Talking to guitarist Ricky Dover, Jr., is a study in contrasts. On the phone from Nashville where he and the rest of his blues-glam trio, The Tip, call home, he’s all Southern gentleman. On stage, the Knoxville native is an axe-mangling fool. With a shaggy mane and mirror shades, he’s the epitome of rock excess—louche, lithe and leather-clad.
And the same goes for each of the 11 songs on The Tip’s self-titled album. “This music is about the fun of playing live,” he says. “We recorded pretty much all live. No overdubs, no click tracks.”
Before Dover even met the Carl brothers—Benny (lead vocals/harmonica/rhythm guitar) and Dixie (drums)—he was jamming with fishing buddies in a cover band. “We just wanted to play what we liked, no pop-country shit, no Luke Bryan, none of that.”
One time, backstage at popular Nashville club The 5 Spot, Dover saw a sartorially accomplished guy setting up amps. “I was standing there and we just saw each other and I was like ‘Hey man, cool hair.’ It was an instant connection from that point on,” he says with a laugh.
Judging by the group’s G&R-inspired fashion sense, The Tip might have stepped off Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip circa 1989. But far from glam metal, the band’s swaggering sound toggles between high-octane rock and grimy blues. A third of the songs on The Tip feature Benny blowing a mean Hohner—a bold return for the oft-overlooked instrument.
Besides the fact that the band’s home base can be “kind of clique-y music-wise,” Dover says the real challenge is that it’s crawling with an intimidating level of talent. “On an average night in Nashville you’ll find someone downtown just killing it,” he says. “So having such high caliber musicians on every street corner can be discouraging. But at the same time it inspires musicians to stand out more.” Or at least it inspires the latest crop of rockers. “There’s a lot of new bands we like to play with now, like Hotel War and Feedback Revival and Blackfoot Gypsies.”
Though The Tip certainly aren’t inventing a new sound, they still play their scuzzed-up pool bar stomp like they’re just discovering it for the very first time. Conviction like that can’t be faked, and that level of passion is infectious, even in the most bone-basic riffs, like the three descending power chords of the first single, “Welcome To The Night.”
Literally half the songs on the record—including “Welcome”—“Outta Control,” “Ride Tonight,” “Favorite Sin” “Double Fistin’” and “More, More, More,” are paeans to partying.
While the songs come off as no-nonsense, stripped-down rock & roll, there is some theory underlying the riffage.
The mostly self-taught Dover acquired the bulk of his guitar chops in bands in Nashville and during a stint in Atlanta. However, he rounded out his education at Middle Tennessee State, which has a music program popular with locals.
“It really helped when I learned the Nashville Numbers system,” he says, referring to a methodology for writing music based upon basic chord progressions. “We learned whole songs by shouting out numbers like: ‘1, 4, 5 … ready? Go!’” he says. “Honestly, knowing the language helped in songwriting, because you learn what makes a good song.”
The technique is great for musicians who like playing fast and loose, as changes to songs can be made quickly and improvised on the fly. That’s perfect for The Tip—a band that is currently doing everything themselves. They don’t have a record deal and are self-funding their current tour, but they don’t mind.
“Right now we just want to get out there and play,” Dover says. He takes the view that if the group keeps rocking hard enough, success will follow. “We give 150 percent every night—that’s the first thing you have to show people.”
The Tip play the Caravan Lounge in San Jose on Jan. 21 at 8pm.