Shonna Tucker, sometime bassist with Drive-By Truckers, returns with a new band, a new direction and an arsenal of cool bass gear. Alison Richter asks the questions
After eight years with the Drive-By Truckers, and another two with her own band, Eye Candy, bassist Shonna Tucker was ready for a break. She moved home to Killen, Alabama, “just up the road” from her parents and family, with one goal in mind: a hiatus from the music industry. “I was exhausted spiritually and personally,” she says. “I wanted time to get grounded and find myself, and in order to do that, I needed something completely different from what I’d been doing for the last decade.”
She was tending to livestock and driving a tractor when she got the call from keyboardist Spooner Oldham: singer-songwriter Pegi Young needed a bass player to record her then-upcoming album, Raw, and for the accompanying tour dates. “I had all intentions of taking 100 per cent time off from music,” she says, “but I couldn’t say no, so I changed my mind real fast!”
Tucker lives 15 minutes away from Oldham and guitarist/bandmate Kelvin Holly, both mainstays of the Muscle Shoals music scene and her longtime friends and colleagues. Oldham’s countless credentials include Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Percy Sledge. Holly’s résumé features Little Richard, Bobby Bland, Amazing Rhythm Aces and Gregg Allman. Drummer Phil Jones, who lists Tom Petty and Joe Walsh among his many credits, rounds out Young’s band, the Survivors.
It seemed obvious to bring Tucker into the ensemble. Young’s roots include R&B, country, and rock; add bluegrass to the mix and it’s the path Tucker has walked since childhood. “A lot of people ask what my style is,” she says. “I think it’s Southern country, Southern soul. I can’t help but have a little bit of everything in me, being from this area. So I think working with Pegi is a perfect fit. It’s very natural, and of course Spooner and Kelvin being with her for so many years and writing a lot of the music, they bring that Muscle Shoals sound.”
She was drawn to music through her father’s record collection, particularly his George Jones and Creedence Clearwater Revival albums. Aged eight, she asked him to teach her some guitar chords. He quickly recognised her talent and gravitation toward bass notes. For her tenth birthday, she received a Hondo bass. “I’d sit in my bedroom for hours, playing along with albums and practising,” she says. At 15, she bought herself a Fender Jazz and never looked back. “It fit my teenage hands and it looked cool,” she says. “I saved my money, bought it, and immediately understood why people like Fenders so much.”
Unfortunately, the Jazz was stolen during her first years in the Drive-By Truckers. In turn, she was gifted “an incredible Precision bass, white with a reverse headstock”, which became a game-changer in her sound. “We tuned down a whole step in the Truckers,” she says. “The Precision was chunkier, and it held and dealt with the tuning-down a little bit better. I fell in love with it, and now I own two Precision basses.”
She keeps her sound and rig as bare bones and direct as possible: TC Electronic PolyTune on the floor, patch cable, Ampeg SVT 410 cab and SVT Classic head. She swears by D’Addario Chromes XL medium-gauge flatwound strings that she never changes – noting “I like them funky and dirty” – and never uses a pick. “I’ve tried them a couple of times,” she says, “but they fly out of my hands. They’re not my thing.”
Tucker officially joined the Survivors in March 2016, and tracked six songs for Raw, two of which made the album: ‘Do I Ever Cross Your Mind’ and ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.’ The timeline between her move home and the studio was close to a year, as Young was in the midst of a divorce and recording sessions were sometimes delayed or rescheduled.
It worked out perfectly for Tucker, because those months gave her the hiatus she originally wanted, and the time to ease back in via a few solo performances and a lot of songwriting. “It’s incredible,” she says of her new opportunity. “It’s the best gift I’ve ever been given, the way it all played out.”