Saturday, June 4, 2016

Conwell and Crew Rumble into Town

Conwell and crew rumble into town 

by Marty Racine 
18 October 1988, Houston Chronicle 
Hearst Communications, Inc.


"Local commercial rock-radio station helps break career of local band!"' 

In Houston? 

Don't be silly. It happened in Philadelphia - City of Brotherly Rock 'n' Roll Love, and home to album-rock outlet WMMR-FM, long considered one of the more influential in the industry. That station has helped spring Philly locals Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers into a regional and possibly national act. 

The Rumblers try Houston on for size in their local debut tonight at Rockefeller's. It's in support of their  "Rumble"' album on CBS. 

For mainstream singer/songwriter rock fans, this may be a newcomer to watch. They'll be on at 10 for a 90-minute set. CBS reps will be in attendance. It will be a showcase in every respect. 

"WMMR will play good local music,"' Conwell said last week from Austin. "We were in their regular rotation (with an independent record) "before'' our Columbia (CBS) record came out. They got behind us. They got behind the Hooters, too, and they got behind other bands before them."

"Radio and the public (in Philadelphia) realize that they have the power to make an act well known around the country. They have the power to propel an act."

Were they really "that" instrumental in the Rumblers' case? 

"Yeah, it's definitely - you kick around the bar scene, you've got your following, and it grows and grows. But still, you get a record on the radio and it's played a lot, your following is gonna triple. That's the power of that medium."

Prior to getting airplay, the Rumblers - Christopher Day, Jim Hannum, Rob Miller and Paul Slivka - had established themselves as a regional act in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.-Baltimore, "within three or four hours' drive from home. But that's as far as we had ever gone," Conwell said. 

The Philadelphia club scene also rates good reviews from Conwell.

It's a great scene. There's a whole lot of good clubs and good bands. The people are very receptive to original music."

"I don't know who's to credit for that - the clubs or the people. It's hard to find a cover (copy band) club in Philadelphia unless you're looking for one. There's a lot of clubs that book only original music."

With airplay, CBS/Columbia was not alone in pursuing the group. "We also talked to a number of other labels; Columbia is just the one we chose," Conwell said. "We waited until we felt we were ready, which is maybe different than a lot of bands do. We didn't go knocking on the door until we knew we were good and were ready for them, that we had something they could use, that we had a good product."

And that product is... ?

"The product being a band that is ready to go out on the road and knows how to play live; a band that knows how to make a record, since we had made our own record; a band that has established a track record among its fans. If nothing else, we'll sell records in Philly. So, we have a base from which to start. 

"Also, a band that has played a lot of opening acts - we opened for (David) Bowie, the Pretenders and Robert Palmer when they came to Philly. So we have experience, and it took four to five years."

For the first half of that apprenticeship, the band was a three-piece: guitar, bass and drums. "We were pretty much a blues band - Slim Harpo, B.B. King and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. I was really inspired by the T-Birds and Stevie Ray (Vaughan). Jimmie Vaughan changed my life. Those first two T-Birds records, 'whew!'"

From there, Conwell took it back to earlier inspirations: Lazy Lester, Freddie King and Magic Sam. 

But, tired of copying old blues songs, Conwell decided "to give my own songwriting a shot. When I made that decision, I started writing rock songs. I started writing for this band."

"Songwriting was never my thing. I tell you what: Being a rock star was never my thing. I was never interested in being a rock star, a singer or a songwriter. I'm a guitar player."

"But I realized that the singer and the songwriter - you can't do without them. I figured, if I could do those myself, I could save a lot of hassles with other people. So I just forced myself to become a singer and write songs. I was born with enough music in me to be able to do that."

"And one thing I've found out about songwriting is, I cannot take a break. If you don't use it, you lose it. I cannot take a break. I've got to keep it up."

With his fixation on the T-Birds, Conwell was eating up his first visit to Austin. He had rented a car and was making the rounds. 

"You familiar with Austin?"' he asked.


"Well, I think I've got the clubs cased out. I'm looking to buy some clothes, maybe some used clothes. You know any places?"

Cool young rock 'n' roller. You can tell.