People often ask me, “what do you like most about living at the beach?” The answer is always right on the top of my brain. First and foremost, it’s the people. Everyone who lives here seems to be happy, probably because they live here. Everyone who is visiting or lives here part time, seems to be happy, more than likely, for the same reason. It is the easiest place in the world to make new friends and engage in some great social interactions. Secondly, the beach. Right out our door is one of the most wonderful beaches in the world with all that it offers and on the west side of the peninsula is the bay. So, from fishing, boating, surfing, sun worshipping, and everything else the beach life offers, we have it at all right at our fingertips. But, the biggie, and you know what’s coming next, it’s the music. And in that respect, we pretty much have it all. Not only do we have the music but, we have scores of venues, and every one of them has their own ambiance. Sometimes it’s the personality of the owners, managers, bartenders and servers and other times it’s the folks that patronize them regularly. Almost always, it’s the highly skilled and entertaining musicians that bring us live performances week after week, year round.
When it comes to highly skilled, experienced, and very busy artists, Tim Landers is at the top of that list. I found Tim to be very easy to interview as we sat at a table overlooking the bay. Robustly laden with story after story of his experiences in and around Baltimore, DC, Nashville, overseas, and of course, our beloved Ocean City, he speaks as if he has an interesting story with every sentence.
Tim, let’s get right to it. What are your roots in music?
I grew up in Baltimore City, near Memorial Stadium. My grandfather was a minstrel who painted his face black, like Al Jolson. He toured around, usually raising money for charities. He had 12 kids and sold Free State Beer to support them all. There were musicians all throughout my family. I’m the first one on my father’s side, who actually became a musician, who didn’t eventually become a cop. The person I’m named after was a fiddle player, which is interesting because now my duo partner is one of the greatest fiddle players ever. Mr. John Heinz. The family called me Tiny Tim. When I first went to Baltimore City Schools and they called out Bernard Joseph Landers, Jr., I had no idea who they were talking about. Up until then, I was only known as Tim. My mom was the youngest of 12 and my dad’s mom was one of 18 kids. So I just figured that Bernard was a cousin I had yet to meet.
No matter what side of the family though, there was singing going on all of the time. There was always prayer and poetry. My grandmother, Mary Landers, born on the 4th of July, always insisted that we sing God Bless America before any family gathering convened. Can you believe it, Mary Landers from Maryland? My dad walked the beat on Pennsylvania Avenue and I was taking the street cars around town by the time I was 7 years old. We’d go out int he morning and not come home until dark and our parents never seemed to worry about us. Kids were naturally more street wise back then. My dad once arrested a teenage gang and they knew I was his son and they beat the daylights out of me when I was 5. So, he taught my brother and me how to defend ourselves.
I played children’s records all day long on the little record player I had. Elvis arrived on the scene when I was 6 and my parents brought me into the parlor so that I could see Elvis Presley on the black and white TV. My one aunt worked at Hutzler’s in the record department, and she would bring me records all the time. It was always Elvis, Ricky Nelson and so on.
In third grade I was encouraged to take up an instrument. I chose piano but, all of those spots were already taken. They handed me a flute and a book of songs that we were required to learn by the end of the year. I came back the next day and played every song. The teacher was surprised and impressed and she saw something in me at that time.
My cousins were all talented musicians. One of them, Patsy, was with Horace Heidt’s Orchestra and was singing in competition with Patsy Cline. She was hit by a car at 16 and lost her ability to speak. She was a big influence on me. Her sister, Leilani, was taking off at the time as well and was hanging out in Washington, DC with all these local artists. One group went on to be The Mamas and The Papas. She came over one day with a record album in her hand and asked me if I had ever heard of this new group and she showed me the Meet The Beatles album. She was always ahead of the trends. At one point she was living in New York City next door to Tiny Tim. Leilani took me to see Roustabout with Elvis Presley. The family, on all sides, was close. They all cared for each other and took each others’ kids in when tragedy struck.
Junior High School, reminiscent of West Side Story, brought changes in my life. I started hanging out in this music store. I was there the minute school let out, every day. Guys would come in from Vegas on Saturdays, pull instruments down off the wall and jam like nothing I had ever heard brefore. Rudy, the owner, liked to go to the track and bet on the horses as often as he could. So here I am, 12 years old and he leaves me in charge of the store. If someone came in and wanted a guitar, I’d ring it up and sell them some picks, etc. My friend Bobby, an aspiring drummer would come in and we’d put the Meet The Beatles album on and we’d be playing and singing. One day, Rudy was in the back and heard us. We thought he had left for the track. We thought we were in big trouble ... a little scared, because back then, we were all taught to respect our elders. Rudy says to me, “you like coming in here don’t you?” I said, “of course.” He said, “well, you can’t come in here anymore.” I was devastated. Then he went on to tell us that he would give us a second chance but, first we had to do something. He said we’d have to set the drums up on the sidewalk out in front of the store, plug a microphone into an amplifier, put the Beatles album on a record player and sing bold and loud to everyone who walks by and every car that drives by. I was a pretty shy kid and this was a major jolt to my psyche. But, we did it. All of a sudden, I was instantly out of my shell. My father couldn’t believe it.
My dad took me to a man named Gil Monroe, who also had his own music store, when I was like, 14. Gil was playing with Guy Lombardo at the time. The Temptations would walk in and I find out he is real good friends with Melvin Franklyn of The Temtpations. So, here I am in his store, across from the old Overlea Hall, getting guitar lessons from the best and I’m around professional level musicians everywhere. Gil was playing with these guys. He was playing with Stevie Wonder and Buddy Rich’s guitar player. Johnny Mann, who had his own TV show at the time, was Gils piano player. There was a steady stream of characters coming and going all of the time.
At 16, I’m teaching music at the store. I remember I had 63 students. I got $3.00 per lesson. One dollar went to the store for the use of the room and the other two bucks went in my pocket. My dad wanted me to have a good guitar, so he went into the store and Gil told my dad there was no way that he would sell him a guitar for me. He told my dad that I didn’t deserve it because I wasn’t working hard enough. Needless to say, I didn’t like Gil very much for a while after that. Gil is the man I was telling you about that just came down to see me here at the beach last week. He’s 92 years old now and we are as close as ever.
A little later my band was playing at Timonium State Music Fair, and we were the band for Hyman Pressman when he ran for governor against Spiro T. Agnew. Chuck Beatty comes over and he was a great guitar player with Bob Brady and the Concordes. He says, hey Tim, I just got a call from Ronnie Dove. I told him I can’t do the gig and I gave him your number. So Ronnie Dove calls and says he wants me to play guitar and wanted me to go on the road with him. My dad squashed the idea because I would have had to drop out of high school. In my family, that was unheard of, no matter how good you were at music.
After high school, we were all required to announce to the family what we were going to do with our lives. I declared that I wanted to be a musician for the rest of my life. My mom thought that I would wind up being a vagabond. But, my dad said that it was the only thing I’ve ever seen the kid do. It became accepted that I would be a musician.
Two experiences with my father stand out, even to this day, in my life. He met my mother the week he got home from the war, right after he got out of the Marine Corps. He had a shot at pro football but, at the time, he walked away from it because there was no future after football. However, he did tell me, “Son, no matter what, follow your dreams. The money will come. Live your passion.” On another occasion, I’m sitting at a bar with my father having the first beer I ever had with him, shortly after I turned 21. He told me that he never got to have a beer and talk with his father. It made me feel really special. My dad was gone nine months after that from a heart attack.
You mentioned that you had a bad experience that caused you some health issues. Can you talk about that a little?
In my early 20’s, I was driving a friend home from a party one night and got mugged. They beat me to a pulp. The doctors said that I would never sing or play guitar again. So my friend Hank comes over to the hospital and is forcing me to squeeze hard rubber balls. He pushed and pushed to the point where I got the use of my hands back. This was after receiving Last Rights. My lungs would collapse from time to time, which found me back in the hospital on a semi regular basis. Since then, the longest I’ve gone without time in the hospital was a seven year stretch, at one point.
I got myself to a point where I could play and sing again and I started doing clubs all around town. My income was increasing as time went on. I met Pat O’Brennan and he says he could get me some gigs in Ocean City.
Back in Baltimore, I’m playing the Turf Inn and in walks a lady named Trudy who tells me her fiancé is Steve Boone, bass player for The Lovin’ Spoonful and he just opened a recording studio and I think you should come down and record. I’m in Studio B and next door in Studio A is Little Feat recording Dixie Chicken. Once again, I find myself in the midst of well known touring musicians.
Wrap up: As you can see Tim Landers has a deep and varied history in music. I think I only asked him three or four questions the whole time and he was eager to just share his life story with me. So please come back next week for the Nashville and Ocean City years. Until then, as Neil Young wrote, keep on Rockin’ In The Free World.
RandyJamz is the frontman for The RandyJamz Band and half of the duo with, The Baltimore Boyz, featuring Jay Vizzini. Available for gigs of all types as a solo, duo, and full band act. If you would like to be interviewed for a Meet The Band article, contact him at: email@example.com