Q&A with guitarist Duke Tumatoe

July 26, 2018

Duke Tumatoe has been playing guitar for more than 55 years, and that’s all he ever really wanted to do — and sing some R&B-infused, blues rock songs with a twist of humor that his devoted fans just love.

The Chicago native, born William “Bill” Fiorio in 1947, had a chance for superstardom when he briefly was the lead guitarist for REO Speedwagon in 1969 in Champaign, but he left to form Duke Tumatoe & The All Star Frogs. The rest is history, but Tumatoe wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We came from different places,” Tumatoe said. “They wanted to be rock stars, and I just wanted to play guitar. There were no ulterior motives on either side, and I’m still friends personally with the guys who were in the band at that time. It was just different musical interests.”

Duke Tumatoe & The All Star Frogs toured the Midwest relentlessly on the heels of a couple albums and songs such as “Tie You Up,” “Get Loose” and the tongue-in-cheek “If I Hadn’t Been High.”

Duke Tumatoe & The Power Trio (his band since 1983) will be the blues headliner on the platform stage at 9 p.m. Friday at the Merchant Street MusicFest at the Harold and Jean Miner Festival Square at 199 S. East Ave. in Kankakee. The platform stage is on the track side of the Kankakee Depot.

The Power Trio consists of Jim Hill on keyboards, Joe Maddox on drums and A.J. Jones on bass.

Tumatoe, 71, made Indianapolis, Ind., his home in the early ’80s and regularly appeared on “The Bob & Tom Show” (radio show) for a number of years. He now lives in Carmel, Ind.

This past week, Tumatoe took part in a question-and-answer session with the Daily Journal.

Have you ever played in Kankakee before?

I played the Kankakee Blues Festival a couple of times, and years and years ago, I played at a bar there called Gentleman Jim’s, but I bet that was 40 years ago.

So no regrets for leaving REO Speedwagon?

[REO] keyboard player Neal Doughty always said they’d have been a better band if I had stayed with them. I said, “Thank you, but you never would’ve made the money you made because I wouldn’t have been comfortable.” Not that there’s anything wrong with what they’re playing, but I wouldn’t have been comfortable playing it. That’s not who I am.

How would you describe your music?

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and I was heavily influenced by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy and a litany of other guys, including Albert King. And then there was a jazz element in Chicago that was part of my heritage. R&B, blues and some kind of R&B jazz thing is really what my stuff comes from. It’s very Chicago music.

What can fans expect on Friday?

My “Live at the Kingston Mines” album came out in 2014 and my “How Much Crazy Can You Take” album came out last year, and [I’ll play] the usual stuff — the Duke Tumatoe fare — “Tie You Up, ”You’ve Got the Problem.” We have a lot to pick from, and we’ve just kind of got to go with what the crowd is focused on and having fun with and go from there.

You were known for singing on “The Bob & Tom Show” a weekly impromptu rally song, “Lord Help Our Colts” for the Indianapolis Colts during their struggles in the pre-Peyton Manning era. Any chance of singing a “Lord Help Our Bears”?

I doubt that there will be a “Lord Help Our Bears.” I think the Bears are going to do well this year. Think positive.

Bears or Colts fan?

I will always look at how the Bears are doing because you can’t get that out of your system. I appreciate the Colts. I was a [Peyton] Manning fan, and I’m an Andrew Luck fan. … You can never get your childhood team out of your system. It just doesn’t work.

How often do you tour?

I do about 80 to 100 gigs every year. For about 40 years — 1970 to 2008 — we were doing about 200 to 250, sometimes 300 dates a year.

What keeps you going?

I tried at one point to slow down, just play a few shows. But I told my wife, “What am I going to do, sit around the room and play guitar for myself?” I mean, it’s what I do. It’s who I am. It’s always a pleasure to play. It’s what I’ve always done, and the travel doesn’t bother me like it might bother some people. … And the guys I’m playing with are great.