The American record label Quarto Valley Records has just delivered the long-awaited Blues and Rock album “Texas Scratch,” which honours the distinctive sound of the state of Texas. The album was first recorded in 2009, but it had languished unreleased until now—a ghost in the US blues rock scene that has suddenly materialised with a bang.
The record’s name, “Texas Scratch,” also happens to be the name of the blues Supergroup that made it possible: Jim Suhler (of George Thorogood & The Destroyers), Vince Converse (of Vince Converse and Big Brother), and Buddy Whittington (of John Mayall), three of Texas’ most gifted guitarists.
With the help of a world-class rhythm section consisting of Jeff Simon (George Thorogood & The Destroyers) on drums and Nathaniel Peterson (Savoy Brown) on bass guitar, Texas Scratch was born out of a desire to highlight the historical contribution that Texas has made to the development of blues, rock, and blues/rock—a development that continues to this day with impressive outcomes.
Suhler and Simon are longtime members of George Thorogood and the Destroyers. In fact, Simon is an original member of The Destroyers (he co-founded the band with Thorogood in 1973), and Suhler has been a Destroyer since 1999. Suhler has also been a founding member of the band Monkey Beat since 1991.
Buddy Whittington recorded and toured with blues legend John Mayall for 15 years before heading off to an acclaimed solo recording and touring career in 2008 that continues to this day.
Vince Converse made waves with heavy blues-rock power trio Sunset Heights, touring with acts like Johnny Winter, Peter Green, Fats Domino, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. A devoted blues musician, he now kicks ass with his band, Vince Converse and Big Brother. And Nathaniel Peterson shone brightly as a member of Savoy Brown.
For one reason or another through the years—be it music industry woes, conflicting gigs, budget issues, and most recently, the pandemic—this hot blues album never got its release. That didn’t stop the stories from spreading throughout the blues world about what a tremendous album this was.
Recorded in October 2009, the album’s release took 14 long years to finally see the light of day as the musicians initially got together in New Jersey to jam and lay down each other’s tracks at the legendary Showplace Studios in Dover, NJ. The late Ben Elliott recorded the album and it was largely completed in four days. Each artist had never played the other’s original tunes before, so they had to learn their parts in record time. There was literally little or no time for rehearsals since each artist and the studio had other obligations to tend to.
To get the full lowdown on the album, we spoke to blues legend Buddy Whittington in this wide-ranging interview where we discussed the music business, the album, and Elvis, among other things! We decided to begin the interview by picking up on the Wikipedia page for Buddy, which informs us he was busy performing on the Dallas scene as early as age 15. We wondered how accurate that entry was and whether Buddy received the support he needed at that young age.
Buddy: I was in a band with a local police officer and a local fireman! That was the reason my dad let me get away with some of the places I was going! I started playing when I was about eight, and I had an older sister who had ten years on me. She was eighteen, and she had every British invasion album and every Motown album. She was playing Jim Reeves and all the great 45’s and albums. Also at the time, there was some locally produced country music; one was a show called “Countdown Jamboree,” and I would mostly watch those, and my dad would see what kind of guitars and amps we had, he was supportive.
Going into the blues, BB King’s daughter Shirley King told us here at the magazine that you have to have lived to really sing the blues. So was Buddy playing the blues in these early years, or were his roots and interests elsewhere?
Buddy: In those days, I would mostly play country music. I got into Jimmy Reid; he was on every jukebox back then, singing songs like “You Got Me Running.” Then, a bit later, when I was in high school, I would see Freddie King around here, as he had moved to Dallas by that point. He would hang out at a Dallas club called “Mother Blues,” and as soon as I could get in (and I was in there a few years before I was legally supposed to), I would go over and see him. John Nitzinger (the US blues/rock guitarist) was also part of that scene, and he fits into the “Texas Scratch” thing as he had a song out back in 1972, when I was about sixteen. That song was called “Louisiana Cock Fight,” and that song appears on this album as a tip of the hat to him.
“I’d Rather be Lucky than Good” was a favourite at the magazine, with a very modern sound and a ZZ Top style groove. Such a great track!
Buddy: That’s what we were hoping for, something that people may not expect. You mentioned ZZ Top, and we were part of that seventies sound when they were at the top of their game. You can only be the sum of your influences.
And would the younger Buddy Whittington have been happy with the music you are doing now, or would he have been surprised at the direction you have taken?
Buddy:I have always tried to stay on a certain musical path. I used to play with John Mayall, and we opened for artists like BB King; we were the opening act for several of his tours, including in the UK. So we did a lot of shows, and that was always a big deal. As for the “Texas Scratch” album, it is just a shame that no one did anything with it for fourteen years. The guy who wanted us to do the album, Arnie Goodman, had been working with so many great artists, and he asked Jim Suhler and me about maybe getting together and being a part of that. We just jumped into Jim’s van one night in Dallas and drove all the way to New Jersey. It took us the best part of a day to get there. We were pretty much straight to work. I had a song called “Texas Trio” that I had been working on, and we just started getting the tracks down, and it was really smooth! It was really seamless; we were done with the rhythm tracks in four days, and then we turned around, went home, and did nothing with it for several years. We are very happy that it’s finally seeing the light of day.
We did like “Ain’t Got the Scratch,” which Buddy wrote; it was a great track, very entertaining, commercial and full of style, swagger and entertainment.
Buddy: The idea for that song came to me when I was a teenager. There used to be a company that would send out these little cards to people who brought their strings to their stores, and the cards would be wedged in between the strings of the guitars on display to stop the children from getting the guitar and playing it. And on this one card, it had this message: “Man, I got the itch for a beer, but I ain’t got the scratch.’ That has stayed with me all these years, and one day I thought I’d do something about it! The first time I recorded it for “Texas Scratch,” but when I found out that it would be a while before it came out, I had an album called “Six String Svengali” (2011), and I used that song for the album. Those albums are now out of print, so a few people heard that, but here it is again!
So was the album remixed after fourteen years to freshen it up, or is it still very much as it was when recorded?
Buddy: Jim Suhler, I believe, added his keyboard player from his band in Dallas, who did some overdubs. There may be some vocal overdubs too, but it is pretty much the way it was recorded. At the time, we had Ben Elliott at his Showplace Studios in Dover, NJ, and he has passed on now. Nathaniel Pederson, our bass player, passed too, and that was a sad thing. I hadn’t heard the album much at all when we finished it. I didn’t even have a copy of it. I had an MP3 of a couple of tunes, and I had a couple of the songs on my albums, but there was nothing done for all that time. So, it was refreshing to hear this version again. I had been playing a couple of the songs live. I don’t really know what happened with the original label. Maybe there is not enough money to get the song out. Anything could have happened, but this time, as it’s hit the market, there has been a lot of interest, good promotion and it is doing well. Jim and I have done some gigs on the album side locally here, with Jeff Simon on the drums. We are hoping that we can get out and do some more.
Buddy has been in the business for a few decades now, and like us at the magazine, he has witnessed so many changes in the way we consume music as listeners. We have moved so far towards different ways of music consumption; did Buddy feel that was changing the way we create it as well?
Buddy: Knowing how music will be received, will people just pick one favourite to stream? Then the songs are nowadays often remixed according to how the young want them. We used to know, from the moment the needle went down to the moment it went up, what was coming next! We knew what was going to happen. It’s changing; no CD players in the car; it’s MP3; it’s not the same any more. You don’t have the luxury of the cover art on the album to discuss either.
Absolutely, the experience included the album covers, which were art pieces in themselves. We did a piece in the magazine once on cover art. Some of those covers are iconic.
Buddy: Then you could test the album and see if it had a secret message in there! And with streaming, how many tenths of a penny do you get for each play? As for airplay, I get airplay from all over, from Vietnam, South Africa, Peru and all places I have never heard of. You get all this play and then get $70! It is really sickening, but at least people are getting to hear it, which is what every musician wants. I just turned 67, and I don’t think I will be touring now to the extent that I was previously with John Mayall; after all, John just turned ninety. John and I used to be gone months at a time, and sometimes there was no telling where we would end up!
We had to touch on the connection to BB King, as we love BB here at the magazine, love his daughter Shirley, and always love a BB King story.
Buddy: It had always been a goal of mine to play with BB, but I never had the opportunity to do so. But I chatted often, catching him in the elevator, in the hotel and so on. I got a ride on their bus one time as I stayed to see their show and got a ride back on their bus, but there was a ‘don’t sit there, that seat is BB’s! He was always really pleasant and always did a great show. One thing I remember is that he always used Lab Series amplifiers and the Gibson Lucille guitar. But I remember him blowing a speaker on the road, and he just played on with the one speaker until his kit came along and it was repaired! He was something else! There is a clip of him at this huge show, and he kicks off with some slow blues, then he breaks a string immediately. He just calls the guy, and he puts the string on himself while he is singing. No guitar tech for him; he did it himself.
He was a great character and a superb entertainer, of course. He was one of those wonderful characters of the blues. Another one was Lead Belly; we did a feature on him here and his legacy; an amazing character, in jail for murder at one point!
Buddy: He was a character for sure and a big hero of John Mayall. We had a song called “Oh Leadbelly” by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers that was a tribute to him,
“Oh, Leadbelly. You sing those blues so fine
Oh, Leadbelly. Your prison days behind
Free to rule the world. A legend in your time
Goodnight Irene. I wonder who she was
Your song reached millions showed ’em who was boss
With your twelve-string guitar you really cut across” (John Mayall, album, “Stories” 2002)
Let out of prison on the grounds that the superintendent loved his singing, let out with the instruction not to kill anybody! He was a character for sure.
We think these bluesmen were of their time, you don’t get their like now. You know, there will never be another Elvis, that voice drawn from the Gospel sound. Thinking of BB King again, he knew Elvis during his time as a DJ and Shirley King told us of the time she met Elvis in her kitchen in his days when he was a trucker. She chatted to him and had no idea he was going to be Elvis!
Buddy:Elvis was not 50’s Elvis any more by the time I might have been able to catch him. But I remember when he played here, there was a girl I went to highschool with and he would throw these towels covered in his sweat into the crowd. She caught one and it had his blood on, maybe he had cut himself shaving or something, and I told her to be very careful who she told about that. Someone out there would be trying to clone an Elvis! Also, Mike Gage the drummer who I have worked with many times, his dad was Tom Gage and he worked with Atlantic Records. Now he had come across Elvis singing in this little restaurant in Memphis when he stuck his head in to get a sandwich one day, and he heard Elvis in the back. So he calls his boss and tells him there is this kid who is really good; playing in this place where he just had lunch. The boss goes, ‘oh never mind, we are the entertainment buyers, you just do the A and R work; we sign the artists! There is a story that Elvis wanted to cut “Guitar Man,” the Jerry Reed song, and Elvis wanted to cut it, but keep it like Jerry Reed’s record and they were trying to cut it with some good players but weren’t getting the sound Elvis wanted. The only way would be to get Jerry Reed to play guitar on it, so they found Jerry on a fishing trip where he was sitting with a rod in hand and they brought him all the way. And Jerry was amazed when he walked into the studio to see Elvis, I believe the one thing he could find to say was “God, you’re handsome!”
And where is Buddy Whittington in 2024? What lies on the horizon?
Buddy: Jim has a band called Jim Suher and the Monkey Beat and they are often touring and have a strong following; he is busy a lot. I do a lot of gigs in the Dallas and Fort Worth area and with “Texas Scratch” being out it should be a busy year ahead.
And as a closing question, what was the last album you listened to all the way through, and did you enjoy it?
Buddy: I always enjoy it when I can listen to an album properly and at peace. I love Tommy Emmanuel, the Australian guitarist. He is another worldly guitarist, I can get lost listening to him, he is a fantastic player.
And I hope you liked the feature, dear reader! If you did, please check out the other pages of the magazine; we have many great features, merchandise, editorials and even poetry! We work hard for you, and if you want to show some appreciation and support what we do, then do use the Support Us link below! Always appreciated.
TEXAS SCRATCH (Track Listing/Credits)
1.Texas Trio 2:51 Written by Buddy Whittington | Published by Whittingtunes (ASCAP)
2. I’d Rather Be Lucky Than Good 4:32 Written by Jim Suhler & Tom Hambridge | Published by Papa Charlie Music BMI & Hambridgetunes (ASCAP)
3. What the Devil Loves 3:35 Written by Fred Koller & Thom Bishop | Published by Songs of Mojo 1 (BMI) & Buffalo Road Music/Songs of Polygram International Inc BMI
4. Trip Hammer 4:34 Written by Jim Suhler | Published by Papa Charlie Music (BMI)
5. Purple Mountain Flask 5:12 Written by Jim Suhler | Published by Papa Charlie Music (BMI)
6. Louisiana Cock Fight 3:40 Written by John Nitzinger | Published by Fancy Space (BMI)
7. Do Right by You 6:33 Written by Vince Converse | Published by Vince Converse
8. Ain’t Got The Scratch 3:54 Written by Buddy Whittington | Published by Whittingtunes (ASCAP)
9. Showdown 3:51 Written by Jim Suhler | Published by Papa Charlie Music (BMI)
By Mark C. Chambers