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Tuck & Patti Doing Their Own Thing

December 25, 1988|LEONARD FEATHER

Tuck & Patti are natural-born rule-defiers.

Success in the music world is assumed to be linked with hit records. Tuck & Patti, together on stage since 1978, man and wife since 1981, enjoyed a decade of success, first in the Bay Area, then in concert tours overseas, before their album "Tears of Joy" for Windham Hill Jazz put them in the record market.

Success is also supposedly related to the iron whim of a producer. "Some of the record companies," says Tuck Andress, "assumed we would use the standard jazz instrumentation with piano, bass and drums. Others wanted to turn us into a real pop-type, slickly produced act. Another would say something like, 'Well, we don't want to change the magic of what the two of you do on your own, but wouldn't it be really nice on this song to hear a cello solo?' "

"Yeah," said Patricia Cathcart Andress, "that's the producer. Everything's the producer."

"So finally," said Tuck, "we just decided to build our own studio. Since it was only for her voice and my guitar, we could afford it, using just two tracks."

"While we were starting," said Patti, "we got a call from Windham Hill saying they had this new jazz label and were ready for us."

They were not only ready, but also willing--unlike the others, to let these two self-sufficient artists be themselves, without electronic overdubbing or any outside help.

The duo even balked at convention in choosing material. It didn't bother them that "Time After Time" was firmly linked with Cyndi Lauper, or that most listeners knew "Better Than Anything" through Al Jarreau's version; nor did they mind that the Rodgers & Hart "My Romance" had been aging in the wood for 53 years.

These songs and a few more, including three attractive works of their own, made up this low-cost album, which has sold in excess of 100,000 copies.

Sharing tears of joy, after showing how to succeed in the record business without being told what to do, are William Charles Andress (born in Tulsa, Okla., on Oct. 28, 1952) and Patricia Cathcart Andress (San Francisco, Oct. 4, 1949).

"I'm a twin," said Patti. "For years, my sister Peggy lorded it over me, thinking she was the older, but then we saw our birth certificates and found I was four minutes ahead of her. We're non-identical and have led very different lives; she's a doctor of philosophy and theology in the Bay Area."

Raised in San Mateo, Patti grew up enveloped in music at home, in church and at school.

"One morning in first grade, I sang one song; the teacher said, 'Oh!'--and that afternoon I was singing with the sixth-graders."

Patti also studied operatic vocal technique, but spent years rocking and rolling from one pop band to another. Meanwhile Tuck, also classically trained, took up guitar at 14 and gave three years to rock before discovering George Benson and Wes Montgomery.

In 1978 Tuck met Patti when they both auditioned for a band.

"Nothing came of it," says Tuck, "except that's how we met."

"It was musical love at first sight," said Patti.

From small clubs they soon moved into bigger and better jobs. During the early years, Patti had to fight a severe weight problem; at one point she ballooned up to more than 290 pounds, a figure that seems unbelievable when you look at her today.

"I did it all under a doctor's supervision; changed my whole life style, went on a strict diet, stopped drinking, stopped smoking."

"It's amazing how she did it," says Tuck. "After nine months, she'd lost 140 pounds."

"It's mostly a matter of will power," says Patti, "plus the fact that I just knew things were going to happen for us, calling for more travel and much more energy than I used to have."

Patti's premonition has come true. Typically, they just finished doing a week of national television in Rome. "It's a prime-time show with guest artists," says Tuck. "This is interesting; they're marketing us as a pop group over there. But we'll still do exactly what we always do."

Patti confirms the couple's firmness of purpose: "I'm happy that after 10 years, we're still doing this. In a band situation, I couldn't have grown as much as a singer."

Tuck pointed out that during the years before they recorded, audiences have been supportive from the beginning. But records, he added, are just that--a document or a recording of what the artist does.

"Records are just one segment of what performers do in their careers," Patti insists. "Too many people have gotten into a pop mentality, as if you're only as good as your last record.

"We could have done some typical pop thing, maybe organized a band like everyone else, but why? We'd completely lose the very thing that's made us special. Look at that vocal group, Take 6. They made an entire album a cappella--we heard them in person and they were really incredible. They don't need outside help either. It's exciting to see groups that the producers are leaving alone."

Not since Ella Fitzgerald met Joe Pass on stage has there been so felicitous a mating as Tuck & Patti. She has been compared to Fitzgerald, to Sarah Vaughan and even Tina Turner, but the years have molded Patti's own wide ranging style, just as Tuck has transcended the Wes Montgomery image to forge his own unique blend of jazz, classical and folk elements.

They are not in an iron-clad situation; Tuck has his own solo deal with Windham Hill, and Patti may become involved in other collaborative projects. What matters to them both is the freedom they enjoy. As their own producers, they can take suggestions only from themselves or each other. It's a situation many of their harried contemporaries might envy.

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