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“The old blues comes back to the new Eddy.”
That’s how Friday Jan. 18 is being billed as locally based blues-rock act the Thomas T. Blues Band return to Calgary’s one-time “home of the blues” to try to bring back those early memories of a local music landmark.
There is a great deal of truth in that advertising as Tom Tutty, guitarist, frontman and namesake of the rockin’ rhythm and blues band was there at the beginning, part of the first wave of local acts who helped write the legend of the King Eddy, plant the music’s roots in the city.
We’re sitting in Rosso across the street in Studio Bell talking about those early days, how it came to be what it was, what it is now, and Tutty is in a good mood, excited about the possibility of reanimating some of those ghosts from the past.
The musician actually grew up in Ontario, getting weaned on artists such as Ronnie Hawkins, before making his way to the West Coast because, as he says, “What do young men do? They go west.”
Vancouver proved to be a great training ground because it was one of the few places in this country that American blues musicians would go at the time — The Egress a hotspot for some of the finest travelling international acts in the ’70s.
Fate, however, brought him to this city later in the decade, when things weren’t so fruitful for bands of the blues.
“In the beginning it was the bike gangs that would hire you and not too many other people,” Tutty says. “And then slowly it drifted into some restaurants. There were a few of us who had a little blues thing that we did, and then the King Eddy started and of course now we’ve got a base.”
That was in the early ’80s when new owner Jack Karp attempted to add to an entertainment repertoire that featured mainly afternoon shows by dancers of the exotic variety and music that was of both kinds: country and western.
When he decided to officially make it “Calgary’s home of the blues” — or “gutbucket blues,” at it was lovingly referred to — Tutty was there to see it take off and become a unique community hub.
“Everyone from the bikers to the mayor, the police chief,” he says of the crowds it attracted.
“The bikers are in the back, police chief is in the front, everyone is walking by everybody and nobody has a problem, because it was the King Eddy.
“That’s the kind of thing that happens only sporadically, here and there at different times, you get this little explosion of culture and that’s what it was.”
He was a regular performer there, along with other local blues vets such Bill Hills, Don Johnson, Bill Dowey, Ray Lemelin, Tim Williams, Amos Garrett and John Rutherford, and he was, like many, just a regular.
“I saw everybody that came, played with everybody that came,” he says, with such stars gracing the stage as Buddy Guy and Junior Wells.
As for highlights, the artist says there are “too many,” but an immediate one that springs to mind is sitting around a table with Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues after a show singing Howlin’ Wolf tunes, which he calls a “wow moment for me.”
And then, well, then came the closure of the Eddy in 2004, which Garrett allegedly called, “a mercy killing.”
Before that, though, Tutty had all but retired to B.C. with his wife. One divorce later, he was back in the city, looking for a “fresh start,” resuming his musical career with the Thomas T. Blues Band.
The past three years have seen him running blues jams around town and in Airdrie, waiting for the opportunity to become part of the new King Eddy’s story.
That happens Friday and should hopefully be another “wow moment” for the artist.
As far as criticisms about the reopened room — not the same, not the blues, not what it was, etc. — well, he’s heard those and knows that the new room can probably never capture the essence or feel of the old gal, which was a once-in-a-lifetime venue and a moment in time. But he’s still looking forward to injecting his high-octane take on the blues into the fabric of what it will and can be for years to come.
His own criticisms? There are two, and both are mild.
The first is one that he hopes can be rectified for his band’s set — the need for a dancefloor at the front, perhaps a couple of tables moved to the side for those who wish to get up and get down should the mood strike them.
The other? That’s something that recalls the early days of the Eddy and is about as old school as you can get.
“I kept asking them, ‘Well, where are the motorcycles going to park? Where’s their parking?’ ” He laughs.
“So, yes, they did chop it down. But say what you will, it’s a music venue, it’s promoting live music and artists, and they give you a little bit of this, a little bit of that — I saw some blues in here a month or so ago with Don Johnson and Sue Foley.
“Now, a few months later, you have the Thomas T. Band. So our music is being injected into the mix and I’m very happy about that.”