Charley Burch, The Blues Revue
If Tim “Too Slim” Langford only played slide, he would slither around most other blues guitarists and put a ferocious bite on their pride. However, as the sole six-string slinger, main songster, and lead singer of the power trio The Taildraggers, which he founded in 1986 in Seattle, Washington, he is a total force of nature. Leaving musical tracks for others to try and follow, with now 16 albums and countless gigs, he remains as untamed and menacing as ever. He and his band have created an eclectic style of blues and rock that has become a genre all its own. Too Slim‘s ever-evolving musical direction cannot be classified into any box or category. The eclectic nature of the band allows Too Slim and the Taildraggers to easily crossover and appeal to audiences of various musical tastes.
Too Slim’s last four studio releases have all charted in the top ten onBillboard Top Blues Album charts and Heat Seeker charts. Shiver was nominated by The Blues Foundation for Rock Blues Album of the Year in 2012. Too Slim and the Taildraggers have sold over 100,000 albums to date. Tim “Too Slim” Langford has received Lifetime Achievement and Hall of Fame awards by three blues societies in the northwest United States and Too Slim is the recipient of over 40 regional and national music awards.
Too Slim’s latest project, Broken Halo, is a multi-tracked solo project that should be on your list of albums to acquire.
The following is my interview with Too Slim, which transpired over the past month between touring in the United States and Europe.
Charley Burch for BluesWax: Is Broken Halo your first solo project release?
TS: Broken Halo is not my first solo release. Pint Store Blues was my first, in 1999. I also released a live CD called Goin’ Public in 2001, which was from a public radio show I did. I finally got around to doing a new solo project, which is Broken Halo, this year.
Nancy, who is my manager and wife, basically told me I had to do it. I was procrastinating for years about doing a solo album. The difference betweenPint Store Blues and Broken Halo is that Pint Store Blues was more of a tribute album to my influences. It was all covers; Broken Halo‘s songs are all original material.
BW: Are you using new musicians? How do you intend to tour these songs?
TS: I played all the instruments on Broken Halo. I had the songs in my head and heard them a certain way, so I guess it was easier to just lay them down that way. I wanted to keep the songs pretty simple. I’d love to do a tour playing these songs, but Too Slim and the Taildraggers have been pretty busy this year playing gigs.
BW: Where and how did you record? Did you record analog, digital, or synchronized?
TS: I recorded in Seattle at Egg Studios with a great fellow named Conrad Uno, at the same studio we did our last album, Shiver, which got a BMA nomination for “Rock Blues Album” of the year. Conrad was the founder of Popllama Records, which was a big part of the Seattle grunge scene. He is a wonderful guy to work with and has big ears. We just set up a couple of microphones and I would just play the songs through till I got a good take with the guitar and vocal. Then I would overdub what else I thought the song needed. We recorded Broken Halo all digital. Shiver was recorded on tape and dumped onto digital for mixing.
BW: What label and distributor are you releasing through?
TS: The album is on Underworld Records, which Nancy and I own, and is distributed through
Burnside Distribution Corporation worldwide.
BW: How long did this project take to write, track, mix, and start publicity campaign?
TS: The album actually came together very quickly. I had some tunes half written and once Nancy told me I was going to do it, I actually just sat down and got to it. I worked on the songs about a month and went in the studio and recorded it in five days and mixed for two. Then I got it mastered at Black Belt Mastering in Seattle. Most of the songs I got in one or two takes, then I did overdubs on some. The vocals and rhythm guitar are all live takes, except I harmonized with myself on the title cut. Nancy did the original artwork for the album cover and the graphic. Then we hired Betsie Brown with Blind Raccoon for the publicity. The CD released on June 20, 2012.
BW: What was your main inspiration for this project? What songs influenced the creation of Broken Halo?
TS: Nancy is the one that got me going on this project, she insisted that I do it and set up studio time, otherwise I would have waited till who knows when. I had been listening to a lot of John Hiatt, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, and oldNeil Young, along with the Muddy Waters, Son House, and Lightnin Hopkins. I guess the album is a reflection of that combination of influences.
The two instrumental songs, “La Llorona” and “Princeville Serenade,” just came to me pretty much as you hear them on the album. With “La Llorona,” the first track on the CD, I just grabbed the Dobro off the wall and tuned it to E minor and it just came out just like that. The same with “Princeville Serenade,” I bought a ukelele in Hawaii and that’s the first thing I played on it just trying to figure out my way around on it.
“40 Watt Bulb” is a true story from a gig we did last winter. Froze my ass off for a week! I wrote “Three Chords” in Hawaii, it’s a song about writing songs. “Gracie” is a story about my Grandma, I just had to get it out. It’s got a real country-folk element to it, I guess that is the country boy in me coming out. “Shakin’ a Cup” is about the homeless situation in Seattle. We live downtown and it’s a real social problem in Seattle. It makes me profoundly sad to see all of the homeless people. I’m sure it’s like that all over the country these days with this economy.
BW: Do you plan to continue with solo projects or is there a Taildragger album on the horizon?
TS: My goal is to do another Too Slim and the Taildraggers record next year, budget permitting. I suppose I’ll do another solo record someday. I’d spend all my time making records if I could. If I had my way I’d probably hole up in the studio and you’d never see me again! I do like playing live though. It’s fun to make a record and then figure out how to make the songs sound good live with a trio.
BW: Describe the Latin presence on this album.
TS: Nancy has been spending time in Mexico painting with Toller Cranston, so maybe that has influenced me. “La Llorona” is probably a result of that. I love Latin music and I think it’s crept in to some of my Too Slim and the Taildragger tunes through the years. It’s interesting to me that you asked me that question because I would not even have thought that there was a Latin presence? I certainly was not thinking about it. I really wanted to make an album like Neil Young’s Harvest. I end up with the blues stuff in there though, can’t get away from it!
BW: Moving to Nashvegas I hear? Tell us about that.
TS: Nancy and I are moving to Nashville October 1. The main reason is to get more centrally located for touring with Too Slim and the Taildraggers. Seattle is a very difficult place to tour from. I really want to play more dates east of the Mississippi. Nashville is one of the music capitals of the world and I’ve always thought my music had a strong southern influence. I have always gravitated to southern music, ever since I started playing guitar.
There are so many great musicians and songwriters in Nashville and I felt the need to surround myself in that environment. Nancy and I felt that we were also ready for a new adventure, so why not Nashville, it sounded like as good of a place as any! I’ve always wanted to live down south. My goal when I got out of high school, way back when, was to move to Memphis and play the blues. I guess life just got in the way, but better late than never!
BW: Do you handle your own publishing or are you interested in partnering with an established publishing company?
TS: I do handle my own publishing, but I am very interested in expanding the publishing possibilities. I am hoping to learn more about that part of the business. I would love to have other artists record my songs. I’m sure every songwriter feels that way. Interesting that you ask, as I just had a conversation with someone from Seattle who works in Nashville all of the time wanting to help me with publishing!
BW: Describe the genre or genres that you incorporated into this album and what are your near-future expectations?
TS: I love all genre’s of American roots music. I try to mix it all together all the time. There is a songwriter element to Broken Halo and I really want to work on becoming a better songwriter. I have no expectations other than trying to be a better musician and be the best person I can be all the time. I just hope people like what I do and and want to come see me perform, and that’s about it in a nutshell for me.
Free Your Mind (Underworld Records) is the 10th studio release from Too Slim and the Taildraggers. Front man Tim Langford (AKA “Too Slim”) has been doing this for a couple of decades now, building a devoted fan base, branching out from their home area in Seattle and having shared the stage over the years with the likes of Bo Diddley, Brian Setzer, Otis Rush, Robert Cray, Johnny Lang, Los Lobos, Lonnie Mack, Travis Tritt, Ted Nugent, Delbert McClinton, and a score of other big names. The band has won multiple awards in various Northwest readers’ polls, and has been recognized as best regional act by the Cascade Blues Association 11 times.
Langford wrote all of the tunes on Free Your Mind. “When You Love Somebody” is a love song with Skynyrd overtones, and “Last Train” was written after Langford read the newspaper one morning, with lines taken from actual headlines that day. “Devil In A Doublewide” would have been a southern rock classic back in the day. The title cut has great slide guitar and lyrics and some solid advice. “Testament” is a dark song with Langford begging for strength and endurance, and “Been Thru Hell” is about having the resolve to make it through the tough times.
The moody “Peace With The Maker” covers a deal with the devil and its repercussions. If more of us took the advice offered in “Bottle It Up” (keeping our traps shut), we’d be the better for it (more great slide work from Langford). “Throw Me A Rope” is a modern take on the “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” theme, and “This Phone” is a humorous song about being “lovesick and lonesome” and sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring (Yeah, we’ve all done it). The closing track, “The Light,” is a gospel tune, featuring a memorable vocal turn from Lauren Evans.
Langford is one of the better guitarists you’ll hear and dazzles with his highly original fretwork. He gets excellent support from the Taildraggers (Dave Nordstrom – bass, Rudy Simone – drums). Todd Smallwood produced the disc along with Langford, and plays Hammond B3 and 12-string guitar.
Simply put, if you have any sort of interest in blues, rock, roots, or Americana, you have to pick up Free Your Mind. You can thank me later.