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The Humor, Party Music of Duke Tumatoe

Duke Tumatoe likes his job.

For 14 years, the 42-year-old Indianan has earned a living playing blues-based rock in little clubs throughout the Heartland. Fans of Tumatoe’s band, the Power Trio, insist that this brand of party music is in a class by itself.

John Fogerty thought that too when he saw Tumatoe in a small club in the town of Mishawaka, Ind. So much so, in fact, that the former Creedence Clearwater Revivalist volunteered to produce an album for the band and got it signed to the label for which he works, Warner Bros. Records. The resulting “I Like My Job,” recorded live in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Mishawaka, is a collection of Chicago blues classics and house-rocking originals that Fogerty says capture the spontaneity that caught his ear.

“The first time I heard Duke it gave me chills,” Fogerty said recently, sitting in an office at Warner Bros.’ Burbank headquarters, sipping at a cup of coffee. “Not only does this guy have a really cool band--he sings, plays guitar and writes these mischievously funny party songs.”

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The two musicians first crossed paths in 1987. Fogerty was driving cross-country in search of high-quality regional music when a radio spot promoting Tumatoe on a 100-watt station in rural Indiana sparked his curiosity.

“I heard the ad and I said to myself, ‘Duke Tumatoe--like, what kind of name is that?’ ” Fogerty recalled. “I decided I’d check it out.”

Duke Tumatoe turned out to be his real name and his performance at the Center Street Cafe in Mishawaka proved to be exactly what Fogerty was looking for.

“I hadn’t experienced energy like that in a long time. It was like walking in on Jimmy Swaggart in his heyday. Everybody in the audience was shouting and screaming and having a good time. I mean the crowd was just eating out of this guy’s hand,” Fogerty said. “Immediately the light went on in my head--somebody ought to record these guys.”

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After jamming with the band on several occasions, Fogerty approached his record label in an effort to land a contract for Tumatoe. He played a demo tape of the band’s live show for Warner Bros. President Lenny Waronker and secured the go-ahead to produce the project.

Tumatoe and his Power Trio are scheduled to make their first Los Angeles appearances in a weeklong string of Southland dates, starting at the Palomino on Thursday. In a telephone interview from his hotel room in Des Moines, Iowa, Tumatoe considered the impact of his first major label release.

“This is kind of an interesting twist to my career,” Tumatoe said. “I have no idea where it will lead.”

Like Fogerty, Tumatoe grew up idolizing such blues artists as Albert King, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters. A career of one-night stands in the Midwest has kept the Chicago native gainfully employed since he was a teen-ager. Before starting his own band, he apprenticed in blues outfits around the Windy City and served 18 months as guitarist in an early, prerecording version of REO Speedwagon.

Midwestern fans are familiar with Tumatoe’s peculiar brand of humor. In keeping with a tradition established on previous recordings for Blind Pig and Trouser Worm Records, “I Like My Job” includes a number of comical tracks such as the pseudo-sexual “Tie You Up.”

“The reason I like to write funny songs is that humor allows me to ask people uncomfortable questions without being abrasive,” Tumatoe said. “I believe music should be sincere, but it should also be designed to entertain.”

Food, too, is a primary concern of Tumatoe’s: One of the stronger pieces featured on the new album is an omnivorous cut entitled “Barbecue.”

“Personally, I am a big fan of barbecue. Over the years I’ve tried to plan my tours around various barbecue restaurants,” Tumatoe said. “This tour we’re on right now--it’s great. After we leave Iowa, we go to Kansas City. Man, Kansas City has some incredible barbecue.”

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