Friday, March 13, 2009

T.T. Tucker, a.k.a. Tom Diventi, as Himself

This weekend is jam-packed with music, so what better time to profile my dear friend T.T. Tucker?

I am not sure when I first met Tucker. It was at least 10 years ago, and I am sure a good bit of alcohol was involved. I probably met him through Thom Hickling, or it may have been the other way around. Or it may have been through Anne Fulweiler at Baltimore Theater Project. It's a mystery.

I have always known him as Tucker, and that is what he likes to go by, but as more people hear about, "Smalltimore," and see the trailer, I have had more than one person say, "Tom Diventi?! I know that guy!!!" Said people are often musicians, late forties to early fifties, and won't give me much more information than some sort of vague, "it was 'back in the day'," kind of answer. It is probably better to not know the details, so I don't press the issue.

Again, don't really remember how it came about (and this was only 10 years ago, not 30, so maybe those people aren't being as purposely elusive with the details as I sometimes think they are), but I hired Tucker and his band, the Bum Rush Band, to play at my second annual holiday party. The 10th and final one was in December 2007, when I announced I would be making this movie, which was nearly precisely the moment when my previous life-as-I-had-known-it vaporized. The place where I work my day job and had that party is a very ornate Victorian mansion in Mount Vernon. Tall gilt mirrors over marble fireplace mantles, a Knabe square grand piano that is likely older than the house itself, one of the most beautiful chandeliers I have ever seen, decoupage on the ceilings, each room has a different pattern AND different border pattern in the parquet floors... you get the idea... and every guest dressed as if they are going to the Baltimore version of Oscar night...

Enter T.T.Tucker & the Bum Rush Band.

I have a magnet on my refrigerator which holds up a photograph of my parents. It says, "The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed."

T.T.Tucker plays an upscale party in a turn-of-the-century mansion. This ought to be interesting.

It was awesome, so awesome that Tucker & the boys played every holiday party of mine thereafter. The first year of the party, in 1998, I had a more conservative, soft rock sort of band. They were lovely, but I don't think a single person danced. Tucker arrived year two, and played the final 9 of 10 parties. What was so great about this seeming miss-match of performer and venue is that to me, it represented all things Baltimore. Like most people, my friends and acquaintances love to dress to the nines, sip champagne over great food and conversation... generally speaking, who doesn't like to play grown-up? And how many times a year do you actually get to do so? But the beauty, the REAL beauty of being a grown-up is never having to hear, "while you're under my roof..." again, because now it is YOUR roof. And under my roof, the rule is, you gotta have a good time.

So, being a grown-up, I can have ice cream for breakfast. Stay up late. Skip the lima beans. And hire a cow-punk/southern rock/rockabilly/whatever you want to call them , loud, fun band for my hoity-toity holiday party! And it worked! It really worked. I think having Tucker and the guys play kept the party legitimately Baltimore. Here are a whole bunch of people who don't spend a lot of time in high heels or suit jackets. I think if I had a string trio playing chamber music, we would all have felt like imposters. But instead, having Tucker there I feel made everyone relax, have fun, and be able to be themselves. Some years Tucker would dress up, too. Some years he'd show up with his signature jeans jacket with the sleeves cut off. It didn't matter to me. T.T.Tucker and the Bum Rush Band made my now-legendary parties just that. They wouldn't have been the same without him.

Tucker's role in "Smalltimore," is not huge, but he is so perfectly himself in it. He ad-libbed more than any other actor in the film, and I let him, because he was always natural and always funny. He and the Bum Rush boys - Jamie Wilson, Wayne Werner, Craig Hopwood, and Stevie Cecil - were so helpful and cooperative in helping Phil Calvert to get a grasp on the role of Thom, which was based loosely on their deceased bandmate, Thom Hickling. Tucker and the guys told Phil loads of stories about Thom, practiced songs with him on their own time before we started production, and even let him sit in on a live gig at the Cat's Eye Pub. I know that working through this story with a make-believe Thom had to have been a bit tough for Tucker. It was tough for me, but Thom was Tucker's best friend. He never complained about that, though, even when I asked. He keeps those things to himself. Though you might hear it in a song of his.

Tucker & the guys are featured performing songs in Smalltimore such as "How Did We Survive," "That Was Then/This is Now," and "Garden of Stone," as well as contributing several other songs as background music. They did me the huge favor of recording two songs that I wanted specifically for the movie - "America is One Tough Town," which, when Tucker first wrote and started playing that at gigs, replaced "That Was Then/This Is Now" as my favorite T.T.Tucker song. You can also hear it on the trailer (click on top video at the right). As a matter of fact, you can hear "That Was Then" on the original teaser, which is the video on the bottom right.

The other song they recorded for me is, "The Other Side", a song that Tucker wrote for Thom after Thom died in December 2005. The day after Thom died I went out of town and was gone for almost a month, so I missed 2 of the 3 memorial gatherings that different groups of Thom's friends and co-workers had for him. Tucker and the band played these parties, and played this song at one or both of them. I was back in time for the final party, but by then Tucker decided they couldn't play that song live anymore, it was just too sad and would bring the house down, not in a good way, and it was just too much for Tucker and the guys personally. So I have never, ever heard that song performed live, and I doubt I ever will. But "Smalltimore" is dedicated to Thom, and I really wanted it for the soundtrack. Again without complaint, Tucker and the guys worked hard to get the song done in time for me to edit it into the film in time for the December 27th (third anniversary of Thom's death) screening of the rough cut of the movie. I know it was a sacrifice of time for all of them, and just plain not an easy thing to do, emotionally. Words can't express my appreciation to Tucker, Jamie, Craig, Stevie and Wayne for doing that. It is a beautiful song, and it breaks my heart every time.

But on to happier things. T.T.Tucker & the Bum Rush Band are playing at the Cat's Eye Pub in Fells Point this Sunday night, March 15th. I'll be there, so come on down and say hi, have a Natty Bo, throw a few dollars in the tip bucket! They are there the third Sunday of every month. Click on their link under the "Partners in Crime" section on the right to view their web page and link to their songs. Whether you know him as T.T.Tucker or as Tom Diventi, there is no denying that he is a piece of work, and a piece of work that can play the hell out of a song.

p.s. Also on the musical menu this weekend, Jen Swartout plays tonight at 9:00pm El Rancho Grande in Hampden; Lawnchair (with drummer Jimmy Brink) plays tonight at 10:00pm at the Waterfront Hotel in Fells Point; I may make it to one or both of those, after attending the Shorts Screening at the Creative Alliance. And, The Remnants also play tonight at Armadillo's in Annapolis. Click on their links to the right, pick your pleasure and go out and have a good time tonight! Also keep your eyes peeled for performances by Reina Williams and Lazerbitch, they have each had several performances pop up lately at places such as Joe Squared.

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