“There’s something about the guitar to me,” Thomas Tull tells American Songwriter. “Country music to blues to rock ‘n’ roll—I just have always been drawn to the sounds that you could get out of a guitar.”
Tull’s attraction to the guitar sparked a love story between the guitarist and music that would span decades. And it’s still growing. Today, though, Tull is surrounded by like-minded musicians as one member of the rock ‘n’ blues band, Ghost Hounds. The Pittsburgh-hailing group is made up of Tull (guitar/songwriter), Tré Nation (vocals), Johnny Baab (guitar), Bennett Miller (bass), Blaise Lanzetta (drums), and Joe Munroe (keys). Tull remembers that when the band first came together, he wanted to tip his hat to the music that inspired him.
“The name itself [Ghost Hounds] was drawn from the Robert Johnson legend,” he says. “And in his music when he’s talking about selling your soul to the devil and the deal he made the crossroads and all of those things, he would talk about hellhounds on his trail. I always thought that was cool, a cool image. So that’s where the name the Ghost Hounds came from; that’s how I came up with it. Sort of a nod to him in that, that story.”
With the Delta blues legend as one of their many muses, Ghost Hounds has released several musical offerings that drip with finetuned storytelling and the fiery wailings of rock. The band’s latest offering, You Broke Me (released in May 2022), is one such release and it might be their most intricate yet.
You Broke Me is a nine-track album that really steps into the band’s blues leanings. It’s “about having a new-old sound” and “that sort of old blues rock ‘n’ roll loose swagger,” Tull says. Each song tells an old story in a new light. Ghost Hounds even included a few cover tracks to pay particular homage to the stories of blues and rock giants—with their own Ghost Hounds stamp on it of course.
“When I write, besides coming up with the music and the riff, I have to have a story,” Tull explains. “I have to understand a little bit about the characters, so to speak, in the story—where they’re at in their life, what their point of view is, and it’s just something I have to do. So that’s something that throughout this album, [I] was just trying to capture those moments, these characters.”
In the musical tale that unfolds in the title track, “You Broke Me,” a man describes a particular breakup that he’s gone through. It’s devastating and heartbreaking, and it’s also a chronicle of a love story gone wrong. This is what blues was built on, Tull says. Blues was constructed on the things that went wrong in life, hence the blues.
Another plotline unravels in the song “On Your Trail” which Tull wrote with longtime collaborator and producer Kevin Bowe. “[For] ‘On Your Trail’ I started thinking about this character who’s a little bit of a seedy private investigator,” he says. “And so he’s kind of trailing this person, and the person doesn’t know that they’re being watched or being trailed… it was kind of one of those old-time noir private investigator things, like what would that character in that life be like? That’s kind of what inspired that song.”
But to get back to the aforementioned cover songs, Tull explains his affinity for another song on the album, “Lonesome Graveyard.” Originally sung by Lightnin’ Hopkins, it is a poignant song in which the narrator sing of death and his own impending death. “[It] stops me in my tracks every time I hear it,” Tull says, “and it’s such a deep haunting song.” Also on the record, Ghost Hounds put their own spin on the Howlin’ Wolf song “Smokestack Lightning.”
Clearly, Ghost Hounds has stories to tell and the right musicianship to deliver tales that captivate. In addition to their fans, Ghost Hounds has toured with some living legends, too. The band toured with the likes of ZZ Top, the Rolling Stones, Garth Brooks, and Bob Seger. (Billy Gibbons, frontman for ZZ Top, is “just as cool as you think he is,” Tull confirms.)
Check out You Broke Me here, and don’t say we didn’t warn you—you won’t be able to hit pause.
Photo credit: Jay Arcansalin / BBGun Press