BluesWax Sittin’ In With
Tim “Too Slim” Langford
By Charley Burch
If you missed Part One of this interview in last week’s issue, please check that out here on the site. Otherwise, here we go…
Charley Burch for BluesWax: Are there any family influences that helped to shape your music? Who were your mentors? Please provide us with a history of how you got started.
Too Slim: My grandfather played the organ and I have a cousin, Steve Springer, who plays bass. Steve was a big influence on getting me interested in playing music. He had a great record collection and was always playing music for us when we were kids. My grandfather was always playing and making us laugh, so he was quite the entertainer. I was always interested in music at a very young age and spent a lot of my money buying new records.
When I was about 12 or 13, I started going to concerts and that really sparked my interest. I saw ZZ Top live and that was it! I borrowed my friend’s guitar, which was an awful guitar, but I did not care. Once I started playing guitar I had the bug and never looked back. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Things have not changed in that regard. I just tried to listen and learn everything after that about every kind of music. I got the blues bug early on as I started to learn the guitar a bit. I read about people like Duane Allman, Hendrix, and Clapton and saw who they listened to.
I was also very influenced by Robert Cray and Curtis Salgado early on, who were both members of the Robert Cray Band then. They were the first band I saw in a bar. They used to play at a club in Spokane, Washington, where I lived called Washboard Willie’s. They would play four nights a week and be back about every six to eight weeks. I went and saw them every single time I could and studied them like a hawk. They were so good it was unbelievable! They were sweet as pie to me too, and I’m sure they were wondering what the hell my deal was. I want to thank them for all the things they taught me just by watching them and talking to them. They let my bands open for them too later on. I love those guys.
BW: Explain the tenor ukulele usage on album?
TS: Nancy and I took our first vacation in about nine years last January in Hawaii. Low and behold the first place we stop has a music store. Nancy convinces me I need a ukelele, so I got me one and the guy shows me a few chords and explained the tuning and I was off to the races.
The first thing I played was the start of what would be “Princeville Serenade,” which I named after the place we were staying. I had a blast playing the ukelele everyday on vacation and I guess if you can play a guitar you can play a uke! I actually wrote a few ukelele songs and forgot that I had them in the can until after I got done in the studio, maybe they will show up on the next one.
BW: Where do you see the industry and sound of today’s music now and where it is heading?
TS: Record companies certainly are not operating the same as they did ten or twenty years ago. I feel it’s all about getting proper distribution, not a record deal. Most of my career I have had my own label. I was with Burnside Records through most of the ’90s. I recorded five CDs for Burnside Records [El Rauncho Grundge, Wanted Live, Swamp Opera, Blues for EB, and Kingsize Troublemakers]. All of the CD’s before Burnside and after Burnside are on Underworld Records. Underworld Records is the label Nancy and I own. It’s obviously a digital world and people don’t buy as many CDs as they used to. We sell a good portion of our CD sales at the live shows.
The retail record outlets are having a difficult time these days, and that has been going that way for some time. It’s sad because when I was younger I spent a good deal of time at the record shop! I was always excited to find some new unheard-of band digging through the record bins.
The ratio between CD sales and downloads is moving to more digital sales every year. It’s important to hire a publicist and radio promoter if you are doing your own label. You have to educate yourself on how the business works too, which changes about the time you think you got it figured out!
The blues will stay alive and well as long as there are bands that are willing to push the boundaries of what the originators of this genre established. We have to remember that what artists like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Cray, and Stevie Ray Vaughan were doing was taking the old and making it new and fresh. You see that happening again more recently with bands like the White Stripes and the Black Keys. Kids are getting into these newer sounds and getting interested in the older stuff. What attracted me to blues in my younger days were bands like the Allman Brothers, Johnny Winter, ZZ Top, and George Thorogood. Then I started listening to B.B. King, Freddie King, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy , T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and on down the line as far back as I could go.
BW: What stage in your career did you discover that this (the music biz) was it?
TS: I knew what I wanted to do before I ever played a gig or even had a band. As soon as I started playing guitar I was hooked by the endless possibilities of music. If I would have know anything about what I was in for with the “business part of biz” I am am sure it would not have seemed so appealing. I was so excited about it when I first started, that I was willing to do whatever it took to play music for a living. I have not had a so called “real job” since 1982, so I guess I have done alright. I still feel that way about music, but I’m a little more realistic about the rest of the shit, which I refer to in the song “40 Watt Bulb,” which, by the way, contains FCC-banned lyrics, FYI.
BW: Name some of your favorite people you have worked or performed with and who do you aspire to work with?
TS: Robert Cray and Curtis Salgado, of course, I liked playing with Bo Diddley and Johnny Winter. We’ve opened lots of shows for lots of people, from The Doobie Brothers to Junior Brown and .38 Special. We seem to crossover to other genres fairly well.
One of my favorite memories is jamming with Tab Benoit at the Winthrop R & B festival, about ten years ago.
BW: Who is the North Dakota girl in your songs? Who is Grace?
TS: The North Dakota girl is my beautiful wife and manager Nancy. She grew up in Mandan, North Dakota. My mom is from Minot, North Dakota, and my mother actually did give me the advice to find me a nice North Dakota girl! I ‘m glad I took her advice on that one. Grace is my grandmother on my father’s side. She was the only grandma I knew and she died when I was about twleve. My mother’s mother died when my mom was a little girl. I remember my grandmother as a very sweet and frail woman.
BW: Tell us about the instrument selections for different songs and why multiple genres were selected on this album as opposed to a general theme.
TS: I used acoustic guitars, Dobro, harmonica, ukelele, bass, and percussion [midi]. Several of the tunes are just me and a guitar and one microphone. I think that album has a very good flow and feels like the songs work together very well, even though genre wise they may be different. It feels like it has a theme.
BW: Which awards, charting, and recognitions are you most proud of?
TS: The BMA [Blues Music Award] nomination stood out this year, but I suppose I feel good about all of them, as they came along. The Billboard charting is great, we have made the Top Ten Blues Chart on the last three CDs multiple times. I am in the Hall of Fame in three northwest blues societies. It’s nice to get the recognition, but I suppose everybody who gets an award feels that way.
BW: Tell us about “Broken Halo” as a title and what it means to you and what you aspire for the public to translate it as.
TS: The title to me means that everybody who aspires to be good has probably had a few missteps along the way and it’s alright, you just try to do better next time. I just translated it for you, so that’s what I hope the public sees it as.
BW: Does the album tell a story with and opening and closing thesis or is it compilation of personal work and selections?
TS: There are some very personal reflections in the album. I would not say I had a theme, the album came together very quickly after I sat down to do it, a couple of the songs were first complete run-throughs right in the studio; “You Hide It Well” was an example of that.
BW: Where can we purchase Broken Halo? Web site? YouTube videos? Social networks?
TS: You can purchase Broken Halo at all retail outlets, such as record stores, iTunes, Amazon, etc. You can get it on the Too Slim and the Taildraggers Web site, www.tooslim.org, along with our other CDs and T-shirts and things. We, of course, have a Facebook page and Myspace, ReverbNation, and YouTube. We also have a Too Slim and the Taildraggers app!
Thank you for taking the time to ask me these questions, I really appreciate it and I hope I can continue playing music into old age like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker, and all the other great players out there still doing it.
Charley Burch is a Memphis-based writer and producer.
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