WAXAHACHIE — Creativity works in unconventional ways, and Tanner Westmoreland is proving that to be true. The self-taught music producer and SAGU student goes by the stage name of Tugaloo Blue and has already debuted a remarkable track of astonishingly high-quality music.
“I sucked,” Westmoreland laughed about his early attempts at creating his sound while at Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU). “And finally around junior year, I started making stuff that I was really proud of. So I built up a track list and started getting a color scheme, planning music videos, and the overall art idea, and everything that comes with it.”
When listening to the hip-hop, bluegrass blend of R&B, Westmoreland’s sound is not the only thing that setting him apart. It is the fact that he created his entire album within the walls of his dorm room.
“One thing that is very important to me is quality, and when someone says they want to make an album out of their dorm room, I think it’s really easy for people to think it’s not going to be good,” Westmoreland chuckled. “I worked ridiculously hard to record the whole album in my dorm room. I would sit at my computer for hours on end trying to make instrumentals and beats. I didn’t stop, and kept doing it for two or three years, like obsessively."
Native to Missouri, Westmoreland’s musicianship stems from a long line of bluegrass performers.
“So my dad, Wes Westmoreland, is a ridiculously good fiddle player who’s in the Texas Fiddle Hall of Fame. So he gave me the fiddle at two years old – I sucked, but I’ve been playing ever since,” Westmoreland jokingly shrugged.
Not only adopting his family’s love for music and performance but also his grandfather’s name, Tugaloo Blue was born.
“Tugaloo is a family name. My great-great grandfather was named Tugaloo. When I asked my mother about my name, she told me it was either going to be Howard, Tanner, or Tugaloo,” Westmoreland recalled. “I told myself then, and there if I ever needed anything where I needed an artist name, I would go by that."
As for the rest of his stage name, Westmoreland says that “Blue” was not only derived from his favorite color but the representation of the his “sonic quality of music.”
“One of the most unique things about my music is that it incorporates bluegrass. It’s bluegrass instruments, R&B chords, and hip-hop drums. The arrangement is switched up a lot and not predictable at all. It’s what I call ‘a blue sound.’ It has a lot of rhythm and blues and bluegrass,” Westmoreland described.
Influenced by an eclectic collection of genres while growing up, the young artist’s passion for the medium grew into a quest for finding his personal rhythm.
“Whenever I became interested in independent music, I studied my favorite artists, and I found myself asking, ‘What makes them good? What’s the distinction?’” Westmoreland noted. “And what I found is that they had a good story, and I thought, ‘A great story would be to record an album entirely from a dorm room.'”
Since his freshman year in 2013, Westmoreland balanced academics and his secret project, releasing his first album, "Collins 26," on April 21.
“I thought it would be cool to have a concert in my dorm room. So we cleared out everything within my room, and I told people about it. I thought maybe three people would come because college kids don’t commit to anything,” Westmoreland teased. “Well, when we opened the doors, 30 people crammed into this small dorm room. We had the windows cracked, the music was very loud, and you could hear us on the other side of campus. The energy was unreal,” he recollected.
The number almost tripled as students and onlookers crowded the hallways and lined the windows to experience the new mix of the traditional bluegrass genre.
“People were crammed in that room, down the hallway, and some were sticking their phones in from the windows from outside - it was crazy,” he reminisced.
What is more impressive than this independent musician’s thriving success is his relationship with the community.
“The community of SAGU and Waxahachie have been super supportive, and I’m just grateful for everything they’ve done for me,” Westmoreland acknowledged. “There was a lot of people involved. Fresh Market Coffee let me have a listening party there, kind of a soft open, and they let me use their stage in my dorm room for the show. […] A local filmmaker, Ryan Wermich, directed five of the music videos we shot over Spring Break. And Sawyer Skipper directed the Adonai music video."
Out of the seven-song track list, three music videos were filmed in Waxahachie while the rest were in East Texas. Along with Skipper and Wermich, Westmoreland put his Digital Media Arts degree to work and produced and edited his own music videos.
From connecting with local filmmakers and businesses to recording with several guest artists, Westmoreland’s audience quickly grew into an album premiere at the Galaxy Drive-In Theater.
“The Galaxy Drive-In Theater, which is amazing, I just drove there and found the managers and talked to them, and they’re super nice people. So I talked to them, and they were like, ‘Yeah, we can do that,’ and we worked it out,” Westmoreland told of the conversation. “It was packed, and it went really well. I think that people will be listening to the tape for a while. I’ve been getting stuff ever since then, pretty consistently. People have been reaching out to me, and they really love it."
Involvement from the community helped turn Westmorland's personal project into a career venture with endless possibilities.
“You can become a super person by just using your friends. I did a lot of things in this project just by myself, but I could not have done it if it hadn’t have been for everybody involved. Your limits are way higher when you have people with you. So 'Collins 26' became much more of a collaborative project,” Westmoreland recognized.
As the Tugaloo Blue brand builds, Westmoreland is taking a marketing route less traveled and engaging his audience through experience and word of mouth.
“I found that it’s better to do stuff in person than online. I mean, everyone will talk your head off about social media, but from my experience, word of mouth and doing things that create good stories has gone a lot farther than social media,” Westmoreland admitted. “It’s doing really well online for being brand new. What’s helped is doing the dorm room show, and creating cool experiences."
As the community took a chance on a “dorm room production,” this film student is already thinking of his future, scheduling tour dates, preparing for graduation, and thinking of the next project.
“We’re going to release the music videos in May, there will be a mini-documentary about the making of 'Collins 26,' and plan for future shows. I’ll be going to Branson for a show, and Nashville,” Westmoreland disclosed his summer plans thus far. “One thing I’ve learned is that I can make a plan for what I’m going to do, but I know how much that can change on the dime. I don’t know what this project will bring, but I’ll go where God has me,” he finished.
To connect with Tugaloo Blue, visit tugalooblue.com or on Instagram and Twitter at @tugalooblue.
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer