Jim Suhler Interview; Talks Texas Scratch And Playing With
January 21, 2024
Texas Scratch, a formidable power trio of Texas guitarists consisting of Jim Suhler (George Thorogood), Buddy Whittington (John Mayall) and Vince Converse, recently released their long awaited debut album. Initially recorded in 2009, the album has finally seen the light of day. This album is full of southern fried rockers as well as some tasty Texas blues.
We had the chance to speak with Jim Suhler to discuss the album, being a member of The Destroyers for the past twenty-five years and his future plans.
Greg Drugan: Hey Jim, thanks for taking some time with me today.
Jim Suhler: Happy to be here, Greg.
GD: I wanted to congratulate you on your new album, Texas Scratch. Where did you come up with the name and where did you find the guys to form this band?
JS: The band was brought together by a music fan and label owner/record store owner named Artie Goodman. He fashions himself as some sort of Svengali. He’s got his hands in a lot of different things. He thought it would be a good idea to put three guitarists together, myself, Buddy Whittington and Vince Converse. We got together and recorded an album. He then recruited the rhythm section which was Jeff Simon, drummer for The Destroyers and Nathaniel Peterson on bass who sadly passed away in 2023.
The name, Buddy had a song called “I got the itch but I ain’t got the scratch.” So Artie came up with the name Texas Scratch. Buddy asked him, “what does that mean?” Artie said, “Doesn’t mean money?” Buddy said, “I guess, but I don’t see the connection.” So anyway, that’s what we’re called.
GD: Ok. So I read that this conglomeration got together in 2009 and recorded this album back then. Is that true?
JS: I’ve been doing this project as far back as 2007. Mr. Goodman got us all to come to New Jersey to record the album in 2009. I believe the label went under or vanished or the money went away. They spent the ensuing years trying to shop it. We recorded the record and a year or two later we were getting really frustrated. We started to focus on other things and that was on the backburner. Then last spring, I was scrolling through my social media feed at a restaurant and I see that the album has been released. Nobody informed anyone of us that the record was coming out. I don’t know why it sat in the can for so long, I wasn’t involved in those discussions. But we’re happy it's finally out.
GD: Absolutely! I think it’s a great record. It’s a great rockin’ Texas blues thing going on for sure.
JS: Thank you. We have so much of that influence on us, you can’t get it off with a wire brush and a can of Comet.
GD: (laughs) Right! I want to talk about the album a little bit, I’ve been listening to it over the past weekend. The album opens up with a great tune called “Texas Trio” that pays homage to all the great musicians that came from Texas. It’s a pretty amazing list. Why do you think so many great artists come from Texas?
JS: Well, it’s real big for one thing. You’re bound to have a better shot of somebody coming out then like someone from Vermont. It’s just a place where there's a dozen cultures that converge that creates an interesting stew of music and influences. I grew up listening to more rock and roll and jazz. Buddy listened to more country music along with rock and roll. We have a Tex-Mex influence here and a great blues tradition that goes back a hundred years. One of the first successful guitar players who played the blues was from the Dallas area, Blind Lemon Jefferson. It’s always been a big thing here. It was easy to go out and hear that stuff first hand. You could go to a club and hear Freddie King or Stevie Vaughn before he became Stevie Ray. But I didn’t see him until his first record came out. There’s just an embarrassment of players here.
GD: For sure. I’m so jealous to see Freddie King in a club. That’s something.
JS: I didn’t get to see him. I was only 16 when he died and I wasn’t going to clubs then. I didn’t see him but I know Buddy saw him many times. I think Buddy saw him with Lynyrd Skynyrd when they first came out in ‘74. He was opening that whole tour, but when they played Dallas, Skynyrd insisted that he headline that show. What a show of respect.
GD: One of my favorite song is “Ain’t Got The Scratch,” it’s a real toe-tapper that would fit right in with any ZZ Top record. Do you have a favorite song on album?
JS: You mentioned it already, “Texas Trios” by Buddy. It’s kind of a mission statement. Just a comment on how many great three-piece bands came from Texas. Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble, Johnny Winter. He mentions Los Lonely Boys too. I played in a three-piece too with my band Monkey Beat for years, but I decided that I needed some help. So I hired a keyboard player. Stevie did too.
GD: Right, when he brought in Reese (Wyans). I have to ask you about the most interesting song on the album, “Louisiana Cock Fight.” Where did you find this song and why did you decide to record it?
JS: The composer and the guy who recoded the song is John Nitzinger. He’s from Fort Worth and he recorded for Capitol Records in the early ‘70s. He wrote a bunch of songs for a group called Blood Rock. They had a hit song in 1971 called “DOA.” He was a local hero to us. We knew that song and Buddy brought it in and it was a tip of the hat to John. He’s had some health issues lately and we hoped that it would help bring some recognition and hopefully some money his way. That’s just a 1970’s Texas, boogie rock song
GD: That’s great! Another great cover on the record is “What The Devil Loves.” How did you pick that song and who is playing the solo at the end of it?
JS: I’d have to go back and listen but probably Vince. Vince brought that song in and I thought it was his. I just found out a couple of days ago it was written by Soloman Hicks. He’s a talented young blues artist from New York. I don’t know who did the last solo, but if it’s real good, it’s probably Buddy or Vince.
GD: (laughs) Or you!
JS: I’m a distant third!
GD: Very humble. Are there any plans for you to tour and support this record on the road?
JS: We’ve been doing some local gigs since the record came out. Buddy and I live in the same area, Dallas-Fort Worth. Vince now lives in Denver, Jeff Simon lives outside of Philadelphia. Right now, Buddy and I have done some stuff, I brought my drummer and he brought his bass player in. We were doing stuff like that. Just for the interest to get out and play these songs and promote the record. But to bring out everybody involved, we would need a really well paid festival gig to make it happen and financially sensible.
GD: Looking back on your career, when did you decide you wanted to become a musician and to pick up the guitar?
JS: I always liked to play. In my twenties, I became a father and got married, maybe not in that order, then my marriage cratered out in 1986 and I was maybe 25 and I thought, if I’m ever gonna do this full time, full throttle, you better do it now. That’s when I started to do it as a career. It took me singing a few harmonies and fronting a band and I ended up getting a record deal. In 1992 Terry Manning, who was producing George Thorogood, that’s sort of how I got that producer was through George, who I met in a bar. He liked what I was doing but that’s a long, tangled trail.
GD: You mentioned going to concerts and seeing people early on, do you remember the first artist you saw in concert and how did that impact you?
JS: Probably it was Jerry Jeff Walker, The Doobie Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd. That would been about late ‘74 or ‘75. But the first show that moved me and made me think there’s a place in this world for me was one Lynyrd Skynyrd show in April of 1976. I thought, “hey I can crack this code.” I was listening to the record and what I liked about their records was on the back of the album, for each track they would list who played what solo, what kind of guitar they played. So it really helped me and anyone who was trying to learn. It gave me a roadmap. But that one Skynyrd show was when I thought, “I can do this.”
GD: Very cool. You have played with some incredible guitarists throughout your career including Billy Gibbons, Buddy Guy and Joe Bonamassa. Is there one that stands out for you, and who has given you the best advice?
JS: I’ll answer the last part first, a guitar player from Texas named Buggs Henderson was a big regional guitar hero. If there was any young hot shot guitar player coming through, Buggs would open the show. I was going through one of my relationship break-ups and he said, “Don’t stop playing, Don’t stop playing.” He also said, “Don’t buy a guitar that costs more than a car, and I’ve never paid more than $900 for a car.” That was good advice!
The greatest jam that I ever had was in New York City in 1999. I was with Geoge Thorogood and a guy named John Paris took us to Les Paul’s 84th birthday party. Les Paul gets George up to play and that’s not in George’s wheelhouse. He doesn’t really jam. I think Les was doing some Jazz standards and it didn’t gel with George. So George stands up and hands me his guitar, so there I am on stage with Les Paul, internally freaking out. We finished and asked “who are you?” I said, “I’m with George.” He said, “you’re pretty good, want to do another one?” So I did a couple more with him. I wasn’t nervous about it later. It was strangely serene. There was a still picture of it and that’s all I had. A couple years ago, a video of the jam turned up somewhere and someone sent it to me, unsolicited. I didn’t even know it existed. It brought tears to my eyes, I was so grateful to see it. It was so cool. That’s one of the special things to me.
GD: You have been in George Thorogood’s band for twenty-five years.
JS: Yes! (laughs) Longevity is rare in anything, especially in music. It’s like being a pro football player when you are fifty. I’m so grateful. George has been wonderful to me and I consider him a good friend. He’s a great entertainer and just a good friend to me.
GD: Looking back I read that you got to open for AC/DC back in 2002. What was it like playing in front of a stadium full of people?
JS: That’s like high school dream come true stuff. It really was. Those guys were a big influence on me. I saw them back in the ‘70s with Bon Scott. I don’t have the words to tell you how heavy it was. Then to go do those shows, one was in Finland and one was in Germany. The fact that they were so good to us. They were the nicest, super famous people that I ever met. They asked to meet us after they played and Angus was like,”can I get you some tea or how about some cigarettes?” They had a table of just a mountain of packs of cigarettes. Somebody must have opened a dozen cartons of cigarettes and emptied them out on this table. I was like, “I don’t want any tea, but I’ll have a beer,” So Angus gets me a beer. We talked for like twenty minutes and he was great. They were all so kind, every one of them.
GD: The last time I saw you, you guys were opening up for Sammy Hagar I think it was two years ago. Are you and George going to hit the road this summer?
JS: Yes, I don’t know where. The only thing I know for sure is mid April through mid May. I know they were working on some packages and I really don’t know more than that right now. George is in fine health and spirits and everyone is chomping at the bit to get out and play.
GD: You guys are road dogs, how many shows to you play in a year?
JS: Seventy-five to ninety. In 2022, we did seventy-seven thousand miles of travel in nineteen countries. We did Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Last year was really busy too but we didn’t do all the international stuff.
GD: Jim, it seems like you are a very busy man. I wish you all the best with your projects and I will help get the word out about Texas Scratch, it is a really fun record.
JS: Thank you so much Greg, I appreciate the platform and thanks again my brother.
Be sure to check out Jim Suhler and the rest of Texas Scratch on their self-titled debut album!