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Tom Maloney

Tom MaloneySTLBlues: Thanks for giving the time for this interview.

TM: My pleasure, it's great to talk about Blues music. Internationally, American show biz is still the best, and especially when it comes to Blues.....they're right.

STLBlues: Are you from St. Louis?

TM: Born and raised in St. Louis. I grew up in Mehlville, went to Mehlville grade school and high school. I played music all through junior high and high school, played all the CYC dances. I think St. Louis has such a history - East St. Louis too - that if Berry Gordy would have lived here, St. Louis would have been Motown! Soul music was really big then, but I liked it all. I enjoyed the Beatles, the Byrds and the Yardbirds. All the English and American pop stuff. What I was learning from all the older chicks that were going to the dances was that they would rave about like "Screamin" Joe Neal down at the Peppermint Club. And of course Ike Turner was happening in St. Louis. They had a big influence on all the people playing music, even the English bands knew about that. Growing up in St. Louis in the 60's was great. Great music scene, a lot of work and a lot of musicians, there was a lot of interracial action too. Black and white playing in the same bands, working together. I think that was positive. The whole thing with the youth culture that was growing in the 60's, it had a lot of positive aspects, but a lot of negative things came through then also.

I remember hearing the older musicians like Bellboy, Ike Turner, Chuck Berry, and of course Albert King. I remember a guy saying he'd been playing guitar a long time, played honky-tonk in the key of E - it's really an F where you have to bar - anyway, he said when he saw Chuck Berry playing in the 1st position & playing his F and B flat, he couldn't believe he (Chuck) had hands big enough to do that. He said in his day Chuck Berry was the equivalent of what Jimi Hendrix was to me. You'd hear the legends of the guys from the older musicians.... you know, the oral tradition. They'd talk about seeing Ike at the Club Imperial, seeing him play with his teeth and behind his head. Most local guys, when they saw Jimi do that, knew right where that source came from. Ike was a wild man on stage, he was the baddest thing going! You know that Jimi and Ike saw each other, maybe while he was with the Isley Brothers and Ike & Tine were on the same thing. I'm sure there was some influence there. Hendrix was like a sponge, he soaked up all the influence. In St. Louis, of course, Ike was a happening thing. When you get into St. Louis history, I believe you'll find that St. Louis University had one of the 1st recording studios west of the Mississippi. Apparently, I hear that tapes exist from early recordings from the Streckfus Steamers, which is what Louis Armstrong played on. You can go back to people like Lonnie Johnson, who recorded a lot in St. Louis, and hung out here. Around the turn of the century, there was a lot of activity in St. Louis. Then later on in the 50's and 60's, jazz was happening here, like Miles Davis.

St. Louis has it's own unique musical style, whether it's interpretation or rhythm. But remember that a lot of people who make St. Louis their home weren't t born and raised here. I'm familiar with Clarksdale, Ms., and the Blues style that came from there, but didn't realize that Ike Turner and Clayton Love came from there too! The delta area produced a lot of great music, but I also think that a lot of it originated here. When I was growing up here, live music wasn't what it is today. Back then, as a teen, if there was a dance, 300+ people was the norm, bad weather might keep it down to 200! These were high school, non-alcohol type things, but people went to dance. By the time I got out of high school, it was more the "sit down and listen" type thing. What was beautiful about that was when I got to see Muddy Waters with Otis Spann at the Rainy Day club in north St. Louis right after he made "Electric Mud" on Chess records. Muddy opened up with an instrumental lick that became our bands opening lick. I first saw Albert King over at Prince Nights Palace in Belleville. That was after he recorded "Live Wire". He just blew me away! I had never seen anything like that. Here were all these hippies sitting around with their legs crossed....and there was Albert. Blues were accepted right along with Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. It always helps you enjoy music more when you know where it came from, makes it more personal & enjoyable.

Tom Maloney in the JJBSTLBlues: A common perception is that it took English rockers such as Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger to re-introduce blues music to America, even though it originated here. Do you see it that way?

(photo with Tom along with Frank Bauer - the Jeremiah Johnson Band)

TM: That's interesting you bring that up, because that's my theory too. A dilemma in America is that when we discover something, we commercialize it, and it loses its soul! Now the Blues I believe was always kept alive, but it was held back and put down because of the race issue and the attitudes in the world at that time. Martin Luther King -God bless his soul, we just celebrated his birthday - made a big difference in bringing awareness to people and acceptance of all races, and the various cultures and art forms. The Blues never really lost its soul like Rock & Roll, but Rock & Roll did, and had to come back through the Beatles. Mick Jagger saw that Willie Dixon had written all these songs, and Mick learned them (writer's note-as you're probably aware, the name "Rolling Stone" is derived from a Muddy Waters tune!). Mick was keen to see that, and he wrote to Chess Records. People who lived in Chicago didn't even know about that stuff, they were having cocktails listening to Perry Como with their sweaters on. That was the American culture at the time, but there was a whole other thing going on. Some will argue that the English rockers ripped the Blues guys off. Some guys were good and saw that the royalties were paid, some didn't!

It's like the Blues Brothers-in away, it's blues blasphemy -but yet it brought the blues to a whole new generation. A lot of the young Black people didn't really identify with blues, where these crazy weird, hippie, white kids did because they were feeling like they didn't fit in with their own society, and they and they found a place in their hearts for this! I think it surprised a lot of the people that played it, you know, that people would want to hear them play this. I think that jazz kind of cuts its own throat in a way. I mean, it used to be the vernacular-everybody knew jazz, just like now everybody knows rock and roll. Jazz then went south of the border and it came Back as Latin music. Swing is coming back now. And, I'm happy about it-Vargas Swing and those guys are just incredible. And to think there is an audience. I always knew that musicians and music buffs were always digging swing, and knew its relationship to the blues and T-Bone Walker. The guys, John Wolf (local trombone) are with-Roomful of Blues-what I would hope is that the audience would pick up on is the dancing involved. Because that's one of the joys of that kind of music.

People like Marcell Strong - now he is doing that thing at Tullys'. I recently played with him. Every Saturday he has got his dance crowd and they all come in and do their shuffles. Marcell's got a great band! He has a drummer from Greenwood, Mississippi, named Anthony, and that cat can put his foot in it, man! I mean, he is holding that shuffle. In fact, we just had it set up in a little area, and he just brought in his snare drum, base drum, ride cymbal, and his hi-hat, and he just held that beat there. I loved it! Chalmas "Bell Boy" Carter, one of the guys I was so privileged to work with, was an incredible drummer. Bell Boy could play a shuffle beat and just hold it no frills. I've got a tape of J.J., Bell Boy, Harold White and me on sax and Vernon Guy, and Richard Dewey on bass. We're playing over at Poor Bobs in Eagle Park. We're doing Kansas City and Bell Boy just holds that shuffle all the way! He puts his first fill on the drums after the second verse leading into the solo. Most drummers are putting a fill every four measures or so. Bell Boy was great. He understood how to create sounds. I remember Johnnie Johnson remaking it - Bell Boys last gig. It was Gus Thorton, with Vernon Fred Bone on sax, Papa Ray sat in with us too. We didn't know it would be Bell Boy's last job. We expected him to be here forever like the rest of us. It was the night Johnnie got married to Frances, talk about dedication. It was on Valentine's Day and we played a gig that night-can you believe it? It's on video, unfortunately it ended up being Bell Boy's last gig. Oddly enough, two of the best drummers I ever worked with, BellBoy and Jimmy Miller, ended up working with Johnnie Johnson and me on their last gigs. Bell Boy was a legend, played with Bennie Sharp and the Sharpies, which included Vernon Guy and Stacy Johnson. When I was growing up in Mehlville, one of the hot spots was Sunset Teen Town. I had heard about Bennie Sharp and the Sharpies first where I was living.

STLBlues: Looking back to your youth, when did you decide "I want to be a musician?"

TM: That goes back! Good question. It is one I asked myself for many years. I grew up the son of Tom and Laverne Maloney. I have two sisters. Peggy and Jeanine, both younger than me. Both my parents played the piano. We had one in the living room. My mom played classical piano and sang in an operatic style, and would sing at weddings and church functions, and also taught dancing. We had a bust of Chopin in the living room by the piano. My dad liked Count Basie and Earl "Father" Thimes. They loved music and loved piano. Both my parents could play Maple Leaf Rag and they would play that song in the living room. I guess I was two or three years old and would go running through the house and dive into the pillows on the couch. Then I would roll on the ground while they were playing. That flipped me out! I was running around the room in fits of joy! Scot Joplin is the one that made me freak out on music. When my mom sang opera, she had a lovely voice, but it would kinda bum me out-it was like me playing my first fuzz tone at her. When I first heard Scott Joplin that rang my bell, I loved it! I think the next thing that hooked me on the piano was boogie-woogie. My parents had thing of piano duets with Albert Almands and Pete Johnson on a boxed set of 78's. Oh man, that was what really hooked me on music. I took accordion lessons when I was in kindergarten. I didn't really want to, but it was like, "How would you like to play the accordion?...What's an accordion? Go wash your hands your teacher is going to be here." I did that for a couple of years. Then switched to the piano when my parents bought a big expensive one. Boy, I wish I had that now, I'd be doing some zydeco for you (laughs), I really wasn't interested in the piano, so they let me quit. That was in second or third grade. By the time I was in sixth grade, Hootenanny was on TV, and I was just lovin' guitar. The thing that drew me to guitar was the last 5 minutes of the Ozzie and Harriet show, which would have Ricky Nelson playing guitar, a Martin, with all that leather. Even more, when Ricky would be singing, the camera would pan to all the dancers. James Barton would play a solo! That's what freaked me out. It made me think "that's what I want to do!" James played on a lot of what Ricky recorded; not the really early stuff, but all the way up until James went with Elvis Presley.

I had played the keyboards and piano for a couple years, but it was all polkas and "Mary had a little lamb" type stuff. It wasn't exactly exciting to me. The big one I did enjoy was the "Marine's Hymn" I played on the accordion. Then I heard the acoustic guitar played by Peter, Paul and Mary. Seemed like everybody had guitars, it was cool! Then I see James Burton-oh yeah! His notes sounded like gold coming out of the TV. That was for me! I also dug the Ventures and all that kind of stuff . When I really got into playing music in bands is when I heard all the older people telling me about Bell Boy and screaming Joe Neal, and Ike and Tina Turner. I followed that and when I hit James Brown, I thought I had really gotten into some deep stuff. I was about 15 years old at this time-not even driving, just a kid. I went to the Tesson Heights library and got the Columbia album "Father and folk Blues" by Sam House. I'd never heard anything like that voice and guitar. He just blew me away! I got to see Mississippi Fred "I Don't Play No Rock 'n Roll" McDowell at the Fox Theatre. Mark O'Shaughnessey (of BB's) was there too. Big Mama Thornton, and Johnny Shines played along with Mississippi Fred. Here I was, a kid of 15-16 years old, at the Fox, watching Fred McDowell play. I thought I was getting into some heavy stuff with James Brown, and then I checked these people out. I was a record collector and they were like my books. I enjoyed reading; but mainly magazines and newspapers. I actually had the nerve to walk up to Johnnie Shines at the drinking fountain and say "Hi" to him. I really enjoyed his music and I was just being your typical fan. I had no idea of being a performer and having fans approach you. I was really glad I did, he was really engaging and a great guy to talk with. He actually told me a story of him and Robert Johnson playing for beers down around where the Broadway Oyster Bar and BB's is now. He said they would carry beer in buckets on long sticks in front of you and two behind. That was how they stayed alive-drinking beer and maybe getting a hot dog. They never played together, but they would work both sides of the street . What an amazing story to hear from Johnny Shines. Anyway, this show was in the late 60's when the Fox was still showing movies. It was great to see Johnny Shines do this show. He would start with a song by Blind Lemon Jefferson, and then tell the history of the blues using a style of finger pickin'.

Bands join free

Another big thing I remember from back then was Gabriel on KATZ radio. I remember when he went to KDNA. The music of Gabriel, Elmore James AND Frosty by Albert Collins impacts me as much today as it did then. Their music is timeless. I remember when I saw Muddy Waters, he was actually led to the stage by hand and it made me realize that these guys are not going to be around forever. Another fabulous concert I saw in St. Louis was Howlin' Wolf at the Lowe's Mid City down near the Fox with Hubert Sumlin playing a Rickenbacher. He had a drummer and saxophone and I think Bob Anderson was the bass player. This was a great concert. I go to it and who should open up but a guy I never before and since have become great friends with, none other than Tommy Bankhead and The Blues El Dorado's. It was great! They came out and played, and the music washed over you like a wave from the ocean. They were grooving on a shuffle, it was just Tommy, a bass player and a drummer. I'm not sure if it was Ben on guitar. I'm sure Tommy could tell you. So a fire had been started. And then the lights went down, and there was a wonderful introduction by a local radio personality for Jimmy Reed Jr. The band was pumping and the spotlight came on and hit Jimmy Reed Jr. as he came out stage left. He was dressed in a really cool cream colored suit, with a black shirt on, and shades to match. Well he comes bopping out, and the crowd just goes wild. So he's out onstage, and reaches in his pocket for his harp, feels around, reaches in his other pocket, still not there. So he's looking all over and can't find it. So he has to go back off stage and find his harmonica! It was the funniest thing I ever saw. He was great though, and sounded just like his dad. And then Wolf's band hit the stage! I remember thinking wow, this really a good band. They sounded really tight, had that good Chicago sound. And there was a chair sitting there, a wooden chair, with a mike stand sitting next to it. Out comes Howlin' Wolf, man, and he's huge. He had huge chest, and he comes out, sits down, and the band is playing away, and he starts tapping his big ol' foot, starts blowing on his harp, and it sounded like a train coming right through that room. His harp was just great! He wasn't like Paul Butterfield, just hopping all over the place, hitting notes all over the scale, but his sound was great. Then he broke into the "Killin floor", and man, these big ol' ladies rushed the stage from all over the place. I thought I was at a rock concert or something. Hubert Sumlin was an outstanding guitar player, almost on a level with Albert King. He was so unique, and used dynamics, he'd go loud and then soft. I was so glad I got to see Howlin' and Muddy. I wanted see all the old guys. And the more I did, the more of it I soaked up. I remember seeing Furry Lewis play slide, and it was like a revelation. His hand was doing this dance on this little area of the guitar, and I thought,'wow, that's it'. He was almost blind when I saw him. A friend of mine interviewed him, so I kind of got to hang with him a little.

STLBlues: What music did you first try to cover, when you began playing guitar?

TM: It was like the "Animal house" party music. "Louie, Louie", stuff like that. We were more a patio or breezeway band (laughs). We'd play whatever was on the radio that we could figure out. "Twist and shout", "Money", that was a big one! Then there was the C, A minor, F,G slow songs. That would've been when I was in Jr. high. By the time I was in high school I was playing in soul bands. I was with a group of singers called the "Cashmere's". They'd do some Temptations, a lot of Motown. "With this ring", by the Platters, a great song! I was playing bass then, still played guitar, but I'd play wherever anyone wanted me. I'd play bass in one band and guitar in another band. The "Cashmere's" were great, we'd do stuff like the Impressions, "The woman's got soul", or "People get ready". I love that music to this day, it's ingrained in me. People might say that's the pop, cheesy stuff, but I love it. The ballads, not the syrupy stuff. Chuck Jackson, all the soul stuff, I loved it. I think the Motown music was some of the most uplifting and positive stuff ever done. Marvin Gaye even got into social commentary.

STLBlues: How did that evolve into your playing blues music?

TM: It kind of all worked together at the same time. It's funny, whenever I practice music I always end up playing boogie-woogie on the piano, or blues on the guitar. I think that Scott Joplin thing is always in the background, and I think that boogie-woogie is the most exciting music I've ever heard. Here in town we have great talent, like Johnnie Johnson, Clayton Love, Silvercloud, James Crutchfield, Beth Tuttle, all the greats! The thing about boogie-woogie is that you have to have great endurance, because you're all over those keyboards, repeating a rhythmic pattern over and over! Living here in St. Louis, being able to see performances and meet and work with all the people I have, it's been like a wonderful realization of a childhood dream. To work with people like Johnnie Johnson and Oliver Sain, just to be onstage with them, it's great. When I was young, I was given a box of old 45's by my godparents daughter Cindy, a very nice woman and good friend of mine. They were big music fans, the whole family. So she gave me this box of 45's, and in there was Maybelline on the Chess label, and "Let's do trippin" by Dick Dale and the Deltones. Listen, for all you blues fans out there, listen to the flip side of Maybelline on the Chess label. It's the song 'In the wee wee hours', by Chuck Berry. I say that this is one of the best blues song's ever recorded. You hear the first two seconds of this song, and all of a sudden its three AM and you're in a bar, the bar is closed, and there's Chuck Berry sitting under a dim light, Johnnie Johnson on the side, and Willie Dixon tucked in a corner somewhere. It's incredible, the atmosphere of that song. Well, I had the sheet music, but I finally decided I was just going to sit down and listen until I learned how to play what I was hearing. Music lessons were not giving me what I wanted. I knew this guy down the street, Bob Bosch, had been playing, and he had already figured some stuff out. Bob told me 'I just had to figure it out'. So I said "Tom, that's what you have to do". So thank you, Bob Bosch, for inspiring me. So I practiced that song over and over. I'd find the first note, and then is it up or down from there? So one of first songs I learned to play on my own was "In the wee wee hours", which features some of Johnnie Johnson's finest Rockin 88'spiano playing - in fact Johnnie told me that of the three or four songs they recorded that day, "In the wee wee hours" was what they were figuring was their strongest song and would be their hit record! Maybelline was a joke record that they switched the name on because the secretary had Maybelline eyeliner, so Chuck rewrote the words to "Ida Red", and the rest is history.

STLBlues: Tell us about "Rockin 88's" on the Modern Blue label.

TM: That was a lot of fun. It was the last recording for Jimmie Vaughn. There was a lot of great material that we recorded that is sitting in a vault somewhere, and it would be great to see something done with that, now that Bell Boy, Jimmie and Vernon have passed away.

STLBlues: Tom, thanks for granting STLBlues this interview, and we'll see you around town!

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