Years ago on the 3 Twins' web site, there was a cryptic reference to the third twin in John Magnie's post-subdudes band:
Not much is known about Mr. Rutherford, the web site said.
And that's precisely what Tim Mr. Rutherford Cook wanted.
But as one of the newer members of the subdudes, he's at least temporarily put aside his Mr. Rutherford persona.
Today, he's known as the subdude who anchors the group's trademark three- and four-part harmonies with a key bass vocal. He also augments Steve Amedée's percussion efforts and plays bass guitar on many songs. Additionally, he has been participating in the band's songwriting sessions that yielded the majority of songs on the first post-reunion album, Miracle Mule.
But long before he was a subdude, Tim Cook was a well-respected songwriter. And a friend of the subdudes.
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A native of South Bend, Ind., Cook started singing and playing music in high school, occasionally sitting in with local bands. South Bend in the 50s and 60s was like a little Chicago. It was a great place, recalls Cook.
Around 1968, he and some friends started Low Rent, a band that enjoyed some regional popularity, packing clubs like the Wooden Keg in South Bend nightly and opening for performers such as Bob Seger, C.T.A. (later known as Chicago) and others touring the Midwest.
By the mid-70s, Low Rent had recorded some demos in Cleveland and had signed a record contract. But what had looked promising suddenly turned nightmarish when shady dealings allowed some songs to be ripped off. The band never recovered.
Cook, in fact, swore off music. He and his wife, Joanie, sold the nightclub theyd been running in nearby Mishawaka, the Village Pump, and headed for Colorado and a new life.
Yet soon after arriving in Fort Collins, Cook came to know a number of songwriters in town, including Steve Strickland, and he was soon writing songs again. Over the next 20 years, Cook and Strickland wrote dozens and dozens of tunes, including Sarita in the early 80s. A decade later, the subdudes recorded the song, and it remains one of their most popular.
Hes such a natural musician, Strickland says. Hes got a gift for coming up with musical lines vocal harmonies and bass lines. Ive watched him in the recording booth scat off some lines while someone else was notating them, and then they would run them in to a string quartet that was sitting in the studio, Strickland said in an interview published in the weekly Kansas City Pitch.
A number of the Cook-Strickland recordings and demos were released in 2002 on Stricklands Reverse Chronology compilation, which finds Cook singing lead vocals on many songs. Wed write like 20 songs in two to three weeks. Then wed record em without thinking anything. They should (remain) in the archives, Cook says with a laugh.
By the late 80s, Cook had been participating in the vibrant music scene of Fort Collins, Colo., for about a decade. One day in early 88, musician friends told him he had to check out a new band in town: the subdudes. During that winter of 87-88 like so many other musicians and music lovers in Fort Collins Cook befriended the subdudes as they set up camp in town.
Over the next few years, as the subdudes were making a name for themselves at music clubs across the country, Cook wrote and produced music for corporate films, radio and TV advertisements, multimedia presentations and similar projects for Music for Media, a business he ran in Fort Collins. One day in 1994, however, the subdudes asked him to help them as tour manager. Cook accepted their offer No more jingles, he says with a laugh and for the next several years joined them on the road, in charge of the logistics of getting from town to town.
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When the subdudes went on hiatus in 1996, Cook returned to Fort Collins with John Magnie and Steve Amedée, who both also call the college town home.
Within a few months, Magnie had amassed several new songs, and Cook encouraged him to put together a solo album. Magnie, in turn, asked Cook to produce it.
Magnie features stripped down accompaniment – usually just piano, sometimes percussion from Amedée. Plus, Cook and Amedée occasionally sing harmony. The stark sound highlights Magnies instantly memorable tunes and heart-wrenching lyrics.
When Magnie mounted a small tour to promote the album in 1998, he asked Cook to lend a hand.
John did some solo shows, and I would help him, coming up and playing. Steve (Amedée) started doing the same. It just sort of naturally fell into Magpie, which eventually turned into 3 Twins, Cook says.
Magnie and Cook had gigged occasionally under a variety of names – Circus Morales, Me and Mr. Rutherford and others. Plus, with Amedée and Liz Barnez, they sometimes would perform cover tunes at parties in Fort Collins as Foco Loco. But Magpie/3 Twins marked Cook's first return to serious, regular performing since his Low Rent days in the 70s.
Magnie, Cook (as Mr. Rutherford) and Amedée – the 3 Twins – focused entirely on post-subdudes material, releasing two CDs and performing throughout the Front Range area of eastern Colorado over the next three years. The 3 Twins sounded like the subdudes in some ways – thanks to the vocal harmonies and Amedée's percussion. But the band had an edgier, rootsier feel. The gospel and blues influences were palpable – live shows were infectious, feel-good celebrations. It was Ray Charles meets Mardi Gras meets the Blind Boys.
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It came as something of a shock, then, when the Twins announced in late 2001 they would be merging with the Tommy Malone Band early the next year to form the Dudes, essentially a reunion of the subdudes but under a new name.
Initially, the Dudes repertoire drew heavily on 3 Twins material and Tommy Malones post-subdudes songs. Tunes such as Look at the Day and The Rain Song, both co-written by Cook, were among the most popular. The Rain Song would later be featured on the Miracle Mule CD, released in early 2004 after the band members reverted to calling themselves the subdudes.
After the Dudes/subdudes reformed, Cook and the other members began getting together between tour outings to collaborate on new songs. The subdudes hadnt truly collaborated on songwriting since the 80s, despite songwriting credits to the contrary.
Songs from those sessions formed the bulk of the Miracle Mule CD. And the get-togethers continue. Every few months, some of the most promising new tunes are tried out on the road, where they'll often undergo a metamorphosis.
Cooks excited about the ongoing collaborative spirit of the subdudes.
Sometimes you get together and write, and then a couple of days later you think, This stuff sucks, Cook says with a laugh. But were just really thinking that this … (is) something really great. I think, personally, (these songs) could be some of the best.
Q: You had been writing songs and performing for several years around Fort Collins before the subdudes moved to town. How did you hook up with those guys?
A: Theyd just come into town, and someone said You just got to go hear them. It really gave me a reason to go out again... I got to be good friends with Steve, then John and Tommy. I just liked em as guys we hit it off.
Q: The subdudes have two bass players. How do you and Jimmy Messa decide who plays on what?
A: Its pretty easy. Theres just a handful of songs that well need a second guitar on (that Messa provides), and those are the ones that Ill play bass on.
Q: How do you guys work out the vocal harmonies?
A: A lot of them we just find ourselves. I sing most of the bottom parts. Steve sings on the top. John either does right above Tommy or right below, and vice versa. … For the more intricate parts, John is real good at coming up with those. Hes a natural at it.
Q: Whats the story behind your hats?
A: I guess Ive always been a madhatter of sorts. In my dads and uncles generation, they all wore hats. I used to make fun of em. Then nobody wore hats for a while. I (started wearing them) when I was playing with John. John and I would do these two-piece gigs. The first one was called Me and Mr. Rutherford. (Rutherford was a stage name Cook employed in 3 Twins.) We only played maybe two gigs under that name. But the Rutherford the name and the hat kinda went together. Ive been kind of continuing with the hats with the subdudes. Im always looking for funky used hats. I havent found a favorite one yet. Still looking for it.
Q: So wheres the best place youve found for hats?
A: Meyers, there in New Orleans, is a great place. But theres a place in Fort Collins, Wear It Again Sam. Ive been buying some old derbys from there.
Article by Richard Russell; © 2004 Richard E. Russell.
Cook portrait by Yiannis Samaras, courtesy of Back Porch Records.
Low Rent band photos courtesy of Tim Cook. Other credits listed when known
Special thanks to Steve Strickland for the archival recordings.