So many people have asked Tom Doughty to tell his story about how and why he still plays the guitar, wondering what drags him to it and keeps him doing this marvellous, yet difficult, challenging yet wonderful art form. After much persuasion (1 mug of tea and 2 jammy dodgers) Tom has finally and somewhat reluctantly agreed to answer these questions so here’s part of his story so far…
The music part…to start with:-
Basics: - He’s got his web sites: www.tomdoughty.com (well worth a look and listen) and www.myspace.com/tomdoughty and should you choose to Google him, he says that you might be lucky enough to find his toad sexing technique and hedgehog pie recipes! (I told you his music is just a part of him – his sense of humour is a whole other article)
Anyway with Tom’s help I’ll try to sum up Tom Doughty and what is he about.
So here goes….To start with, simply he is an exceptional acoustic lap slide player and singer. Tom himself would be modest enough to say that he has a unique
“Developing style” and since it’s still developing you’ll find that that’s what keeps it fresh –
Certainly he is the only one playing like he does … Carry on reading and see why!
Tom has just turned fifty, so he’ll admit he’s already out of the young and pretty brigade that nowadays seems to be a credential for making music – (seems a bit strange as it’s something we listen to!) He has a mongrel dog called Frank who comes from Ireland so Tom’s convinced he brings a bit of a Celtic influence from across the water. (He’s also got a girlfriend Caroline, and although not Irish, is just as good an influence on Tom himself.)
Music is what Tom does, most days anyway. He gigs, records, teaches a bit, enjoys session work, jams, composes, tries to write lyrics and succeeds. He’s influenced by everything but mostly acoustic blues, American standards like Joplin, Cole Porter, Gershwin, Rock, Folk, Jazz, Indian, Classical, Latin American, Cuban and African. You may have noticed that he’s not that keen on Country although he quite likes Somerset ! He likes Alison Kraus and Gillian Welch, but won’t pretend to dig Opera though most other stuff can grab him – after all isn’t that what music is supposed to do? Tom says his father used to make him listen to Jim Reeves, Beethoven, Baez and even Woody Guthrie which certainly makes for a varied cross section!
So, quite simply it’s in him. The music was always just there.
When Tom was 7, his mother bought him a guitar from a yard sale and he says he ‘sort of’ learned to play it. He listened a lot to records, mostly his brother’s (who is nine years older). Amongst the Folk, Blues and Pop stuff his brother had collected was the LP 'With the Beatles'. Tom still remembers being able to hear and play the main riff from the opening track, ‘Money’- Tom himself says “I was hooked!” Rather like a rabbit in the headlights he feels there was just no escape and he was soon picking up bits from books and listening to the likes of Davey Graham, Bert Jansch, and John Renbourn – He feels he was trying to capture their sound since he remembers learning a “sort of” “Angie”. But he now realises that all of his own music is a ‘sort of’ or a 'sounds a bit like' . But after many years Tom’s music is now all his own sound.
Tom grew up, his playing grew with him and before he knew it he had turned into a testosterone fuelled, invincible 17 year old motorcyclist.
For us all hindsight is a wonderful thing and now Tom’s says it’s easy to see how he might have fallen off the bike many times and true to form he did. One time Big Style.
At the time Tom was an apprentice and modesty prevents him from saying that he was a half-decent finger style guitarist, mit mandolin player, a dinghy sailor, a runner and being testosterone fuelled teenager, a sex maniac. (As you can see modesty didn’t quite win !)
The motorcycle accident caused a spinal cord injury to Tom’s neck which resulted in permanent paralysis from the chest downwards. Like anyone who has a spinal cord injury, he was abruptly faced with a number of major life changing consequences, but one of the most difficult for him, was the prospect of not being a musician since his hands were seriously impaired. And this is how his unique playing style slowly originated.
However, first and foremost Tom says he is an optimist and secondly he was still alive. (I pointed out it might be better to be alive first and then optimistic! ) He was
still keen to give life a good swing around by the tail. He soon realised that he would be always using a wheelchair but thought of it primarily as a tool to get around with.
He could and would attempt to continue with his life in the most ordinary fashion possible. The most prominent realisation he recalls is that he was the same person, but with a new set of challenges, frustrations and priorities to those he had before.
Pretty impressive thinking for a seventeen year old!
At the time, being unable to play the guitar Tom found expressing true individuality, was his biggest challenge and frustration. For a few years guitars hung around on walls and music swirled in his head, sometimes pleasantly, sometimes like a whirlpool with no way of physical escape. Being unable to bear this frustration any longer, he had someone pass him a guitar off the wall and started tuning it to an open chord. Tom remembers feeling afraid of it.
To conquer the fear he just decided that he would and could play the guitar. That was it , He could and he would - He just needed to start…..
Looking back he thinks he heard some bottleneck playing at one time, certainly there was mainstream rock with slide on a Stratocaster or something… The likes of Clapton and Chris Rea all clean around the twelfth fret and he vaguely remembers black and white films and Hula girl’s from some Hawaiian music on the old television set.
He never lost his self-belief or enthusiasm.
The thing is Tom can’t move the fingers on his left hand, at all. His right hand has very limited strength and movement. What there is on his right hand is claw-like and his thumb only has about 40% of the movement of an 'ordinary' one. And he plays the guitar.
On attempting bottleneck style-ish, Tom put a tube on the index finger of his left hand – He says that initially out of ten attempts seven were really awful, of the remaining three one was so-so, another made him want to throw the guitar out the window and the last made him feel really good inside, and understandably a little emotional. It was that one good result that made it easier to tackle the other nine - so he carried on trying. This was around 1980 and he did this guitar thing every couple of days - maybe twice a week. It became a real challenge.
In 1982, Tom was working in the buying office of an old employer but he was bored and he was at a stage in his life where he wanted to understand about who and where he was in the world. He left the job and went to University to study Sociology. He carried on and did the guitar thing. It was improving although he was still a little bit scared. ( He thinks that might have been a combination of déjà vu and the thought that he wasn't really playing it. )
The career change was a good thing for Tom. He grew a lot and the more he learned
the more he started to ‘de-mystify’ life –Tom likes making sense of things.
He was also making a bit of sense of a few folk songs he used to know when he was younger. He found some chords and sounds that he liked. A good friend of his, Jane Blackburn, had a friend whose father owned a guitar shop in Canada. They sent him a shiny resonator guitar that looked a bit like one on the Dire Straits album, it cost £200.00. He tells me it was a Dobro and at first it looked as if it was a bit serious. He was still a bit frightened.
After the degree, in terms of career, he got a new job in Social Work, got promoted, all that malarkey. He stayed with it successfully until 1999, when he left that profession to devote more of his time (at last) to music.
Over that 15 year period, Tom’s guitar playing had developed, he was listening to all sorts of slide guitar music and he started playing songs and tunes that he knew - most of them were just in his head and he needed to build them an escape route. His arms and hands were the escape tunnel to the world of music creation and sound. Now out of the ten times of playing, only six would be rubbish, two would be O.K. one would be good and one felt really exciting – at last he felt he was on to something but he still didn’t know if he was playing the ‘damn’ guitar or not. He was married then and his wife didn’t know either - (He wonders if maybe that had anything to do with their divorce!)
In 1999 Tom heard of a New York guitarist called Woody Mann who was going to run a Guitar Workshop in the UK. By now he was single and living alone, and with time to devote to working a lot on the guitar Tom took himself along to his first ever Guitar Workshop, run by this bloke Woody Mann. It was being held in Birkenhead as part of the Wirral International Guitar Festival.
November 1999, a pivotal day. Tom was a bit frightened, for all sorts of reasons. One of the main ones being that this guitar workshop was for guitar ‘players’ and they were going to be people with finger movement who played regular guitar. He remembers telling himself in the car on the way there- 'I don’t have finger movement and I don’t know if I am playing the guitar'.
The day was an absolute success that made Tom realise that he was again making music, He WAS playing. He could play new tunes that he heard and so he finally realised he was playing the ‘damn’ guitar after all!
Woody Mann had been a pupil of the Rev. Gary Davis and a student at the Julliard School in New York. He also ran the annual International Guitar Seminar in New York with his friend Bob Broman. Woody more of less insisted that Tom attended the seminar. More than that, Tom says that Woody made it very difficult for him not to attend and told him he would be an asset to the week of study and performance.
For him it was a truely amazing day.
June 2000, the16th as a mater of fact – the IGS in New York and Tom was there. He attended workshops with famous players like Bob Brozman, John Cephas and John Renbourn. He made a whole raft of new friends. He jammed with anyone and he played the concerts. He played as much as he could and the whole experience moved him to begin to understand something of the emotional voice of his music and the music of others.
When he returned to the U.K., he hunted out all the old country blues music he could find along with finding other guitarists to play music with. He met Paul Wheelan, a great player, flamenco and rootsy, a grow-your-own merchant and a vegetarian individualist. They recorded Tom’s first album, 'The Bell' in Paul's kitchen using a mini disc recorder on a diet of pasta and pies, laughter and weed. The first track was a version of Banty Rooster by Charlie Patten, played on a 12 string, lap style. It got the great reviews it deserved, national radio air play, and launched Tom on a new career and a new beginning.
One thing led to another and he produced another CD‘ Running Free’ which started to show more of Tom’s song writing. Proudly Tom is delighted to say that too has received critical acclaim and been played nationally.
You can buy Tom’s CDs in shops, over the internet, through my web sites and all the rest of it (and you should ).However, despite some national air play, he’s still a relatively unknown musician working in a genre of music that is mostly ignored and less understood than others. He’s working hard on his third CD which is about halfway completed and hopes to have it in the can by Christmas.
Last year Tom travelled to Kolkata with his guitar to spend time with an Indian Slide guitar player,he gigged in Canada and at the Ullapool guitar festival. This November, sees him return to the Wirral International Guitar festival where he first met Woody Mann in 1999. Last year, he was support to Woody’s gig there; this year, he will be playing his own concert in Birkenhead Town Hall. Not bad for someone who for a long time didn’t even know if he could ‘play’!
Having come full circle I ask Tom to finish with his feelings about his playing today.
He simply says ‘It is a bit serious. I am still a bit frightened, but I love it.’