Big Daddy Gumbo
Houston music legend Tommy Dardar, affectionately dubbed ‘Big Daddy Gumbo’ passed away in July of 2017. Over his storied career Dardar played alongside Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, The Neville Brothers and more. He was known for his deep, soulful voice, soaring blues harp and magnanimous personality. His 1999 release, Fool for Love, also produced by Tony Braunagel, drew attention to his songwriting in addition to his vocal and harp skills. Given his unexpected death, many though that would be his last enduring musical statement.
However, Dardar had begun work on a follow-up project in 2001, but that got sidetracked likely due to finances and possibly other issues. Dardar’s friends were aware of the unfinished recordings and eventually, through the leadership of Braunagel, produced this posthumous album in Dardar’s memory. The sessions were initially recorded in California with a core group of players often associated with producer and drummer Braunagel. Many of these same players are still supporting or have supported Bonnie Raitt as well. They are among the best blues musicians, including Hutch Hutchinson (bass), Jon Cleary (piano), Johnny Lee Schell (guitar), Mike Finnigan and Barry Seelen (organ), Joe Sublett (saxophone), and a host of background vocalists including Teresa James and Terry Wilson. Don’t let the location fool you. This is Gulf Coast swamp music at its best.
Here is an excerpt from The Houston Press August 10, 2017 where Braunagel was interviewed, “I guess I met him around ’69 or ’70. We were in different bands,” Braunagel says by phone from Los Angeles. “We were all kind of playing around the hippie cafes and hippie joints. Our relationship goes back to those days. Lots of fun, lots of youth…wild and crazy music days. Musically, he and I always kind of hit on the same note. I grew up playing rhythm and blues in Houston. Being from Houma, Louisiana, he had some real roots in that music. We just kind of related and over the years we stayed in touch. I left there in the early ’70s and when I’d come back, I’d always hook up with Tommy…We just had this camaraderie and liked each other…he was close enough that when my mom was still alive, he would go check on her every once in a while. My brother lived there and everything but still he would go check on her. He had a big heart, he would help everybody, he was always there for other people. If there was a benefit for somebody else, Tommy was there, working his thing, making sure he could help out.”
Braunagel says it took four days for his engineer to rescue the tracks from a digital data-storage file but was pleased to finish the project. “It’ll be his legacy, it’ll be a recording that everybody can enjoy, and everybody will have something of Tommy Dardar to hold in their hearts,” he says.
Schell, Cleary, and Wilson did most the writing with two tunes from Dardar – “Headed Down to Houma” and In My Mind.” The disc is filled with plenty of slide guitar, Dardar’s harp, Cleary’s Crescent City piano chops and writing the definitive NOLA tracks “C’mon Second Line” and the gorgeous ballad “Let’s Both Go Back to New Orleans.” His own tune “In My Mind” will remind you of a Delbert McClinton ballad. Whether singing the ballads or the up-tempo swamp tunes, Dardar is sounds both soulful and powerful. If there’s a quibble, it’s only that there are only 9 tracks; clocking in at a little over 30 minutes. Guess we need to listen to Fool for Love too.
- Jim Hynes
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