Born: January 20, 1936 | Died: June 17, 1993 Primary Instrument: Guitar, electric
Luther Tucker was a consummate blues guitarist with impeccable credentials. His early apprenticeship was under Big Bill Broonzy and Robert Jr. Lockwood. His recordings as session man at Chess Studios led to his eight year stint with Little Walter. That was just the beginning.
Tucker was born in Memphis, Tennessee on January 20, 1936. His father was a carpenter and his mother worked as a boogie pianist and guitarist. The family moved to Chicago when Luther was, seven years old. When Luther was in his early teens, his mother introduced him to the patriarch of Chicago Blues, Big Bill Broonzy. A frequent visitor to Broonzy's home was guitarist, Robert Jr. Lockwood, who took the young Tucker under his wing.
Lockwood's lessons paid off for Luther. Barely 15, he accepted a position playing with his renowned uncle, saxophonist J.T. Big Boy Brown. Together they worked the circuit of Blues clubs throughout the country.
Upon returning to Chicago, Lockwood took Luther to Chess Studios in 1952. Harmonica master, Little Walter, who had recently departed the Muddy Waters Band following the success of his single Juke, was putting together a new band and decided that he would use two guitarists. Lockwood convinced Walter to hire Tucker despite his youth. In October of that year, he made his debut recording on the song Blue Midnight. He would continue to work with Walter's band for the next eight years, appearing on such noted songs as Key To The Highway, Last Night, Mellow Down Easy, and Boom Boom. (Out Go The Lights)
His personal guitar style was already beginning to shine, though the older bluesmen did not want to give up their solos to the youngster. He also contributed to the songwriting, also without much credit.
His studio work and touring with Little Walter helped to make Tucker an in-demand session player. Up through the mid-1960s he recorded extensively with many of the genre's top artists. He appeared on well-known numbers such as Muddy Waters' She's Nineteen Years Old, Five Long Years, and Elevate Me Mama. Works with Sonny Boy Williamson II would include Your Funeral And My Trial, Fattening Frogs For Snakes, One Way Out, and Little Village.
Luther's guitar was also featured on recordings by Otis Spann, Jimmy Rogers, and in 1966, the landmark recordings of Chicago/The Blues/Today! Volume 2 found Tucker paired as second guitarist to West Side master Otis Rush.
In the latter half of the 1960s, Luther Tucker joined the James Cotton Blues Band. He appeared on two albums under the Verve label, Cotton In Your Ears and Pure Cotton both released in 1967. His presence helped gain acclaim for the band and they found themselves performing in larger Rock venues around the country, including The Fillmore in San Francisco. Working with Cotton put his guitar into the lead position and it also displayed an untouched talent of Luther's as well, as Tucker sings for the first time on disc.
While still a member of the James Cotton Blues Band, Luther relocated to the San Francisco area in 1969. In late 1971, Luther became a member of John Lee Hooker's Coast-to-Coast Band. He appeared on the Free Chicken And Beer LP, with the song Bluebird fully capturing his distinctive guitar sound. Other recordings made with Hooker included Live At The Cafe Au Go-Go (And Soledad Prison) and Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive. Luther would work with John Lee Hooker for three years full-time and make occasional appearances as a band member well into the 1980s.
In 1973, he moved across the Bay to Marin County and formed the Luther Tucker Band.
During the mid-1980s, Luther frequently ventured to Austin, Texas, where he performed at the famed Antone's Blues Club. Once again, he found himself backing James Cotton on tours and for a handful of LPs, including the Grammy nominated Live in 1988 which paired him alongside guitarist Matt Guitar Murphy.
Luther returned to Austin in 1993, finally given the opportunity to record an album as the front man. Sad Hours, released on the Antone's label, featured Luther alongside many of the city's most renowned musicians, after which Luther returned to the Bay Area and began working with The Ford Blues Band.
The group traveled to Germany for a festival in May, where they performed several sets solo and behind Lowell Fulson. Luther returned to the United States in early June. On June 17, 1993, he suffered a heart attack, and died the next day at the age of 57.
Source: Greg Johnson