I've known Tom Ware for going on 35 years or so. He is, without a doubt, one of the nicest humans I know... and easily one of the best musicians on this planet.
We first connected years ago when he was with the band Razorback, but he tells me he actually heard me play and we met in Fayetteville much earlier at the old DLux Rathskellar on Dickson Street. Chalk one up to short-term and long-term memory loss...
Tom Ware is a performer, singer-songwriter, recordist, sound technician and much more. To say multi-instumentalist is a great misnomer. The man can, and has, played virtually every instrument in the band through the years, from guitar to bass to drums to vocals (and yes, vocals is an instrument... perhaps the greatest one...)
He is a great guitar player.
He is a tremendous fiddle AND violin player.
He is a strong band mate and as strong as a soloist.
And he has a voice one could listen to all day long without getting tired of it...
He's written hundreds if not thousands of songs through the years, and has enjoyed people that actually sing along, whether or not he's recorded them. They have learned the things from hearing him play them live... and they are strong enough to really capture the musical imagination, live, at that...
I had the pleasure of speaking to him recently. After all these years we finally got around to doing an interview. The following is a part of that conversation...
NF: Who are you and where are you from?
TW: Well I'm 59. Born in Enid, Oklahoma 9-23-1956. Moved to Denver, Colorado two weeks later with the help of my parents.
I moved with my family to Arkansas in 1970. I was 14 years old. I had already played in a couple of neighborhood bands in Colorado and immediately began to try and put a group together in Fort Smith. I got with my neighbor Joe Sanford who recently played with me again in the Warewolves 45 years later. My Dad was in the advertising business and I recorded several radio jingles for him. Trying to convince my 8th grade classmates that that was me singing on the radio was an impossible task. I'm sure they thought the new kid was not only crazy but also a fantastic fabricator.
NF: Fill me in on the history... you've led an amazing journey... anyone in your family artistic?
TW: My parents were both painters and artists. My grandfather played the fiddle and provided me with one of my first guitars, a Stella Harmony acoustic. I had two older brothers who both played guitar and piano. I took piano lessons starting at age 8. (Which I hated!) I also learned a chord or two on my brother Steve's Silvertone guitar. One with the amp built into the case. ("Gloria", "Louie Louie", etc. )
My oldest brother Phil played organ in a Denver area rock group in the 60's called The Blaster's. They were represented by Barry Fey who later went on to form Feyline Productions a major booking and promotions firm in the U. S. The band practiced in our basement. I'm sure that was the first time that I thought maybe playing in a band was something that appealed to me. While still in Denver I saw a lot of 60s musical heroes: Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Janis Joplin, Vanilla Fudge, Three Dog Night, The Mothers of Invention, Johnny Winter, The Rolling Stones, B. B. King. Just about all those shows cost $3 to $5. I attended the Denver pop festival in 1969. The same summer of Woodstock.
NF: An amazing time in Rock 'n Roll. Who would you say have been your major influences?
TW: The Beatles were of course my earliest and probably most profound influences. However I have had several influences as a writer: Tom Waits, Bruce Cockburn, John Prine, Cat Stevens, Hank Williams. Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell. I've always loved songs that seemed to have intelligent, heartfelt lyrics.
As a guitarist I have many influences as well. George Harrison, Doc Watson, Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Earl Cate, Neil Young, Wes Montgomery, Django Rheinhardt. I always liked guitar players that seemed to know how to make the sounds and licks that fit the song rather than just super fast noodling.
On the violin I loved Stephane Grappelli, Vassar Clements, Charlie Daniels, Jean Luc Ponty, Benny Martin, Johnny Gimble. On Keyboards i always liked Paul McCartney, Gregg Rolie, Elton John, Greg Allman, Bill Evans. (I love all kinds of music. If it moves me then it's good...)
NF: You've been in lots of bands. Tell me about them...
Well, I've loved them all!
My band Reefer (yep) in high school. I played bass in that one. We played dances in Fort Smith Schools and they would put up posters in the hall. 'SATURDAY NIGHT! IT'S REEFER.'
After that I played in a big horn band called ROADWORK. Later in high school I started a band with friends called MOUNTAIN WIND that in some form lasted for 7 or 8 years. We were influenced heavily by the Will The Circle Be Unbroken Album bluegrass and country rock in the Seventies. That band opened for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at Harper Stadium in 1979.
Then I played keyboards and guitar with BAJER in the early 80's. Mostly Top 40: Jim Atchison, Ricky Young, Harley Vinsant and I. Eventually we added Lacey Peters (Schaffer-Thomas) who has been my musical partner ever since.
That would have been 1981. Lacey and I had a band in the early 80's called TOMMY LIFT AND THE TAILGATES. We played blues, R&B, and originals.
Then came my greatest adventures, RAZORBACK and GRAYGHOST.
I also played guitar in the UNDERDOGS for a few years. THE MARMITS was a side acoustic project of Grayghost. Since that time I have played with Lacey and my son Anthony Ware in several bands. DROWNING IN DIXIE, PETRAFRIED, TOM WARE TRIO and most recently WAREWOLVES.
We also play together at Midland Heights Methodist Church on Sunday mornings. Since 2006 I have played fiddle and mandolin in the Celtic group BLUE FIDDLE with my friends Joe Hamilton and John Lindquist. I'm very proud of having played for a brief time guitar with the jazz group THE JOHN LINDQUIST QUARTET. Along the way I toured with THE BLUEHOUSE, (two awesome girls from Australia), SON OF A SAILOR a Jimmy Buffett tribute band with Larry Pearson of Judge Parker. I also toured for a bit with LUKE STRICKLIN, a country singer who had a minor hit in 2005. I also did a project back in 2011 with John Davies (Cate Brothers, Michael Burke), David Mcknight, (voodoo sauce) Danny Timms (Bonnie Raitt, The Highwaymen) and Tommy Spurlock (Rodney Crowell, The Band) called THE SMILIN' DOGS. Wow... a lot of bands...
NF: Who was in Razorback?
TW: Bill White, Lacey Schaffer-Thomas, George Hughen, Roland Stephens, Larry Bedell and Tom Ware. Later Grant Pierson replaced Bill White and Don Martin replaced Roland Stephens...
NF: What was, if any, your favorite show to ever really play?
TW: Too many to count. Well one of the biggest thrills as a band was a show with Grayghost in Milwaukee, WI. We had the number one record on the number one country station in Wisconsin. "Let's Sleep On It" on Mercury. We played at a big country nightclub and did interviews on the radio and television. When we got to to the club in the bus the line to get in was around the block! It was pretty exciting to feel a little bit of what being in a hit band was like.
NF: You've toured through US and Canada with what band?
TW: RAZORBACK, GRAYGHOST, BLUEHOUSE, SON OF A SAILOR, LUKE STRICKLIN…
NF: When did you get with the Miller Band Network, and for how long? For that matter, what did it do for you?
TW: I think 1987 was the first year we were a part of the Miller Genuine Draft Band Network. We were on it through 1991. It was overseen by the advertising agency that handled Phillip Morris in the U. S. and Marlboro cigarettes in Europe and Asia. That was our connection to tour overseas for Marlboro. We played Spain, Bahrain,Guam, Okinawa, Japan. Every year in January all 27 or 28 bands on the Miller network would go to a big convention in Milwaukee where we all stayed in the same hotel together. We called it 'beer school.' They would require 200 some-thing musicians to get up at 8 a.m. and attend seminars on how to better promote Miller Genuine Draft. At the end of the weekend we would have a big banquet where there was a keynote speaker who had usually hung out with us all weekend. Among those speakers were Les Paul, Carl Perkins, Flo and Eddy and Willie Dixon.
NF: How long did you have the studio in Fort Smith, and what was your favorite session? And who did you record?
TW: I owned Fat Rabbit Studio in Van Buren for nearly 10 years in the 1990s, early 2000's. My partner was George Hughen. We recorded and or produced Carrie Underwood, Wanda Watson, Chris Cameron, Will Mendenhall, The Roswells, The Garage Boys, Grayghost, Oreo Blue, Soul Servants, Jungle Bush Beaters, Ft. Smith Chorale, Jillia Jackson, Shadygruve, P-5, Asphalt Cowboys, Cabbageheads, Gary Hutchinson, Mark Albertson, The Plowcleaners, Judge Parker, Soul Merchant and many many more. We also had a record label FAT RABBIT RECORDS and the first online music sales in this area. We were also the first digital studio in the Fort Smith area. The studio was in the old Ben Jack studio building on North 13th in Van Buren. A lot of history in that old building. It has since been torn down.
NF: How many records have you released, either on your own or with a band?
TW: My first record was a 45 rpm single in 1973 with Mountain Wind, I wrote both the A and B sides.
Then we released a full length 33 rpm album with Bajer in 1982. I co-produced and engineered that one. We released 7 or 8 singles on Compleat, In Concert and Mercury records in the 80's as Razorback and later as Grayghost. We recorded three albums worth of material for Mercury but they weren't released as the usual policy then was to only release an album if the singles were a hit. Six of those songs made it on the Billboard Hot Country 100.
Our first single on Mercury a song that Lacey and I wrote called "Where Were You When I Was Blue" was accompanied by a fairly successful video on CMT that was produced and directed by my friend John Ware who had done videos for Hank Williams Jr. and George Jones. We independently released three CD's of Grayghost rock music in the 90's. BURN THE WORLD DOWN, END OF THE OLD, and FREAKS. And the latest one, TRANSFORMATION, by the Warewolves.
As a solo artist I have released 2 CDs of original music ARKANSAS BLUE and TIMEWARP. I also made two gospel CD's with Lacey Schaffer-Thomas HILLBILLY HYMNAL and EVERYDAY MIRACLES. And a live CD with the Underdogs. Also an album of original Celtic music with BLUE FIDDLE.
NF: How does your wife deal with being married to a serious musician?
TW: Libby's great. She's a musician herself, plays piano and co-writes material with me. We've been together for 21 years or so...
NF: Any other members of the family musicians?
TW: Yes, they are all musical. Anthony writes music and plays bass guitar, keyboards and drums. Both my daughters, Caitlin and Elizabeth, write and sing...
NF: What are your current dreams and ambitions?
TW: I hope to have a new cd or two out this year. I just hope to be able to still get gigs and record and write some more. I may write a book.
NF: What does a pro musician eat?
TW: I have been a vegetarian since 1972. And a vegan for about 10 years.
NF: How long have you been a virgin? And what does your wife think about this?
TW: Vegan, not virgin. And she's one too...
NF: And lastly, since enquiring minds want to know, what is your favorite color?
TW: Tie Dye...
"Nightflying down Hamburger Alley..."