Hailing from upstate New York, Tas Cru & His Band of Tortured Souls will be making their Mobile debut Jan. 9 at The Blues Tavern. Known as the “Master of the Triple Entendre,” Cru is making his way through the Southeast on his annual journey to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Cru is also bringing along Clarkdale legend James “Super Chikan” Johnson, who is known for crafting guitars out of everything from gas cans to ax handles. Johnson will also return to The Blues Tavern the following Sunday, Jan. 11, for the Gulf Coast Blues Society’s International Blues Challenge benefit.
Cru and his band are on their “Sun Please Shine on Me Tour” in support of his latest album, “You Take the Money.” The album presents Cru’s versatile take on the blues with tracks that trip effortlessly across subgenres ranging from country to rock. Cru used the inconvenient pause of a traffic jam to give locals a preview of their upcoming show and his new album.
SC: How does it feel to be the “Master of the Triple Entendre?”
TC: You know, when somebody tells me what that means, then it will probably feel real good. I don’t know what the hell that means. Some guy said that to me one time, and somebody picked up on it or something. I guess it means something about lyrics meaning different things to different people is what it all boils down to.
SC: I was reading in your bio that you come from a very musical family, but you were the only one who pursued a career in music. What was different about you? What made you want to make it a career?
TC: Girls like guys who play guitar. Of course, it doesn’t work for me like it used to. Yeah, that’s mostly true. I just always surrounded myself with it as a kid. It was fun to do.
SC: When you first found the blues, you fell in love with the country blues sound. What was it about that style that appealed to you so much?
TC: Well, the stories and the lyrical parts are very interesting. There were stories about things that I had never experienced and didn’t know much about. That’s why they were interesting. I really enjoyed that. My uncle loved that stuff. He used to tell me that there’s more to it than what that guy is talking about. Like (Howlin’) Wolf singing “300 Pounds of Joy” and stuff like that. He used to say, “There’s more to this.” I just commented to the guys, we were listening to the blues channel on XM and saying, “Did you hear anything there that she just said? What’s she singing about? I have no idea. There’s nothing that grabs me. I can’t remember what she’s talking about.” The story is important.
SC: You’ve always been involved with blues education for young people. You even won a Keeping the Blues Alive award for your work with Blues in the School. What’s the best thing about introducing young people to the blues?
TC: The one best thing is hard to figure. It really depends on the age group. Different things matter to different ages. One thing is that you’ve got a kid who might be making choices that might not be real good, but they pick up on the blues and think, “Hey, maybe I can do this. Maybe I can pick up a harmonica or guitar or some drums or something. Maybe I can put my energy into that instead of something that doesn’t seem to be doing me much good.” That’s the first thing that jumps out, but you don’t always know when that happens, because you don’t see it right away. Keb’Mo is a perfect example of that that. He was in Compton, and his shop teacher used to play for him. He was a gangbanger, and he decided not to do that anymore. Who knows when something like that will happen?
SC: You’re on tour in support of your new album, “You Keep the Money.” How does it feel to have this one out?
TC: It feels real good. It hasn’t really hit me yet, because it doesn’t release until tomorrow. So, people have advanced copies, but there hasn’t been any hype yet. There have been a few reviews here and there. People tell me that they like it, but I guess we’ll find out. We did a show last night that featured some of that stuff, and people seemed to like it. It’s gonna hit the stands here in the next couple of days or so. I see some traffic of people asking me to do things. I think some people are interested in it, so it’s good to get it out there. I’m very happy with it. We’ll see.
SC: What was it like putting this one together?
TC: It was a little different than what I’ve done in the past. I took my time and wasn’t in a big hurry. I let things simmer and stew a little bit. The engineer was really great to work with. He offered some good input, and we became good friends during that. I think the process was real different this time by not being rushed.
SC: When you play Mobile, Super Chikan will be joining you on stage. How did you guys hook up?
TC: We’ve known James for a while. I spent a lot of time in Clarksdale over the past few years. We know a lot of the same people. He and I have a little cigar box (guitar) connection. He makes these instruments, and I’ve seen some of his crazy stuff. So, we’ve gotten to know each other that way. Coming into his town, he’s always been very gracious and open to hanging out a little bit and share the stage. So, I got asked to return the favor. He was coming through, and it seemed to work out.
SC: In the blues scene, you’ve got all these people talking about keeping the blues alive. What do you think is the best way to keep the blues alive?
TC: Well, I guess the best way is just to keep playing it. People who don’t play it just need to come out to the live performances. I don’t care if it’s blues or country or whatever. The places that feature blues acts don’t have people in the seats. People don’t go out like they used to. People gotta come out. They just can’t sit in their homes and listen on their computers. They have to come out and see the live thing.