I was 17 the first time I heard Tommy play. Along with my friend Pineapple (my nick name was Helen back then but that’s a whole other story) I had snuck in to the Manzil Room in Kings Cross to hear this wiz kid guitarist from Parkes play with Doug Parkinson & The Southern Star Band. It was a Thursday night. I should have been home studying (though I don’t recall ever doing much of that for any subject other than music or maybe English if it involved a good book).
It was also the night that a bunch of the great Wes Indian cricketers gate crashed the club. Had they come to hear this finger-licken picker too? I was for a brief moment sandwiched between Joel Garner and Michael Holding. I had probably finishing growing but at 6 feet tall I felt very much like a little person (I am learning to be politically correct) in their midst. And I remember thinking how scary it must have been to face these guys when they were in full flight.
But Tommy’s playing just ‘blue’ my mind. His set up was simple, a 3 pickup Telecaster into an old Fender amp… but what a sweet tone. And his playing was so full of life. No two solos were the same and his obvious love for rhythm guitar was so refreshing. At that time in my musical development, though I listened to Robin Ford, Larry Carlton, Joe Pass and many other great guitarists, I would have to say that no one influenced me more than Tommy. He played a Tele and so I played a Tele. He favored a finger style picking over a plectrum and this, after much experimenting with thumb picks and ‘flesh tones’, I discovered my signature sound. Though I eventually veered away from his strong ties to Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed, the solid thumb ‘bass player’ on my right hand has, for many years, played a big role in the voicing of my own chord shapes and musical story telling techniques.
Some ten years after those nights in the Manzil room, Tommy and I played a few gigs together in Sydney. Those nights were more special to me (I am sure) than to him, though, ever the gentleman Tommy has always had a knack of making everyone feel at ease and ‘part of the gang’. During one gig Tommy actually used my own custom (3 pickup) Tele on a few songs. I was so excited that I never changed those strings again (only kidding).
But I salute you Tommy. You are still an inspiration to me. And I am still learning and recreating (to the best of my ability) what I see and hear on these YouTube videos. You’re a bloody beauty mate!
Cheers, your friend and fan,