Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Matter of Time [Demo] - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers


A demo of A Matter of Time - performed by Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers. This song was performed as a part of the preview of the band's new rock material featured on a WMMR live performance from Studio 4 in 1993. A Matter of Time was not one of the songs to be included on the never-released MCA record, Neuroticus Maximus

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Big Jet Plane (live) - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers

Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers perform "Big Jet Plane" live at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, February 20, 1987. Live television simulcast on PRISM | WMMR after the Philadelphia 76er's game.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Delusions of Grandeur - Buzz Zeemer [Review]


I was a chess-club geek, a freak, an outsider forever looking in and at the cliques that ruled my high school, not so much fascinated with them but, instead, disdainful and distrustful. In my eyes, those "cool" kids were simpletons, too concerned with keeping up appearances than keeping up their grades. And while they traded in phone numbers, dates and dances, I traded in books, stories, scripts and, most of all, dreams. See, Frank was going to be a rock star and me, me I was gonna learn to fly; he took off for the spotlight -- me, I took off for the sky. In other words: During our teen years, Frank Brown and I knew each other. I use "knew" in its loosest sense, though. If we had a conversation beyond 9th grade, it was one born of necessity, not want. On both our parts, I hasten to add. We ran in different circles, dreamed different dreams. 

I say that so folks know I'm not pushing a "friend" here. Fact is, after we graduated in 1983, I didn't think of him for a good seven or eight years. 

Then, in 1990 or 1991, I saw Frank -- fronting Flight of Mavis -- open for legendary rock eccentric Alex Chilton at Philadelphia's Chestnut Cabaret. Brown and band achieved something few opening acts in Philly succeed at: They captured the audience's attention and affection, whipping out tasty concoctions that served up equal parts feedback and catchy melodies. Small wonder, then, to discover their influences. "We loved NRBQ," recalls Brown. "If anyone was my mentor, it was Terry Adams. He opened everything up!" Other influences consisted of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Ramones and Nirvana. I saw 'em a few other times in the years that followed, the highlight--for me, at least--being WXPN's annual Singer-Songwriter Weekend.

Why? They didn't just perform Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"; they made it their own. Yet, as confident as Flight of Mavis was on stage, their lone studio recording, 1991's six-song Spools, is tentative at best, the arrangements stilted and sparse and a tad too reminiscent of R.E.M. Not bad, in other words, but not great, either. So, no, I didn't approach Frank. What would I have said? "Hey, you're great live, but. . ." Puh-leez. If I was him, I'd have slapped me upside the head.

Buzz Zeemer LIVE on Walnut St.-Philly-1996. Tommy Conwell, Ken Buono, Frank Brown, Dave McElroy
Flash forward to the present: Flight of Mavis has metamorphosed into Buzz Zeemer and, aided by local legend Tommy Conwell, have become one of the area's premiere purveyors of power pop. "Tom was a fan of Flight of Mavis. He offered his services at a time when we needed a guitarist for a gig. It worked out so well, he wound up sticking around. His role is to take as much advantage of the holes I leave for his solos. . . and he does. He's the musician in the band." 

Power pop? Eh. It's a lousy term, I admit, one that does a grave disservice to Buzz Zeemer. They're so much more than that. For evidence, folks need look no further than their 1996 release Play Thing or their last album, Delusions of Grandeur


Released in late 1998, it's one of those rarities in today's disposable pop culture: An album that grows stronger with each listen. For example, consider the glorious, guitar-driven "Giving It All." "It's just about being a bit fed up," Frank says, allowing that it's difficult for him to enjoy his own songs. "You're always thinking about something you might have done differently." Perhaps that's true. But to these ears? With Conwell's guitar winding and whirling around Frank's impassioned, somewhat bitter vocals -- about love gone sour? Dreams derailing?--it's a damn near transcendent moment. "Would I have it any other way?" he asks, before declaring, 

"I'm just giving it all I got / If I could I'd give it all away..." 

There is no other way, of course. You give it all you got, rope-a-dope the tough moments and wait for an opening to launch a counteroffensive. "Sometimes it feels so long ago," he sings in "I Get This Feeling," a wistful song that opens with a wink at the nostalgic memories old friends invariably share. "It has a nice vibe," Frank concedes, displaying a disarming modesty. "That song sounds mature but it's probably the oldest one on there." Uh-huh. Just when you think that's it, the nostalgia transforms into a bittersweet paean to a former flame: 

"I get this feeling when I hear your name/and after all this time I don't know why" 

In print, I suppose, the lyrics seem somewhat plain, but Frank's aching vocals (not to mention Conwell's chiming guitar) lift it, and Delusions of Grandeur as a whole, into required listening for Rock 101. In short, as I've written elsewhere about other artists, albums and songs, "you're there, wherever there is."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Audio Rumble Logo


Carol Welker, who created the Audio Rumble logo for the Tommy Conwell rockumentary introduction, was chosen as the winning designer of the National Logo Contest for Rocky Mountain National Park's upcoming 100 year celebration in 2015.
The design will be officially released to the public early next year.

Congratulations, Carol! 

The Audio Rumble logo can be seen at minute 1:01 of the video [below] and in another version on the Audio Rumble Setlist Archive section.




Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers | Stone Balloon

The following is an excerpt from an article originally found on www.mpprojects.com/tc.


          This picture was taken at the Stone Balloon in Newark, Delaware. The Rumblers had just released "Walkin' on the Water" and there was the smell of beer and babes throughout. The club was so packed I had to hold the camera above my head with my arms fully extended to take this shot. Like any great show at the Balloon, it ended with a group of frat guys in a nasty brawl.

Marc, West Chester

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Almost Grown (live) - Tommy Conwell and the Little Kings



Tommy Conwell and the Little Kings perform a cover of Chuck Berry's "Almost Grown" - live at Grape Street Pub, Manayunk, Philadelphia [11/13/1999].

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers @ Electric Factory, 11/23/12


An amazing night for the fans of Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers at the Electric Factory, Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. 

Setlist

Intro – Recording of The Who's 'Won’t Get Fooled Again'

Tonight’s the Night
I’m Home

Here I Come
Everything They Say is True
Tell Me What You Want Me to Be
Love’s on Fire
Wanna Be Loved (Chris Day)
Gonna Breakdown
Do You Still Believe in Me
Million Pretty Girls
Cruisin’ Slow

Acoustic Set (Tommy Conwell)
King of the Road
Whatever This Crowd Wants

If We Never Meet Again
I’m 17
Run Run Rudolph
Half a Heart
Demolition Derby
Walkin’ on the Water
Workout
I’m Not Your Man

Encore
Rumble
Time Has Come Today
Walkin’ By Myself (Chris Day)
Space Cowboy
Reelin’ and Rockin’

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tommy Conwell Promotes Electric Factory Gig

Tommy Conwell was everywhere today in Philly - it's like the 80's all over again! Promoting the upcoming Black Friday gig at the Electric Factory - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers with opening act, Bricklin!

- An acoustic set on WMMR's Preston and Steve show - here's Tommy's interview.



- Tommy Conwell and Chris Day on CBS Philly. Again, thanks to Dallyn Pavey for the photos and videos posted to the tommy conwell and the young rumblers - fans remember when Facebook group page throughout the day.
 


- Tommy Conwell on 88.5 WXPN with an acoustic set and brief stories, performing Everything They Say Is True, I'm Home, Going Back to Philly and I'm Not Your Man.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere - Tommy Conwell [acoustic]


Friday, November 9, 2012:

An interview featuring Tommy Conwell with nighttime DJ Ray Koob on Philly's 102.9 MGK. Tommy performs a cover of Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere."

The interview promotes the upcoming Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers concert with opening act, Bricklin, on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. 

Listen to the entire interview online.  


"MY OLD PALS, TOMMY CONWELL & THE YOUNG RUMBLERS WILL PLAY THEIR ANNUAL THANKSGIVING WEEK SHOW AT THE ELECTRIC FACTORY ON BLACK FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23RD. TICKETS AVAILABLE THRU TICKETMASTER.
TOMMY STOPPED BY TO CHAT AND PLAY SOME TUNES (IMPROMPTU NEIL YOUNG ALERT!). JUST TWO OLD FRIENDS GABBING AND HANGIN'! ENJOY OUR INTERVIEW!!!"
- Ray Koob

Monday, November 5, 2012

About A Boy Named Tommy

The following is an excerpt from an article originally found on www.mpprojects.com/tc.

          I was playing some old Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers music one day while cleaning the house, and my eleven year-old son bursts through the door…"Who's that playing, Mom?  He's fantastic!!!!!"
Here is our story...
          Last spring, at my son's insistence, he and I traveled to Pennsylvania (where we're originally from) to see Tommy Conwell play his lounge act at the Blue Comet in Glenside. 

          My son, also named Tommy, brought his guitar along in the hopes that TC would sign it. On that perfect day, my boy and I embarked on our special rock 'n’ roll road trip. With the windows rolled down, the sun shining, and the music blaring, we shared a day full of fun and laughs. I wasn’t sure Tommy would be particularly interested, but I told him about some memorable roadtrips around 1985 and my impressions of another young guitarist named Tommy Conwell.

          I told my Tommy from the first song of the first set, I was bowled over, and completely hooked. TC was a true musician with fantastic talent! He had every eye in the club watching his every move. He even played the guitar behind his back. Boy, did my Tommy seem curious!

          Tommy Conwell. Still a great guy! He took time to talk to my Tommy, asking him about his guitar lessons, showed him some fancy fingering chords, signed the guitar, and posed for a few pictures.  A true talent and gentleman who made a great impression on my son. Tommy's hope now is to be good enough one day to jam with TC.  Many, many thanks to Tommy Conwell for taking the time to make an aspiring guitar player's day.

Thanks again for the website - it's AWESOME!!!

By: Dorothy (mom)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rockett 88 - Got the Boogie Disease



Rockett 88 performs "Got the Boogie Disease" with Tommy Conwell playing his classic guitar at the University of Delaware's TV production studio in 1983. Video is courtesy of The music scene in the 1980's - Wilmington, Delaware Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I'm Not Your Man - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers (1988)


The first song that Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers perform live on MTV's
Mouth to Mouth, 1988 - I'm Not Your Man. The band closes out to commercial [again -- too briefly!] with Workout!

[Updated version.]

Saturday, October 20, 2012

If We Never Meet Again - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers (1988)


Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers - Live on MTV's Mouth to Mouth, 1988. Performing If We Never Meet Again. And then the band closes out to commercial [too briefly] with Walkin' on the Water!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tommy Conwell and the Little Kings - Belgium Blues Festival, 2002

The following is an excerpt from an article originally found on www.mpprojects.com/tc. [Including audience concert reviews below.]

Original article in Dutch:

Is Tommy Conwell de witte Barrence Whitfield of is Barrence Whitfield de zwarte Tommy Conwell? U mag kiezen maar een ding is zeker; Tommy Conwell's bluesy rock and roll is als een lap rond de oren met een naschok tot in de tenen. de jongen had ocharme nog geen haar op z'n borst toen hij na een eerste schuchtere poging eind jaren tachtig op de proppen kwam met z'ni Young Rumblers en prompt twee door de rockende bluesliefhebbers gesmaakte platen mocht maken voor CBS. tevergeefs blijkbaar, want Tommy verdween meteen daarna terug uit het zicht, maar wat een wederopstanding toen hij ons in 1997 z'n Little Kings in de maag splitste middels Sho' Gone Crazy, een plaat nokvol furieus zweet uitdrijvende lappen R and B en rock! Pitch up the boogie and GO, GO, GO...CRAZEE! Wie bij Tommy's uitzinnige muziek stil kan blijven staan is rijp voor de bloempot. Translation: 

Translation:

Is Tommy Conwell the white Barrence Whitfield -- or is Barrence Whitfield the black Tommy Conwell? You may choose, but only one thing is certain; Tommy Conwell's bluesy rock and roll hits your ears with an aftershock to the toes. The boy had youth and no hair on his chest with his first attempt in the late 1980s when he was with the Young Rumblers - and promptly made two of the most rocking recordings (Rumble, Guitar Trouble) ever made for blues-appreciating record lovers, with CBS Records. It was apparently in vain, because Tommy disappeared immediately afterwards, out of sight. But what a resurrection when, in 1997, he and his Little Kings, hit the guts with Sho' Gone Crazy, a recording for the followers of furious, sweaty and explosive rhythm and blues and rock! Pitch up the boogie and GO, GO, GO...crazy! Whoever can stand still with Tommy's frenzied music playing [might as well be dead].


Tommy Conwell and the Little Kings promotional insert featuring their appearance at the Belgium Rhythm 'N' Blues Festival, 2002.

*** Reviews ***
Blues Festival, Belgium
Saturday, July 20, 2002
 
"The show was very entertaining, Tommy Conwell and the Little Kings played between all the other blues-acts!!  First of all Tommy Conwell had no hair anymore, so he looks like Bruce Willis on stage.
 
The Little Kings began the set with an instrumental and after Tommy did his best to talk Dutch to the crowd!!!  SANTE!  SKOL!  and so on ... much different things.

The songs came out of his two last albums with the Little Kings, hard, loud, it reminds me a little bit of George Thorogood.  He also played songs of his albums with the Rumblers ... reminding me of the 80's:  "I'm Not Your Man", "Guitar Trouble."

(Tommy jokingly tells the crowd that he has a lot of copies left in his basement.  He also tells everyone to buy his CD's because he needs the money).The show was nice, sometimes wild, sometimes blues, rock 'n roll, slow, pop, ...
 
I was a little bit disappointed that I couldn't reach Tommy for an autograph ...After his show it began to rain very, very hard!!"
  
Luk Dufait

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Hello USA,
 
I met Tommy Conwell last weekend at the Belgium Rhythm 'n' Blues festival in Peer. We talked a lot about life, music ... He's a really nice guy.  His show was great. The people loved him. I'll hope to see him back in Belgium in the near future.  I just danced with my daughter on "Without Love" from the Hi Ho Silver album.  My wife and I are going on holidays in a few hours and it was a farewell dance. 
It felt great!!!!

Thanks to Tommy for the fine time.  A new fan is born !!!!!!!"
 
Greetings,
Jan Van Streydonck

Belgium Rhythm n' Blues Festival acts [Day 2]:
7/20/2002

1:00 pm Mfus (Great Britain) 
2:30 pm Jesse Dayton (USA) 
4:00 pm Harry Manx (CAN) 
5:30 pm The Instigators (Sweden) 
7:00 pm Tommy Conwell and The Little Kings (USA) 
9:00 pm Duke Robillard Band (USA) 
11:00 pm Willy DeVille (USA)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

WMMR Radio - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers, Live 1987


Audio of a WMMR radio spot featuring Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers opening for Bryan Adams at the Philadelphia Spectrum, recorded June 23, 1987. 

The clip includes interviews [at the end] with John Lilley and Rob Hyman of the Hooters, who discuss their tour with Bryan Adams, the Young Rumblers, and their new album - released in July 1987 - One Way Home

Also featuring WMMR DJs “Bubba" John Stevens and Pierre Robert. 

(Note: Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers screenshot images taken from their February 20, 1987 PRISM concert performance at the Spectrum.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Q & A with photographer Jonathan Saunders

The following is an excerpt from an article originally found on www.mpprojects.com/tc.


          Ever wonder who gets the killer job of globe-trotting and “shooting” celebrities, models, and rock stars? NYC-based photographer Jonathan Saunder's first-rate portfolio includes a diverse cast of personalities including George Carlin, Dewey Redman, Don Imus, Bill Gates, Chubby Checker, Michael Bloomberg, and even Tommy Conwell. “The more I befriend someone as I photograph, the better. I want my subjects to remember the entire process as positively as they can,” states Saunders. Checkout Jonathan's blog, I Like To Tell Stories

Q: Tell me your story photographing Tommy Conwell.

A: I photographed Tommy for the Philadelphia Magazine music issue. I also shot Chubby Checker and Schoolly D for the same issue. The idea the magazine had was to photograph these Philadelphia music legends at one of their favorite spots around the city. Unbelievably, I cannot find my notes on which diner this is, but we shot Tommy at a diner of his choosing, we just kinda showed up and they let us shoot, lights and all, it was wonderful. We picked a booth, set up and started shooting while Tommy told me and my assistant about performing, being a radio host, and diner stories. It was a really good time and Tommy was cool to photograph. 

From the article:
          "Tommy used to work here (Ranch House in Delaware). Flipping burgers and scrambling eggs for the late-night crowd, he wrote songs like "Walkin' on the Water" in his spare time and daydreamed of what was to come. Like every young guitar slinger, Conwell dreamed of becoming a rock star, rich, respected, and cool. Not for a second did he imagine himself hanging out at the diner a dozen years later, a man who actually got everything he dreamed of and let it go...
          It's well past 3am and the eggs and scrapple are long gone. Tommy goes dutch on the bill and rises to leave. A man whose fifteen minutes are up but whose coolness is genuine.

 ~ Out and About Magazine, 1997


Saturday, September 29, 2012

I'm Home (live) - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers at Veterans Stadium


Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers (Jim Hannum, Paul Slivka, Rob Miller, Chris Day) perform "I'm Home" live at Veterans Stadium. Performance in front of an audience after a Temple University football game, Sept. 24, 1987.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tommy Conwell Talks Influences, Play Your Music, Chuck Berry


An interview with Tommy Conwell on WMMR's TV special, "Making It In Philadelphia II." 

Tommy talks about:
  • his musical influences;
  • a song called Play Your Music that did not make it to the Young Rumblers' sophomore major-label release, Guitar Trouble;
  • and Chuck Berry.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Maybe She's Just Not There (live) - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers

 
As documented in the timeline, Tommy Conwell and his Young Rumblers spent the greater part of 1987 promoting their independent release, "Walkin' on the Water" - a tour that also saw the band not only being courted by major record labels, but also  trying out new songs at various gigs.

One of these songs is "Maybe She's Just Not There" - Audio Rumble's sources say they are "99% certain" that this song is original material from the band - recorded live at the historic Bayou in Washington, D.C., May 13, 1987.

Friday, September 7, 2012

King of the Road (live) - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers

 

It's an audience sing-along! Tommy Conwell and his Young Rumblers perform "King of the Road" during the encore set at the Bayou in Washington, D.C., May 13, 1987.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sunday, September 2, 2012

One Way Rider (live) - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers


Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers perform One Way Rider live at the Bayou in Washington, D.C., May 13, 1987. Featuring Rob Miller on guitar.
 

Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers' Rob Miller on rare guitar duty.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tommy Conwell's Young Rumblers | First Concert [3-Man] February 24, 1984

 
The debut performance of Tommy Conwell's Young Rumblers at the Skid Row Beach Party, University of Delaware in Newark, February 24, 1984.*

Songs from the set list include:
- Rumble
- Workout
- Million Pretty Girls
- Walkin' on the Water
- Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller

Vintage Interview with Tommy Conwell about his infamous 3-man band

Q: Tell me about the early garage band years starting the Young Rumblers.

A: “The Young Rumblers' first gig was February 24, 1984, at Bacchus, the on-campus club at the University of Delaware. There were a bunch of bands, and we went over pretty good, but of all the bands on the show, our picture was on the cover of the widely read school newspaper the next day. We ended up being in that paper a lot that first year, and I really think it helped get people into us.
The band was me, Chaz Molins on bass, and Mark Walls on drums. Mark quit after that first show--I forget why--and my old roommate Brad Fish became the drummer. After about six months Chaz was replaced by Paul Slivka, who I had played with in a jazz group, and six months or a year later Fishy quit 'cause it was just too brutal. We worked!
We played anywhere we could get paid, and we were getting a lot of jobs. It was definitely full time, and rough. We played 3 or 4 sets a night, traveled up to 3 1/2 hours to a job, and worked 5 or 6 nights a week. My larynx was a bloody nub! My fingers were literally split open; I used to put crazy glue on them to close them up so I could play, but when a string went in there, as they did frequently, it hurt! I didn't care, I was gonna rock every where we went! I took it personally, and there were no excuses.”

[Interview courtesy of M
arc Pelletier's tribute website]
*Note: This performance does not include
the band's encore of the beach classics “Hawaii Five-O” and “Walk, Don’t Run.”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

An Interview with Drummer Jim Hannum

The following is an excerpt from an article originally found on www.mpprojects.com/tc.


Jimmer rode shotgun on drums and silently commanded the Young Rumblers' hard-drivin’ rhythm section from 1984 to 1991. After his subsequent departure, Jimmer joined up with another former Young Rumbler, Chris Day, and played in Delaware Valley clubs from 1991 to 1996.  Today, Jimmer still drives his beloved Harley Davidson and plays drums in a Delaware-based band called Wrekkadge.

What were your thoughts after performing on national television at the American Music Awards in February 1989?

I was completely star struck. It was a night like no other! I sat behind the Judds in the audience. We were talking to Axl Rose right before we went on stage to perform. It was great meeting the guys from G' n R.


How did you join the Young Rumblers?

Paul Slivka (who I have known since we were in the 9th grade) and I were in a band called The MIB (Men in Black)…..(p.s. Will Smith was not the frontman!). We were playing around the University of Delaware area, which at the time had a big punk scene. Tommy was attending school at the University and had seen us play. Tommy asked us to join his band. Paul had joined the band before I did. One night I received a call from Paul who was doing a gig with Tommy at the Ambler Cabaret when their current drummer had car trouble and could not make it to the show. Quickly I got my gear and went to the Ambler Cabaret. The club was packed. I nervously setup my drums and we played. That was my first Rumbler show and from there I became a permanent member of the band.


When did you first recognize the Young Rumblers were special?

Tommy had a huge draw and I knew it was going to be big! When Chris Day (guitarist) and Rob Miller (keyboardist) joined around ‘86, I recognized that the band could go all the way. It sounded much fuller after that.


I once read that you played drums with the cymbals facing upside down. Why?

An article once said that I played the symbols in reverse order. This is partially true because my setup is unconventional. Basically it's a left-handed setup that I play right-handed. The symbols were off position, but not up side down.


What was the relationship between the Hooters and the Young Rumblers?

Dave Uosikkinen, drummer in the Hooters, and I are good friends and he was in the studio to make sure I didn’t screw up. He made me nervous, so I played good.

What is your reaction today when you listen to some of the vintage Young Rumblers?

It was often difficult to capture the live sound on the records. I liked our live sound.

Who are your favorite bands?

U2, Third Eye Blind, Foghat (who we played with one night when I was playing in Chris Day’s Band), Beatles and Patti Loveless (who is a country performer).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Jail House Rock (live) - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers


Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers in Boston, 1990, perform a cover of Elvis Presley's "Jail House Rock." Promoting Guitar Trouble. Recorded live on 104.1 WBCN.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Haddon Heights - Tommy Conwell concert images

Concert images from this evening's performance at Haddon Heights with Tommy Conwell.

Image by K. Sell on Facebook. (1)
Image by @karschsp on Twitter. (2)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Teacher's Skills Are As Solid As Rock


 Philadelphia Inquirer | October 18, 1997
By Daniel Rubin

It's a glorious Friday afternoon, and the twenty-four third graders return from recess like Superballs shot from a cannon. They can't sit still for spelling. Social studies seems hopeless. The rookie teacher turns to a favorite weapon.

"OK, folks,"' says the gravel-voiced man in a buzz cut and rep tie, "it's time for Multiplication Rock." When the cheers die down, he has one foot on a desk, balancing a second-hand guitar he bought for such moments. The class starts chirping in unison math facts buried painlessly in the catchy tune.

"Two times two is four. Two times three is six." The teacher stays in the background, but he can't help throwing in a tasty chord or lick.
The third graders at Enfield Elementary have former rock star Tommy Conwell for their teacher.

He's Mr. Conwell these days - a 35-year-old beginner, and the Springfield, Montgomery County, school's only male classroom teacher. On weekends, he can be found playing around town with his band, the Little Kings. Weeknight gigs are a thing of the past. So are limousines.

Ten years ago, New York record-company execs were lined up outside his shows at the 23 East Cabaret in Ardmore, checkbooks in hand, hoping to throw money at the lanky blond rocker and local guitar hero.

"Conwell is all attitude,'' wrote an Inquirer reporter in 1987, "black boots, spiked hair, Billy Idol sneer, snarling guitar.'' He was also described as unfailingly polite, patiently signing autographs and drawing cartoons for fans, his respectfulness ingrained by the nuns of Bala Cynwyd.

Columbia Records reeled in Tommy Conwell and his Young Rumblers for big bucks, and they made two albums. Eventually, Conwell realized he was more of a performer than the songwriter the labels were looking for.

After MCA, his last big record company, dropped him four years ago, he thought about his prospects and decided that the money he had saved would allow him to go back to school full time. Last December, he graduated from Chestnut Hill College, where he was used to being the only guy in the room.

Now he's the only adult in a room full of 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds who have to raise their hands to go to the bathroom. The kids don't remember his salad days, but their parents do.

"The first thing their parents tell me is, 'I saw you at the Cabaret,'" says Conwell, who lives in Chestnut Hill and has a 3-year-old son. If he wanted some compartmentalization in his life, events conspired against him: On the first Monday of the term, his latest record - Sho' Gone Crazy! - got reviewed in the paper.

"The word gets around,'' he says. "Some of the parents are my age. When I first dreamed about being a teacher, I knew having a rock-and-roll past might be a positive or a negative. Some just might not like it. If that happens, then I'll have to convince them."




Screenshot from PRISM interview [Tommy Conwell and the Little Kings Live at the Chameleon, 1997.

His blond hair is now shorn to a dark nub he rubsconstantly as he decides which way to go with his students. He always wears a tie. Usually he's in a suit - "makes me look more like a principal,"' he says, cracking up. 

Some of the lessons from the music world have helped the novice teacher, who student-taught at Enfield last year. For social studies, he had his pupils write a song about Johnny Appleseed, sung to the tune of The Star-Spangled Banner. They made up one about Miss Rumphius - a character in a Barbara Cooney book - to the tune of Barbara Ann. 

Conwell's class is known around school as the one that gets to do the most singing. 

"I wish I could have him again next year,"' says Edgett Hilimire, 9, who was wearing a jacket and tie yesterday, like his teacher. The boy was also wearing punkish red nail polish. ("I love this kid," Conwell says.) 

"I've never really had a boy teacher before,"' says Emily Walker, 8. "It's sort of neat. It's sort of funner." 

Principal Warren Mata knew nothing of Conwell's roots when they met last year. Mata knew only that during the interview, Conwell handled every question designed to plumb his knowledge and resourcefulness. 

"He was incredibly prepared to be a teacher," says Mata, 42,who lived in Montana and North Jersey during Conwell's 1980s rise. "I wasn't here during the rock-star era of his life. To me, he's not that person. He's a person who has come well-equipped."' 

There is barely an inch of white space on the walls of Mr. Conwell's room, the surfaces covered by posters and drawings, lists and instructions. Step two in The Writing Zone tells how to make a draft: "Write a messy copy." 

The guitar stands in one corner, an upright piano in another with sheet music for "High Hopes'' and "Swinging on a Star.'' Against the far wall, Conwell has built a stage, with shimmering green curtains from his days on the road. 

Over the blackboard a bright sign says "Showtime." And over that: "You never know what you can do until you try." 

"It's great," says Conwell. "It's a great age and I'm very much in love with the kids. I'm just nuts about them. It makes it easy to come here every day. It makes it easy to work hard. The hours I'm putting in are just more than I would ever imagine, but it's not drudgery. It's inspired work. Your heart is in it. My heart is in it." 

He laughs as he says this. "I must say, I'm still a rookie, so I'm figuring it all out. And there's a lot to figure out." 

The real challenge, he says, is directing all the energy and ability levels he finds in one room. "As a musician, my biggest job has been to create excitement in the audience. Here, this is not the primary goal." He laughs again. 

"I have to manage kids' moods - there's a wide dynamic range. And there are times, many times, when everyone needs to be silent. Managing that is a trick." 

The way he greets his young rumblers after their midday recess suggests he's not having any jitters. 

"We don't shout. We enter quickly. We don't talk right now. Take a seat. Put your desk in position for a test. Take out your spelling notebooks," says the man whose diploma - posted by the door - reads Thomas Edward Conwell, bachelor of science. "We have work to do."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tommy Conwell | Sundown Music Series

Update: Thanks to flipp022 for posting the full concert on YouTube. At 29:27, Tommy performs a cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' American Girl.



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Don't forget this week...Tommy Conwell with guest Georgie Bonds on Wednesday, Aug. 8. 

The Sundown Music Series is held at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday nights at the McLaughlin-Norcoss Dell in Haddon Lake Park in Haddon Heights, NJ.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Guitar Man (live) - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers

 
A rare cover of Jerry Reed's Guitar Man performed live by Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers in Boston, promoting Guitar Trouble in 1990. Recorded live on 104.1 WBCN at The Paradise.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Everyday I Have the Blues (live) - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers

 
Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers cover the blues standard "Everyday I Have the Blues" live at Market St. Square in Wilkes-Barre, PA. (September 8, 1988)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Performance - Part II


Part II of the 'Performance' section of the Tommy Conwell rockumentary is unofficially a part of this series. Includes more rare footage and an exclusive interview with TC. 

This is the fifth installment in Audio Rumble's Tommy Conwell rockumentary series:

Part 1: Intro
Part 2: Beginnings
Part 3: Signing Tommy's Guitar

See all of the Tommy Conwell rockumentary on YouTube.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Everything They Say Is True (live) - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers


Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers perform Everything They Say Is True live at the Philly Spectrum in 1987. Recorded live on PRISM and simulcast on 93.3 WMMR.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Big Big Love (Live) - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers


Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers perform "Big Big Love" live at Market St. Station in Wilkes-Barre, PA, Sept. 8, 1988. (Audio Only).

"Big Big Love" was written in 1961 by Wynn Stewart, one of "the progenitors of the Bakersfield sound

The Bakersfield sound was a genre of country music developed in the mid- to late 1950s in and around Bakersfield, California. The many hit singles were largely produced by Capitol Records country music head, Ken Nelson. Bakersfield country was a reaction against the slickly produced, string orchestra-laden Nashville sound, which was becoming popular in the late 1950s. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, and Merle Haggard and the Strangers, are the most successful artists of the original Bakersfield sound era.

The track was also covered by Waylon Jennings in 1973, and released by Nick Lowe on the LP, Pinker and Prouder Than Previous, in 1988. Tommy takes the little-known song and adds his own rock-blues vibe. 

Images taken Sept.-Oct. 1988 on Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers' "Rumble" tour.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Let Them Eat Rock (live) - Buzz Zeemer (featuring Tommy Conwell on vocals)

 
Featuring Tommy Conwell on vocals, Buzz Zeemer performs a cover version of The Upper Crust's "Let Them Eat Rock."

Upstairs at Nicks - PHILLY, USA
April 4, 1997

Frank Brown-Vocals,Guitar;
Tommy Conwell-Guitar, Vocals;
Dave McElroy-Bass;
Ken Buono-Drums

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mystery Train (live) - Stray Cats (with Tommy Conwell)

 
Audio Rumble received the following track - a live, rockin' cover of the blues standard, "Mystery Train" by the Stray Cats with a guitar appearance by Tommy Conwell - in the mail with the following note:

...here's some (information about) the songs with the Stray Cats: a buddy of mine had just spent 3 days at Scotty Moore's place in Tennessee last year. He got a lot of great Elvis stories and also quite a few mosquito bites. When I played him Tommy doing 'Mystery Train' with the Strays it brought tears to his eyes. After hanging out w/ Scotty Moore, that is really saying something about how mindblowing both Conwell and Brian Setzer are on (the track)... 

DJ Caterina has no way to validate that story, but it's way cool. And I love it!

Per the Brian Setzer Setlist Archives website, this performance was recorded on November 4, 1991, at the Chestnut Cabaret in Philadelphia.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Around and Around (live) - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers

 
     Recorded live at the Bottom Line, New York City, USA on October 4, 1988 and simulcast on WNEW, Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers perform "Around and Around".
     The song was written and first recorded by Chuck Berry in 1958. It originally appeared under the name "Around & Around" as the B-side to the single "Johnny B. Goode".
     The song was also covered by The Rolling Stones in 1964.