Philadelphia’s music scene has played a seminal role in defining jazz, pop, soul, and that expansive genre R&B (Rhythm and Blues). Picking up that beat, Tj Tindall’s East Coast marks the union of some key musicians from Philly’s historic R&B movement.
They will be sharing that sound on Saturday, February 23, when Tj Tindall’s East Coast performs at the intimate John & Peter’s in New Hope, known as a local landmark in music.
Though the band’s name sounds new, chances are that casual followers of the R&B scene have been listening to the band’s members for decades.
To the music world, Tj Tindall is an acclaimed guitarist and vocalist heard on 38 gold and platinum records. Locally he is also the owner of the Princeton-based the Light Gallery, a business that designs lighting for area architects and businesses.
As with Tindall, his bandmates have impressive resumes of their own. Four have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: guitarist Michael Hampton, songwriter Bunny Sigler, alto and soprano saxophonist Darryl Dixon, and guitarist and vocalist Willie Chambers.
They have played everything from gospel to rock with the Chambers Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Edison Electric Band, MFSB, the Salsoul Orchestra, the Trammps, the Temptations, and others. So has Tindall, a high-profile talent with a low-profile style.
Born and raised in Trenton, Thomas Joshua (Tj) Tindall saw his Lebanese immigrant father find work in a lighting store — though his English was practically non-existent. Eventually, the senior Tindall opened a Princeton lighting shop of his own. Now, 50 years later, Tj owns and manages that store located in the Princeton Shopping Center. In between music, he has designed lighting for a number of prominent Princeton businesses and restaurants — such as Triumph Brewing Company.
Though Tindall’s father might have worked with lights, Tj was immersed in music from an early age. He grew up alongside a kindred spirit, his best friend, Duke Williams, who would go on to establish Duke Williams and the Extremes.
When Tindall was four or five years old, his grandmother gave him (much to his mother’s dismay) a snare drum. By seven, Tindall discovered his passion for guitar and recalled that fateful trip to the music store in Trenton to purchase his first one. “My mother was very reluctant, but I found a Sears brand Silvertone guitar. I played that thing for years,” he says.
Tj’s musical gifts were natural. To this day, he cannot read music. He likens his knowledge of how to play music to the innate, lesson-less way children learn to speak a language. Of his first and only music lesson he says, “The teacher wanted me to learn ‘On Top of Old Smokey.’ Man, I had to get out of there!”
About his decision to become a professional musician, Tindall says, “I saw Little Richard performing and he was just standing on his piano — standing on it! — and having a great time playing. And I thought two things. The first was, ‘I really want to do that!’ The second was, ‘Hey, he probably gets to stay up later than I can!’”
Tj’s break into the R&B scene did not come easily. He describes constant trips to the studio of top Philadelphia soul music producers, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, begging for a chance to play. Bemused by the past, Tindall remembers, “There I was, this white hippy guy with long hair asking to play for an all black rhythm section of the Philadelphia soul movement.let’s just say they had their doubts.”
Tindall’s daily studio pilgrimages paid off, and in 1970 he finally got his chance to perform, by accident or more accurately because of an accident. A guitarist for Edison Electric Band had a motorcycle accident, and Tindall was brought in to cover and, he says, was immediately adopted by the music crowd.
Tindall is a musician of no small order (just listen to his song, “I Move Easy,” on YouTube for evidence), and although he has performed on enough landmark albums to be a part of R&B’s development, Tindall sees himself as one of the “unsung heroes in the background” of the upfront singers.
For him, there was a thrill associated with the knowledge that millions heard him on the radio and would never know him: “It’s kind of like a club for me and a few others, part of a special, secret club; we were on the very inside of things,” he says.
Despite his love of the music world, Tindall abandoned his guitar for some time. “By the early 1980s the music had changed. I just didn’t like it any more. I wasn’t having fun,” he says.
A favor and a tragedy brought Tindall back to performing. In 2011 his friend, Kingfish guitarist Danny DeGennaro, talked him into playing a benefit concert and woke up the performer in Tindall. Then right after Christmas that year, DeGennaro was killed during a home invasion robbery in Levittown. It was a tragedy that hit fans (1,500 attended the wake) and musicians, including Tindall.
In 2012 Tindall and fellow band members converged at one of their frequent venues, John & Peters, to create a memorial concert for DeGennaro. When it was over, the musicians felt that the band — now Tj Tindall’s East Coast — was “too good to be dead.”
On Saturday, February 23, 9:30 p.m., Tindall and his bandmates will be keeping the sound and spirit alive at John & Peters, or as Tindall calls it, “at home.”
Tj Tindall’s East Coast, John & Peters, 96 South Main Street, New Hope, PA. Saturday, February 23, 9:30 p.m. $18. For more information, call 215-862-5981 or go to johnandpeters.com.