By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
Tutu's dad, Johnny, played guitar with singer Ernie Johnson, among others, and his mom not only sang but played a mean set of drums. There were always instruments in the house, and Johnson--along with masters like Freddie King and Little Joe Blue--was a frequent houseguest. Tutu could keep the beat on a drum kit's snare and ride cymbal before he could reach the bass drum and high-hat pedals with his feet. When you're that small, no one trusts you with a guitar--particularly the pricey Gibsons favored by King and Blue--so he drew frets on a plank and strung rubber bands from nails driven in either end. He couldn't hear his makeshift instrument, but he could groove to the vibrations of the plucked rubber bands as he jammed along with his parents and their houseguests.
Soon he had a "box" (acoustic) guitar with which to practice and had grown enough to drum for musically inclined uncles Curly "Barefoot" Miller, keyboardist V.C. Andrews, and guitarist L.C. Andrews. The latter led the local R&B group the Four Deuces and was the first to use Tutu on club dates. V.C. followed, and it was with him that the young Tutu got turned on to stylists like postwar bluesman Frankie Lee Sims.
"I'm 10, 11 years old, and I'm workin' in these clubs," remembers Tutu. "My mother's older brother V.C. and I are workin' at Flossie's Place [1726 Hall] when two guys pop up in a great big ol' antique-ass Cadillac, a '57 with the fishtails. They buzz up, gets out of the car, and I asked my uncle, 'Who's these guys?' He said, 'this our guitarist, George Sims--Frankie Lee Sims' son.' The other guy was Cookbread, a ol' runnin' buddy of Frankie's. Well, George sounded just like his dad. Sometimes we'd bring Cookie [Cookbread] up, and he sang like Frankie too. We'd do [Sims'] 'Lucky Mae Blues' and 'Walkin' With Frankie,' and John Lee Hooker's 'Boogie Chillun.' George could hit all those things, man. That's where I learned about the old school of the blues, messin' with George Sims."
"When you worked with my uncles, you had to work hard or they'd dog your ass!" Tutu says with a laugh. "They came up hard workin', out of the cotton fields, so any energy I'm blessed with didn't come to me just by watchin' Freddie and Joe Blue; it came natural to me through my genes, my blood.
"My daddy and I worked together a while," he continues. "I played drums and sang, he played guitar, and we had this guy who wasn't a cousin but whose uncle had married into our family, Joe Gibson, on bass. V.C. died and left me all his equipment, so we put together the Father & Son band and started playin' for my other uncle, Sonny, over on Lamar at the H&W Club. We did blues, Sam Cooke, Teddy Pendergrass, and time to time we'd have somebody like L.C. or Cookie stop by [to] do some tunes."
In spring of '79, Tutu joined R.L. Griffin's Dallas City Superstars; often the band did shows with both Griffin and Z.Z. Hill, playing mostly in the Southwest but occasionally venturing as far out as Colorado, where they once opened a show for Natalie Cole. Tutu lacks the rigorous road stories common to many musicians--Griffin and Hill had been around too long to take to the road unless it paid decently and involved sensible time/distance factors. Tutu liked the sightseeing and soon developed an expert's knowledge of Motel 6s from a considered position. Griffin, who admired Tutu for helping bring home the family bacon at such a young age, kept his young drummer from debauchery or knowledge thereof.
By the mid-80s, Tutu was drumming for Al "TNT" Braggs and Little Joe Blue, who told him he should be fronting his own band. Strat in hand, Tutu started honing his act at the fairly historic The House That Jock Build on South Central, heading up the Right Time Showband. Soon he was opening shows for Clarence Carter, Denise Lasalle, and local soulster Charlie Roberson and started showing up at blues jams on the north side of town.