Born Tommy Ray Tucker, 1941, Memphis, Tennessee Died 17 March 1985, Memphis, Tennessee
This Tommy Tucker should not be confused with the R&B artist known for the 1964 hit “Hi-Heel Sneakers” (real name Robert Higginbotham), nor with the bandleader who had several hits in the 1940s. Tommy Ray Tucker was a talented country / rockabilly singer, who could have been big, but he was dogged by personal demons and bad luck.
Born and raised in Memphis, Tucker formed his first band with drummer Gene Chrisman while he was still in high school. In 1959 Quinton Claunch signed him to the fledgling Hi label, where he became a protégé of producer Jack Clement. Both sides of Tommy's first Hi single, “Lovin’ Lil”/”A Man In Love”, were co-written by his friend Charlie Feathers, who also played guitar on the session. Clement had recently been fired at Sun, but tried to continue the Johnny Cash sound with these two numbers. The A-side of Tucker’s second Hi single, “Miller’s Cave”, was written by Clement himself. It was covered by Hank Snow, who scored a # 9 country hit with the song in 1960. Bobby Bare revived “Miller’s Cave” in 1964, with even more success (# 4 country, # 33 pop). These two covers were both on the RCA label. When Jack Clement moved to Nashville in 1960 to work with Chet Atkins at RCA, he took Tucker with him.
A Clement-produced session on September 14, 1960, resulted in the single “Return Of the Teenage Queen”/“Since You Have Gone” (RCA 47-7838). The A-side was a belated sequel to Johnny Cash’s “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen”, which had also been written by Clement. The reverse was a Marty Robbins composition. However, the best track from this session was “Everybody’s Wrong”, written by the team of Gerald Nelson and Fred Burch, whose “Tragedy” had been a major hit for Thomas Wayne in 1959. RCA consigned the recording to the vaults. ”Everybody’s Wrong” was eventually released on the Bear Family CD “The Drugstore’s Rockin’, Vol. 2” in 2002.
Tucker’s trouble with the law began in March 1960, when he was busted for working in a joint where liquor was sold while he was not yet 21. Then, on October 28, 1961, he was racing his ’57 Oldsmobile up Highway 61 toward Memphis when he rear-ended another car driven by Leland Payton. Payton’s gas tank exploded, killing him and another occupant, and he spun into the path of a third car, killing the two occupants. It was the worst wreck in Shelby County since 1945 : eight children were orphaned. Tucker fled from the scene, then phoned his manager, Eddie Bond, who advised him to find a lawyer. In June 1962, Tucker was sentenced to one year in prison for involuntary manslaughter, but he was eligible for parole in nine months.
The memory of that October night exacted a penalty that the courts did not. RCA ditched him, but Tucker tried to resume his career and recorded again in 1964. Stan Kesler’s X-L Records issued a cover of Willie Cobbs’s "You Don’t Love Me”, which was credited to “Tommy Raye”. The pseudonym was chosen to avoid conflict with the Tommy Tucker of “Hi-Heel Sneakers”. This single was followed by two releases on Challenge in 1965 (credited to Tommy Ray Tucker, his full name) and another 45 for X-L in 1966, all with no commercial success. In 1968 Tucker was back at Hi for the second of three stays. With the stellar Hi rhythm section behind him, Tommy cut a low down version of Jimmy Reed’s “Shame Shame Shame”, which remained on the shelf until 1988. The same fate befell the strangely appropriate “Shackles and Chains”, on which Tucker returned to his old Johnny Cash style. In 1973 he went to Hi for the last time to cut a single for the Hi Country label. Some of his new songs were starkly autobiographical. "You Hitched Your Wagon to a Loser” painted a picture of a desperately unhappy man.
In March 1985, still working on the fringe of the music industry, Tucker went to sleep in his apartment with a lighted cigarette in his hand. The apartment caught fire and Tucker died of smoke inhalation.
More info : http://hillbillycountry.blogspot.nl/2015/03/tommy-tucker-on-hi.html
In 1986, Zu-Zazz issued an LP with 15 Tommy Tucker tracks from 1959-1973 (several previously unissued), under the title “Tommy Tucker - Memphis Badboy!”. See also Terry Gordon’s website : http://rcs-discography.com/rcs/artist.php?key=tuck8000 for a partial discography.
Acknowledgements : Colin Escott, especially his chapter on Tommy Tucker in his book “Tattooed On Their Tongues” (1996).
Dik, April 2017
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