Singer, songwriter and guitar virtuoso Jimmy Thackery has carved an enviable niche for himself in the world of electric blues. Known for his gritty, blue-collar approach and marathon live shows, Thackery was for many years part of the Nighthawks, one of the hardest-working blues bar bands in North America; since the late 1980s, he has been touring and recording under his own name, and has found widespread acceptance on the festival circuit. His hard-edged, tough-as-nails approach to guitar playing and his trio’s driving rhythm section holds appeal for fans of both the straight-ahead blues of Muddy Waters and the roots-rock of Bruce Springsteen and Joe Grushecky. Like the Nighthawks and Grushecky’s Houserockers, much of the material Thackery performs can safely be called blues or blues-rock. Hardcore blues like “It’s My Own Fault” and popular blues-rock chestnuts like “Red House” from Jimi Hendrix are fair game for Thackery and his Drivers, who include Michael Patrick on bass and Mark Stutso on drums and vocals.
Born in Pittsburgh, Thackery was raised in Washington, D.C. In high school, he played in a band with Bonnie Raitt’s brother, David, who exposed him to the music of Buddy Guy; Thackery saw both Guy and Jimi Hendrix perform in Washington, D.C. Thackery joined the Nighthawks in 1974, after being introduced to harmonica man Mark Wenner by fellow guitarist Bobby Radcliff, who was then based in D.C. Thackery recorded more than 20 albums with the Nighthawks and toured the U.S, Canada, Europe and Japan. He left the band in 1987 and struck out on his own, needing a break from the Nighthawks’ 300-nights-a-year tour schedule.
He formed a new band, Jimmy Thackery and the Assassins, and toured the East Coast heavily with that band until they split up in 1991. Since then Thackery has been leading a trio, Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, and quickly forged a name for himself on the blues festival and club circuit through a prolific recording pace and a lot of roadwork. His albums for the San Francisco-based Blind Pig label include Empty Arms Motel (1992), Sideways In Paradise, Jimmy Thackery and John Mooney (all 1993), Trouble Man (1994), Wild Night Out (1995), Drive to Survive (1996), and Switching Gears (1998). His 1998 album includes guest performances by Joe Louis Walker, Lonnie Brooks, Chubby Carrier and Francine Reed, but any of Thackery’s albums will delight fans of tough, heavy, driving guitar playing. For a taste of his thorough mastery of several styles, Drive to Survive touches on rockabilly, jazz, bebop and surf music. Most of Thackery’s albums include at least a few covers mixed in with his batch of self-penned songs. Two years later, Thackery released Sinner Street.
Whether Jimmy Thackery headlines a festival in South Dakota or jams for hours in one of numerous blues bars that dot the musical landscape, he’ll always unleash an intense volley of rockin’ blues guitar guaranteed to leave crowds emotionally spent. His double edged guitar dynamics allow him to fire off tracer missiles, bend a note so it will fit under a limbo bar, run off dive bomber riffs, and find space within the trembling of one stinging note. “I put all my senses on hold and find the zone and follow what’s inside. There’s an electricity from your mind to your heart to your fingers. You just try and remember to breathe.”
He’s one of the few blues guitarists who learned first hand from the masters of the blues, not off a blues record or DVD. Though most associate Jimmy with his 15 years as the co-founder of the Nighthawks, he ended his time with them in 1987. Since then, Jimmy has been on the road as a solo musician for 15 years doing nearly 300 shows a year proving each night that he is still the guitar powerhouse in the blues.
To support his newest project, Thackery’s ready to do the road time. “I started thinking that I missed the days when I was just a full blown, kick ass trio. I thought it would be fun to go back to that. I did keep Mark Stutso, my drummer of 15 years. He knows what direction I’m going in before I do.”