Nervous Turkey: Simmering with soul, sweat and swagger
(All this week, we’re spotlighting tbt*’s 2010 Ultimate Local Artists on Soundcheck. Today: Nervous Turkey.)
When he performs live, Nervous Turkey frontman Ernie Locke summons demons with his raspy howls, belly gyrations and harp-blowing mayhem.
And in the past year, the singer, guitarist and harmonica player of Nervous Turkey has become known around Tampa as a respected restaurant owner, arts and music scene supporter, dad and husband. On and offstage, the twisted-blues rocker and co-owner (with wife Melissa Deming) of restaurant and music venue Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe in Seminole Heights throws himself head, heart and spirit into his work.
A 47-year-old Kansas City, Kansas, native, Locke spent his youth playing clarinet and sax, and his adult years wreaking havoc on a harmonica. He rocked crowds at Austin’s South by Southwest festival with bands Sin City Disciples and Tenderloin in the late ’80s and ’90s, and this week he has a coveted gig at this year’s fest, performing with his bandmates in Nervous Turkey, organist Mark Cunningham and drummer Aaron Fowler.
It’s been two years since the band released a full-length CD, Fatboy Likes to Roll, and Locke is looking forward to some creative newness in 2010.
“We’ve been playing the same music for two years,” he said before leaving for SXSW. “I’ve got a bunch of stuff cooking in my head. I just have to get it organized. I’m kinda looking forward to that more than anything.”
He said his staff at Ella’s helped him with his recent batch of inspiration. “This restaurant gives me an amazing opportunity to hear what other people are listening to. It’s driven me to do a lot less blues-feeling stuff, actually do individual-feeling songs.”
While the songs on Fatboy Likes to Roll offer up the blues with N’awlins funk and punk-rock grit, Locke says he wants to push the envelope further and work a little outside his honky-tonk comfort zone — but not too far. Whether it’s old tube amps and microphones or art made from rusty license plates, Locke’s affection of “things that have been sat out in the sun,” combined with offbeat originality, lie at the heart of his muse.
However far Locke takes it, his bandmates have the chops to heed him and bring his ideas to fruition.
Cunningham, Locke said, is the “glue that holds the band together.” Fowler, another close friend, is more of “a hired gun,” content to stay in the background.
“A trio is a challenge,” Locke said. “It’s just three people doing everything for one thing. There is a lot more space involved with the music than there is, like, music, you know? You gotta think about it. There’s also more of a responsibility for each and every person to cover. Mark and Aaron are accomplished enough to do that.
“We try to make things different. Sometimes I have a foot pedal that will lower my harmonica down a whole octave and make it sound bigger, fatter and fuller, and Mark plays a lot of stuff with his left hand, which is sort of a bass step to make it sound bigger, fatter and fuller. But we still use a lot of space in between our music to where we do Tom Waits-sounding stuff, where it’s real staggery. It sounds like a drunk walking down an alley. You can feel that — you can feel that space where he’s trying to make that step. That’s what’s great about our trio.”
-- Julie Garisto, tbt*. Photo: Luis Santana, tbt*