It has been over three years since Blues Blast last talked with Tim Langford, the long-time leader of Too Slim & the Taildraggers, and thirty-four years since Langford put together the first edition of the band in his hometown of Spokane, Washington. Since then, he has traveled around the world, sharing his original songs delivered in a blues-rock power trio format that harks back to some of his influences, like ZZ Top and Robin Trower. His striking guitar work has been featured on more than twenty albums, including his 2018 release, High Desert Heat, and the band’s latest, The Remedy, coming out next month on the VizzTone Label Group.
The guitarist had moved from Spokane to Seattle, where he lived for twelve years, before moving to Nashville. After five years, he made another move, this time to the Boise, Idaho area. There was more involved than just music.
“ Most of my family is in the Spokane, Seattle, and Boise areas. My step-son had started a business here. He and my wife are business partners in the company. He needed some help running the business. And my wife didn’t really enjoy being in Nashville while I out on the road. She was alone a lot. It doesn’t matter to me where I live. The thought was it would be easier to tour living more in the center of the country”.
“We did start getting to play the southeast part of the country quite a bit. I had been getting my bookings through Blue Mountain Artists, but by the time I got to Nashville, they were going through some changes. My agent, Page Stallings, that booked my area split off from Blue Mountain to start his own company, the Ketch Agency. Hugh Southard, the owner of Blue Mountain, was dealing with cancer and getting ready to retire. That’s the way it was. But I was still getting a lot of work back up in the Northwest, so moving to Boise was ok.
“I had just recovered from my bout with cancer around that time. That was a scary thing to go through. And it laid me up for a bit. But I just got my five year clearance. At my last check-up, my doctor’s only comment was that he would see me next year. I just thank God that I came out the other side. I still remember the doctor calling after I went in for a biopsy. Hearing the cancer diagnosis, my mind just went blank. My wife called the doctor back and started asking all of the questions I should have asked. A lot of members of my family have dealt with cancer. I knew I was going to get it somewhere along the line”.
The members of the Taildraggers still live in Nashville. Bass player Zack Kasik was originally from Yankton, South Dakota, joining the group in 2016. The drummer, Jeff “Shakey” Fowlkes, settled in the city a couple years before Langford arrived. He has been in the band since 2012. Fowlkes owns the Wild Feather Recording, the studio he opened last year, where the band recorded their latest project.
“One great thing is that they both sing, so they can help with harmony and lead vocals. I don’t have a problem sharing the lead vocals. Zack is a great singer and songwriter. On the new album. I wrote half of the tunes, and he wrote the rest. Doing the record in his studio meant it was just the three of us, which was nice. Zack did a fine job on engineering it. Shakey is a fine harmony vocalist. Everyone had great ideas for what turned out to be a group project”.
“Traditionally, in the past, I would come in with most, if not all, of the material to be recorded. On High Desert Heat, we used three of Zack’s songs because I loved them, they really fit my style. He has a big backlog of material that he has been itching to get out! That takes a lot of the pressure for songwriting off of me. I’ve put out a lot of records, with plenty of my songs. Sometimes you think that you have already covered all the bases as far as material. Zack is really talented, especially with lyrics”.
The original band line-up was together for fifteen years. The first change came when bass player Tom Brimm grew tired of life on the road, an occupational hazard. His replacement, Dave Nordstrom from Spokane, added some vocal firepower to the mix. Original drummer John Cage eventually became a police officer once the allure of the road had worn off.
Langford was able to relive those days recently.
“A friend of mine worked for a TV station in Spokane. He sent me a video from 1995 of me with Tom and John playing live. It was interesting to watch. We were a tight band. But the sound sure was a lot different. Most of the bands I liked growing up were trios – Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, ZZ Top. The format is very challenging, and I really like the power of a trio. And, if you can pull it off, it makes a lot of sense from an economic standpoint, too! I had a band, the Studebakers, before the Taildraggers that was also a trio. The Taildraggers were a four piece in the very early days for several years. We had a guy who played saxophone and keyboards. But I decided to strip it back down”.
“We’ve always had low budgets for our recording projects. The early records were mostly bare-bones trio things. After that you start doing more overdubs. And adding guest artists, so one day you listen to a song and think, wow, I can’t really play that one live now because there is too much stuff on it! Then I have to figure out how to play the song with less instrumentation. By the time we had got to Blood Moon, I had completely reversed and gone back to bare-bones. The new one has more stuff on it. Zack is a really good banjo player, so that is on it. For guest artists, we have three harmonica players including Jason Ricci, Richard Rosenblatt from VizzTone, and Sheldon Ziro, a great player from the Pacific Northwest who now lives in Nashville”.
“On a couple of songs we kind of went out there with slide guitar, banjo, and acoustic guitar. And there are a lot of harmony vocal parts, too! It definitely is a different record than High Desert Heat. It has some of the same elements, but I think it is another evolutionary step for the band. We ventured into some new territory. That is important when you have been around as long as I have! You can’t keep making the same record every time”.
The band spent a couple of weeks recording at the end of February. As they finished up, the first signs of trouble were appearing. In short order, things started shutting down, then venues started canceling gigs. Langford had a full tour schedule for the year, centered around the album release at the end of May, but it all fell apart in short order, leading to the decision to push the release date back to mid-July. What looked like a great year suddenly disappeared.
“The title of the new one, The Remedy, is certainly ironic considering our current situation. At the time, we had no idea that we would get caught up in a pandemic. For the last year, we have been playing live a song that Zack wrote called “She’s Got The Remedy”. After some discussion, we thought that was a good title. Then the shit hit the fan! It seemed like a short, catchy name, but now it has taken on a completely different meaning. And we could certainly use a remedy right now”.
When it comes to the music business, Langford has experienced a lot of changes over his career. The band has a rabid group of hard-core fans that have been with them since the beginning. Some fans have faded away as the group’s sound changed while others had a favorite line-up that fired-up their passion.
“I’m a big ZZ Top fan. I loved the first album and followed them all through their career. When they came out with Eliminator, it was a completely different sound, but I still liked them. I like bands that push the boundaries. Cream, Hendrix, and even Stevie Ray Vaughan did that. When I started playing guitar, I was also into people like Freddie King, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy. I went through a phase where I would search for those really obscure blues albums. Oh, Byther Smith, there is somebody I have never heard of, got to buy this one! Once I started going to hear live music, it was artists like Robert Cray and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, plus Portland had a lot of great artists like Paul DeLay and Lloyd Jones, Issac Scott from Seattle”.
“I quickly decided that I wanted to do that, to play blues. But then you start writing your own stuff and all of your influences start coming out, plus you want your own sound. My influences ranged from the Beatles to Black Sabbath, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery to Lynyrd Skynyrd. I am always trying to incorporate the stuff I like into my music. One of the first concerts I went to was Three Dog Night with Aerosmith opening. Johnny Winter was another favorite that I got to see live quite a few times”.
With his band in Nashville, Langford hasn’t been able to do shows like the live streams that many other artists and bands have done to try to generate some income. The lack of live shows also means there isn’t a steady stream of opportunities to sell CDs, which the band has always been successful at doing. Langford did do a solo performance at the end of March for a local food bank. He has stayed busy trying to reschedule shows for the second half of the year.
“I hope people will be hungry for music and seek it out once things open up. Right now, our first gig back is scheduled for the 4th of July in Washington state. I don’t know if they will open things up by then, so that one may disappear. Then we are looking at the end of July and into August. But there just aren’t any answers right now. It makes it hard to plan anything. All I can do is book the shows and hope that they will happen. It’s a tough call to decide to go out to play live knowing that me, Zack, and Shakey will be putting ourselves at risk. At the same time, people are tired of being stuck at home. I feel bad for all of the clubs. I wonder if they will survive. And booking agents are affected as much as the bands by the cancellations. It is very frustrating to watch all of these gigs drop off one after the other, and not be able to do anything. There is probably a handful of dates left that we might still be able to play”.
As you might expect, Langford has a full arsenal of guitars that he has collected over the years, giving him plenty of versatility in getting the sound and tone that he is looking for no matter the song calls for. Several of his instruments are unique creations that are near and dear to his heart.
“My current favorites include a custom Michael Delaney guitar that he built for me, with a Les Paul style body, several Humbucker pick-ups, and a Sratocaster-type neck. Proud that Michael sponsors me. It has one control each for volume and tone plus a Strat pick-up switch. It was based on another guitar that I used to play, made by Warmoth. I called it the “Lespaulocaster”! It also had the Les Paul body, Strat neck, and the Strat bridge system with the whammy bar. It was the perfect pollination of the Strat and Les Paul guitars. The Delaney is one of my main road guitars. Then a friend of mine gave me a gift, a Fender Vintera Telecaster Custom model, which I really like. They were the main guitars I used to record the new album, and would be out on the road with right now if things had worked out”.
“I usually only take three guitars on the road. The one I use to play slide is a Reverend guitar. I have a sponsorship with them. They have been around for about twenty years, based in Ohio now. I have three of their models, three Fender Stratocasters, and two Gibson Les Paul guitars. I also have a Les Paul Supreme modal that my wife bought me. I don’t take that on the road much because it is just too beautiful. It is the best sounding guitar that I’ve got. Then there’s a Les Paul Smartwood model, that is made from wood certified by the Rainforest Alliance. That was one of my main road guitars for many years”.
“I also have two guitars that I built. One I call the “Groovalator”. It is another piece that I always took on the road in the early days. I built the body from scratch. It looks like a older Gretsch guitar like Bo Diddley used to play. It came back, called the “Billy-Bo,” when Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top started playing one. Recently I built a Gibson SG from a kit, which was fun. Then there is a Walla Walla guitar, made by a company in Washington, that is done in a custom Strat style. They are another sponsor of mine. Then I have a Breedlove acoustic guitar and another older acoustic that was built in New Jersey. My wife also had a Marley model dobro guitar built for me. She has definitely been good to me over the years. And now I have a cigar box guitar that a guy just gave me. When me moved from Nashville, I sold several guitars, and have donated several Reverend guitars over the years for raffles to raise money for dog rescue services and other causes”.
“On stage, I have been using a Marshall Origin50 combo with a 12′ inch speaker for the last couple of years. It has a maximum of 50 watts but there are two other power settings. One is 5 watts and then 15 watts. For the most part, the 5 watt setting is plenty loud. It is fine for playing clubs because I can get a great Fender tone out of it at low volumes. Before that, I was using a Fender Bassbreaker 15, another good amplifier. I still have that one. These days, I am really into the low-wattage amps. I wouldn’t know what to do with a Fender Twin or something like it!’
With every passing day, Langford gains a deeper sense of appreciation for all of the people that have supported the band over the last thirty-four years.
“Hopefully people will like the new recording, which is on my label, Underworld Records, in partnership with the VizzTone label. They are run by Richard Rosenblatt, who used to run Tone-Cool Records, and blues veteran Bob Margolin, so that gives us access to a lot of knowledge, promotion, and distribution that I probably didn’t have before. It is great to work with fellow musicians who understand. And we get great promotion from Amy Brat of BratGirlmedia. But I just want to say thank you! If it wasn’t for all of the fans who come out to hear live music and buy our recordings, we wouldn’t be able to do it. We look forward to seeing everyone again, hopefully real soon”.
Tim Langford’s interview from October, 2016, with writer Henry Carrigan, can be viewed here:http://www.bluesblastmagazine.com/featured-interview-tim-too-slim-langford/