Playing at The Iron Horse Grill in Jackson Mississippi || Photo Credit: Mary Fitzgerald

The Duality of Brad Tucker

by Nick Macksood

Oct | Nov 2016


2011 in Menemsha

2011 in Menemsha || Photo by Kristen Leigh Conklin

Brad Tucker is a Vineyard fixture. During our talk, the amount of passersby who stopped to say hi to the island musician numbered no less than the amount of oysters and littlenecks we tossed back. Tucker was born here, raised here. His family’s roots stretch back into years before the U.S. Constitution was even seriously considered. But now, his time is spent mainly in Nashville. On an island of talented musicians who choose to remain on hallowed ground, or otherwise leave and return, Tucker has chosen to put his roots in Music City.

“I’m gonna grow old there, that’s for sure. But the one thing that drives me nuts about Nashville is being away from the ocean,” Tucker tells me as the shellfish arrive, “I’m a seafood fiend.” Some things aren’t so easy to leave behind.

Tucker was back on the Vineyard this summer to take some time off from music in preparation of another fall and winter of touring and recording. On arrival, he was so glad to see saltwater again that he jumped into the Sound–clothes and all–the minute the boat had docked.


Photo by Deborah Banyas

On island, Tucker focuses on stonemasonry, his other profession. “It’s similar to music in a lot of ways,” Tucker says. Stonemasonry, too, elicits the on-again off-again, give and take nature of an artistic craft: some days, everything is going well, other days, just the opposite. “It’s rhythmic,” Tucker adds, “Even the flow of a section you might be doing. I tend to make very flowing lines and to my eye, one line might look like a waltz. Another looks like a shuffle. The next is a boogie-woogie. It’s immediately apparent to me.”

I have to ask: which is the job and which is the hobby? “There isn’t one. They’re both, both. When one becomes a job, I switch to the other and the old job becomes the hobby.” The goal is to do both for a living, Tucker says, “But it got to the point where I’d say, I’m going to try to make a living playing music. And once that happened, I was unhappy. It felt like work.” Fortunately, things have gone well enough in both pursuits to the point where Tucker can come and go as he pleases between Nashville and the Vineyard, picking up one and leaving the other momentarily.

“My biggest influences are my friends hearing one of their new tunes will completely change the course of one I happen to be working on.”


To adjust with the seasons is a particularly Vineyard sensibility. Although professions may change with the color of the leaves, demeanors do not, and it is this that Nashville and the island have most in common. “Both are very creative communities,” Tucker explains, “And in Nashville, everybody knows everybody–just like here. And everybody is so talented and specialized in their specific line of work, the bar is set so high. It’s motivating.”

Playing with Bette Carroll

Playing with Bette Carroll || Photo Credit: Kristen Leigh Conklin

And it’s the company he keeps that is a good indicator of his musical drive. Tucker rifles through a veritable encyclopedia of worthy names that, unfortunately, do not have the space to fit in this profile. But the musicians who keep Tucker motivated are the ones he grows with: the Woody Pines, the Willy Masons, rather than the B.B. Kings of the world. “My biggest influences are my friends,” Tucker tells me. “Hearing one of their new tunes will completely change the course of one I happen to be working on.”

And for someone who claimed to be on island for stonemasonry, it was difficult not to find Tucker standing in alongside any number of Vineyard groups. I watched him perform one night at the Ritz with The Chandler Blues on the hottest night of the summer. Tucker–built like a grizzly bear–commands a powerful presence on stage but is keenly aware of the nuances of working a crowd. His large hands practically ring the neck of the guitar, but once he gets going it’s his precision, not power, that is truly impressive. A bluesman who’s a flatpicking specialist, Tucker knows not just how to fill the empty canvas of a solo, but when to do it. The right note is struck at the moment it ought to be.

It’s that prowess and drive that has won Tucker his dream of part-time musician, part-time stonemason. And the Vineyard, apart from being a haven for his stonemasonry, is also an incubator for an album that has been in the works for almost 12 years. The delay has been a mix of variables: building a more mature sounding voice, finding the right people to work with, fighting self-doubt. “I’ve created a million things that I’ve thrown in the fire… and maybe anybody would love it, but when it’s my own… I hate to use the word perfectionist. It presumes there is a perfect–and there never is–but I want it to be right in my mind. I need to hear it and say, Okay, there it is.”

At Bright Box in winchester

At Bright Box in Winchester, Virginia || Photo Credit: Richele Cole

Tucker’s patience is paying off. He’s working with a Grammy winning producer, Mitch Dane, whom he spent time with while recording alongside Woody Pines. This fall, he’ll return to Nashville and start working with his band again, Old Tucker and the Blind Willies, and likely hit the road for another year loaded full of tour dates.

Although when we sat down, Tucker had already been on the Vineyard longer than he thought he would. Recently engaged to an employee of a major airline, his schedule could remain malleable. He mentioned plans to go diving for sunken treasure up island once the summer season wound down, and wondering myself whether I’d stay or go, I asked Tucker when the best time to leave was. “You gotta quit while you’re still having fun. There’s a line when you’ve had enough and you don’t want to be here when you cross it. Because when it hits it hits hard.” The lines between stonemasonry and music have never been so blurred.