Continue the tradition and share your story with Audio Rumble!
Written and compiled by Marc Pelletier*
* Years 2005 and onward provided by Audio Rumble
Conwell’s most formative experience may have been as a roadie and guitarist with Rockett 88 - a band led by Dr. Harmonica, Mark Kenneally. Rockett 88 was a hell raising, blues band that gained some local notoriety touring with Delaware roadhouse blues rocker, George Thorogood. Conwell played with Rockett 88 for a year and a half then briefly joined Radio Carolyn before starting his own band, The Young Rumblers.
- Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers started as a three-piece band with Chaz Molins on bass and Brad Fish on drums. The Rumblers played their first professional gig in the spring at a party at a student housing project known as Skid Row. As luck would have it, Tommy Conwell’s picture appeared on the cover of the student run newspaper.
“We got lucky from day one, and we got lucky again and again,” says Conwell.
Tommy Conwell's Young Rumblers. State Theater, Newark, Delaware, 1984.(Photography by John Hagan)
- Paul Slivka and Jim Hannum replaced the original rhythm section. The band continued to add to its set list which included Workout, Dig It, Yeah Daddy, Walkin' on the Water, and Satisfaction Guaranteed.
- Two new band members became Rumblers shortly before entering the studio to record Walkin’ on the Water - guitarist Chris Day and keyboardist, Rob Miller, who previously played with Robert Hazard and the Hooters.
- Walkin’ on the Water
Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers built a reputation of incredible high-energy shows and established themselves as a major draw in the Philadelphia clubs. The vibrant local music scene hit the roof with the release of Walkin’ on the Water. The album had nine songs and was produced by Andy King, bass player from the Hooters. Philadelphia singer/songwriter, Robert Hazard, wrote the radio friendly Love’s on Fire and Everything They Say is True. Conwell’s songwriting efforts Walkin’ on the Water, and Million Pretty Girls were about youthful invincibility and struck a chord with his new audience. Heavy radio airplay of Million Pretty Girls, I’m Not Your Man, and Do You Still Believe in Me supported the Young Rumblers as the premiere live draw in the club circuit. The independent release sold more than 70,000 copies in the Philadelphia region alone.
"Conwell is all attitude…black boots, spiked hair, Billy Idol sneer, snarling guitar,'' wrote a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter.The Philly rock radio station WMMR-FM 93.3, sponsored a contest in 1987 and received an astounding eleven million postcards from high school students trying to win a free concert with the Young Rumblers.
The Young Rumblers nurtured their live act at bars or cabarets, the Spectrum, and Veteran’s stadium. The band opened for big names such as the Pretenders, David Bowie, Bryan Adams, John Lee Hooker, and Nick Lowe.
Columbia Records signed Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers and nationally released their major label debut, Rumble. The album was produced by Rick Chertoff, a journeyman producer who had worked with Cyndi Lauper, Patty Smyth, and the Hooters. The Rumblers were exposed through every outlet - radio airplay, live performance, MTV, Europe’s Music Television, David Letterman, Arsenio Hall, and the American Music Awards. Two singles from the album received heavy airplay, the new version of I’m Not Your Man and the Jules Shear tune, If We Never Meet Again. Columbia estimated sales of Rumble at 300,000.
- After a tour of Europe, the local hype reached its peak when the band returned to the States for EIGHT sold-out shows in Philadelphia at the Theatre of the Living Arts on South Street in April of 1989. The Rumblers premiered several gems that would unfortunately never appear on vinyl including Seven Days to Rock, Play Your Music, the Rolling Stone’s Hand to Fate, and a crowd favorite called, My Mae Mae. In late 1989, the band toured Japan. Conwell recalls the 1989 American Music Awards performance, “We looked like such rank amateurs. No way did we belong up there. We were way over our heads.”
- Guitar Trouble
TROUBLE... best describes the Young Rumblers' sophomore effort and the band’s commercial challenges in 1990; Columbia urged Conwell to work with professional songwriters to improve his original material; Country-rock guitarist Billy Kemp replaced the popular Chris Day; Pete Anderson, former producer for Dwight Yoakam, was hired to produce; Sony’s subsequent purchase of Columbia/CBS affected the Rumblers' label relations.
- A revamped, Didn’t Want to Sing the Blues and Rock with You were the only songs from the 1989-90 live circuit to make vinyl. Artist Bruce Hornsby and Johnnie Johnson, legendary keyboardist for Chuck Berry, contributed to Guitar Trouble. The catchy pop/rock single, I’m Seventeen received extensive radio airplay but a cool response locally.
- Shout Movie Soundtrack
Hollywood record producer, Don Gehman, asked Tommy Conwell to contribute two songs to an upcoming film starring Jon Travolta. For movie buffs, the flick was Gwyneth Paltrow’s debut. Tommy wrote two songs, More Than a Kiss and Devil Call Me Back Home. The first song was recorded in Los Angeles with Tommy on vocals backed by Stray Cat alums, Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker. The other song was recorded with blues legend Otis Rush on lead vocals with Conwell, Setzer, and Rocker.
- Neuroticus Maximus
Conwell's recording contract was dropped by Sony/Columbia/CBS and picked-up by MCA Records, new home of The Hooters. Tommy Conwell dropped the name 'Young Rumblers' and his new backing band included Rob Miller on bass, Billy Kemp on guitar, Danny Beirne on keyboards, and drummer Andy Kravitz. Tommy assembled a new lineup to record album No. 3 tentatively titled Neuroticus Maximus. A preview of the new rock material featured on a WMMR live received a chilly local response. Neuroticus Maximus was later rejected by MCA and the band was dropped.
- In a late 1990's interview with Jon Springer, Conwell reflects on his roller coaster ride, “When I realized the big time was over, there was a lot of ego deflation. The scariest part was thinking about getting a job again. I never wanted someone to say, Hey -- you are Tommy Conwell! What are you doing cutting lawns?”
- Buzz Zeemer's Play Thing
In his hiatus as a professional recording artist, Conwell plays guitar with a few local bands including the eccentric Leroy Hawkes and the Hipnotics. In 1996, Conwell hooks up with a Philly pop songwriter, Frank Brown, formerly of Flight of Mavis. Philadelphia record label Record Cellar releases Play Thing, an independent effort featuring Brown’s witty, sophisticated lyrics and Conwell delivering dynamite grooves and harmony vocals. The Inquirer dubs the combo, "Philly’s Traveling Wilburys." The songs Crush and Sometimes get airplay on U of Penn’s WXPN and WDRE. The band is a live favorite with their Cheap Trick cover songs and originals at the Grape Street Pub in Manayunk, PA. Tommy brings down the house with a cover of The Upper Crust's Let Them Eat Rock at each performance.
In the words of Billboard Magazine [“Indie Labels Discover Freedom in Philly” – 10/28/1995]:
“…melodic pop-rock band Buzz Zeemer…has stepped up to the most-unjustly unsigned level since adding Tommy Conwell on lead guitar.”
- Conwell starts a rockabilly and jump blues band, Tommy Conwell and the Little Kings. Wearing his trademark crown, the Kings include guitarist Tommy Conwell, tenor saxaphonist Darryl Ray Jenkins (former member of Philly’s Dynagroove), drummer Paul Ramagano, and bassist Pat Coppa.
- Sho’ Gone Crazy
Llist Records, from Lancaster, PA, releases Tommy Conwell’s first independent studio recording titled Sho’ Gone Crazy. The music is vintage and somewhat reminiscent of the big band swing of the 1950’s, with a rock edge. Conwell’s sassy humor is still evident in Bad Haircut, Josephine, and Bottle Woman.
- Tommy Conwell featured in an October Philadelphia Inquirer article penned by Daniel Rubin titled, "Teacher's Skills Are As Solid As Rock."
- Season’s Greetings Philadelphia
Tommy Conwell contributes a quirky song titled Kinda Christmasy to a soundtrack of holiday tunes featuring local Philly bands such as Marah, Rolling Hayseeds, the Friggs, Emily Valentine, and Buzz Zeemer.
Delusions of Grandeur
Buzz Zeemer’s follow-up effort to Play Thing is more polished and reminiscent of an Elvis Costello or Squeeze recording. Zeemer plays monthly with live favorites including This Town and Red Balloon.
- Buzz Zeemer steps up efforts for major label exposure with a trip to the legendary Austin, Texas South by Southwest Music Festival. In 2000, the band runs out of gas and calls it quits. Frank Brown re-surfaces with a new band of singer/songwriters named Solid For Sixty.
Young Rumblers Reunion
The original five band members who recorded Rumble reunite for a gig at the General Wayne Inn in Merion, Pennsylvania.
- Hi Ho Silver!
The Little Kings, with Tommy and Darryl, and a new rhythm section released a second album titled Hi-Ho-Silver! on Llist Records. The album includes a heart-wrenching version of Without Love which is an old classic recorded by Elvis Presely in 1969. Tommy Conwell and the Little Kings play anything from AC/DC covers, Chuck Berry rockabilly, and classic Young Rumblers. Cheers!
Young Rumblers Semi-Reunion - November 23
The band reunites for a gig (minus Rob Miller) at the Stone Balloon in Newark, Delaware.
- Loud and Local
Tommy Conwell is a radio DJ at 94.1 at WYSP - scheduled weekdays from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. and on Sunday evenings for Loud and Local from 10 p.m. - 11 p.m. He is featured in the July 2, 2005 issue of Billboard magazine in an article titled, "Conwell is a Jock Who Really Rocks."
- Closing of The Stone Balloon
Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers reunite on December 17, 2005, for the last concert at Newark, Delaware's historic The Stone Balloon with opening band, The Snap.
- The Tommy Conwell Trio is the opening act at the 6th Annual Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas Extravaganza at Keswick Theatre on Nov. 29.
- On November 26, Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers open for The Hooters the night before Thanksgiving and play to a packed Electric Factory for what was billed as WMMR GOBBLAROO 2008.
- Tommy Conwell Store
The new Tommy Conwell Store is launched online selling mp3's and other TCYR memorabilia, including the previously unreleased MCA album Neuroticus Maximus, re-titled Thanks But No Thanks. Neuroticus Maximus was recorded at A+M Studio in Los Angeles and produced by Ed Stasium (Ramones, Smithereens, Soul Asylum) in 1992.
- On May 6, jazz trio Ellipsis perform a concert featuring the music of Ray Charles with special guest Tommy Conwell.
- Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers (original 5-man lineup) perform at the Bay Center in Dewey Beach, Delaware.
- Going Back to Philly!
The original five-man line-up (Tommy, Jim, Paul, Chris and Rob) perform for the first time headlining in the Philadelphia city limits since the early 90's at The Blockley (the old Chestnut Cabaret). Tommy made the promotional rounds, including an interview/performance with Spike Eskin on WYSP. Despite the event being the band's first Philly headliner in nearly 15 years, Tommy and the Rumblers rocked The Blockley to a sold-out audience!
- You Can't Sit Down
In March, the third single from The Hooters' David Uosikkinen's music project, In the Pocket: Essential Songs of Philadelphia, with proceeds benefiting Settlement Music, is recorded featuring Tommy Conwell on vocals and lead guitar to remake the Dovells' hit "You Can't Sit Down."
Musicians on the track include Eric Bazilian, Graham Alexander, Rob Hyman, Uosikkinen, Jay Davidson, and Jerry Blavat, "characteristically ad-libbing."
- In the Pocket's new single, "You Can't Sit Down" is launched at World Cafe Live on April 12 with an all-star Philly jam. The concert featured players from all three songs, All My Mondays, Open My Eyes, and You Can't Sit Down. The band includes David Uosikkinen, Graham Alexander, Eric Bazilian, Richard Bush, Tommy Conwell, Jay Davidson, Greg Davis, Rick DiFonzo, Jeffrey Gaines, Cliff Hillis, Rob Hyman and Jerry Blavat.
- Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers (original 5-man) perform two nights at The Blockley in Philadelphia.- Friday, Nov. 4 - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers and The Peace Creeps (Richard Bush of The A's).- Saturday, Nov. 5 [sold out!] - Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers and Smash Palace.
- Tommy Conwell performs an acoustic set at The Blockley with Jeffrey Gaines on January 31.
- Later in 2013, the original five-man Young Rumblers play together again at -- where else? -- The Blockley -- with opening act The Dirty Pearls on October 5.
- Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers are the opening act for headliner Johnny Winter at Lancaster's inaugural Roots and Blues Music Festival on February 22.
- In May, the original five-man lineup performs again at Ardmore Music Hall in Ardmore, PA, with opening act, Dynagroove.
- Indiegogo Campaign Fundraiser
Launch of crowdfunding campaign begins on December 8 for new music from Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers in 2017. The campaign hits the 50% goal less than a week after campaign launch!