Home of the Live Music Calendar Follow STLBlues on Twitter Follow STLBlues on Facebook Home of the Live Music Calendar Live Music Is Better, Book It Here!! Live music is better, book yours now!

Tommy Bankhead

Tommy Bankhead....a legendary name synonymous with St. Louis Blues music. Just mention his name to any true St. Louis Blues lover, and you'll see what I mean. Mr. Bankhead was kind enough to grant this interview, and selected BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups as the site of the interview (another name synonymous with St. Louis Blues music).

Born in Lake Cormorant, Ms. on October 24, 1931, we are certainly blessed that this talented man chose to make St. Louis his home. Mr. Bankhead has a history that reads like a Blues " Who's Who", beginning with his early days playing with Woodrow Adams and the 3 B's, Joe Hill Louis, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, and of course, our local Blues Patriarch Henry Townsend. From his beginnings here with his group 'The Landrockers", Tommy then went on to form his locally famous group The Blues Eldorados, and could be seen playing down in Soulard every weekend for over 17 years. Give a warm St. Louis welcome to Mr. Tommy Bankhead, a STLBlues legend!

STLBlues: First let me thank you for taking the time to come and grant STLBlues this interview

TB: My pleasure

STLBlues: Let's start off with the standard question "where were you born"?

TB: In Lake Cormorant, MS., in 1931

STLBlues: How were you exposed to music?

TB: Well, my dad used to play guitar, but he quit before I was born. I remember crawling under my mom & dads bed and hitting the strings. My mama whupped me (laughs), and my dad sold the guitar! We'd have musicians come in from out of town, like Howlin' Wolf & different guys, and play on the corner. Well, I used to skip out at night and go hear some of the guys. That's how I got started.

STLBlues: So Howlin' Wolf was a big influence on you?

TB: I just loved his music, but I didn't have no special one......actually, I liked B. B. King a lot

STLBlues: How old were you when you actually picked up an instrument and started playing?

TB: Oh, I'd imagine I was about 9.

STLBlues: Who do you credit with inspiring your love of music?

TB: A man by the name of Woodrow Adams. I used to sneak into juke joints around town, and that's when I first saw him. I was probably 14 or 15 at the time. I would get with him every chance I could, he taught me a lot.

STLBlues: Was the guitar your first instrument?

TB: I started on the Jews harp, and then I went to harmonica, and I was trying to learn guitar at the same time. I think that's what started me playing in a one-man band. I played drums, harmonica, and guitar at the same time.

STLBlues: I can't imagine that, I can't play one instrument at the same time. That's incredible! So did you start playing just for fun around the house?

TB: Yeah, well, I couldn't play around my house, my mother wouldn't allow it. So I'd go over to a friends house. We had a guitar, and I'd play over there. We'd take it in his room, and we'd play. We made a band, you know.

STLBlues: Where did your band play?

TB: Juke joints.....people would go out on Saturday night, they'd come in and dance & drink (laughs).

STLBlues: Now this was all down in Mississippi, in the Delta area?

TB: Yes, all through Mississippi and Arkansas.

STLBlues: Some of your early gigs include some with Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Elmore James, legendary names.

TB: Yeah, played with all of them (laughs)

STLBlues: What were they like to perform with?

TB: Well, Sonny Boy, he was kinda rough, because when he wanted you to learn something, you had to rehearse it. You didn't eat, you did not drink, you didn't do ANYTHING until you got it right, you were just there(laughs)! Elmore wasn't bad. He didn't want to quit at night. We'd be playin' this club, and he'd want to go way out in Chicago Heights someplace and get drunk, and I'd be wanting to go to bed (laughs).

STLBlues: How old were you when you moved to St. Louis?

TB: I came to East St. Louis in 1949. Ned Love sent for us. I came up and told him "if he wanted a band". So, they called us, and we were on the ticket!

STLBlues: Who did you come up with?

TB: I came up with Floyd Gilmore and Jessie Davis.

STLBlues: Was Memphis a stop for you on your way to St. Louis?

TB: Yes, I lived there for a while, and played around town. After I came here I went back to Memphis a couple of times and did a couple of shows. I did quite a bit of touring all over the country.

STLBlues: What are some gigs that stand out in your mind?

TB: In the early 1940's I played with Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) all around Helena, Ark. (home to the King Biscuit Blues Festival and the Sonny Boy Blues Club) and throughout the south. I played all over. Ned Love's place over in East St. Louis, I loved playing there.

STLBlues: What was Howlin' Wolf like to play with?

TB: He was strictly business when you'd come on stage, you know. When you'd come up there, you'd come up to do a job! I really appreciated that part, that's the main thing, you know.

STLBlues: Where have you played recently?

TB: I opened up right here at BB's for Jimmie Lane. (son of Chicago Blues legend Jimmie Rogers)

STLBlues: For years you were a fixture every weekend down in Soulard

TB: Yeah, 17 years (laughs), played at Mike and Min's, and at the Oyster Bar.

STLBlues: Tell us about some of the recordings you've been involved with.

TB: Well, I did some recording earlier, but it didn't get anywhere, they sued me!. I didn't know the fine print, and I went and recorded again, and that broke the contract, so they sued me for it. Then later I was introduced to Tom Ray, and they was talking about recording a record. I said, "that's fine", and we recorded under the "Deep Morgan" label.

STLBlues: Is that album still available?

TB: No, they said they lost the master, I don't know. Then I went and recorded a CD over in Austria.

STLBlues: Wasn't there a party held here at BB's in your honor, celebrating your recent retirement from the City Sheriff's department?

TB: Yes, (laughs) I served almost 20 years with the Sheriff's department. Yeah, it was fun....most of the time. In a job like that you have to make it fun. You know what you're up against, you just can't let it get in front of you.

STLBlues: What are you doing now that you've retired?

TB: Looking at TV (laughs). Haven't went fishing yet, but I'm planning on it.

STLBlues: Tell us about your family. Is it large or small?

TB: Well, I have a bunch of kids (laughs)

STLBlues: Do you have any musical plans?

TB: No, I quit planning, just take each day as it comes. If the price is right, I'll still play...I did all those low paying jobs when I was young (laughs).

STLBlues: Do you have any plans to travel?

TB: Well yeah, I plan on going on up to Chicago, and Memphis. I want to see my sister in Chicago. I haven't been to Memphis since B.B. King opened his place there. Been a long time since I've been down there....(laughs).

STLBlues: On behalf of STLBlues, thanks for granting this interview, and enjoy your retirement.

TB: All right, thank you.

 Live Music Calendar | Send Blues News | © STLBlues 2000 | Privacy Policy