By Amanda Main
The Tuxedo Cats have been together about five years, but their founding members have been playing together for eight years. Todd Rinlee, 48, and Mike Harper, 56, founded the Tyler-based band out of a desire to play family-friendly venues, including weddings, birthday parties, and “more upscale venues” around East Texas.
The other two members are Steve Graham, 46, and Scott Garrison (Scotty G.), 54. Todd plays guitar, Mike plays drums, Steve plays bass, and Scott plays keyboard. Todd says everyone in the band contributes to vocals.
EGuide recently spoke with Todd and Mike to find out more about this band full of eclectic sounds — a band that often writes their setlist on the go, as they get a feel from the audience.
EGuide: What would you say sets you apart from other bands?
Mike: First and foremost, it’s probably the skill level of each member. We’ve all been playing for so long (Mike for about 45 years and Todd for about 40), and we have a similar interest, particularly in classic rock, but other genres, as well. And a bit of our stage show is just our banter and our work ethic, man; we are just hard workers. We pour it all out.
EGuide: What can people expect at your shows?
Mike: Free donuts! No, not really.
Todd: I would say that they could expect an extreme variety in the music, because, although we call it classic rock, you’ll hear Scott playing Michael McDonald and then turn right around and sound like Brooks & Dunn, and then we will take it to another place of rock ’n’ roll, and just play The Who and Van Halen and extremely hard stuff. If we see a lot of cowboy hats in the audience, then we’ll turn the country on and start having everybody boot scootin’. And if the venue calls for it, then we can play jazz standards for a couple hours. It’s all about variety for us. We’re looking at the audience and determining what’s gonna make these people happy, as opposed to having a list that we’re gonna play regardless of who’s there.
EGuide: What type of music do you most enjoy playing?
Todd: Oh, that’s tough. I don’t know. I think it depends on our mood. I know with me from one week to another, it’ll change.
Mike: I’m kind of the ’60s Beatles/Rolling Stones kind of guy, but I sure do love all of the styles that Todd mentioned. And some of those were styles that I didn’t even listen to necessarily, prior to playing in this band. It makes it fun to be able to play all these different styles well, and as the drummer, it’s not that hard. I just basically have to show up and not mess up (he chuckles).
EGuide: Well, do you guys also play original music?
Todd: We have a few original tunes. I’ve just put out a CD that’s available on iTunes, and anybody can search my name, Todd Rinlee, and it’ll pop up. It’s called “About You.” And we have pulled a couple of those tunes out. I know Scotty’s done some writing, and we’ve done an original of his a few times. But right now we’re mostly playing covers.
EGuide: As for your original music, what themes pop up in the lyrics of those songs?
Mike: Usually about pain. No, I’m just kidding. I’ll speak for Todd briefly and let him elaborate, but I know on his CD, some of it is about relationships.
Todd: Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
EGuide: So, do you have any plans to put out an album as The Tuxedo Cats?
Todd: Maybe eventually.
EGuide: Are you wanting to do more songwriting or mostly have fun playing covers for now?
Todd: We would always like to do some original things. I think at this point, it’s finding the time. We are staying really booked right now, which is a good thing, and I guess we would really just have to make time to do that. I see it happening though for sure.
Mike: I think a long-range vision would be in that direction, but right now we’re having fun playing around town and playing songs we love, and in the meantime Todd and Scotty are continuing to create, and we’ll incorporate those into the set as we can.
EGuide: What do you love about playing in East Texas?
Todd: I think it’s our fan base. We’ve come to know our fans pretty well, and the fan base is constantly getting bigger, so we just really enjoy that. Meeting new people.
Mike: “Folks is friendly in East Texas!” (he chuckles)
EGuide: What have you learned about life from being a musician?
Todd: I think with this band, I have learned more about dealing in business. I think I handle most of the business end of the band. I’ve never had as much management that I have had to deal with until now. So, I’ve learned a lot about that, as well as just the hard work that goes along with trying to measure up musicians, like the ones that I’m playing with now. We find ourselves hustling to learn music for other people and so, it’s just learning about hard work. Not that we didn’t already know about hard work, but musicians work very hard, as well. I’ve learned that its so much harder than just showing up for a gig and playing. The behind-the-scenes stuff is the work part; the playing music is the major fun part.
Mike: I might add that working in collaboration with other people, if you’ve ever been in a band, there’s an ‘itch that has to be scratched’ there. All of us have been in a lot of bands over the years, but we’ve all kind of found this to be like, “Wow, this is the band I’ve always wanted to be in.” Just the camaraderie and exercising that creative muscle with this group of guys — we’re friends, too. It’s just been very enriching for me.
EGuide: What advice can you give to aspiring musicians?
Mike: Keep your day job. No, not really, because Todd’s full time. We all have other responsibilities outside of the band. Todd’s a full-time musician, as is Scotty. I would say keep your options open. Be willing to do whatever.
Todd: I think for me one of the things that I would like to say to young musicians is, you look at music as a business. You really should be careful of pitfalls, because there are a lot of things that you can get entangled in, simply by association in the music business. So you choose to be a serious businessperson in music, or you have a choice of another very hard road.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely, and I would add one more thing – that this is a gift given to you, so use it that way as a gift to others. It’s real easy to make this “all about me” and if you think of it as a gift that I’m offering to others to try to help somebody feel better, or just to give somebody a smile, that kind of completes the cycle and makes it worthwhile.
For show times and other information on their upcoming dates, visit ToddRinlee.com/events. Find them on Facebook by searching “The Tuxedo Cats.”