Tim Gonzalez plays the harmonica. Some of the artists he's played with include: Ronnie Milsap, Doug Stone, Pam Tillis, Toby Keith, B.B. King, Archer Park, John Michael Montgomery, Lee Oscar, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Magic Dick, Leroy Parnell and the Reverend Jimmy Bratcher. For 15 years Tim hosted the well known Nashville favorite, All Pro Blues Jam. Meet Tim Gonzalez.
Q: Where you from?
A: I was born and raised in Brownsville, Texas. It's called Rio Grande Valley, way down south on the border of Texas and Matamoris, Mexico.
Q: How old were you when you started playing music?
A: I was 13 and I started out as a singer in a garage band. My dad used to lend us the garage and we'd open it up and we had keyboards, drums, and bass. I started out actually as a singer, and then a friend of my brothers turned me on to the harmonica. When he gave me that harmonica, that was like, this is what I was going to be doing. It came natural to me.
Q: Was your family musical?
A: My sister could play a little bit and my grandfather, I think he played a little bit of the old style harmonica. Like “Oh Susanna” and all that good stuff where you could play the chords and the lead together. So he played a little bit but I think where I got started musically, was because I started singing first. I really liked to sing but then I got behind the harmonica and was always trying to be singing with the harmonica, so I kind of left the vocal alone and started playing harmonica.
Q: Do you remember your first paid gig?
A: I was working at a bowling alley because I was a really good bowler and my grandfather wanted me to become a professional bowler. The band that I played with called me, it was on New Years Eve, and said they got a gig. I was 17 I think at the time and I was in a dilemma. Do I shut the bowling alley down and go do this gig, what am I gonna do? So I shut the bowling alley down, got fired, and went and did the gig (laughing).
Q: So you worked right there in your area?
A: I started playing around Brownsville plus the island, San Padre Island. We did a lot of reggae, a lot of different styles of music, so I was exposed to all kinds of music growing up in south Texas. My influences were, George “Harmonica” Smith, all the old guys, naturally, Little Walter. I'd buy all these records and I'd come home and I'd play them so I was kind of self taught. A lot of that came natural to me. I'd hear it and I would be able to play it.
Q: So how did you come to be in Nashville?
A: We had this band called the South Texas Wailers and back in '86 we went and won the Dodge Wrangler Country Showdown, so that got us here. That's the first time when I was at the Grand Ole Opry I got to meet Charlie McCoy. Charlie was a real good influence on me as far as country harmonica. We continued playing as the South Texas Wailers and I decided one night, I don't want to be 65 sitting on my porch thinking why didn't I go to Nashville and record some music. I made the move with my family in 1992 and I've been here ever since which is 18 years later.
Q: Do you remember your actual first gig in Nashville?
A: My first gig in Nashville was I did a demo inside a bathroom (laughing). You know like the converted houses. Someone heard me play out at a jam somewhere and said they needed harmonica on a track, and that was my first demo. I was lucky to get on Atlantic Records with two guys, Johnny Park and Randy Archer. I recorded on their record, so that was my first big master session that I did. That was back in 1996.
Q: Do you have a preference for playing live or playing in the studio?
A: Actually man, I like both. I really like the ambience of the studio because you can be creative, unless they want some specific melody, or some specific rhythmic track or something. They kinda say, you know, either we want this style of harmonica or we want this. But a lot of times when you go into the studio, I go thinking creatively. When I first walked into the studio I was like a little bit intimidated, so I was kind of reserved in what I played, but as I grew in Nashville to learning what they liked is for you to be who you are. The artist that you are and bring whatever you can to the table, so that's when I kind of opened up and played what I can play today.
Q: Currently you've been touring a lot?
A: Yeah I've been touring with a guy out of Kansas City, Reverend Jimmy Bratcher. We met on line when I emailed him. A year later Jimmy was at a jam here in Nashville with his producer and I was playing that night and he invited me to play on his record. That was 3 years ago and ever since we've been inseparable, so I do a lot of shows with Jimmy. That's my main gig right now. We opened up for ZZ Top up at Sturgis, we do a lot of the bike rallies. We do a lot of prison ministry and we do a lot of secular stuff. We just opened up for Leon Russell before he goes out on tour with Elton John.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone new to Nashville?
A: My advice to them is to go out and expose yourself to some of these jams. You know there's a lot of jams in Nashville so just go out. Go to songwriters, just try to meet people, shake hands. The Nashville way is to get some cards made up, hand out your card and let them know you are available. Try to get up on stage in some of these places and play and let people hear you. Nashville's a musical town and they're really open to newcomers coming in. I had a lot of luck, I was very blessed to be with the group I was with and it led me to doing other things.
©2010 by Bronson Herrmuth