Kenny Tudrick sits in the bar drinking a Pabst. Wisps of his cigarette smoke twist leisurely around his face, and, for a split-second, in the ashy evening light coming through the window, he looks sullen as all hell. He's wearing a tightly fitted blue-jean jacket over a black T-shirt that reads, in near-irony, "Tough Guy Pizza" and, along with his pal and bandmate Nick Lucassian, professional painter's pants complete with hammer hoops. His Gram Parsons shag is perfect, though, and his '70s country-rockstar facial hair shows wayward whiskers, suggesting neglect, maybe a couple hard days. And it is becoming a hard day's night: He and Lucassian, who's sporting a skullcap and flannel shirt, were up at 7 this morning painting the interior of "some house" in Grosse Pointe, and they could just as well be a couple workin' stiffs here, blowing off steam over beers and shots at their preferred east side drinking hole. But all of a sudden Tudrick's grin reboots the tone. He's psyched about his new rock 'n' roll combo, Cannon: "Yeah, I'm tired man, but things are good, the songs; I'm happy. I can see this doing well."
After the two slip into chairs and talk up the value of blue-collar struggle, how it inspires, as Robert Bradley serenades from the juke, Tudrick says, "We have that [blue-collar] fight and it gives me hope. All the bands we loved ... they had it. It's that struggle when you know you're good."
There is, on first impression, a kind of lost-puppy thing to Tudrick, who's been on his own since he was about 16. There has been struggle, and he is frighteningly good. It has been six years since MT profiled the Detroit-born multi-instrumentalist and his then-band, the wickedly undersung and defunct Bulldog. But that was then. Cannon is Lucassian on drums and mutual friend, pianist and songwriter Erik Lusch (who's absent tonight) on the Hammond B-3 organ. That's it. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Tudrick pieced the new band together after he quit the huge-money, high-profile gig as Kid Rock's guitarist.
Tudrick also co-wrote hit songs with Rock, and finally got a "fair" writing credit and publisher-writer's share for "Rock 'n' Roll Jesus," the title song of Rock's latest. But the gig wasn't Tudrick's scene, though the money was damn good, and he'll never complain about the royalty checks.
Tudrick and Lucassian bonded years ago as teen skater buds in the band Big Block, and they're made for each other now, even look like brothers. They've designed their lives to dump everything on a dime for Cannon. "That's why I'm wearing painting duds," Lucassian says. "I've lived frugally. If Kenny calls and says, 'Let's go on tour,' I'm ready."
Lucassian is a scary-skilled multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who sees both boon and beauty in his old skateboarding pal. Always has. He'll play drums with Tudrick any day. "He's the best drummer I've ever played with, the best guitarist I've ever seen, and the best songwriter I've ever heard," Lucassian says, straight-up.
Born the middle kid of seven, in a large German-Armenian family, Lucassian led the lauded Shipwreck Union back in mid-'00s. He's in Catfish Mafia now too. He's been in a number of bands, including Big Block, Steelhead, and did a few guitarist years in Uncle Kracker's band. He occasionally tours as the Detroit Cobras drummer, a gig he got when Tudrick joined Rock. It was Tudrick who actually taught him to play drums.
"When people see Kenny play — they see it in his eye," Lucassian says. "The first time I saw him play guitar ... we were out riding skateboards, and Kenny said, 'Hey, do you wanna hear a song?' It was called 'New Day.'" Lucassian begins mumble-singing the melody, gently tapping a rhythm on his thigh. Tudrick joins, the two lock eyes and the words and beat become a little hum-song, and when they sing together, the harmonic similarities are rich, like how siblings' voices blend. They reference the Everly and Louvin Brothers often.
"And when I heard Lucassian sing then," Tudrick adds, "I couldn't believe ... I just went quiet. And he got all the girls; I was all zit-faced and shy."
Never has this writer seen anyone so incredibly gifted (as musician, performer and songwriter) as Tudrick be almost equally unskilled in the everyday things. You know, like not flushing away thousands in touring and publishing funds, paying your fines, seizing opportunities, stuff like that. But such action might make sense when your heroes included, say, Keith Richards or Richard Manuel or Paul Westerberg — guys who, if not for rock 'n' roll, would've had zilch else to do, save for party favors. Those guys were born for it. It's not something you can slip into like Frankie B. hip-huggers or glean from cursory Internet drive-bys and GarageBand. Part of what makes Tudrick an original, a great, even, is what trips him up in normal life.
Tudrick admits he's a self-defeatist and that knowing it's half the battle. In the year-and-a-half or so since the Rock gig, for example, Tudrick's new car got stolen. There was trouble with cops involving an ill-timed indiscretion that hurt no one but him. (He doesn't want to go into it.) The Rock money he'd saved evaporated. Easy come, easy go.
He'd just as soon root around in his head for such ideas as desperation and missed opportunities as he would passion and a lust for music and life. And there's absolutely everything to say for accumulated wisdom. He scratches his chin, swigs some Pabst and says, "That's the story. 'What are you willing to do?' I know I can get shit done if I take care of myself." He stops, makes eye contact, and adds, "I could've stayed playing with Bob, I've had the private jets, the parties. ... But if I waited till later, there is no later. And these songs ... this is what I am. I'm not letting myself get in the way this time."
The demoed Cannon songs are true, hard-won, broken and beautiful. There're finger-pistols aimed at Parsons, the Band, Zep and the Beatles, but the rock 'n' roll — that rock-sex groove, built-in swagger and songs with themes of redemption and innocence — is pure Tudrick and, now, pure Cannon. His flattering, reedy tenor is as rich in world-weariness as it is in a kind of poppy simplicity. The drums, slide, guitars and organ are sometimes as liquid and various as lava lamps, or as straight and frayed as Beggars Banquet sides. Incredible shit.
It's music that neither Tudrick, nor Lucassian, who are a few months apart in age, and in their 30s, couldn't have recorded in their 20s. Besides, at that age, even younger, opportunities were blown. At 18, Tudrick had a major-money song-publishing deal, and the very day Big Block, who'd been together nine years or so, got offered a record deal, Lucassian, the band's singer, quit. Lucassian says he suffered some kind of spiritual freakout, and he couldn't hang. He gulps a Jäger shot, "Yeah, that was ... I'd rather not talk about it." Tudrick, though, was pissed.
Later, Tudrick's pop band the Numbers got offered $175,000 from one major label, but through a series of incredibly short-sighted maneuvers and bumbles, involving basic Motor City inertia, the offer evaporated. But when Lucassian showed at a Numbers show, Tudrick forgave him. And they've played together since, for shits and giggles, for recording, as best friends, or in the Detroit Cobras and, now, because it matters, in Cannon. They've come full circle.
A trimmed-down trio is the way, Tudrick says, after Bulldog incuriously sputtered to a halt a couple years back, which he blames on a few factors, not the least of which had to do with the quintet being unable to tour. He says, "That's cool, though. If you have kids and a family, who am I to get in the way of that?"
With Tudrick and Cannon, you sense that there's everything to gain and everything to lose, as if they need the band to show how what's created now won't be forgotten or resigned to memories.
Minutes later, Tudrick is paraphrasing an older lyric, as a compact means of self-expression, the best way Tudrick can: "I'm not scared of you/I'm scared of me ..." He turns to Lucassian and asks, "Are those the right words?"Brian Smith is Metro Times managing editor. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org