Duke Tumatoe spent time as a member of REO Speedwagon then formed The All-Star Frogs. The Frogs lasted for thirteen years. after dissolving the All-Star Frogs, Duke Tumatoe and The Power Trio where formed in 1983. The Power Trio is still at it today, this year playing about 200 shows.
Recently I sat down with Duke, at the Rock Island Brewing Company, and asked him a few questions.
Billy Rose: It’s nice to meet you; I’ve always known you as Duke Tumatoe. where did the doctor come from?
Duke Tumatoe: Nice to meet you too Billy. Well we did an album in ’92 called Doctor Duke and I incorporated it into uh…we did a Detroit Junior song called If I Hadn’t Been High…and I kind of expanded the premises to be doctor of highology…ya know self educated doctor of highology (laughter)…so from that aspect it’s a self titled thing…and I enjoyed it and people enjoyed it and it’s just something that stuck.
Billy Rose: OK I understand. You got started playing the drums, then moved to guitar…do you play any other instruments?
Duke Tumatoe: No, not well enough to talk about…actually my drumming is so bad anymore…I understand the simple concepts of it, if I work for a couple of weeks I might be able to play something…it’s been a long time.
Billy Rose: Well you’re a master at guitar.
Duke Tumatoe: Well that’s certainly open to interpretation.
Billy Rose: I really like the slide on this disc.
Duke Tumatoe: Thank you very much, thank you.
Billy Rose: When you first played slide did it come natural or did you have work at it.
Duke Tumatoe: Yeah it came naturally…ya know the more you do the more you see… I mean the aspect of playing slide is more of an attitude than a science. you know guitar playing can sometimes have some technical aspects to it…and slide has a basic feel to it actually…its really open to being as creative as you want to be…it’s a wonderful approach to guitar.
Billy Rose: You’re known for your great sense of humor. where did that come from…is it from growing up in the tough city of Chicago?
Duke Tumatoe: I don’t think so…I think…the thing you need to think about is I grew up listening to the first generation of electric blues players…ya know like Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf and the Walters…and Little Milton, Willie Dixon…as I said just a few minutes ago. if you listen to all 600 Willie Dixon songs…500 of them are funny. and if you listen to Detroit Junior stuff if I Hadn’t Been High…Albert Collins I’m Not Drunk I’m Just Drinkin’…or if he sounds like he’s washing dishes with his guitar…all that stuff…there’s humor…blues is more about humor and reducing the stress in your life and looking at hardships through a kaleidoscope…ya know Big Legged Woman…all that kind of stuff. Three Hundred Pounds of Heavenly Joy…there’s just a litany of stuff…humor is where their coming from…to relieve your major daily problems…that’s the idea. I think there’s a misconception by people who don’t listen to a lot of blues…who think that it’s not funny…some of it is just hysterical.
Billy Rose: So it’s more of a learned thing from listening to the blues as you were growing up.
Duke Tumatoe: Yeah, and I also look at life with a grain of salt and a sense of humor…’cause if you look at all the things that happen in life…you go son-of-a-gun…I’m going back to bed (laughter).
Billy Rose: You produced this CD, is that something you like to do, or would you rather have somebody else do that?
Duke Tumatoe: Well, we did an album in the late 80’s that John Fogerty produced…and that was great ’cause obviously his track record is something…if you have somebody produce your record that’s a great one to have produce. but after that I’ve worked with some producers that I didn’t have a lot of confidence in. So at least from my aspect at this point in my career…unless it’s somebody I completely trust…I’d rather do it myself. I mean I’m not…I don’t spend every day in the studio so there’s short comings in what I do…things I don’t know…that somebody who does it all the time would…but unless there’s something that they hear that I think is in a way constructive to what I do…it would be hard to work with them.
Billy Rose: So you just know what you want and you work toward that.
Duke Tumatoe: Yeah, yeah exactly.
Billy Rose: Did you grow up in a musical family?
Duke Tumatoe: No, my brother…who is 22 years older than I am…played the saxophone…and my mother could sing…her family could sing…but of my family…I was the only one who was driven musically.
Billy Rose: So it must have come from listening to the neighborhood players.
Duke Tumatoe: Yeah…I guess I had…when I was really young I wanted to play drums…I just kept pestering and pestering and finally my parents went along with it. Then I borrowed a guitar when I was in high school…I eventually worked a job and bought a guitar…and kept workin’ and workin’ at it. But it is obviously something I was supposed to do…I think god had a plan for me…and I’m very grateful…’cause I’ve seen how hard people have to work…although we put in a lot of time and we travel a lot…I got a wonderful job. and it’s something I had a tremendous drive to do…and I’m grateful that’s the way my life has gone.
Billy Rose: The band on this disc sounds great.
Duke Tumatoe: Thank you…don’t tell them that…they’ll ask for more money. (laughs)
Billy Rose: The band has been together for a long time now…do you still surprise each other on stage?
Duke Tumatoe: Oh yeah, I think that’s part of the aspect of the whole thing…they’re creative people, so you have things happen…and the aspect of moving around from place to place…creates different energies. Different things happen that you’re kind of surprised about…every place you go gives the music a different attitude. and really if you’re a performer playing blues music…and I’m sure other kinds of music…I just talk from what I know…when the crowd reacts to ya, all kinds of things go on…you go, oh really!…you know.
Billy Rose When you formed your own label what was the idea behind that…you wanted more freedom…more control?
Duke Tumatoe: You know the internet opened up that avenue of putting songs out, CD’s out there…rather than going out and soliciting a label where you have experiences that are good and experiences that are not so good…I’m in a position because of avenues that are open to me…that I could put out a CD, on my own label and do well. If you put a CD out on your own label and sell 20 thousand copies…the money you get is as much as putting out a CD on somebody else’s label and selling 150 thousand copies. Granted it’s not the same leverage you have on a label…but you can get out what you want to get out…and sell 20 thousand of ’em and you’re in pretty good shape. But in the last few years, there’s so much downloading goin’ on and there’s not as much space in the marketplace for truly independent one-artist labels. Because you can’t get distribution and music stores that you sell CD’s to are no longer there. Now you’re selling on Amazon or CD Baby…it’s a different ballgame now…so a label is really helpful.
Billy Rose: I can’t believe how hard brick and mortar record shops have to work now just to stay afloat. They don’t get near the walk in customers they did just a few years ago.
Duke Tumatoe: No, unless they have some kind of real novelty clientele…unless they specialize in something other people don’t have…and they still don’t have the numbers…well Tower Records just went out of business and the other one…Sam Goody. it’s just a different market…just like everything else, so much is done electronically…you have to accept that and find your place there.
Billy Rose: Do you or the guys have any side projects going on right now? I know you do the Bob and Tom Radio Show.
Duke Tumatoe: Jim Hill the keyboard guy directs a church choir in Benton Harbor Michigan, Mark Rohrman gives bass lessons; Toby Seiler the drummer is part owner of a music store, the Music Center of Greenfield. They’re all musically related.
Billy Rose: Are there any players out there that you would really like to play with?
Duke Tumatoe: Oh wow, there are a bunch of ’em. Joe Bonamassa I’d like to play with him sometime, Johnny a there are so many I can’t begin to name them.
Billy Rose: Who has been biggest influence in your musical career?
Duke Tumatoe: The guy who inspired me…to be a musician…is Muddy Waters…we don’t play alike, we don’t sing alike…but I believe in my humble respect, that we approach music in the same way. And there are a bunch more Wes Montgomery, Albert King, BB King…J B Hutto.
Billy Rose: It must have been really cool growing up in the same neighborhood as all those great blues legends.
Duke Tumatoe: It was wonderful…it was just wonderful. and it’s even more wonderful now when I think about it…in retrospect…because it was something that I just took for granted…people say really, you heard those guys…I heard those guys all the time.
Billy Rose: Well that covers all of my questions, thanks Duke for your time. Best wishes to you and the guys in the band.
Duke Tumatoe: Good night and we love you!