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Tumatoe Catch-Up PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Tuesday, 14 February 2006 18:00
For a guy with the blues, Duke Tumatoe is remarkably upbeat. In a recent phone interview, the musician observed, “Life is inherently taken too seriously,” and he’s spent most of his career – the last 20 years headlining Dr. Duke Tumatoe & the Power Trio – reminding people that even the blues aren’t always blue.

Duke – born Bill Fiorio in 1947 – has been performing blues and funk since the late ’60s, but is certainly no stranger to comedy. For nearly 20 years, he’s been a radio fixture on the syndicated Bob & Tom Show, known for his song parodies and the weekly “Lord Love the Colts,” and a scan of his CD titles reveals the comedian within the musical artist: I Like My Job!, A Ejukatid Man, Pompous & Overrated, and the holiday classic It’s Christmas (Let’s Have Sex).

With Dr. Duke Tumatoe & the Power Trio, the musician gets to indulge in both soulfulness and insouciance, as audiences will see at the group’s February 17 appearance at the Rock Island Brewing Company.

On their self-titled 2003 CD, for instance, Dr. Duke Tomatoe & the Power Trio give listeners both soulful R&B sounds and numerous opportunities to laugh, sometimes within the same song. They smoothly careen from the sultry, anguished “You Can’t Fool Me” to the rhythmically comedic “If I Hadn’t Been High,” which tells of the ills that befall Duke’s lamenting crooner when … well, the title is pretty self-explanatory. And in “Girls Must Have Funds,” the group’s smoky, blues-with-a-smiley-face style finds its musical embodiment as Duke, in the chorus, amusingly laments, “Girls must have funds / They just need to have funds / Don’t care how deep your love runs / Girls must have funds.”

“There are two elements of the blues,” Duke says. “There’s the general intensity of the music,” citing the power of such early musical influences as Muddy Waters and Joe Young. “And,” he continues, “most of them have an element of humor, some twist in the lyrics. It’s like a comedian turning something sad into something funny.”

Duke grew up listening to such blues artists as Waters and Young – “It was just so pervasive in the culture,” he says, “I just assumed everyone in the world was hearing that stuff.” – and while a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Duke teamed up with musicians including keyboardist Neal Doughty to form the group that, in short time, would become REO Speedwagon.

After numerous collegiate performances, though, Duke realized that his blues-oriented musical aspirations weren’t exactly in sync with those of his fellow musicians. “It became more and more obvious that we weren’t meant to play together,” he says, and he left the group with what are, now, no regrets. “They’re really hard-working people,” he says. “I have nothing but good things to say about them.”

In 1969, Duke, along with current Power Trio keyboardist James Mitchell Hill, went on to form Duke Tumatoe & the All-Star Frogs, which toured the collegiate circuit for 13 years with what is Duke’s now-trademark brand of funk-infused blues. “We played all the big-time colleges,” he says, and during a rigorous touring schedule, the group still found time to record three albums.

Yet in 1983, Duke – having started a family and hoping to curtail his road appearances – ended his partnership with the All-Stars, wanting to form a group more closely tied to his residence in Indianapolis. Dr. Duke Tumatoe & the Power Trio was subsequently born. The R&B group currently consists of Duke, Hill, bassist Mark Christopher Rohrman – all three of whom have been with the band since 1985 – and percussionist Toby Seiler.

Although last year public appearances for the band were lessened by Duke’s back surgery – “It’s good now,” Duke says. “They fixed me” – Duke and his Power Trio currently perform, the musician says, “between 180 to 220” gigs per year, traveling “within 600 miles of Indianapolis.” The touring schedule allows Duke and his bandmates to enjoy a touring musician’s life while still appreciating the comforts of home. “It’s worked out very well,” Duke says.

In between concert appearances, Duke greatly enjoys his regular contributions to the Bob & Tom Show, to which he contributes a weekly, tongue-in-cheek NFL recap, and where “Lord Help the Colts” has continued for nearly two decades . (“It’s the best,” he says of the Indianapolis-based program. “If the Colts won, I’d make fun of the other team. If they lost, I’d make fun of them.”)

Traveling while enjoying the comforts of home, and making people laugh while singing the blues. Sounds like a charmed life, which the musician seems more than aware of: “It’s pretty good bein’ Duke, I’ll tell ya.”

Dr. Duke Tumatoe & the Power Trio will play the Rock Island Brewing Company from 9 p.m. to midnight on Friday, February 17. For more information, visit (http://www.ribco.com).
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