Tom Pacheco in the Press:

Tom Pacheco: One of America's Greatest Songwriting Treasures (Part 2)

Bio by Arthur Wood, Published in FolkWax

A friend of Tom’s, the one time owner of a New York club had relocated to Ireland in the mid-eighties. Informing Tom of the burgeoning music scene that had developed in Dublin, a concert tour was booked. Intended as a six-week visit, Tom became a Dublin resident for the ensuing ten years. Not long after his arrival, Tom was introduced to Clive Hudson, former head of Warner Bros. in Europe. Hudson had just formed his own company, Ringsend Road, which soon became Round Tower Music. Within a matter of months, Clive Hudson became Tom Pacheco’s manager, song publisher and record company boss - without a hint of censure relative to the lyrical content of Tom’s songs.

Tom’s debut album for Round Tower, Eagle In The Rain [1989], his first commercially released recording for over a decade, was produced by Arty McGlynn, a stalwart of Van Morison’s road band at the time. His lyrics addressed issues as diverse as gun control - “Made In America,” the work of Amnesty International - “You Will Not Be Forgotten” and a facet of the, by then, major world issue of ecology - “The Last Blue Whale In The Ocean.” The latter song had been penned in Austin years earlier. New Bedford is featured in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, so it’s apposite that Pacheco should compose an anti-whaling song. Early March 1990, found him back in his old stomping ground, Austin, for the annual South By South West Music Festival. An old friend, Lucinda Williams, sat in the front row for his showcase at The Cactus Café.

Taken from his album The Last Waltz [1990], Daniel O'Donnell, an Irish born and based country singer enjoyed chart single success with Tom’s "Last Waltz Of The Evening" at the dawn of the new decade. Throughout his career, Pacheco has tended not to record a song [of his] if another artist covers it first. In Nashville, Josie Kuhn an acquaintance from his Greenwich Village days began recording Tom’s songs, and also wrote with him. Those collaborations can be found on her Round Tower albums Paradise [1992] and Walks With Lions [1994], while the Tom Russell album Box Of Visions [1993] on the same imprint featured the co-write “Purgatory Road.” Steinar Albrigtsen, a Norwegian with whom Tom subsequently formed an ongoing performing, recording and co-writing partnership, also recorded his songs. Of the foregoing, Tom enjoyed his greatest and most prolonged success as a writer with the latter performer. The partnership began with Albrigtsen’s solo album Bound To Wander [1992]. Steinar’s greatest hits collection Now And Then [1998], featured no less than three # 1 Norwegian singles, two that reached # 2 and one # 3 - all penned or co-penned by Tom. We’re racing ahead however…………..

Tom appeared on the bill at the annual Cambridge Folk Festival in late July 1990, and immediately followed that date with a short British tour. He returned to the islands for another tour in April 1991, was in Germany and Holland the following month, then toured Ireland during June. Late August found him in Norway, and September/October saw him tackle the States once more, followed by another British tour in November/December. The pattern of touring on a regular basis continued into the late nineties.

Tom’s second Round Tower album Sunflowers And Scarecrows [1991] embraced a wide range of musical styles. Reggae and Tex-Mex were obvious elements, while the heavy prevalence of rock rhythms was somewhat surprising. The original plan had been to record the disc in San Francisco, but the sessions eventually took place at Sonet Studios in London. Fifteen tracks long, it was produced by Kenny Denton, whom Tom had first met at a Woodstock club, Teanies, in 1979. The original plan had been to call the album Romance And Revolution. “Merchant Of Death” about arms merchants presaged the Iraq/Kuwait conflict, "Hippy On The Highway" recalled the loss of innocence and many other facets of life during the late sixties, while "Van Gogh" focused on the creative process undertaken by painters, musicians and writers. "Strange Gods" contained references to religious cults, child abuse, drugs and numerous other social ills. Tom’s conclusion being that each person should find his/her way and not be drawn into bizarre lifestyles. The Waco siege at the Branch Davidian compound was two years in the future.

Not wishing any of his albums to sound the same, Tales From Red Lake [1992] was recorded at Jay Vern’s [ED. NOTE. aka Vernali] Board Room in Nashville and Tom co-produced the set with Paul A. Speer. The original working title had been Peaceful Winds. The front liner picture was the work of that multi-talented, Texas enigma Butch Hancock, and was taken near the legendary venue Gruene Hall. The collection included “Jessica Brown” a tale inspired by events in Dallas during November 1963 and “The Other Side” a song about death and the journey the human spirit may experience following it.

Having recorded a duet album two decades earlier, Tom teamed up with a male partner - Steinar Albrigtsen - for his second attempt. The result was Big Storm Comin’ [1993]. Cut in Oslo, it was produced by Sverre Erik Henriksen, also the producer of the Norwegian’s earlier recordings. Dedicated to the memory of John Lennon, the set produced the # 1 Norwegian single “Beaches of Rio” - about the city’s street urchins, and a # 2 “Till I Met You.” The collection also reached # 1 on the Norwegian Album charts. That year the duo touring Norway to SRO notices.

Tom’s first album for the Sonet subsidiary of Polygram was titled Luck Of Angels [1994]. Returning to Nashville and Jay Vern’s studio to cut it, Tom and Jay co-produced the disc. “Robert And Ramona” the opening track on Eagle In The Rain was re-appraised, and when issued as a single became a Top 5 chart hit for Tom in Norway. Set in the late eighties, “Searching For The Sixties” finds a twenty year old - May Annie Kathy - taking to the open road in an attempt to rekindle the two decade old hippie dream of peace and freedom ; while the hardened and hate driven ex-convict in “Cell Block One” rediscovers the sanctity of life in an unusual way. Produced by Steinar Albrigtsen and Sverre Erik Henriksen and cut in Oslo, Bluefields [1995] was Tom’s next solo contribution. Assuming human characteristics, “Sand” is a witness recording the evolution of this planet, while “Red White And Bleeding” revisits the subject of gun control - or, at least, the lack of it, in America. Tom’s message isn’t always tinged with doom and gloom. In fact there’s a positive air of optimism expressed in “Blue Montana Sky.” As if hinting at his own state of mind, Tom allowed the restless narrator in the title cut to express a wish for a simpler life.

In the second month of the following year, Tom found himself back in Woodstock recording a disc that he called Woodstock Winter [1996]. The winter in Northern New York state was particularly severe that year, but ensconced in Levon Helm’s Studio with Jim Weider in charge of the production, like his hero - “The Singer” - before him, he cut an album backed by The Band. John Sebastian even dropped in and played some autoharp. All the way from the opening “Hills Of Woodstock,” through “Christmas In Times Square” and “The Snow Storm” there was a palpable sense in the lyrics of a restless writer who had finally found some semblance of peace. Tom undoubtedly felt a tug while completing the Mercury album in Woodstock. Little more than eighteen months later he became a Woodstock resident, and possibly a permanent one, once again.

Just prior to departing from Dublin, in August 1997, late one night Tom entered Dublin’s Sun Studios with Pete Holidai. By dawn the following morning, thirty-four songs had been recorded, very much in an in concert style featuring Tom’s voice and guitar. The resulting 2CD collection, Bare Bones & Barbed Wire [1997], was released by the Road Goes On Forever, a label owned and operated by renowned British music journalist, John Tobler. While most of the songs had appeared on Tom’s albums from 1989 onward, nine were previously unrecorded. Reinterpretations of “Robert And Romona” and “Jessica Brown” stood alongside new songs such as, “Mining Country” about the death and damage inflicted by land mines. Another new song that pursued an older historical theme was “Big Horn, the survey of a once bloody battlefield. Tom returned to his native soil on 23rd September 1997.

The following year, The Band album Jubilation [1998] featured two contributions by Tom. “If I Should Fail” co-written with Rick Danko and “High Cotton,” a Pacheco, Danko and Levon Helm collaboration. The front of the liner booklet for Bare Bones II - The Lost American Songwriter [1999] featured a painting by Tony Pacheco of Cannon Town, circa 1943. Cannon Town lies near to New Bedford. Rather than record the songs in one sitting, it took three consecutive nights to record the second bare bones collection. Jim Weider’s guitar augmented a number of the tracks. On this occasion, two thirds of the thirty tracks were previously unreleased songs. The new songs included “Out of the American Blue” a portrait of the legendary and late Neal Cassady, while “John Wilkes Booth” Tom explored the connection between one of Tom’s ancestors and the notorious American assassin. “China Blue,” the tale of a modern day “Black Beauty” possessed shades of the Robert Redford movie “The Electric Horseman.” The [Bobby] Kennedy years were re-examined through the eyes of “Juan Romero” a busboy, while in “The Abduction” alien arrive on Earth, circa 1880, to deliver their own brand of retribution. In the process they save Muddy Waters’ grandfather from a Ku Klux Klan lynching. Now spanning nearly five decades, Tom’s imagination as a writer has never been less than fertile. His lyrics have always been honest.

Seven years on from their debut as a duo, Tom and Steinar reunited at Levon Helm’s studio in the fall of 1999 to record Nobodies [2000]. Co-produced by Scott Petito [a respected engineer/producer of contemporary folk performers], Tom and Steinar, the thirteen song set featured half a dozen tunes co-written by the duo. The remainder composed by Tom, included one of his finest historical songs, the blisteringly critical “Teddy Roosevelt.” The support musicians included members of the Band, plus local heroes Happy Traum, John Sebastian and Jerry Marotta.

The late Rick Danko, who died in December 1999, had an album posthumously released titled Times Like These [2000]. It featured their co-write “You Can Go Home” - a ballad concerning the plight of refugees, plus Tom’s survey of political injustice “People of Conscience.” Tom played guitar on the sessions. It was planned that the Band would cover more of Tom’s output, but following Danko’s passing the participants have been somewhat silent. In recent months, Tom has recorded demos of some new material that will appear on his next solo album early in 2002. In addition, Tom is currently striving to have one of his new songs, “In A World Without America,” written following the events of September 11th, released in the near future as a charity single to benefit famine relief in Afghanistan. To purchase Tom’s CD’s Eagle In The Rain through Big Storm Comin’, go to - www.roundtower.com/Catalogue/catalogue.html For the two Bare Bones collections, go to - www.rgfrecords.demon.co.uk A number of titles by Tom are also available from www.amazon.com

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