My first exposure to Tommy Womack was at a Tower Records in-store in 2000 when he joined his hero Jason Ringenberg for a song. From there, it was easy to fall right into Tommy’s own records and gain an appreciation for his creative songwriting.
I later back-tracked to his early band, Government Cheese, and read about their saga in Tommy’s great book, “Cheese Chronicles: The True Story of a Rock Band You’ve Never Heard Of.” In 2008, Womack also penned a historical fiction novel and today writes a regular column in The East Nashvillian magazine that never fails to make me smile.
Musically, he continues to release his own music and play live around town. He is also a part of the band Daddy with his buddy Will Kimbrough and in 1993, along with Will and pals, Mike “Grimey” Grimes and Tommy Meyer, made one of the coolest rock records ever to come out of Music City with the band The Bis-quits.
Tommy suffered an awful car accident in 2015 and has been undergoing treatment for bladder cancer. But, he nonetheless is a survivor who keeps on playing and recording. Pray for his full recovery whenever you think of him. We are so blessed to have him here in Music City and thank him for spending some time with our 11 Questions.
Where are you from originally, when did you move to Nashville and why?
I was raised in Madisonville, KY. It’s a coal-mining town in the western part of the state. There, you either farmed, mined coal, did a business that catered to the miners, or you got out. I got a grant to go to college at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green and didn’t much look back. I started my first band there, Government Cheese, and we got a record deal and a management deal in Nashville, so we started playing there a lot, and I fell in love with the scene. A few years later, my future wife got a job in Nashville, and we moved down here together, and I’ve moved my way up the ladder (to a modest extent) the last 25 years. I’m never leaving. I’ll die in this town, or in a hotel somewhere after a gig, or maybe before the gig, but hopefully not for a while.
What are the first and the last records you bought, and where did you buy them? Were they CD, vinyl or digital?
The first record I OWNED was “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night. (Mom bought it for me.) I listened to that record incessantly. People forget how big Three Dog Night were. They had hit after hit. The first record I bought with my own money was “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John, and shortly after, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce. The most recent record I bought was the new Bootleg Series Bob Dylan collection, Trouble No More.
First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?
The first was December 12, 1977. Kiss with AC/DC (with Bon Scott) at Freedom Hall in Louisville, KY. My most recent concert, you mean like an arena show? I’m not sure. Maybe Cheap Trick in Seaside, FL. They were playing the same festival I was playing. It was a real thrill to have Tom Petersson see me from the stage and shout “Hey Tommy!” I still geek out about things like that. The same way I think it’s cool that a world-famous bass player and I see the same urologist.
Whose star should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame?
Jason & the Scorchers. No question. They invented country punk. It didn’t exist before they came along.
Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?
I like the Post on Fatherland for coffee. As for pizza, there’s a Sicilian place just north of Music Row on 16th Avenue. I’m racking my brain for the name. Best sauce in town. They have calzones too. Desano! That’s the name!
What’s your favorite record to ever come out of Nashville?
“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” by Bob Dylan. Recorded at Columbia Studios in 1966. (I think.)
Where’s the best place to eat late night after a show?
You have to ask?!! Waffle House! Nothing like a waffle, two eggs and some bacon at one in the morning in a restaurant full of drunks. It’s like Wal-Mart with food.
The Bluebird calls and asks you to host an “In the Round.” Pick three local songwriters to join you.
I’m playing the Bluebird Saturday, November 25th, with Marshall Chapman, Matraca Berg and Will Kimbrough. Those are the three I’d pick if I had to anyway.
What are your favorite music venues to play in town?
I love the Family Wash, the old one AND the new one. I have so many favorites. A new one is Dee’s in Madison. The original Basement off 8th Avenue. The Bluebird is always a gas because the audience listens so well. Douglas Corner is fun. The Country is fun. I miss playing the Exit/In. I haven’t played there in years.
Name a musician who you’d like to see move here?
Nobody. We have plenty of musicians here right now as it is.
Finally, what’s in your musical future?
Cue David Byrne. “Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.” I’ll make my little records, play my little gigs, and that’ll be what I do until I drop, I guess. It’s sometimes exhilarating, sometimes depressing, sometimes revitalizing, sometimes exhausting, but it’s what I do. I wanted to be a cult artist troubadour, and now I am one. And I pretty much have no choice but to continue; I’m fairly much unemployable otherwise. Nobody in this business gives a damn about a middle-aged man market-wise. And that’s a bittersweet thing. I wanted to be famous, and it’s been a hard slog to accept that it’s just not going to happen, but I’ve managed to accept it better the last few years. I got sober five years ago and my brain has changed enough that I cannot be bitter and accept that you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.