Tuck Andress

Fretboard wizard of Tuck and Patti
Fretboard wizard of Tuck and Patti

Since 1978, guitar virtuoso Tuck Andress, recognized as a premier player of jazz and contemporary standard music, has enjoyed one of the most enduring and creative musical partnerships accompanying wife and collaborator Patti Cathcart. Together, the duo (known as Tuck and Patti), have released six albums since 1988, culminating with the current release of their latest album, Taking The Long Way Home – their first comprised entirely of original music.

Andress has been acclaimed as an interpretive stylist with an articulate phrasing and talent for detail. His technique translates to seamless textures and tones of understated improvisational fluidity and subtlety.

They are the consummate musical collaborators; Andress wraps his guitar wizardry around Cathcart’s vocals much like a string section, elevating their interplay. Cathcart wrote, produced, and arranged Taking The Long Way Home.

We met with Andress to discuss his technique and his illuminations as a guitarist.

Vintage Guitar: The sole instrumental piece on Taking The Long Way Home, “Early Morning Music Box” began as a problem-solving exercise for technical challenges. Can you elaborate on the song’s inception?

Tuck Andress: I was doing little finger exercises in my right hand, and I put a chord progression to it, for no particular reason. Patti heard the progression I happened to be playing, and said, “Let’s try that as a song.” So I did, then she said, “Try playing the whole song in harmonics.”

We ended up with the bass line in harmonics because you can’t play the whole song in harmonics. So I played the bass line in harmonics – a technique inspired by Lenny Breau, and we called that harmonic bass line the melody.

It usually doesn’t occur to me, but Patti hears that stuff in her head. There’s very little writing down because we find it’s a really inefficient way, between the two of us, to do it. But there’s a lot of playing, singing, and talking back and forth. She has an unlimited talent in her ear, and of course she’s played with me for 22 years. So she’s really tapped into the kinds of sounds I can make out of the guitar – violin sounds or some way to open up the high-end.

The extensive use of harmonics in our music really has come from her gift at arranging, one of the ways that she has used to open up my range. It’s really pretty.

Wasn’t “Early Morning Music Box” influenced by several musical styles, including Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts”?

Well, there’s a musical quote in from “Salt Peanuts.” It was the perfect place to put that little phrase.

Do you compose on the guitar?

I’ve never been a composer. The degree to which I participated in the composition of “Early Morning Music Box” is pretty minimal. That’s why I want to emphasize that Patti is the writer. To me, it’s more important to be a guitar player whose very much a specialist in that. The most interesting thing is that it’s not a guitar player writing the guitar part.

In some ways, it really is more challenging to try to render somebody else’s ideas. I think it’s one of our secret weapons in our style. I was never a writer. My focus was on playing the guitar and coming up with possibilities and options. I became really strong at that. I was always a good generator of ideas. So I could easily, systematically come up with billions of options at any point, work on them, and get more flexible in that real-time improvisation, which is a lot of what we do.

Your playing on this album is particularly melodic, gentle, and understated, yet you implement many complex techniques.

I think the reason is that I’ve gotten better and better at blending with Patti and going with the feeling of the song – regardless of the parts. There’s a way to express it, and we’ve gotten like two dancers who’ve danced together a lot. It’s a two-way creative thing, all the time.

Your interpretation and phrasing is in perfect sync with one another, but you have your own very distinct musical voice. How did you develop that?

A lot of searching. It’s a combination of three different things. In chronological order, I was always a guitar player. And part of the beauty of not being a singer or a songwriter, is that you get really good at the guitar. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring possibilities on the guitar. It already had dawned on me to try to figure out every chord voicing, rather than just the ones I already knew. I worked on systematic ways of doing that. I listened to a lot of music, different instruments, orchestras, big bands; all different kinds of music trying to figure out, “How can I get some of these textures, sounds, and effects on the guitar?”

Even when I played guitar in top 40 bands I was listening and looking for ways to combine two or three parts I heard on records, so I could create some of those textures myself. Then, when Patti and I got together, there was this whole other thing that happened because we didn’t really get into detailed arranging very much at first. We actually just got together and started performing all the time. We rehearsed some, but so much was just worked out in performance. There is tremendous give-and-take, improvisation, going back to the drawing board.

We’d go out and play a song, and Patti would do something and I’d attempt to respond, or maybe discover something new. We decided that even as a small group, we’re going to make improvisation a big component of what we do. Even when we have a structure, we’re going to have a rule. It’s both of our responsibilities to go with the spirit, wherever it leads us. Even if it means abandoning the structure, we’re always going to go for it and not play it safe.

The third component is an arranging technique that has developed over time. Patti hears like an orchestrator, and I hear like a guitar player. That has really stretched me the most and developed my guitar style since we’ve been together, learning how to execute these things that she’s hearing. That’s much more challenging to me.

When you’re playing live, particularly because you’re a jazz-influenced artist, how enjoyable is that spontaneous climate for you, as opposed to playing and recording in the studio?

It’s not that different, because in our case we made the agreement that even in the studio, we wouldn’t just play the parts. So even though Patti’s the arranger, there’s still a whole lot of room for variation and improvisation.

In that way, being in the studio for us is much more like performing live than for a lot of people who “construct” music in the studio. Patti and I don’t construct music, as is very common with multitrack recording. What we do is live, “documentary” recording.

You utilize many picking techniques, including standard, thumb, and those of Wes Montgomery and George Benson. How and why do these techniques work for you?

Actually, it was more the music that ended up affecting what I do now. They play a style of guitar that I used to try to play, which is either single-line soloing or playing chords. That’s what I believed all my life, until I met Patti. That was going to be my focus in life. I worked hard on learning Wes Montgomery’s octave technique and how he played both downstrokes and upstrokes with his thumb. I worked really hard on learning to pick like George Benson, finger like he did, and play the incredible be bop phrases he played.

But when Patti and I got together, this whole other direction opened up to me, which was a more fingerstyle approach, in which case, all the right-hand techniques of all the guitar players I’d ever listened to went out the window because I played with a pick my entire life, until I met Patti.

So that was like starting over again. Now the left-handed general concept of music… well, I had a whole opportunity to work on that.

I learned especially from George Benson – about playing very staccato with the left hand, which a lot of players don’t use – as opposed to playing legato. I learned all about fingering and chord voicings from listening to guitar players and bands. I was lucky enough to catch on to the fact of that very staccato left- hand that’s part of the characteristic phrasing that you hear when he plays uptempo stuff.

Who are your main jazz influences?

Originally it was Wes and George. It was equally Herbie Hancock and Erroll Garner, who were tremendous influences on me. Thelonious Monk. Also, a lot of keyboard players, and Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly, Charlie Parker.

I’m playing a very specialized style of music, using the guitar in a very specialized way. Their music turned me into a musician. I’ve learned how to hear music, how to listen to a Miles Davis album and hear the voicings Herbie Hancock played behind him.

I’ve also learned how to hear the solos and details of phrasing, just the fabric of music and how to use it in a completely different way, with the fingerstyle approach that I love now.

Do you play in standard tuning or open tuning?

Standard tuning, most of the time, and occasionally I’ll drop to the low E to a D, otherwise I don’t mess around with open tuning.

What guitars did you use on this album?

I just use one – I’ve recorded every album with exactly the same guitar on every song, and it’s a ’53 Gibson L-5.

How has that held up?

Great, because I only use it in the studio or just to practice around the house. I don’t travel with it. I have another L-5 – a ’49 – that I’ve traveled with for the last 12 years. They’re similar, and I was just lucky enough to come across a couple of great ones.

Why the preference for vintage guitars?

The sound. But there’s also a big randomness in life where it happened that I went in the store at the right time and I got a great guitar. At that point, I liked that guitar, and as I played new guitars, others didn’t sound the same to me. My ear grew to love the sound of these instruments.

How are they wired?

They’re wired identically; each has a Bartolini neck pickup that feeds a built-in preamp. All the knobs and switches are bypassed, except for the gain. Actually, there’s a gain knob for the preamp and a passive volume control. It’s very clean… a minimalistic approach.

You stuff the ’49 with foam rubber and socks?

That’s common for playing archtops live. It’s simply a way to cut down feedback. It makes the tone a little bit worse, but we put up with it.

You play through a volume pedal. How does that affect your signal path?

I’ve used a variety of volume pedals over the years. Currently, I’m using a Boss. The purpose is to eliminate scratchy pots, and allow me to create my own taper. The goal is to give me the kind of control an organ player has, such as the swells in volume.

The same as a steel guitar…

Definitely – every pedal steel player uses a volume pedal. I tend to use it a lot like a steel player or organist in that my foot is on the pedal all the time, and I’m doing little things that I don’t even know about (laughing).

It’s like driving down a familiar road. You don’t watch the sings because you’re used to the path.

Exactly. But a lot of it is intentional. It makes the guitar a little more vocal because you can change the volume after you’ve hit the note. A lot of players just use it to do a violin-sounding swell occasionally, as an effect or for contrast. I’m using it all the time.

What’s in you recording rig?

After the volume pedal, the guitar goes into an Aphex 124A interface, which converts the -10db signal to +4db. That goes into a GML 20-bit A/D converter, then the signal is recorded. We record with a Sonic Solutions hard disk editor. I don’t use any guitar amps. We just try to accurately record what comes off the guitar and what comes off Patti’s mic, then in mixdown work with reverb and EQ.

In mixdown, we use Avalon EQs for the guitar. That’s a big part of the sound of the recorded guitar – Avalon can do extreme EQing and sound great. Sonic Solutions is a comparable hard disk editor. It’s used more in mastering and I’ve never heard a digital editor sound better.

Which other players have influenced you through the years?

The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Eddie Van Halen. Amos Garrett had a dramatic influence on me. He played with Maria Muldaur for a number of years and is a combination of blues, country, and rock. Listening to him taught me all about double and triple-bends. He’s a guitar player’s guitar player.

What inspired you to play the guitar? And what, in particular, inspired you to become a jazz player?

I was originally inspired to play the guitar because I was playing piano in a neighborhood rock band. At that time, the Beatles and Rolling Stones were the big thing. Then I realized that I loved the guitar. My first guitar was a Harmony electric… or it may have been a Danelectro. I was 14 when I started playing, and I listened to a lot of jazz. It was some of my favorite music.

Most of the time I spent playing in rock bands, and more soul bands than anything else. I played very little jazz, but I listened to it and it became part of the musical fabric I draw on now. Now when I play, I’m not sure that I think of myself as any particular style of player. I just try to do the appropriate thing for the song, because we play some songs that you wouldn’t think of as jazz songs at all, but they lend themselves to whatever interpretation you want to do.

Is there a particular technique you use for harmonics?

There is a technique worth pointing out. The one on “Early Morning Music Box” is interesting. On the introduction, at the very beginning, and then on the whole out section of the song, it’s characterized by me playing double stops or two notes at once. However, they’re both in harmonics. Actually, both notes are in artificial harmonics and the way to play that is to create the node on the lower string with the index finger and to pluck the lower string with the thumb. Simultaneously create a node on the upper string with the middle finger and pluck the note on the upper string with the little finger. I’m giving it to you in detail because it’s an unusual technique I don’t think I’ve even heard of. I’m sure other people do it, but I’ve never heard it.

Did you develop that?

Yes, through trial and error. I assumed lots of other people have, but since I haven’t heard it recorded anywhere, maybe other players will find it useful.

You’ve released two solo albums. Are there plans for more?

I’ll probably do more solo albums along the way. It’s never been as important to me as the collaboration with Patti, but it’s something I do well and might be helpful for guitar players like me who could never find enough albums to learn from.

How do you think you and Patti inspire each other?

Mostly, it happens in the context of real time and our agreement not to get too comfortable in what we do. So it gets into the question of, “What is an accompanist?”

It’s my job not just to re-create the same thing she heard last night. My job is to keep surprising her, keep throwing things at her, reinterpret, take some detail that she sings, turn it around, shed some different light on it, and throw it back at her again.

In some ways, it’s the challenge of my lifetime, because it’s pretty hard to play this style of guitar – to play these arrangements, and to execute it. But you still want to have the flexibility also to do it differently every moment, every night, while still making reference to the arrangement. That’s a jazz concept. Likewise, Patti becomes more and more gifted at arranging, taking a whole world of music and putting it in the context for the guitar.

An she has become more gifted at throwing things at me that are going to stretch me – the harmonic techniques, the staccato, the legato, and some of the interesting chord work; these things come as a result of Patti branching the music out and arranging it.

She has been my biggest influence as a guitar player in the last several years, because she’s always throwing things at me that cause me to stretch in ways I wouldn’t have planned to stretch.

This article is a Vintage Guitar Online exclusive.

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