Hotshots and hillbillies collide on Jimmy Thackery’s Healin’ Ground



By Steve Newton

When Jimmy Thackery was a kid, his father took him and his brother to see the 1964 Peter Sellers comedy A Shot in the Dark. They all loved it; the boys would repeat Inspector Clouseau’s lines endlessly at home, bent over in hysterics in front of their bewildered mother. At the time Thackery couldn’t have guessed that he would record a version of Henry Mancini’s sprightly title track in 2004, but it’s there in all its two-and-half-minute glory on his brand new CD, Healin’ Ground.

“I have always been a huge Mancini fan,” says the 52-year-old bluesman, calling from the road en route to a gig in the wee burg of Casper, California. “I kinda knew how to play the song-it’s not particularly difficult-but it was one of those things where we were makin’ stuff up in the studio and the producer said, ‘Well, what’s on your wish list?’ And I thought ‘Well, I’ll just throw this out, and if he says, “Absolutely not!” then I’ll forget it.’ Anyway, I threw it out and the guy went nuts. He said, ‘What a fabulous idea!’?”
Thanks to producer Gary Nicholson’s good taste, the reverb-laden “A Shot in the Dark” vies for attention on Healin’ Ground with gutsy instrumentals like “Fender Bender” and “Kickin Chicken” and an impassioned rendition of Muddy Waters’s “Can’t Lose What You Never Had”. Interested locals can hear the new material at the Yale Hotel on Wednesday (June 8).

Healin’ Ground differs from the Pittsburgh-born, D.C.-raised picker’s previous CDs in that it’s the first time he’s recorded with studio musicians. Nicholson hired first-call Nashville session players like guitarist Kenny Greenberg and keyboardist Kevin McKendree, who normally lay down tracks for big-time country acts like Garth Brooks and the Judds.

“I’m usually kind of a maverick by using my road band,” says Thackery, “and most producers scratch their heads and say, ‘We can do it faster and better if we hire all these hotshots.’ Well, those hotshots can play every note in the world, but there’s a feel and an atmosphere and a dynamic that goes along with the real deep blues stuff that your average hot-dog studio player ain’t gonna get. He’s gonna be a little more Muzak than the guys that are road-tested, that are playin’ it every night.

“But these guys [on Healin’ Ground] are a different story,” he continues, “Every one of them’s a closet blues player. They’re the real deal. They just happen to be playin’ with hillbillies.”

Leave a Reply