“I love to play. I love to create. I just got tired of being in the studio,” he said.
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Usually, he said, a musician would walk into a studio for someone, say, Quincy Jones, who would ask the musician to play the music cold.
“You got to play it right then and there,” Tucker said.
If you did it and he liked it, you got the job. If you had trouble with sight reading, you’d get a few minutes to work it out. But if you didn’t deliver, you didn’t get the job.
Tucker said he luckily was never denied a job, but it made him want to branch out.
In addition to his playing, Tucker is an accomplished composer, having written 300 titles. He wrote “Devilette” and “The Message” for Dexter Gordon and “Right Here, Right Now” for Billy Taylor.
One of his biggest hits was “Comin’ Home Baby,” which was made popular for Herbie Mann. Today, Tucker said it can still be heard in movies and commercials. It was even recently recorded by Michael Buble.
Additionally, Tucker became involved in the publishing side of the music business. One of the songs he published was Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny.” The song firmly established Tucker in the publishing industry and it also gave him the backing to expand his ventures.
After all, Tucker said, he believes in free enterprise. And in 1972, Tucker purchased WSOK Radio in Savannah. Of the 8,500 radio stations across the country, Tucker became the 15th black U.S. radio station owner.
Under his direction, the radio station hit No. 1 in the AM market, and remained so for 13 years. He eventually sold it to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s daughter, Luci Baines Johnson.
“I have no regret because a deal is a deal,” he said.
Next stop for Tucker was political lobbying. He appeared before the Federal Communications Commission and a Congressional subcommittee on communications to change the economic status of black entrepreneurs.
He testified before various Congressional committees. And in 1989, Tucker continued his own entrepreneurial spirit when he opened Hard-Hearted Hannah’s jazz club in Savannah.
And through it all, he continued to keep producing music.
His album, “Sweet Thunder” was based on a book by Whitney Balliett called “Such Sweet Thunder.” The book was one of a handful that Nelson Mandela was given to read while he was in prison. Tucker said he dedicated the album to Mandela and had to pull a lot of strings to have the album shipped to the activist and former president of South Africa. He received a note saying Mandela’s secretary had loved it and had put it on the president’s desk.
Tucker said he’s looking forward to his trip to Harpers Ferry, mostly because he can swap stories with his old friend, Lou Donaldson. The two worked together on Donaldson’s “Gravy Train.”
“I am absolutely elated,” Tucker said. “I have a tremendous respect for Lou Donaldson.”
Lou Donaldson, alto sax
At age 85, jazz alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson believes in keeping active — that means playing golf and making sure his musical chops are tight.