Sunday, July 18, 2010

lil john huff: knucklebuster

In the world of music, there's artists whose life is music and then there's artists whose music is life.  This difference is not lost on Blues DeVille front man, Eric Tipton. Tipton has recently released Knucklebuster, his first solo effort under the name Lil John Huff.  One look at the track list on Knucklebuster confirms this... College Song, Coach's Son, Daddy Daughter, Old Cars... a field day for the musical voyeur. This stuff is the nuts and bolts of life. Tipton loves his wife, his family, his country and good old-fashioned blues music and he serves it up on a silver platter.

Knucklebuster's music and lyrics are all Tipton's original work, with the exception of the Merle Haggard standard, Workin' Man Blues, which Tipton belts out with a raw edginess more reminiscent of the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughn than Haggard's version. The other songs on the album range from straight-up blues to pop country and Americana. Tipton plays both bass and rhythm guitar on the tracks and this is where he excels. Rounding out the Lil John Huff sound are Unknown Jay on keyboards and Dee Fylz on horns and fiddles.  Stand outs on Kuncklebuster include It Was the BluesOld Cars and the cover of Haggard's Workin' Man Blues.  It isn't surprising that the Vaughn-esque Thunder Down, a tribute to the US Marine Corps, in which Tipton's brother serves, is the album's most popular download on iTunes. This cut, in particular, showcases Tipton guitar playing skills.

Tipton, ever the workin' man, is a hard guy to catch up with but he was kind enough to chat with me recently about the album.

CityMouse: Let me get this straight, the title of the new CD is Knucklebuster and you're going by the name Lil John Huff (instead of Eric Tipton)? I saw somewhere that you said that your Grandmother Huff called you Lil John and the name was in memory/honor of her. 
Lil John Huff: I know it’s a little confusing but Lil John Huff is the name of the band since this is a solo project, KNUCKLEBUSTER is the name of the album. Lil John is what my late Grandma Huff, on my mom’s side, called me because she thought Eric sounded like a German spy. She was from Georgia and grew up during reconstruction so you could not mention Grant, Lincoln, or especially Sherman. She was special to me, she loved to hear me play music. I could write a book on her!
CM: She sounds like a real character and a real influence.  I think in order to have a heart for music, you have to have colorful people in your life in order to appreciate it all.

CM: Who do you see as your major musical influences? 
LJH: The best guitar technicians I have seen work in music stores but hardly ever play out (in public). I admire the player that cuts loose during a performance, that makes mistakes during a solo but doesn’t care because he is playing above his ability.. ...and has the courage to do so. He will get better in the long run. My "famous influences" are too many to list but Stevie Ray Vaughn is on that list, as is Brian Setzer (Stray Cats) and Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top). All these guys push the boundary…they're not the fastest players but the ones that make their guitars sound so good. I like to say I make a lot of noise with my guitar…I just try to make it sound good! 
CM: I think your style screams Stevie Ray, who's a personal favorite of mine, but I also see some (maybe not so) subtle influences of the likes of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters.  Not bad company to keep.

CM: You've been singing with Blues DeVille [which is made-up of Tipton and bassist Denny Stewart and Ron Frederick on drums] for 15 years and have already released an album with them. What was your motivation to do a solo album? Why now?
LJH: Most of these songs where written long ago, i.e., College Song, but I never recorded them due to being a little hesitant because I am not a song writer. I saw a quote, but I don’t know the source, which said (and I am paraphrasing), “Everybody has a song in them…it’s whether you want to bring it out or not”. That quote means a lot to me. I had an opportunity to go into the studio with my friend Roger Lewis at Monkeyboy Studios, so it was now or never.
CM: I like that... it's an interesting perspective to think we each have a story, a song, waiting to come to life.  Your CD reads like a biography of your life.  You definitely have a story to tell and a song to sing!

CM: How long have you been playing guitar and writing music? You taught yourself how to play, didn't you?
LJH: Yes, I taught myself to play however I have to credit my late uncle, Hayden Eversole, on my father's side, for showing me my first chords. He played bluegrass and is part of my Kentucky kin, of which I am very proud. (So if you do the math, I am a bonafide Hillbilly!) I was about 15 then…late starter for a guitar player but I refused to put it down and wanted to know everything about how to play. To this day, I don’t know the name of half the chords I play and I can't read music. From playing high school and college football (Coach’s Son) I learned you only get better practicing with guys better than you so I would go jam with guys better than me. I still do…to find out how they are getting their sound. My advice to young players is just that…don’t be intimidated by how good someone else is, learn and develop your own style. Another famous quote I follow is from the late Luther Allison. When asked to compare himself with other blues guitarists, he said, “I am as good as I am”!! Make so much sense to me.

CM: Personal favorites on the CD? Any colorful tidbits?
LJH: I don’t know if I have a favorite. You know how if you get a CD and maybe the first three songs are good and you click over the rest? I call this the “click” test. I write and play songs I like. After every session, I would get a copy of the songs completed to that point. If I found myself clicking past a song to the next one, there was something wrong with it (guitar solo, vocals, etc) so part of my next studio session was to fix what I didn’t like, until all songs, according to me, were “unclickable”… listening to all of them without clicking to the next song…does this make sense?

CM: Can we expect to hear any of these songs live at a Blues DeVille show? 
LJH: As you listen to the CD, you will notice that I used many instruments to produce a fat sound. I also used instruments to enhance the theme of the songs, like for Daddy Daughter, I wanted a Cajun progression with those fiddles which has a happy feel which hopefully conveys in the song. Having said that, Blues DeVille is a trio so we would not be able to reproduce these songs exactly as on the CD but we cover many bands that are much larger than us so we will play LJH songs as well.
CM: Blues DeVille shows are always a great time. I'll be looking forward to hearing some Lil John Huff some time soon.

From Knucklebuster....

This CD is a must have for fans of heart-and-soul American blues music. If you're lucky enough to live on Maryland's mid-shore, you'll be able to catch the man behind Lil John Huff live, playing with Blues DeVille.  If not, take a stroll over to Reverbnation, where you can listen to Lil John Huff singing the blues or download the CD from iTunes.  


  1. Great interview. I will have to check his work out, as in get me a copy! We've been known to check out some local joints for blues, when we actually get out. The amount of a person's soul present in the music is unbelievable.

  2. I am delighted you found your way over to Sunday Song via my blog and I am looking forward to you joining in. Maybe you would be able to feature John Huff as you were fortunate enough to interview him for your blog. I am impressed!

  3. Very cool interview!! Love the fact that he taught himself to play!!

  4. Hi. Thanks for stopping by to say hello! :) I remember the Barbie head! There are a few of us 'child of the 60's'. I'd be glad to give you links to them if you'd like. Shoot me an email if you're interested. Gosh, an interview with a musician - very fun to read about the creative process. :)


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