug him because he was doing basically what we were, only a little louder and faster,” says Tommy. “We met and became fast friends.”

While in Orlando in 1986, Tommy briefly hired on as bandleader for soul singer Johnny Thunder before joining Gregg Allman’s former band, the Telephone Kings. “We played everywhere around here, opened up for all the major national acts that came through,” says Tommy. Their ‘93 album More Than You’ll Ever Know was loaded with gems; the heartfelt “Tropical Depression” and a hard-charging “Jive Dive” here were two of its highlights.

Ready to tackle his next recording project, Tommy journeyed to Austin, Texas. A random stop at The Hit Shack recording studio led to reestablishing contact with Stevie Ray’s rhythm section Double Trouble, consisting of bassist Chris Layton and drummer Tommy Shannon. Their busy itinerary forced a brief recording delay. “I hang around in Texas for a month, which is great because it gives me a month to really tweak up some great songs,” says Tommy.

The half-dozen tracks McCoy waxed with Double Trouble in tow formed the cornerstone of his 1995 CD Love N’ Money. Three of them are showcased on this collection: the Vaughan-influenced shuffle “No Love Without Any Green,” a swaggering “Money,” and the luxuriously paced instrumental title track. Three more from the same set featuring a different but equally driving rhythm section are here too: a pulsating “The Change Is In,” a faithful revival of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s ‘66 soul hit “Poverty,” and the funk-stained “Broke, You’re A Joke.”

Tommy was back in the Sunshine State when he cut his next solo CD, Lay My Demons Down, at Bob Greenlee’s Kingsnake Studios with Hammond B-3 master Lucky Peterson. “He was the consummate professional on those sessions,” says McCoy. The 1998 release was the first on Tommy’s own Green Swamp label, his recording home until he joined Earwig. Peterson and McCoy wail on the houserocking “Blues Thing,” while Lucky’s B-3 cushions the intense minor-key slow blues “Bitter Soul To Heal,” the soul-slanted churner “A Man Who Cried,” the blues romp “Ludella,” and the exquisite title track. “They Killed That Man” was a total departure, a harrowing acoustic piece that found Tommy backed only by the bowed bass of Ed Lanier.

The success of Lay My Demons Down led to McCoy’s first overseas tours. He cut a 1999 CD, Live in the U.K., with the British blues group Parker’s Alibi; the chomping rocker “Talkin’ To Myself” is indicative of the onstage heat they generated.

By sheer coincidence, McCoy met mutual friends of both Levon Helm and Garth Hudson within two weeks of one another. Since Tommy was and remains a great admirer of the Band, he sent word that he’d love to go into the studio with them. “Four months later, we were all recording at Levon’s barn studio in Woodstock, New York,” marvels Tommy, whose brother Mark handled bass duties for several tracks on the resulting 2002 album, Angels Serenade.
Levon’s instantly recognizable rhythmic thrust powers the Band-influenced “Ace In The Hole” and the relentless “Spanish Moon,” Hudson’s equally distinctive organ work further strengthening the Band bond. “Angels Serenade” itself is a touching ballad, while the lowdown “Hey Now” hails from Ray Charles’ pre-fame days (Garth steps up for a growling sax solo) and “Blue Water Runs Deep” takes a country-rock route, slathered in Jimmy Bennett’s slide guitar.

McCoy’s 2006 album Kickin’ the Blues was an informal affair featuring legendary piano pounder Commander Cody that came together because they were slated to do a show together. “I called Cody up, I said, ‘Hey, you want to do some recording? We’re going to be in the studio Friday night!’” says McCoy. “We did nine songs in one night.” The swinging “Black Eldorado Red” was one of them.

Tommy and Earwig owner Michael Frank first crossed paths aboard the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise in October 2010. Frank subsequently stopped by a McCoy gig in Tommy’s St. Petersburg stomping grounds five months later. The two crafted a deal for his self-produced 2012 Earwig album Late in the Lonely Night, amply revisited on this set.

The simmering title track is set in an atmospheric minor-key mode. McCoy lays down the law on the sleek “My Guitar Won’t Play Nothin’ But The Blues.” “I’ve got a big old Gibson guitar; it has paid its share of dues,” says Tommy, who wrote from personal experience on “Cars, Bars And Guitars.” “I’ve still got a yard full of cars and a room full of guitars!” he laughs.

The cooking “Angel On My Shoulder, Devil On My Back” is driven by Pug Baker’s marching drum groove and spiced by Joel Tatangelo’s pungent slide guitar. “I try to point out the dichotomy between positive and negative,” says McCoy of its storyline. “It’s got kind of an eerie feel to it.” The R&B-tinged “Language Of Love” sports delicious female vocal backing from Karyn Denham, while “Spacemaster” features high-energy call-and-response action between Tommy’s axe and Pug’s traps. “We do that, and the crowd just goes nuts,” he says.
Three freshly recorded tracks make their debut on this compilation. The solo acoustic theme “Sugar Cane” was laid down at Gary Vincent’s studio in Clarksdale, Miss. in January of 2015. Tommy was in Athens, Greece in July of the same year when he paid tribute to the recently departed B.B. King with “The King Is Gone,” borrowing the framework of “The Thrill Is Gone” and cleverly inserting several of B.B.’s best-known song titles into the lyrics. The previous day, McCoy waxed “I Got A Reason,” a happy foray into R&B-laced territory.

Spanning 23 years of recording, this collection testifies eloquently to the depth of Tommy McCoy’s blues-rooted catalog. It’s a safe bet he’ll be adding plenty more to it in years to come.
--Bill Dahl



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