Tommy Keene

Its OK with Tommy Keene if you still havent heard of him. For over a decade hes cultivated a world-wide following who revere him as a pop genius. Hes been mobbed by fans on the streets of Japan. Scary French fans stalk him. And its not unusual to hear his songs on the radio in Sweden or Spain. Recently, while on tour in England, at least one drunken member of Teenage Fanclub begged to carry his guitar, bringing new relevance to the theory that in fact, the grass and usually the money is always greener anywhere else but home.

Despite the fact that Tommys previous four albums, three EPs and various singles have garnered critical praise and faithful endorsements from celebrity musicians Whose Records You Own, hes pretty much done things in a way that make the most sense to him. "All Ive ever really set out to accomplish is writing songs that appeal to me, that reflect my lifes experiences in a musical language that I can relate to. Sure, positive feedback from fans or the press is something that I appreciate but those things have never dictated how or why I write songs. Thats not why I want to make music."

Tommy Keene has recorded and produced a new album called Isolation Party that contains a dozen new compositions plus a groovy reading of "Einsteins Day" by long-defunct Boston visionaries Mission of Burma. The new songs were written over a period of a year and a half in-between tours as guitarist with Paul Westerberg and Velvet Crush. What makes Isolation Party different from his previous recordings is that Tommy chose to record most of the instruments and produce the sessions largely on his own. However, youll find various and sundry contributions from long-time Tommy Keene Group associates, John Richardson on drums and Jay Bennett, currently with Wilco, on guitar, along with Wilcos Jeff Tweedy and ex-Gin Blossom Jesse Valenzuela. The sessions were recorded during the summer and fall of 1997 at Short Order Studios, owned & operated coincidentally, by underground pop heroes the Shoes, just outside of Chicago in Zion, IL., and mixed at Private Studios in Champaign. Just in case you care to know these things...

Maybe the real inherent beauty behind Isolation Party, his fifth full length album, was Tommys ability to reflect his influences and heartfelt emotions within the songs while mixing the impassioned atmosphere of his live performances to tape; somewhat of a constant challenge in the studio for Tommy. He explains "Live, my guitar sound is really gritty and distorted and its always been difficult to get that same sound in the studio. I hope it sounds closer to what Im after. Another goal with this record was to try to find a way to capture the vibe of all my favorite records from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and thats not quite as simple as it sounds. Recording technology from each of those eras had very distinctive qualities of their own. What Ive tried to do this time was combine elements and sounds from all of these influences into the songs and onto the record."

In fact, its hard to miss the confluence of inspiration that can be traced from Tommys- and probably your own-record collection. Nuances either blatant or subtle that have helped define Tommys own songwriting sensibility. Classic influences from the Who, the Rolling Stones, Cheap Trick, Velvet Underground, Big Star, Modern Lovers, the Only Ones, and countless others. Youll have to ask him. Either way, it was never meant to be Anything New, just melodic and recognizable with memorable melody lines, thick guitar textures and intelligent lyrical word play about real people and real situations, not always based on happy times. "Timeless" might be the only way to describe the music of Tommy Keene.

And now, a few little known facts about Tommy Keene (by the way, he hates this stuff):

Tommys father (a respected jazz saxophone player) was employed by the CIA as a Secret Serviceman after WWII. The Keene family traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia where Tommy had discovered Rock n Roll. By the age of 12, Tommy had a Beatle haircut, seen the world and was learning how to play guitar, bass, drums, and piano. Tommys dad has encountered a UFO.

While in London in 1966, a relative, who worked for an amplifier manufacturer, invited Tommy to see the Small Faces and Yardbirds. Backstage, Tommy was introduced to Jeff Beck, who was so impressed with the kids knowledge of guitars that he gave Tommy his Fender Esquire. Tommy recalls, "He said something like, Well, maybe one day youll make better use of this than I can." Tommy still has the guitar to this day and has used it on every studio recording. Tommy off handedly dismissed the event as "unbelievably cool but he must've had an endorsement." The two have not crossed paths since.

While on Geffen Records in 1986, an A&R man (who shall remain unidentified) actually recommended: "Ya know, Tommy, you should try writing more songs like, I dunno, Rick Springfield. Something along the lines of "Somewhere Between the Moon and New York City," you know, a real radio type song we can work with." Needless to say, Tommy politely declined the offer.

In 1979, Tommy turned down offers to join the touring version of a Very Well Known American Band for Lots of Money (for litigious purposes, we've been warned to "lip up") in order to play with his favorite local band, The Razz. Leave it at that, shall we? Lets hear it for punk rock!

In 1996, Tommy toured the UK with Oasis as lead guitarist for support act, Velvet Crush. Noel Gallagher asked a British journalist (I wont tell you who but he wrote a book about Oasis and his initials are TN) "Whos the clever fucker with the Telecaster?" The journalist noticed, "Dont you think he looks a bit like you Noel" to which his reply was "Bollocks, but ees not half bad...Bastard!" As close to a bona fide complement as youll get from I guy like him. I guess.

In 1997, Paul Westerberg recruits Tommy to wear suits and play lead guitar, play some piano & sing a little. One Midwestern critic reported, "Guest guitarist Tommy Keene added some sparkle to an inspired set with some superb playing and backing vocals." Tommy still hasnt showed that review to anyone but thanks to Burrelles clipping service for the tip.
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