Jim Suhler has spent 25 years alongside George Thorogood in The Destroyers. Now, he has teamed with fellow Texas guitarists Buddy Whittington and Vince Converse, as well as Destroyers drummer Jeff Simon, for the long-awaited release of their band Texas Scratch. Recently, Jim took some time to talk about Texas Scratch, George Thorogood, and more!
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Jim Suhler –
On how he, Buddy, and Vince first came together – Well, somebody else made that decision it was a guy from Long Island, a music fan he had his own label for a while, owned a record store in New York City, his name was Arnie Goodman. He had a backer and Arnie had the idea to put us together and do this album much like what Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray did in the 80s with Showdown on Alligator Records. I think that was maybe his template. We all knew each other already. So it was that part was easy just getting together. But that’s that’s who was the impetus to put this together.
On why it took nearly 15 years for the record to come out – As I mentioned, there was a backer. I think something happened with the backer. I wasn’t really privy to a lot of these conversations. So I’m trying to just piece it together, either he fell through or the, whatever the label situation they had in place fell through. So, at that point, it was shelved and the idea was, they were shopping it and we’ll get something soon and then it just sort of snowballed and you look up, it’s been a couple of years and then it’s 5 years. Then I think we all just kind of gave up and figured, “Well, it’s just going to be shelved”.
I know Buddy had even gone on to record a couple of the songs we did for another project that he had done. So, lo and behold, earlier this year, I’m sitting in a restaurant and I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed, and I see that the record’s been released digitally, which was news to me. None of us been informed of it. So we really didn’t have anything. We had to kind of hustle to put put some shows together and put together whatever promotional angle we were going to do. But having said that, I’m really happy it’s finally seeing a lot of day. I still feel good about the record. I’m really proud to be associated with it. These guys were great to work with. It was so easy.
On if anything was done to the original recordings – We recorded it in about 4 days, and then I did some overdubs, like some keyboard stuff once I got back to Dallas, I sort of oversaw that. Then it was sent off, and it was mixed and mastered. But there’s really nothing production-wise on it that’s going to date the record, like maybe a wah pedal would from the 70s or a vocoder no autotune, so in that sense, production-wise, it doesn’t have any of those things that would say, “Oh, this came out in a certain period”, it still sounds fresh to me. I think the idea is just to have good songs and we were never hopping on trends anyway. If we had, we would have hopped on something that would have made us a lot more money.
On if the band continued after the initial recording – I believe in 2010 or 11, Arnie, the guy that put us together, the Long Island Svengali, booked us on a couple of festivals in Canada, the Windsor Blues Festival and the London, Ontario Blues Festival. So we did those as a group. We thought the record might be out, that was what, 12 years ago? But no, we never did anything else after that. We waited, we didn’t consider doing the other recordings because this hadn’t even come out yet. So we didn’t want to do a follow-up to a record that hadn’t been released yet. It was really never even discussed or considered to my knowledge.
On adjusting his playing to songs written by the other members – Well, my M. O. for all that is always the same. I just try to listen before I do anything, then find a part and stick with it, not step on anybody else’s part, not showboat, or hot dog, just try to find something suitable for the song because that’s really what we’re after. We all are sympathetic. It’s just like talking to somebody with a different accent. Texas is a gigantic state, there’s different accents in different parts of the state, musical and lingual. So, I can still understand the guys and they can understand me. That would be the best analogy I could give you. Everybody is seasoned and we’ve done this a lot, everybody knew the drill. So it wasn’t, it wasn’t too difficult.
On what he sees as the heart of Texas blues – Well, I don’t know, Buddy might agree, and Vince, I don’t want to speak for them. I’m more of a blues interpreter. Son Seals or Buddy Guy or somebody like that would be a blues artist. I’ve got a lot of other influences, but back to your question, I think there’s a swagger to it, a particular swing. In its early years, it wasn’t like Mississippi blues which was a little more primitive. Texas blues, maybe 80 years ago, always had horns or a lot of it. There were outliers like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Texas Alexander and later Little Son Jackson, guys that did that kind of back porch stuff, but it was always maybe a little more sophisticated musically than a lot of the stuff from Chicago in the early years, which was more guitars and harmonicas.T Bone Walker always had a horn section of varying sizes. Maybe it’s an attitude thing, I guess, confidence. I think that’s probably the closest I can come to describing it.
On if Texas Scratch will continue now that the record is out – Well, I think the jury’s out. I mean, we’re doing some shows, Buddy and I, that we do have some geographical challenges. Buddy and I are in the same area, Dallas and Fort Worth. And live about 35 miles apart. But Vince lives in Denver now. Jeff Simon lives in Suburban Philadelphia sadly, the bass player, Nathaniel passed away this year and he was living in Italy. So right now we’re just doing some things. Buddy, and I can just go out and play some gigs locally and promote the record. The idea is to go out and do some festivals this year. I’d been waiting for a lot of the George Thorogood touring windows to solidify before I made those overtures to reach out to people to play festivals because it’s no good if I book something and then they schedule a tour, then I’ve got a problem. So yeah, the idea is that we’d like it to be the beginning and the record’s off to a good start and we feel good about it going forward.
On how he first hooked up with George Thorogood – I met him in Memphis in 1990. I had a band and I was playing at Huey’s. They would book road bands on Sunday nights. I don’t remember where else we may have played on that trip. Probably Arkansas, but nobody was getting rich. It was like $400, no rooms, there were 4 of us and we were glad to get it. But they were recording at Ardent Studios, which was about a block or 2 away doing an album called Boogie People. So they finished their session that day and came in that night for food and some drinks and stuff, they were smoking cigars. It was back when you could smoke in a bar. I wasn’t aware that they were there, but we finished the 1st set and somebody told me, “Hey, George and the Destroyers are here”. So I was a fan and I went over and introduced myself. They were cool, and then we played the 2nd set and I noticed George kept getting closer and closer and closer and finally standing like 6 or 8 feet away from watching and it was like is this really happening?
I was still trying to get my whole thing together at that point. So it was kind of blowing my mind, but he was really encouraging. I could tell he had listened because he was bringing out a lot of really detailed things I had done in my show musically. I used to play the lick from “Please Please Me” by the Beatles during “Not Fade Away”, the Buddy Holly song. So he thought that was cool. In fact, he still mentions that from time to time. So, then he hooked me up with his producer, Terry Manning. He said, “My producer, Terry would love you guys”. So, a year or so later, I had a different band and I was going to do a project and I said, “Well, why not send something to Terry?” Maybe he would engineer it or help us, I was just trying to get out of Dallas at that point. So much to my surprise, Terry agreed to do the record. So let’s see if I can condense this. We ended up doing a few records for Terry’s label Lucky 7, which is a Rounder Record subsidiary who George was signed with in his early years and went out, and opened a bunch of tour dates for George for a few years. That sort of, like, ran its course by 95, 96, and then in late 98, they called and said, “We’re hiring another guitar player. Would you be interested?” I was like, “Yeah, absolutely”. So I’ve been doing both ever since. I’ve saw the whole plate for the last 25 years.
On if it’s fun playing a George Thorogood show – Yeah, it’s fun. If you’re not having fun, then you better rethink everything. You’re really getting to live your dream and there’s always something fun about it. I’ll think of something funny to say. We say the most ridiculous things to each other up on stage too, I won’t go into that, but, yeah, we’re all still having fun. If it’s not fun, I know we wouldn’t want to do it.
On his upcoming plans – I just have some club dates booked in the Texas area right now for the 1st quarter of the year, and then I’m waiting to see where a lot of the dust settles because I think they were waiting on some confirmations on a couple of packages they were doing with another band. I did a recording with Tyler Bryant. He’s from my area and I’ve known him since he was probably 12. He’s in Nashville and I went to Nashville months ago and we wrote and recorded a single at his home studio called “Dusty Groove” and his lovely wife, Rebecca from Larkin Poe is singing on it. Right now the plan is to go back and cut it another 1 or 2 songs and do a 7-inch vinyl release for his label, Rattleshake and so I’m doing that. We just put a single out called “Get Your Head Right”. Which I did here in the Dallas area, it’s produced by Casey Dilorio, and continuing to write and get some stuff together. I’m going to send Tyler some new songs today.