Ready to fly again
Recent setbacks can’t break Tim Bluhm’s California soul
Tim Bluhm is just minutes away from joining his Mother Hips bandmates onstage when we finish our conversation. It’s a benefit show for a woman whose husband recently died, leaving her and three children. While this type of show isn’t anything new for the band, the idea of helping others has taken on more significance for the 47-year-old guitarist-vocalist, who’s had himself a hell of a couple years.
This is probably the fifth or sixth time I’ve interviewed Bluhm over the past two decades, each marking a different chapter in The Mother Hips’ career: Major label drama, hiatuses, comebacks, critical acclaim. This particular occasion finds the musician emerging from the most challenging stretch of his life.
Back in September 2015, Bluhm was involved in an accident while speed-flying (a winter sport where the rider uses a parachute to hover down a slope and land on skis) that left him with his pelvis broken and his left foot nearly torn off. Listening to Bluhm tell the story is harrowing (he’s lucky to be alive). Around the same time, he separated from his wife and musical partner, Nicki Bluhm.
But the support of his family, bandmates and even fans (a GoFundMe campaign set up by Hips photographer Jay Blakesberg raised nearly $50,000 for Bluhm’s massive medical expenses) got him through the worst of it. Now, after two years of intensive surgeries, complications and convalescing, Bluhm is gearing up for a busy 2018, although the avid surfer and outdoorsman’s active lifestyle is on hold indefinitely.
“It hurts; it’s hard to walk,” says Bluhm, who, by his own account is at about 40 percent. “At this point I’d be stoked to be able to walk a mile without pain.”
Bluhm considers himself a positive person by nature. He’s maintained the same even-keeled disposition throughout The Mother Hips’ long and winding career. They were the kings of Chico in the early 1990s, and to this day remain the town’s biggest musical export next to Barbara Manning. The band signed with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings in 1994 at the behest of Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson, and released three records with the label (which, in addition to the Crowes, included Danzig, Slayer and Johnny Cash) before being unceremoniously dropped.
During that time Bluhm and guitarist-vocalist Greg Loiacono were quietly trying to kick heroin habits. Once they got things under control, they self-released the countrified and much-beloved Later Days with new (and current) drummer John Hofer in 1998.
“It’s a tenacious record,” Bluhm said. “It was a mellow sort of, ‘fuck you—we are not going to be plowed under.’”
And they weren’t. Since that time, the Hips have released critically successful records like Green Hills of Earth (2001) and Kiss the Crystal Flake (2007), while their fanbase has continued to steadily grow. All on the band’s terms. Bluhm sums it up perfectly:
“The Mother Hips are like a secret surf spot. We’re still kind of a secret band—we haven’t been exploited by the media machine.”
Over the past two years, Bluhm admits that his mind has plunged to some dark places, but that overall he’s remained optimistic. He’s definitely had more time to concentrate on music. Bluhm is currently producing records for four other artists, as well as finishing up a new solo album. And there’s a new Mother Hips record called Chorus already in the can for a mid-2018 release on Blue Rose Records.
Things are looking up—slowly and steadily. And while Bluhm’s body is still on the mend, his optimism and soul are fully intact.
“I’ll be all right,” he says. “It’ll take a lot more than that to take me down.”