The Tijuana Bible According to Jim Suhler, by chefjimi

Posted on 7/21/2010 by Chefjimi

Born in Dallas, Texas, December 30, 1960, grew up in East Dallas, his first exposure to music was by Beatles, Stones, and the British Invasion bands on Dallas AM top 40 radio stations in the 1960’s. Jim began playing guitar at age 14 and was influenced at that time by Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, Johnny Winter, Led Zeppelin and others. Not forsaking his Texas roots he was exposed and influenced by Texas guitar talent like Bugs Henderson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Anson Funderburg & Jimmie Vaughan.

Suhler has also played on and contributed songs to George Thorogood DVD & cd releases since 1999. Also on Suhler’s resume is scoring a PBS documentary, and having his compositions used in major motion picture releases and television worldwide. In 2002, Suhler fulfilled a lifelong dream by playing two shows with AC/DC during their Stiff Upper Lip tour, in Helsinki, Finland and Hamburg, Germany.

Jim Suhler & Monkey Beats' latest release 'Tijuana Bible'was nominated for a Blues Music Award in 2010 for the Rock Blues Album of the Year.

Congrats on the nomination for Tijuana Bible for the Blues Music Awards, how did that feel?

Jim Suhler:
Well we never submitted anything before. We were sorta like too Rock (or so I thought) but then I went to the awards last year and found that the tent was a lot larger than I thought it was and I felt I fit in. Being too Blues for Rock or too Rock for Blues.
I was thrilled, excited, happy, just to have our work validated by people who are in the industry, I did think it was a good CD one way or another, I'd hang my hat on that. I woulda been surprised to win especially a new category and first year, and with Derek Trucks in there. I have a lot of respect for Derek, he is the Gold Standard for slide guitar for Rock and Blues, the best. I was just happy to be nominated and be part of
the whole party.

So inquiring minds want to know . . .What is a, or the, Tijuana Bible ?

It's X-rated, underground comic books that were in vogue back in the 30's and 40's usually featuring celebrities, sports figures and other notables in compromising situations.

OK that's just too cool. You are a font of odd factoids, my wife says I am of the same ilk so I can relate to your broad based knowledge.

You never know when some useless information will save your butt. We were with George and doing a show with Robert Plant, I love the old Led Zeppelin stuff, and knew Robert was deep into the history of the Delta Blues, so he mentioned he had just gotten the Charlie Patton boxed set, and I had one also so I started talking about some really obscure facts from it and Charlie, and he just lit up and we had this glorious conversation about Charlie, Willie Brown, Son House – so you never know when these things can get ya an in or endear you to someone.

OK for fear of going down that road with you, let's talk about your work. It seems to me that your writing is very personal, somewhat more than other artists who stick to generic themes concerning life, the Blues etc., Is this a conscious effort on your part? Where do you draw your inspirations from ?

I always like the regional imagery from this area, Texas, Mexico and all these areas. So I always catalog lyrics, phrases, titles and try to write suitable music for the ones I like. When I over think stuff people don't respond as well. On the Tijuana Bible release the more popular stuff are the ones that are the easiest ones to write, the simplest ones written quickly. When I try to get clever and overwrite it seems to not connect on the visceral level with the people, they still like it but not on that level. Maybe there's a lesson there for me.

Well you certainly captured the feel of that part of the country, both on the records and with your stage show, incorporating of candles,, string lights and other cultural flavors of your area. Now to talk a bit about this interesting fact or rumour, I read that your wedding was presided over by Billy Gibbons, from ZZ Top ? Tell me a little about this....

I did, Billy took it very seriously. In spite of the look that it was a goof (from the outside world), he's a genuine guy. He is sorta like the Howard Hughes of Rock. I think he's brilliant, he's done some great stuff. He has a big picture view of what he does that a lot of players don't have, they just play guitar, he sees it's relation to the staging, production and entertainment. See they get lumped together with the Southern Rock Bands but I think they are a lot more forward thinking than that. Their first four records are my favorites.
ZZ Top First Album (1971), Rio Grande Mud (1972), Tres Hombres (1973), Fandango (1975)

I remember watching Hendrix on Dick Cavett, and he was asked at that time who he thought was the best young guitar player out there, and he straight away said this guy out of Texas Billy Gibbons. That's big props there. So Billy was a big influence on you ?

Yeah, huge, his tones and his playing I learned a lot. On my song 'Border Rock', I even mention the Border Radio Station 'The X” it was pretty overt reference I wasn't trying to hide it.

It's a great mix of influences, especially evident live, where you tap into Hendrix, Freddy King, and Rory Gallagher.

I had never heard of Rory...I saw him on Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, when I was like thirteen, but it didn't quite connect then. I may have not been playing or just starting to think about it. But I got into his stuff in the late 70's, the Chrysalis stuff, like Top Priority, and Photo Finish, they are more Rock sounding, but to me, are some of the greatest guitar tones he ever recorded. I mean I like songs but you gotta have tone too.

So is it 'all about tone' ?

Not all about it, it's like making a stew, you need good ingredients. Ideally you need a really good song, play well, and have pleasing tone, good arrangements there's so much involved.

Do you have anything on tap for new releases? Maybe a change of direction

I'm trying to develop new songs, but I've been so busy touring, with my band and George's. I'm not gonna do any extended tours with my band, just regional stuff.
I don't really wanna tip my hand,

Cool, but . . .

My mother's family are all from Mississippi, I'm trying to write stuff with a more Southern theme. I mean Texas is a Southern state but with a cowboy mentality - frontier thing thrown in. It's not a stretch for me to think along those lines, I spent a lot of time there as a kid.
My grandmother was a Stovall, and Muddy Waters grew up on one of her cousin's plantations, and my Grandfather – General Curtis Greene – was the head of the Mississippi National Guard and was in charge of all the refugee camps during the '27 flood. Yeh he shows up in newsreel footage on the History channel. My other Grandfather ran for Governor against Bilbo, who was a Klan member, a horrible, horrible racist, there were even songs by blues-men called 'Bilbo is Dead' celebrating his death. . .
So I do have some history down there that I'm tryin to explore. Since it's personal I usually write much better about it when I have a personal stake in it.

I understand, now you've been with George Thorogood for like 10 years...

Eleven …

How much different is it for you to work with him and then work with Monkey Beat? Do you have specific functions with George, like rhythm, slide ?

It really depends on the song, if he is playing slide I play rhythm. If he's not I'll do solos. That's why he hired me cos I can play things he can't, and stuff he wants to hear, both in the studio and live. I love rhythm guitar, I love guys like Keith Richards, Malcom Young – these guys hold down the fort.

Monkey Beat – you Shawn Phares, Carlton Powell – you seem to have fun up there on the stage and it translates so well to the audience. It's structured but loose, I mean, you guys broke into Hush by Joe South/Deep Purple, and Shawn nailed the organ solo – who was the keyboard guy for Deep Purple?

Jon Lord – see I remember that stuff.

Monkey Beat – why, what is Monkey Beat?

At the time I put the band together I was looking for something very descriptive of the sound that we were putting down. Like in a jam session it's something you would call for, like a shuffle, slow blues or rock...gimme a monkey beat, sorta like Otis Redding's song Tramp something like that.

Well returning to that thought of random knowledge – is there something you want to leave us with?

Hmm, tidbits of knowledge . . . .
I think the greatest sit-com ever created was Green Acres.


I get a lot of stick for that, but many people are hip to it. If you really watch it, it's not just rural comedy. Somewhat subversive, lots of witty dialog and word play, pointed social stuff, prat-falls, I love Green Acres. Heck I'm still mad that TV Land took it off.

The popularity might rise again after all the people read this.

There you have it !

Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat record on Underworld Records out of Seattle WA., along with such fine artists as Becki Sue & Her Big Rockin' Daddies, Too Slim and the Taildraggers and Jason Elmore, check 'em out.

Until the next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

If you enjoyed this serving of the Blues, you might want to check out my other articles, as I roam around seeking out the Blues wherever they are happening.

all photos used by permission, courtesy of artist.

copyright © 2010 – bluesuitspeaks, all rights reserved.

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