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MATT MURPHY interviews AL TUCK
- Subject: MATT MURPHY interviews AL TUCK
- From: "James R. Covey" <JRCOVEY\!/ac.dal.ca>
- Date: Sun, 08 May 1994 16:59:40 -0300
AL TUCK'S SLOW TRAIN COMING by Matt Murphy
from _The Coast_ Vol. 1 No. 21
He bikes to work with a smoke hanging from
his mouth. He works at the Halifax Message Centre
answering phones. He lives halfway between the
new and the old bridge. His dad's an Anglican
minister and his family's from PEI. His record
collection is arranged according to style. He
describes his music as "country, groovy, bluesy."
People have been saying for years that Al
Tuck is destined for great things, it's just a
matter of bringing destiny to Halifax. Now, after
four years of opening up for other bands and
appearing on compilations, Al Tuck and his band No
Action are taking center stage with two new
releases on the murderecords label. The first is
a cassette called _Arhoolie_.
MM: What was the idea behind _Arhoolie_?
AT: I wanted to gather together all the low-lifes
that had ever played.
MM: Why was that?
AT: Well, because they could never get along most
of the time while they were there.
Over-dubbing enables them to be on the same
recording without looking at each other.
MM: _Arhoolie_ has a different sound from your
newest recording. Why the change?
AT: Contrast. That's the way God works -- day
and night, hot and cold, black and white. So
I figured maybe I'd imitate him. Grunge
works that way too, loud and soft, but I did
it over two albums (laughs) instead of one
song. (coughs) Christian grunge.
Al is inert and yet he's willful. Local
musicians think about Al a lot. Most of us are
jealous of his song writing and cringe at the
thought of him wasting it on little audiences at
the Deuce. Murderecords sent him on a week long
tour up to Toronto. They know that if they can
get him moving, his songs will do the rest.
MM: What was the best show, what was the worst
AT: The best show for us, the one that made the
most sense, was Montreal. We were paired
with a band called the Good Cookies who were
more of our ilk and it was kind of a love-in
between the two bands. They were more
experienced, they had a set list that looked
like a novel.
But even more fun in a way was playing with
all the Halifax bands at Lee's Palace in
Toronto. Because it was kind of a mismatch
that worked anyway.
MM: So a lot of kids.
AT: Yeah, this big bar was full of Toronto
teenagers and I was up there singing about
Buddha going to Nashville to get recorded.
Every now and then some twinkly-eyed teenager
told me they liked it a lot.
Players from Tuck's past -- Tracy Stevens,
Charles Austin, or Dave Marsh -- say Al's not the
easiest man to work with. They've endured
torturous on-stage tuning fiascos. They've seen a
set list crumble into Al's whim and fancy and
they've heard the sound of one hand clapping.
Brenndan McGuire is an accomplished
Toronto-based sound engineer and bass player. He
recorded Al in Chester, NS, for the album being
released after _Arhoolie_. Following that
experience, McGuire observed that Al ranks "at the
bottom, as far as attention span is concerned."
I've also worked with Al before, and
played guitar on a few songs on _Arhoolie_. What
becomes apparent is that he's difficult to keep
MM: When you're on stage, do you have to be
AT: Whatever goes on has to start from me and I
have to be at least remotely interested in doing
something if it's going to succeed. And if a
song occurs to me to be hopeless at the
moment, then it seems like the best idea is
to scrap it and play something else.
MM: Brenndan says you were hard to record with.
AT: Really? Uh. (pause) Hard to record with?
MM: Well maybe not hard ... difficult.
AT: Ha, ha, I'd go along with that, I would say
that it's difficult to record with me, but
The reason people put up with Al is
because it's fun to play good songs and they know
that Al's songs are good. "He's one of the most
brilliant songwriters I've ever heard in my life,"
says Paul Mandell, who used to play banjo in Al
Tuck's Bluegrass Lawnmower.
MM: Charles Austin calls you Bob.
AT: That's the thing. Whatever Dylan's
influences are, are my influences too.
MM: You're not being facetious?
AT: No. A lot of the music I'm into because I
was very into him. I went back to see what
Dylan might have liked. (Scrapper Blackwell,
Stanley Brothers, the Staples Singers.)
MM: Were they better?
AT: They were different. He managed to do
MM: So what are you doing?
AT: I'm trying to figure out something different
MM: Do you copy?
AT: No, I don't copy consciously, rarely,
sometimes. I guess some things that would
occur to me quite naturally to put in a song
surprise people listening. It's an echo of
what I heard in my dusty record collection.
So it's not a copy. It's nice when you
finish a song and you don't know what style
you'd call it.
MM: You'd be a hybrid of what?
AT: All the women at the Message Center where I
work (laughs). They influence me more than
According to Al's father, Reverend Robert
Tuck, Al was influenced by his experience in the
Confederation Boy's Choir in Charlottetown. When
called upon to sing alone, he says Al could only
perform if he was out of sight. Now that Al is
trying to sing for a living, his dad is
"I never did have anything in mind for
Alan," says Reverend Tuck. "My ambition for him
is to be a good fellow and that's what's most
important. What he is, not what he does."
MM: Were your folks behind your music career?
AT: Sure. My dad more so. My mum is helpful.
A few years ago my father may have had his
doubts, but this enterprise is validated by
other people's praise or the occasional
I know the women at the Message Center think
more highly of my music, though they've never
heard it, once they heard tell of it for two
seconds on the television.
My parents are ready to get proud, but I
think dad wants me to get married. That's
more important to him.
MM: And how's that progessing?
AT: Not very well.
James R. Covey <JRCOVEY\!/ac.dal.ca> "The overwhelming popularity of
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