The Tin Men: a classic trio, with unorthodox instruments
Sousaphone, guitar and washboard, enhanced by tin cans and hotel desk bell?
It’s not your usual musical lineup.
But in some respects, The Tin Men is a classic trio. The guitar functions as a midrange instrument producing melody and rhythm; the washboard provides percussion; and sousaphone, a portable version of the tuba, supplies the bottom end.
“Yeah, just like Cream,” said “Washboard” Chaz Leary, referring to the 1960s power trio with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce.
“It’s just a little different from what people are used to,” added singer-guitarist Alex McMurray. “We don’t let that stop us. We do whatever music strikes our fancy.
For The Tin Men’s fourth album, “On the Shady Side,” the guys fancied local standards they perform every Wednesday night at d.b.a on Frenchmen Street.
The track list includes songs by Danny Barker, Allen Toussaint, Fats Domino and James Booker. A few McMurray originals are apropos, too, as is Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.”
The Tin Men recorded and pressed “On the Shady Side” in time to sell the album in Switzerland in June.
“We were like, ‘Why don’t we do a New Orleans-y kind of record?’ ” McMurray said. “‘We’re going to Switzerland. They like New Orleans-y stuff. That’s a slam dunk.’ So, it was certainly the easiest Tin Men record we’ve made. It’s a snapshot of what we’re doing right now.”
Because staging an album-release party in New Orleans during the slow summer months isn’t good marketing, The Tin Men waited till this month to do it.
Rather miraculously, The Tin Men has existed with the same membership since 2002. Before they were Tin Men, McMurray and sousaphonist Matt Perrine were members of Royal Fingerbowl. The since-disbanded Fingerbowl, a vehicle for McMurray’s songs, drew national attention in the 1990s.
Near the end of Fingerbowl’s run, Leary began sitting in with Royal Fingerbowl at the band’s weekly gig at The Matador. And then Leary and Perrine began separately sitting in with McMurray during his weekly solo residency at The Circle Bar. One night, Leary and Perrine simultaneously sat with McMurray.
“We played as a trio,” McMurray said. “We knew right away it was good. We wanted to keep doing it. We even had a name that night: The Tin Men.”
Leary, who moved to New Orleans in 2000 from Kansas City, Missouri, previously worked with a tuba during his many years in Boulder, Colorado.
“That worked out good,” he said of his tuba collaboration. “And the sousaphone, it just clicked. That’s how bands get together. They jam and say, ‘Man, something here clicks. Off we go.’ ”
While The Tin Men carry on at d.b.a. and other gigs, Leary continues leading his Washboard Chaz Blues Trio and performing with another resident d.b.a. band, Palmetto Bug Stompers; McMurray pursues his solo work and a busy schedule of backing local singers; and Perrine, who also plays upright bass, performs with Bonerama and many other artists and groups.
The Tin Men, McMurray said, “is a comfortable situation. It’s not our main career, but it’s a big part of what all of us are doing.”