You won't find many blues tunes dedicated to snow. For Pennsylvania-based bluesman Todd Wolfe, digging out from under 11 inches of the white stuff gives him a reason, but not the opportunity, to sing the blues. "Anything above three inches is a pain in the ass," says the guitarist by phone from his home in Easton, Penn. "We lose gigs and we wind up shoveling snow."
And if that's not bad enough, the economy takes a bite out of the gigs he does get to. "My average gig is now what my lowball gig used to be about six to eight years ago," he says. Wolfe tours the club circuit with a trio now, but at one time he was playing the biggest venues in the world as Sheryl Crow's lead guitarist.
Joining Crow in '93 when Tuesday Night Music Club had just come out, Wolfe, who had known Crow previously, collaborated on some demos and played on one cut on her unreleased first album, got in on the ride early before the record earned three Grammys and sold more than 7 million copies.
The guitarist was so unsure of the deal that he kept his day job, working for a water filtration company in L.A., doing everything from running errands to filing to getting the salesmen's water filtration test kits together. "I always had straight jobs as well, so it wasn't a stretch, but I was trying to become more of a full-time musician," says Wolfe, who had worked in his family's electronic business, graduating from shipping clerk to bookkeeper.
He got his wish with Crow. "We were in a van, we did that up until the fall, then we got an RV and a trailer, did that for a while, then in '94 we graduated to a big pink bus with a champagne glass on the side." But the fame, money and big-time gigs really kicked in with the release of the single "All I Wanna Do" in the fall of '94.
Wolfe found himself sharing stages with some of the biggest names in the business. "We did the VH1 Honors show, we did 'The Weight' with Levon Helm, Emmylou, James Taylor, Steve Winwood, Jacob Dylan — on one song." Getting to jam with Eric Clapton fulfilled a lifelong dream.
Wolfe left in '98 to lead his own band, Mojoson, signed to A&M, but got out of the deal when the label was bought out by Polygram and went back to fronting the Todd Wolfe Band, which exists today as a trio.
Along the way, he was introduced to Mountain's Leslie West, who also came from Wolfe's neighborhood in his hometown of Forest Hills, N.Y. Wolfe toured overseas as a duet with West and played on several Mountain projects, including the '07 Dylan tribute, Masters of War. West returned the favor, playing "Baby I'm Down" on Wolfe's '08 effort, Borrowed Time. "It was pretty wild," Wolfe says, "because he was one of the guitar heroes of mine growing up and renowned in our neighborhood. You loved his singing and playing, and here you are with this guy, talking about teachers we had, 'cause we went to the same schools."
On his last release,'09's Stripped Down at the Bang Palace, Wolfe paid tribute to West, covering Mountain's signature tune "Mississippi Queen" on dobro. For his latest, '11's Todd Wolfe Band Live, Wolfe comes out rocking hard. "Crowded in My Soul" sounds like Skynyrd sweatin' out booze-drenched, blistering, backwater Southern rock. "Cold Black Night" takes their power trio to Texas for some Stevie Ray-influenced blues rock. "We're definitely a rock band that's steeped in blues and influenced by blues," Wolfe says.
And though he'll continue slogging through the drifts to bring the blues to the masses, Wolfe says leading a band gets on his nerves at times. "I get tired of hearing my name. If the Rolling Stones don't want to use Ron Wood anymore, I'm definitely available for that."
Meanwhile, Wolfe wants to concentrate on being a singer/songwriter. "I know that when I'm gone, they're not gonna be talking about my guitar-playing," he says, laughing. "If you hit the right song, and it gets exposed enough and other people cover it, that's a legacy to be left behind. I'm no kid, but I am getting better through the years. Maybe by the time I'm 60, I could have a little more popularity on guitar ... I'm still a work in progress."