Jim Tucker, rhythm guitarist for The Turtles and Grass Valley resident, dies at 74 | TheUnion.com
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Jim Tucker, rhythm guitarist for The Turtles and Grass Valley resident, dies at 74

Lorraine Jewett
Special to The Union

He was known and admired by millions.

Yet many in his adopted town of Grass Valley never knew Jim Tucker was the rhythm guitarist of the 1960’s band The Turtles, whose iconic song “Happy Together” sold more than a million copies and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

James Roy Tucker, 74, died Thursday.

Born in Santa Ana, Tucker met his Turtles band mates in 1964 while attending high school. Tucker performed with the globe-trotting band from 1965-68. Originally called The Crossfires, the band reincarnated as The Turtles and had a string of hits, including 17 songs in the Top 100.

Tucker and his band paid their dues, sleeping on the floor of their tour bus before they hit the big time.

The Turtles played the Hollywood Bowl with Sonny and Cher. Jim Morrison and the Doors opened for The Turtles for a week at Los Angeles’ Whiskey a Go Go. The band played the Ed Sullivan show twice and the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour three times.

When The Turtles headlined a six-week stint at “The Speakeasy” in London, famous musicians were among the audiences. Big names included John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and Graham Nash. Paul McCartney was there, too. McCartney once told Tucker, “I like your tunes.”

Years later, when prompted, Tucker would sympathetically share the story of meeting an inebriated Bob Dylan, who spent much of their time together face down in a plate of pasta.

Tucker left The Turtles in 1968 at age 21 when he tired of touring and recording. Eschewing people who constantly wanted a piece of him, he sought his own personal peace.

Tucker told a reporter, “I have never regretted leaving The Turtles, and I have no regrets about my time with the group. I got to see the country and to meet most everybody who was famous in the music industry at the time.”

AFTER THE TURTLES

Tucker headed home to California and embarked on a second career as an electrical contractor. He and his significant other of 21 years, Debbie Prisk-Olsen, lived in her grandparents’ heritage home in downtown Grass Valley.

“When we first met, I didn’t know what a Turtle was,” said Prisk-Olsen.

The house has a wall adorned with musical memories, including a group photo of the original Turtles and framed copies of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” and “Turtles’ 20 Greatest Hits” record albums.

Tucker never quit playing music, sometimes delighting fans when he joined the popular band Mogollon on-stage during the Nevada County Fair.

In addition to music, Tucker loved sports. He played football at Sierra College, plus flag football, basketball, and slow- and fast-pitch softball in local recreational leagues. In 1976, Tucker was a member of the Reno Toyota International Softball Congress team that placed fourth in the World Tournament. He spent several years coaching the NU Junior Miners football team. In 2003, Tucker was inducted into the Colfax Fast Pitch Hall of Fame.

Bill Penaluna remembers meeting Tucker in 1967 at a Memorial Park softball game.

“Jim was a good hitter and outfielder,” said Penaluna, who also enjoyed fishing with Tucker. “Once, three of us took a fishing trip to French Lake Reservoir. We hauled in by hand a boat with wooden sides. When it was time to take the boat out, Jim said he’d gotten a sliver in his finger and couldn’t help. He watched us carry out the boat several hundred yards, and it’s heavy with the engine and all. Later, Jim laughed and admitted he didn’t really have a splinter.”

Tucker, ever jovial, wanted everyone to be happy together.

“Jim introduced Mary and me in 1992,” recalled Andy Owens, who now lives in Oklahoma. Andy Owens is best remembered as a local pastor and general manager of Hooper and Weaver Mortuary. “Jim encouraged us to go out on a date, and Mary and I were married the next May. We are forever indebted to him.

“I was around Jim for six or eight months before I even heard the word ‘Turtles,’” added Owens. “He was just a good ol’ guy, with a toothpick hanging out his mouth. That was Tucker.”

In the early 1980s, Tucker shared a rental with now Nevada County Supervisor Dan Miller. When the two bachelors found their spouses, each was the other’s best man.

“He got me back into church during a dark period of my life when we rented a ‘bachelor pad’ together,’” Miller said. “I also found out that he could spend my money faster than I could. But that was Jimmy T. He was my best man when Roxanne and I were married, and I returned the favor a couple of weeks later at his wedding. 

“He was my celebrity. But he didn’t brag about or use his past fame to gain attention,” Miller added. “Tuck established lifelong friendships. He was mischievous, but it was harmless fun and he would always give you the ‘Tucker Grin’ when he was caught.”

“Tuck was always there when you needed anything at all, whether it was health issues or repairing a fuse panel,” said Jimmy Hunt, who played softball with Tucker as far back as the 1970s. “You could call him and he’d drop what he was going to do and be there immediately.”

BEST QUALITIES

Hunt’s wife, Bonnie, remembers Tucker’s culinary skills.

“He was an excellent cook who loved to be in the kitchen and have friends and family over,” she said. “We’d always ask him to make ‘Tucker Tacos.’

“I had a Turtles CD that I ran across one day while cleaning. I asked him to autograph it. The smile on his face was priceless as he grabbed a marker and autographed it for me. I think that took him by surprise because he never bragged, but he acted like signing it was an honor.”

Mike Ray, who’s worked for The Union, Colfax Record and Auburn Journal, said, “Jim loved sports, especially softball. He played both fast pitch and slow pitch in Grass Valley and Colfax.

“He could be cantankerous, especially if the 49ers or Giants were winning,” added Ray, since Tucker was a Raiders and A’s fan. “We’d needle each other about our favorite sports teams. Tuck was a good-looking guy but he never boasted about his time with The Turtles. He was the real deal.”

Tucker is survived by two daughters and three grandchildren.

One of his two daughters, 32-year-old Kari Tucker, lives in southern Utah where she is expecting her second child — Tucker’s fourth grandchild — in two weeks.

“Everyone loved his infectious energy and spirit,” Kari said. “He was truly a special person and unique. People who say dad was a crusty ol’ fart are right. He was so stubborn. So am I, so I guess you could say my best qualities and my worst are from my dad.”

A closed casket visitation is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Hooper and Weaver Mortuary, 459 Hollow Way, Nevada City. COVID-19 protocols, including masks and social distancing, will be observed.

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.


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