Saturday, March 17, 2007

Tommy Conwell - Philadelphia Inquirer Article

Part of the Audio Rumble collection includes a partial (untitled) article from the Philadelphia Inquirer's Nicole Pensiero.

"....Jersey shore to the college campuses of Philadelphia and Delaware, Conwell is making his mark.

He knows it will take more than a good promoter and optimism for him to reach his goal. Yet he thrives on the struggle: Each step -- such as the recent recording of some original tunes at The Record Plant in New York City -- is a small victory on the road to success.

"I remember once in high school I told my mom I wanted to be a musician and she said that she didn't think I was good enough. At that point, I wasn't doing so hot in school and I guess she didn't think I was disciplined enough. Man, that had such an impact on me. It made me more inspired than ever," he recalls. "It's not real wise to say you want to be a musician without something to back it up. You've got to just go out and do it and become one. Then you can say it."

Articulate and polite, Conwell is eager to talk about music and people in the business. He has clear opinions on almost everyone, including himself.

"I want to be on MTV and on radio. There's no reason whatsoever why I can't do it," Conwell says. He describes himself as a 'Pete Rose' of singers.

"I'll make it with desire, not with vocal prowess. God didn't intend for me to sing, but I'm doing it anyway," he says. "Nothing brings me greater pleasure than being in command of my voice. I have a good feel for music, and it comes out no matter what I do."  

If Conwell seems disarmingly confident -- even about the things that aren't his strong points -- it's because he is. If you work hard and are proud of your work, there's no need for what he calls "false humility."

"I like (Bruce) Springsteen's music, but I don't like the 'Gee, shucks' stuff. He probably is a regular guy, but I get offended by the sentimentality and the corny things he does. When he sits on the stage and tells stories about high school, I'm thinking 'Be real here. He's 35 years old. When was the last time he lived at home?"

In conversation, Conwell's words sometimes can barely keep up with his rapid-fire thoughts. Then, without warning, he'll slow down, shutting his eyes a little, in a sexy offhand way, as he softly breaks into one of his favorite tunes.

Onstage or off, Conwell is someone to watch. 

Tonight, this young rumbler is sporting a battle scar from a recent gig -- he smacked himself in the head with his guitar, requiring stitches over his right eye. Anyone who's seen the Rumblers perform...(missing text)
 ...but there's the pretty boy thing, too.

"Whatever is looks like, it looks good," he says matter-of-factly.
People in Conwell's hometown speak about him as the boy-next-door, which, in many ways, he still is. They say Conwell deserves to be a full-fledged rock star, not only because his music is good, but because he's willing to work hard for everything he gets.
When it comes to rock 'n' roll, Conwell believes attitude is everything. You can't complain about the business because "there's a lot to complain about, (and) once you start, you won't stop."
There aren't any free lunches in Conwell's book, either: Musicians need to "be as self-sufficient as anyone else."
"Just because you're an artist doesn't mean you have the right to depend on other people for everything. I hate it when I hear about people who never moved out of their folks' house because they can't get their career off the ground."
Born and raised in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., Conwell is the youngest of three boys. His brother, Joe, is a professional football player with the Baltimore Stars, and his oldest brother is in the Air Force.
He believes he "always had some musical talent" and remembers, as a tyke, picking out tunes like "The Little Drummer Boy" on the piano. But it would be years before Conwell would approach the guitar.
"I remember in church they had these folk Masses and there'd be 15 kids playing Kum Ba Ya and it looked hard to me. So I stayed away from it."
That changed, though, when Conwell was a teenager and his grandmother presented him with a ukelele, which he says, is very similar to a guitar.

Learning the ukulele got the young Conwell thinking about a career in music. In tenth grade, he casually informed his parents that he wanted to get an electric guitar so he could play with the Lower Merion High School Jazz Band.

"I remember me dad just yelled in this loud voice, "No electric guitars!" We kids just laughed; we knew that would pass."

Conwell was right -- his parents are now his most devoted fans.
He scrapped plans to pursue a career as a jazz musician and started directing more and more of his time to rock music when he attended the University of Delaware.

There he played in several bands ranging from blues to punk rock. Conwell's guitar style and dynamic stage presence in a band called Rockett 88 earned a strong local following. Rockett 88 had, as Conwell says, "higher aspirations" than just the bar scene, and he was "attracted to the ambition."
.....(missing text) merely folly, as it turned out to be," he says.

Determined to carve a niche for himself in music, Conwell formed the Young Rumblers in February 1984.
"At that point, I never entertained the idea of the band being a democracy," he says. "It was my band. It wasn't like I was power hungry -- I just didn't want anyone holding me back. I feel better knowing that if something doesn't work out I won't have anyone to blame but me."

The band's name was inspired by the Link Wray instrumental "Rumble."

"It's just a great tune -- real menacing," Conwell says. "I wanted the 'Young' in the name because I felt wild and energetic and because it stresses an attitude, a rawness. When people say to me 'What about when you get old? Will you still be the Young Rumblers then?' I tell them they're missing the point. I don't plan that far ahead. Getting old is not the point of rock 'n' roll."
The Rumblers - who have had three drummers and two bass players since forming -- are "closer to a democracy now than it's ever been," Conwell says. He has nothing but praise for his sidemen, drummer Jim Hannum, 26, and bassist Paul Slivka, 25, who have been with hims since late 1984.
Hannum and Slivka, who Conwell knew from his days in Delaware, had played together for 10 years in different bands before becoming Young Rumblers.
The band, whose musical style has been compared to the Stray Cats and George Thorogood (one of Conwell's all-time favorites), recently traveled to New York to record some of their most popular songs. One Conwell-penned tune, "Million Pretty Girls" is getting steady airplay on Philadelphia radio stations.

The next step will be to put out a record -- but only when the timing is right.
"If the music is good, it doesn't matter when you do it -- you're going to be successful. It's like being a boxer. You have one shot at the title, so you don't pick a fight with the champion until you're trained and ready," he says.

"I think we need to take things as far as they can go before going on to the next thing. I want to take where we are now -- a local band with no record -- as far as we can. Then we'll do some recording, and we'll be a local band with a record. We've got to own Philly first -- then we'll go national," Conwell says smiling. "I can't wait."

Click here to see a larger version of the article.

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