Photos by Scott Preston
Tommy Womack / Wild Ponies
Southgate House Revival, 111 E 6th St, Newport, KY (Revival Room)
8pm doors, 8:30pm show, $10 adv, $12 dos, Buy Tickets
As both an artist and a person, Tommy Womack has been called everything from “Tom Lehrer with a Telecaster” to “Nashville’s best loved musical eccentric,” and he might blushingly, but proudly, accept both titles. That’s because separating Womack the man and Womack the artist is impossible, as they’re both the same guy. An award-winning recording artist and a published author, Womack writes songs as honest as anything Hank Williams or Steve Earle ever recorded, and has attracted the attention of the national press while accumulating a loyal following.
Womack is omnipresent in Music City, both live and on record, whether working with Will Kimbrough in their band DADDY, who have released two records, to leading the Alphabetical Kinks with Bill Lloyd (playing a night full of Kinks tunes done in alphabetical order, starting with “All Day & All of the Night” and ending with “You Really Got Me”), or leading his Clash tribute band Tommy Gun, or being in his harmony vocalist’s band backing Lisa Oliver-Gray (who’s record he co-produced) on simply playing his own show being backed by his own fine band, the Rush to Judgment. “I like being busy.” Womack says, “Keeps me out of trouble. I’ve been in enough trouble as it is. I feel lucky getting to do all this. After growing up such a square peg and spending so much time miserable, I like getting near 50 and actually thinking, ‘hey, it’s fun being me.’”
Cincy Groove: First off, how is your shoulder doing? Last time I saw you perform you were getting ready to get some work done on it.
Tommy Womack: The shoulder I had operated on (my right) is good. No more pain. Unfortunately I’m getting nasty notes from my left shoulder now.
Cincy Groove: How was your first ever internet concert back in August?
Tommy Womack: It was terrific. I think I’ve stumbled upon a new way to play a gig. And it paid!
Cincy Groove: Tell me who is in the Wild Ponies and how did you meet them?
Tommy Womack: Doug & Telisha Williams play guitar and bass and sing. They’re pretty much trad country. They’re from Virginia and they’re lovely people. They changed their name to the Wild Ponies maybe a year ago. They live in East Nashville now and have really become part of the community.
Cincy Groove: How did it feel to go back on tour with Government Cheese?
Tommy Womack: The Cheeseness back in my life is a beautiful thing. We’ve finished our new album and it sounds fantastic. Brad Jones did a great job of producing us. Our last show in Louisville may have been the best Government Cheese show ever. I’m really lucky to still have that band in my life.
Cincy Groove: I really enjoy your weekly videos, when did you start doing that?
Tommy Womack: I started doing the Monday Morning Cup of Coffee as a promotional tool for my last solo record “Now What!” in 2012. It caught on. That’s a fairly successful web series. I hear from people all the time who watch it faithfully.
Cincy Groove: You seem incredibly busy, what projects are you working on at the moment?
Tommy Womack: I’m ghostwriting a book and playing gigs. And Government Cheese just made an album. I’m going to Key West at the end of the month to play Meeting Of The Minds, a convention of Jimmy Buffett Parrotheads. I can’t wait to get the ghostwriting down with so I can focus myself back on my own book that has been on the back burner for a while. A thing about what I do is that it often looks busier than it is. I have a lot of downtime and I watch too much television.
Cincy Groove: How do you feel about Studio A being saved? Have you recorded there before?
Tommy Womack: Never recorded at Studio A. I don’t know how I feel about it. I know I SHOULD be jumping up and down to save it, but I never really followed that era of country music (or any era of county music) and I don’t have the attachment to the place that a lot of people feel. I wish it could be saved but I don’t see that happening. This town is growing like a weed, construction sites everywhere. Somebody told me Nashville’s economy is growing at twice the rate of the national average. I believe it.
Cincy Groove: When you are writing songs, do you usually just do it whenever the spark hits or do you try to put yourself in a certain environment?
Tommy Womack: Both ways. I’ll sit down and decide I’m going to write something and then sometimes a song walks up behind me and taps me on the shoulder.
Cincy Groove: How do you feel about how the internet has changed the old way of doing things in the music business? You seem to have embraced it quite well.
Tommy Womack: I love it and I hate it. I love that there’s nobody telling me how my record should sound and nobody telling me what songs should be on it, but I miss the days of a record label signing you and making your life a party for a while. I miss hit singles on the radio, and I miss most of all people going out to clubs to hear music. They don’t do that so much, especially my audience, which is older. People sit at home and play Angry Birds or binge-watch Netflix.
Cincy Groove: What would you consider one of your favorite performances? one of your least favorite?
Tommy Womack: Any house concert with a sold-out “crowd” is great. The Government Cheese shows we just did were as good as it gets. Least favorite? Any gig in a dive with five people there, two of whom are talking all the time while you’re trying to play. Honorable mention: playing in Todd Snider’s band doing Letterman. You have a three-minute commercial break in which to set up all your shit and tune up. The pressure was awful. Oh, and they keep them temperature on the soundstage a constant 49 degrees. I’ll be happy to never do Letterman again.
Cincy Groove: What has been one of the most strangest experiences you have had on the road?
Tommy Womack: In Brooklyn in ’99 my engine went out, the mechanic locked my keys in the car, he had to bash out a back window to get in. They fixed my engine but couldn’t guarantee it would start if I cut it off, so I drove in a blinding rainstorm from Brooklyn to Boston with a bashed-out back window, filling up at gas stations without cutting the engine off, and then once I got to Boston, I spent 90 minutes in a fruitless quest to find the Kendall Cafe and do my gig. I’d never spent 90 minutes before just trying to find the venue. When I finally found the place, the gig was long over and I sat down at a table and just cried. That was the worst day on the road ever. Except maybe for that day in Hoboken, and let’s just not get into that.