Tuesday, February 14, 2006

People in the Scene: Tommy Conwell [2003]

Reprint from March 2003 Origivation

Interview by Anthony Caroto, Editor

Since the early eighties, Tommy Conwell has owned the stage wherever he performs. From his infamous days with the Young Rumblers to his current gigs with the Little Kings and 94.1 WYSP, Tommy has continued to deliver great music and make Philadelphia proud.


Will we ever see another Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers reunion?

We did one in 2000 and one in November of 2002. Another one may happen on the Fourth of July, 2003 at Dewey Beach, Delaware.  Beyond that....Hey....I'm a businessman! 

What advice would you offer bands today?

Play anywhere you can for experience and exposure. Make it a goal to get an established manager; someone who has already gotten someone else where you want to go. Use each rejection as the start of a dialogue; ask what would make you more attractive in whatever situation you are seeking. Be nice! If you want to make a friend in the business, listen more than you talk. Ignore people who say you can’t do it. That’s what they told every single one of your heroes. Someone’s gonna make it…..why not you?

Who are some of your influences?

Jimmie Vaughan, Hound Dog Taylor, Danny Gatton, Fats Domino, The Heartbreakers (Johnny Thunder’s band, not Tom Petty’s), Brewer Phillips, Chuck Berry, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, early Miles Davis, Barry Harris, Bud Powell, Chet Baker, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, NRBQ, Barrance Whitfield and the Savages, Kid Dynamite, Speeddealer, Simon and the Bar Sinisters, and...the pop music of my youth.

With Philadelphia being such a mecca of glam in the late 1980’s, how did you keep yourself ahead of the game without being swallowed by the fad or better yet, succumb to it?

I don’t know if it was a “mecca of glam.” If you mean pop metal, like Cinderella and Heaven’s Edge…I hated that shit. Absolutely hated it. Still don’t get it! If you mean pretty-boy pop like the Hooters, I was pretty much a part of that. It seemed like a good idea at the time to take blues music and do something contemporary with it. At the time “contemporary” meant hair spray and tight black jeans and shiny pop music. We wanted to be famous and we weren’t gonna get there playing straight blues music. So, we gave ‘em some of what they wanted and some of what we wanted. That’s show-biz! Selling out only sucks if you don’t get paid enough. We did alright.
You’ve worked with so many big names in the music industry. Were you ever star struck?

Hanging out with Robert Plant was pretty freaky. He was real nice. I was psyched to meet Chrissy Hynde. Thorogood was awesome. The Ramones. Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. Lux Interior of the Cramps.

Definitely the most star struck I ever was occurred at a CBS convention in Boca Raton, Florida. A lot of acts on the label were there- LL Cool J, Alice Cooper, New Kids on the Block- Jimmie Vaughan and Kim Wilson from the Fabulous Thunderbirds, my heroes, were there, and I was talking to them when we got called into the dining room for dinner. We got in line together. I thought, “Oh shit…I’m gonna sit next to these guys!” We went in and I sat down RIGHT BETWEEN THEM! I couldn’t believe it. I was ecstatic! About thirty seconds later, our manager came over and said, “You can’t sit there.” Some record company douchebag wanted to sit with them. Son of a bitch!

How did you land a local music gig at 94.1 WYSP?

It pays to be nice. Karen Buck, Marketing Director at WYSP, worked there when she was just a kid and we (TCYR) were getting airplay. She’s always been a friend. When the job opened up, she called me, and I said “OK!”
How would you compare the local scene today to twenty years ago?

Bands are getting good younger. Recording is a lot easier, cheaper, and better.
Which local bands do you think really have a shot at the BIG TIME?

I don’t care about the big time. I don’t need some record company to tell me who rocks and who doesn’t; they tend to get it wrong at least as often as they get it right, so who are they to set the standard? Usually the bands I like have little or no commercial potential!

How will you like to be remembered?

He took a licking and kept on ticking!