Our friend Tommy Womack lives and performs music in Nashville, Tennessee. Formerly of the band Government Cheese, he now sings on his own. He's written two books and produced several albums.
1. When have you been most happy with your life?
Probably now. I’m a sort-of known personage around Nashville, I have lots of friends who are super-sweet to me, I’ve got a great family, I get to play in bands and be in front of audiences. That’s all wonderful stuff. And I’ve written a book that’s been published. (Two actually) People go their whole lives thinking, “I wish I’d written a book”. Well, I’ve done it. Also, I found a regimen of anti-depressants about ten years ago that has worked and continues to work, and my counselor told me that when I got sober that the meds would work better, and darned if she wasn’t right. Other than that, we’d have to go back to 4 years of age, sleeping in my mom and dad’s bed with the door open and the hall light on so I wouldn’t be scared, and hearing Dean Martin on the television. I wasn’t allowed to watch Dean because (a) it was my bedtime and (b) he was naughty. Later when they went to bed, Mom would carry me from their bed across the hall to mine. I remember slightly waking up one time to find myself in her arms. You don’t get much more secure than being a 4-year-old in your mother’s arms.Picture above: The Womack Family, Jerry age 10, Rhene age 7, Tommy age 4. Photo by Bob Ligon.
2. Who is your role model and why?
Abraham Lincoln. The man was born with nothing. Absolutely nothing. He had no prospects and was seemingly destined to be the same illiterate hardscrabble farmer that his father was. He learned to read a little bit with the very meager schooling he had, and taught himself to read the rest of the way. He read every book he could get his hands on. He worked his tail off, became a lawyer by sheer effort, wound up in Congress and then became president. Also, he was born in Kentucky like me, and dealt with clinical depression (like me) in an age when there was no treatment for it. He was miserable in his mind while the North fought the South and he never gave in to it. He held the country together when all he wanted to do was lay in bed with the covers over his head (which he never did). He was a great writer, very intelligent, and the ultimate self-made man.
3.Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?
My first book, Cheese Chronicles.I really thought I’d pulled something off when I wrote that book and so many people liked it. I felt I’d really achieved something. It made me a little more relaxed, and I was never one for relaxing.
4. Tell us how...you get ready for a show?
I like to be alone for a while, just gather my thoughts, breathe in and out some and chill out, maybe look at the set list and plan my moves. The problem is that not everywhere I play has a dressing room; there’s not always a place you can go to get away from it all.
5. What are you really good at?
Writing. That’s about it. I’m funny. I can generally make an audience laugh. I’m an average singer and maybe slightly better-than-average guitar player, but I’m a really good writer. I understand how to put words in a sequence that keeps your eyes and your brain captivated by it.
6. How does it feel on stage in front of your audience?
It feels a lot more comfortable than being OFF stage. Some of us were made for performing. To others, speaking to a crowd, much less trying to sing, would be a horror. But a long time ago, I took to associating applause and laughter with love. It’s not, but it set in my mind that way so long ago that it’s impossible to divorce the idea now.
7. What makes you a "better musician"?
Learning what not to play is one thing. In rock and roll, if the part you’re playing feels stupid, mundane and repetitive, it’s probably the right part. You can’t be hypnotic if you keep changing your part around. You have to learn how to tune in to the drummer and make all your notes sync up with his beat. That’s very important. Also, not everything has to be the same volume. You should quiet down and give the vocals room when there’s singing going on, and that way when you do play louder, it sounds exciting. This is even more important when you’re a solo acoustic act. All the dynamics and drama you’re going to get are down to your instrument and your voice. A musician once told me that, a) if you play in tune, b) sing in tune, and c) play in rhythm, you’ll be alright. It’s not easy to do, but sometimes people overthink it and try to make it harder than it actually is. Another musician, a teacher, once told me; play like no one is listening. Another told me: don’t play your instrument, play the song.
8. So Tommy Womack, what is your favorite "I'm a musician" story?
I was in Sweden on tour three years ago. I’d gotten an international plan on my phone so I could use it over there. It was 3 AM and I was awake like you get when your biological clock is fubar. The phone rang and it was a strange number. Of course, you NEVER EVER answer a strange number, because it could be a bill collector. But I was insomniac and lonely, so I answered it. Sure enough, a bill collector. Hello, Mr. Womack? This is he. Yadda yadda yadda. I tell him I can’t send him a check. He asked why, and I said, because I’m in Scandinavia! I explained that I was a musician on tour. There was a pause, and then he asked, have you been on TV? Yes. Recently? Yes. Another pause, and then, Oh! Your THAT Tommy Womack! He just stopped himself before he said, cool! He was now more impressed with me than I was intimidated by him. He was cut off at the knees and any chance he had of scaring me into making a payment was out the window. I kept the guy on the phone for ten more minutes just enjoying my victory.
9. Finally, what is your favorite Chugwater Chili product and how do you like to eat your Chugwater Chili?
I like the jerky best. Jerky is good because you can carry some in your coat pocket. I like the chili with beans and little chunks of onion and diced tomatoes. My cheese preference is a little weird. I like to take a slice of American cheese and put some chili on a corner of it with a spoon kinda like loading salsa on the end of a chip. The trick is to get it to your mouth without spilling it on your shirt.