Tim Hockenberry is best known for his engaging and intimate renditions of “covers,” the music industry’s word for performances of songs made “hits” by another artist. And for some 20 years, he’s made his living singing them in concert halls, living rooms, private events, and clubs.
It didn’t really matter what Tim sang; he was beloved by his fans. So he hadn’t considered performing his own songs except for brief, once-in-awhile occurrences. But that all changed when he met up with vocalist and producer, Natasha Miller.
In 2011, the agents at America’s Got Talent made what had become their annual call to Natasha to source the best talent for their auditions. Natasha suggested Tim—even though she didn’t think he’d bite. Well, he did, and he got on the show. And he won the hearts and respect of all of the judges, most notably Howard Stern. Tim made it to the semi-finals, but ended up losing to a performance act that featured a dog.
In 2014 Tim didn’t have a manger, so he and Natasha entered into a formal management and development agreement. Then came a website overhaul, a takeover of his social media and outreach, and a complete reshaping of his musical direction—moving from covers to more of Tim’s own compositions.
“I’d heard a couple of Tim’s originals, and thought they were “hit” material. I asked him if he had more. Not only did he have more, they poured out of him. Almost on demand”. —Natasha
One Saturday night, for example, Natasha emailed Tim with a question about his website. Tim emailed back, “What are you doing? It’s Saturday night, why are you working?” and Natasha typed, “I’ve got nothing better to do than you.”
They joked about that line being a good song title—the idea stuck, and inspiration took hold. A few days later, Tim surprised Natasha with a clever blues tune that played on the sentiment and the line from their email exchange, and plans for a solo recording of his original material went into high gear.
Tim began writing more new songs, and they went back and looked at songs he’d already done but put aside. With a couple written by his sons, there were enough for a full-length recording.
The first track, “Me and You,” was written by Tim and his son, Maxx (then 19 years old) on Christmas in 2012. Video of the two of them playing through it that day can be seen here.
“If the Sky Was to Fall” was written by Tim’s youngest son, Jack Hockenberry, who was 17 at the time. Caught in a difficult breakup, Jack went over to his dad’s house in Corte Madera and wrote the song in about 2 hours.
Meanwhile, about the same time Tim and Natasha had begun working together, she had enlisted her brother, Justin Miller, to play with Tim in his live band and to help shape a new and different sound for his shows.
One day, Tim asked Natasha if Justin could sing—maybe background harmonies—live at shows. Laughing, she said, “No way! Well, not in front of anyone.” She told him he had to be sworn to secrecy, but she could let him hear him an arrangement of “Little Wing” Justin had recorded with his own vocals on melody (to show another musician how he wanted the line phrased in his arrangement.) After listening for a few seconds, Tim looked at her and said, “He sounds fine. But who the hell did the production on this?”
That was the turning point—it was Justin himself who did the production for the entire arrangement and played all of the instruments on the track.
“We all got excited and motivated and started on what would become a year-long project. It’s been so much fun!” -Natasha
Tim’s songs became Justin’s canvas for painting nuances–sounds both bold and subtle that spoke to the personality and content of each song itself. Stories Tim was telling through his songs became more vivid and alive in Justin’s interpretation and imagination. The common threads throughout are Tim’s vocals and writing. Each song charts its own unique journey from the first moment to the end. From pizzicato violin, yodeling, and the klezmer-sounds of the accordion to the speech-like tones of the Hammond B3 and the Deep-South wailing of the slide guitar—the songs travel through many layers of what is categorized these days as Americana. Mostly acoustic, always authentic.