If the local music scene seems to have a little less color to it in the weeks and months to come, there’s a reason. Longtime local favorite entertainer Tim Crandall passed away suddenly a week ago, and friends, fans, and fellow musicians alike are mourning his loss.
Tim was one of the first entertainers I ever wrote up when I first started the Island Hopper column in 2003. At the time I gushed — and regular readers know that’s an unusual occurrence. Over the years I wrote him up twice more, both times still amazed at his versatility, his talent, and his ability to engage his audience from the moment he took the stage.
Tim was known — by me and by most of his fans — as “the guy who made the mouth noises.” If a song needed filling in melodically, he’d manufacture whatever sound he needed: a twangy guitar noise for John Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane; an otherworldly falling-comet sound for Elton John’s Rocket Man, and every sound effect and vocalization in between capable of being created by human vocal cords.
It was a piece of business that could have served Tim simply as a gimmick, as his shtick. But it didn’t. It augmented his talent, rather than substituting for it or upstaging it. Busy with his guitar and the bass pedals he practically introduced to the island, he created a whole wealth of sound, in a voice that ranged from a bottomed-out growl to a high, warbling purr.
His influence, though, extended beyond just the people who sat in the audience for a Tim Crandall set. Ask any of the pool of regular, longtime Marco musicians about Tim, and the only thing more striking than their uniform praise of Crandall’s talent and personality is that each one was touched by him in a unique way.
Duncan Wheeler, who was tending bar at the Snook Inn with only pipe dreams of becoming a musician when Crandall first started playing there in the mid-’80s, learned to play guitar when Tim inadvertently left one at Wheeler’s house.
“It was just his energy. It was his uniqueness,” Wheeler says of Tim’s near-universal appeal to audiences. “He probably couldn’t play more than four nights a week because he sang so hard.”
“He was a great entertainer onstage,” Barefoot Geno agrees. “He made everyone laugh. He was unique.” Geno saw Tim play bass pedals for the first time in 1993 and was hooked. It inspired him to learn the skill for his own gigs, and it became what Geno is known for, one of the things that sets his performances apart.
“I wouldn’t be Barefoot Geno if it weren’t for Tim Crandall,” he says. “He’s the guy who influenced my whole life.”
“He was awesome,” says longtime local favorite entertainer Joerey, who used to play with Tim back in the early ‘90s when the two first met. “He was really witty, really funny. He could always make me laugh — and I’m hard.”
Ray Nesbit recorded Tim’s live CD — Still Live — in his studio in 2004, and Wheeler had the CD playing at Tim’s service this past Monday afternoon. “I had heard of his legend long before I met him,” says Nesbit. “I think the thing that blew me away the most about Tim was his voice. He really had an amazing voice. Even more amazing was how he connected with his audience; he had a really great following.”
But beyond the wide and widespread influence he had on people during his life, Tim Crandall continues to make his presence felt in the local community. His parents, Walter and Catherine Crandall, bequeathed all of his instruments to the musicians Crandall touched with his music and his personality.
“[They] definitely wanted his stuff to be played,” says Wheeler.
So Tim’s CDs were passed out at his memorial service at Hodges Josberger Funeral Home. Terry Cassidy will inherit a set of Tim’s bass pedals to play in his own sets. Barefoot Geno will not only play Tim’s blue Taylor guitar, but plans to have it engraved with “In Memory of Tim Crandall,” and use it as his main guitar in his own sets.
Crandall was a talented man with a gift not only for music, but for entertaining. He made an evening memorable if he was the one onstage playing. He strove to please his audience, learning new songs almost as soon as they started getting airplay and taking requests with an accommodating smile.
“He was just a great guy, a great entertainer,” says the Snook Inn’s Dennis Passini, who hired Crandall 20 years ago for his restaurant and featured him ever since as a regular entertainer. “He [was] part of the family. He’s going to be greatly missed. I’m sure everybody’s saying that about him.”