Tom Pacheco in the Press:

Tom Pacheco: One of America's Greatest Songwriting Treasures (Part 1)

Bio by Arthur Wood, Published in FolkWax

Our story begins sixty miles South East of Boston, in the town of New Bedford, on November 4th 1946, the day Tom Pacheco was born, the eldest of a family of nine children. In the late nineteen thirties his father, Tony, a jazz musician had moved to France to work, but returned to America after World War II broke out. He soon found himself back in Europe, serving as a GI. Prior to the outbreak of war, Tony had worked in Paris with guitarist Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapellli, the violinist. When Reinhardt toured America in the early nineteen fifties, Tony met him again. In fact, that meeting is one of Tom’s earliest musical memories. It’s not unnatural because of his interests, and chosen trade, that Tony Pacheco, without using coercion, taught all of his children to play at least one musical instrument. Tom is the only sibling to have made a lifelong career of writing and performing songs, although, as we shall see, many of the Pacheco offspring possess considerable artistic talents.

Concurrent with having his first guitar lessons at the age of ten, on classical and flamenco guitars, Tom would visit a nearby neighbour. She was originally from North Carolina, and introduced Tom to country music through the music of Patsy Cline and Hank Williams Snr. In his mid-teen years, through school friends he became acquainted with the music of Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. At the age of seventeen Tom left home to attend Dean Junior College in Franklin, Massachusetts. He subsequently moved on to Hofstra University on Long Island, New York and Greenwich Village became Tom’s base in the city. Commuting to University, come the evening Tom could be found performing in legendary Village clubs such as The Night Owl Café, The Cafe Wha, The Au Go Go and The Bitter End. A couple of years earlier, and already a confirmed fan of singer/songwriters, Tom had made occasional forays into Boston to see his heroes play at Club 47. At that time the club was managed by Jim Rooney. Performed by none other than Dylan, Tom clearly recalls hearing “Mr. Tambourine Man” for the first time at the Harvard Square venue.

With a catalogue that consists of two singles, Tom led a legendary Greenwich Village band called The Ragamuffins during the mid-sixties. The initial line-up consisted of Tom’s brother Paul on bass, his cousin Larry Vera on drums, plus vocalist Sharon Alexander - who Tom had first met at Dean Junior, and guitarist Kenny Pine. John Hall, who later found fame with Orleans, was a band member for a while. Signed to the Seville label, and distributed by London Records, the first single was titled "Four Days of Rain" and the second "Parade of Uncertainty." In 1969 Tom recorded a self-titled album with his next band, Euphoria. The line-up consisted of, Roger and Wendy Beckett plus Tom and Sharon. Stylistically intended to be an acoustic folk recording, the label subsequently deleted most of the instrumental contributions by the band members and added strings. Pacheco was utterly disappointed at the end result.

When Euphoria dissolved, Sharon and Tom worked as a duo for a time, mostly around Greenwich Village. While performing at The Gaslight they were approached by an A&R man from CBS who arranged for them to audition for, the then label head, Clive Davis. A few weeks later, the pair walked out of New York’s CBS building with a record deal. Pacheco & Alexander [1971], a twelve-track collection of songs penned by Tom, was produced by John Hall. By this stage, Hall had already recorded his first solo album, which had included three of Tom’s songs. [ED. NOTE. The Pacheco & Alexander liner credits the songs to Pacheco, while the disc states Pacheco/Alexander. The liner is correct]. Tom and Sharon’s album was not a commercial success and the pair drifted apart.

Continuing to ply his trade as a musician, Tom became a solo artist once again and also taught guitar. Occasionally he would tour New England and upstate New York. As for his songs, Jefferson Starship scored a chart hit with "All Fly Away," a track taken from their Dragonfly [1974] album for RCA. Ronnie Krugel had been part of a duo called The Act, who worked the Greenwich Village clubs and they covered a few Pacheco songs. After moving to the West Coast and joining Marty Balin’s band, Bodacious DF, Krugel rang Tom to ask if he could send her some demos. The ten-song voice/guitar tape that Tom made included “All Fly Away.” After cutting one album for RCA, Balin’s group parted ways [ED. NOTE. Krugel was not a band member when the album was recorded]. Months later Paul Kantner rang Tom to confirm that the Starship were going to cover “All Fly Away.” For their Red Octopus [1975] album, Starship recorded "The Sky Is Full Of Ships Tonight" and "I'll Be Here Forever," but the tracks have never been released. Richie Havens recorded the song “Indian Prayer,” co-written by Tom and Roland Vargas Mousaa, for his album Mixed Bag II [1974].

Pacheco eventually met Kantner on a number of occasions, including one time at an Abby Hoffman Benefit in New York. Tom had written a song about Abby titled “Hiding Out In America.” Unrecorded, it was only performed during Pacheco’s years in Woodstock and Texas. While he was a fugitive, Hoffman used to call Tom as he loved the album Swallowed Up.... Bob Fass at WBAI [aka Pacifica Radio] in New York - an alternative culture radio station had given Hoffman a tape of the album. We’ve jumped ahead a little however……….let’s tie up a few loose ends.

Tom was managed by Jacob Solman during the seventies, along with other artists such as Richie Havens and Janis Ian. Ian’s early career albums were produced by George Shadow Morton. When Tom signed a recording contract with RCA halfway through the decade, Solman came up with the idea of recording it in Los Angeles, using Morton as the producer. As a means of getting to know one another before beginning work in the studio, Solman determined that the pair should travel west by train - a three-day journey. In the process, Pacheco and Morton became firm friends.

Paul Nelson had tried, and failed, to get Tom a recording deal at Mercury Records. An avid supporter of Pacheco’s writing, Nelson then introduced Tom to Stephen Holden, an A&R person at RCA, who later became Music Critic for The New York Times and wrote for Rolling Stone. It was really Nelson who persuaded Stephen and RCA to sign Pacheco. Tom’s debut RCA album Swallowed Up In The Great American Heartland [1976], with sleeve notes penned by Nelson, included songs about ecology - “The Tree Song” and “This Land Will Roll On,” while the title cut mourned the loss of the American Dream. There was also a paean to Tom’s hero - “The Singer” aka Dylan. Through his lyrics, Tom had painted a portrait of the United States - as he saw it - at that point in time. Some of the material on the second RCA album, The Outsider [1976], also produced by Morton, possessed a Texas feel - Tom had begun visiting Austin on an occasional basis. On the same recording, songs such as “Judge Proctor’s Windmill” and “The Sky Is Full Of Ships Tonight” explored the likelihood of visitors from other planets. Intended as a spiritual journey, his sophomore RCA disc opens in the nineteenth century with "Texas Red" and closes at some undetermined future date with "The Sky….." By way of expressing concern at the controversial contents of Tom’s material, RCA made certain that tracks such as "Children Of Atlantis" never made the final pressing. According to Tom there may be as many as ten or twelve unreleased songs from the RCA album sessions in their vaults. Neither album enjoyed commercial success, yet both are gems and prove without doubt that Pacheco is a seer and deep thinker. In the last two years, Pacheco & Alexander and Swallowed Up In The Great American Heartland have been reissued in Japan on CD.

Frustrated at the censoring of his songs, Tom relocated to Mount Tremper, near Woodstock, after the release of the second RCA album. For the time being, he wanted nothing more to do with the recording industry. Eventually, he put the Tom Pacheco Band together and played New York state roadhouses for a number of years. Although well aware, as far as the recording industry was concerned, that singer/songwriters were out of favour during the late seventies and early eighties Tom continued his prodigious output of songs. As for playing those roadhouses, he has described it as his blue-collar rock n' roll period. At one stage, the band’s lead guitar player was Shane Fontayne, later a member of Lone Justice. Gary Burke, the drummer, went on to tour with Joe Jackson. The bass player had played for John Prine before joining Tom’s band.

In January 1982, Mandy Mercier, an old friend and electric violinist, invited Tom to Austin. Totally unplanned, Texas became his base for the next two years. In Austin he formed another band and worked the clubs as Tom Pacheco and The Hellhounds. The band line-up included Mandy Mercier, George Coyne [lead guitar], Ray Ryan [drums] and a whole series of bass players. In late 1983 Tom was offered a recording deal by a new subsidiary label that CBS were about to launch. With literally hundreds of songs composed during his recording hiatus, Pacheco returned to New York full of optimism. He soon discovered that it was a case of the same old story. The label refused to include songs on the recording which were liable to court controversy. Needless to say, the recording sessions were abandoned.

Having rented a place in the Catskill Mountains for that winter, and in order to pay his rent Tom put the second version of the Hellhounds together. Two more years of playing Route 28 roadhouses from Albany to Rochester followed, by which time Tom concluded that for too many years his career - as a songwriter and recording artist - had stalled. Concluding that his days as a performing were at an end, he decided that his future laying in songwriting. In the late Spring of 1986 Tom moved to Nashville, Tennessee to pursue the latter aim. Although he did work for a couple of song publishing companies, it didn't take Tom long to realise how dull and mechanical the commercial songwriting process in Nashville was. For an enterprise that survives on a diet of positive, up-tempo songs, principally concerning love, Tom’s Vietnam remembrance "Yellow Ribbons" or the heartrending “I Was Meant To Pass Through Your Life” plainly didn’t fit the bill. Tom’s Nashville sojourn was a mere sixteen months in duration. On September 23rd 1987, Tom Pacheco arrived in Dublin, Eire.

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