“There’s something about the guitar for me,” Thomas Tull told the American songwriter. “From country music to blues to rock ‘n’ roll, I’ve always been drawn to the sounds you can get from a guitar.”
Tull’s attraction to the guitar sparked a love affair between the guitarist and music that would span decades. And it continues to grow. Today, however, Tull is surrounded by like-minded musicians as a member of rock ‘n’ blues band, Ghost Hounds. The band from Pittsburgh is made up of Tull (guitar/songwriter), Tré Nation (vocals), Johnny Baab (guitar), Bennett Miller (bass), Blaise Lanzetta (drums) and Joe Munroe (keyboards). Tull recalls that when the band first formed, he wanted to take his hat off to the music that inspired him.
“The name itself [Ghost Hounds] was taken from the legend of Robert Johnson,” he says. “And in his music, when he talks about selling his soul to the devil and the deal he made at the crossroads and all those things, he talks about hellhounds on his trail. I always thought that was cool, cool image. So that’s where the Ghost Hounds name comes from; that’s how I found it. A sort of nod to him in this story.
With the blues legend Delta as one of their many muses, Ghost Hounds have released several musical offerings that are dripping with fine storytelling and fiery rock moans. The group’s latest offer, You broke me (released May 2022), is one such release and it is perhaps their most complex yet.
You broke me is a nine-track album that really fits into the band’s blues leanings. It’s about “having a new and old sound” and “that kind of loose swagger of old blues rock ‘n’ roll,” says Tull. Each song tells an old story in a new light. Ghost Hounds have even included a few cover tracks to pay special homage to the stories of the blues and rock giants – with their own Ghost Hounds stamp on them of course.
“When I write, in addition to coming up with the music and the riff, I have to have a story,” Tull explains. “I have to understand the characters a bit, so to speak, in the story – where they are in their lives, what their point of view is, and that’s just something I have to do. So it’s something that, throughout this album, [I] was just trying to capture those moments, those characters.
In the musical tale that unfolds in the title track, “You Broke Me,” a man describes a particular breakup he went through. It’s devastating and heartbreaking, and it’s also a chronicle of a love affair gone wrong. It’s what the blues was built on, says Tull. The blues was built on the things that went wrong in life, hence the the Blues.
Another plot unfolds in the song “On Your Trail” that Tull wrote with longtime collaborator and producer Kevin Bowe. “[For] ‘On Your Trail,’ I started thinking about this character who is a bit of a seedy private eye,” he says. “And so he’s kind of following this person, and the person doesn’t know they’re being watched or followed… it was kind of one of those old black private eye things, like what would this character in this life be like? That’s kind of what inspired this song.
But going back to the aforementioned covers, Tull explains her affinity for another song on the album, “Lonesome Graveyard.” Originally sung by Lightnin’ Hopkins, it’s a poignant song in which the narrator sings about death and his own impending death. “[It] stops me in my tracks every time I hear it,” Tull says, “and it’s such a deep, haunting song. Also on the record, Ghost Hounds put their own spin on Howlin’ Wolf’s song “Smokestack Lightning.”
Clearly, Ghost Hounds has stories to tell and the right musicality to deliver gripping stories. In addition to their fans, Ghost Hounds have also toured with living legends. The group has toured with artists like ZZ Top, the Rolling Stones, Garth Brooks and Bob Seger. (ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons is “as cool as you think,” Tull confirms.)
Check You broke me here, and don’t say we didn’t warn you, you won’t be able to press pause.
Photo credit: Jay Arcansalin / BBGun Press