From his beginnings in Houston, Texas to performing at Army bases in Vietnam with his musical family and, eventually, linking up with Al Jardine and the Beach Boys and other music luminaries, Tom Jacob has built quite a career in the music business.
Tom’s music career first started in his hometown and he’s been performing since the tender age of five years old. His dad’s stage name was Randy Crane and he was a talented emcee/comic. Mom, meanwhile, was Betty Blue, a charismatic and talented cotton club singer.
They met performing together one night during the big band era while performing their way from Chicago to the Catskills.
Below, enjoy a reprint of an interview with Jacob conducted by Jackie “Jax” Rodriguez, which we’re featuring at RockCellarMagazine.com in part due to Jacob’s involvement with the musical collective the Tribe.
Listening to your history and early beginnings obviously you grew up with music but was there ever a time you gave a second thought to what you were doing or what you might want to do in place of music?
Tom Jacob: No, not really. Music was all I knew, however, there was a period later that would impact my life heavily. It was during my teens when we lost my brother Ricky to cancer at the age of 18. I envisioned us always being together as a family. My own emotions got away from me. It ultimately left a chip on my shoulder about music because I really had no social life factored into all of those years.
Between going to school, homework, going home to rehearse evenings, gigs on the weekends, and touring, that was my life; I loved it, but there it was during this period that I got sidetracked. I really didn’t know what I was going to do, and didn’t want to play for a while. I just wanted to grow myself emotionally, spiritually and so forth.
Being involved with so many different groups, performing all over the world, what about the solo side of things? Have there been any projects you’ve done or are working on, in regard to solo work?
Tom Jacob: Years back, I wrote and produced for ABC’s Wide World of Sports for their surfing series, Wild Winds. I also recently wrote the theme for a TV pilot called Be a Saint and was actually hired as Musical Director for the series, but it never got picked up. Stevie and I have had song placement into some independent features as well.
Currently, I have many of my songs as well as Hey Stevie’s material, on my website. I am currently working on a top secret project — shhh!
If you could describe your own style or sound that your songs embody, how would you describe it?
Tom Jacob: Man, it’s probably the most difficult question to answer because you want to believe your music is unique. To put it in a sort of scope of what a writer or maybe a critic would say I would think it’s simply modern rock and songs that are written from past experience or influences. I think one of my strong points is writing ballads. That’s sort of my forte and kind of where I lean, however I’ve written several standard rock ’n’ roll songs as well.
Regarding your own writing, what do you consider your best work?
Tom Jacob: For me, it’s the emotional interpretation. There’s a particular song called “The World’s a Better Place.” I think it’s among my best work. Co-written and produced with Stevie Heger and it’s [from] our album of the same name. I wrote it the night the Berlin Wall was finally brought down between East and West Germany. I was living in San Francisco and watching it live on TV. The song begins with the lyric, “Looking out the window….” and that’s exactly what I was doing at the time. I was watching and listening to the TV, looking out the window and placing myself there. I wanted to bring that emotion out.
Real life experience like that often inspires me to create a song. Sometimes it comes to you in a dream, as Todd Rundgren has said. The hard part for me is waking up and trying to write it down or run to record something at 3 o’clock in the morning. Because, if you fall back asleep, you’ll likely not remember it when you wake up.
Sometimes I’ll have my phone with me in my car and I’ll hum a particular melody that strikes me and record it on my phone.
Being involved in this industry presents its own set of challenges. Given that, have there been any other influences that perhaps influenced the direction you’ve chosen to take in your career?
Tom Jacob: Yes, In fact, at this juncture in my life, I’m actually sort of living a double life if you will. I am now working in Lighting Design for film and television. It’s kind of a day gig for me now and I’ve always kind of felt like I wanted to get into movies or do something on the technical side, like I mentioned before. A camera man or something, but I never really followed that because my trail always landed on the music side of the tracks.
However, opportunity knocked about 25 years ago when a motion picture manufacturer asked me if I wanted to join their team and learn more about it. I was definitely intrigued, so I went in that direction after working a few years behind the camera on set. Cameras and lighting became a mainstay. So I can go on the road with Al Jardine or gigs with my own band, Radio Club. I take time off to go on tour. So I’m really lucky to have the balance of both.
I make a living for my family whether I’m working in music or the film industries.
Just as an outsider looking in, I would have to say your life has had monumental moments of success. For you, what would be your definition of success given the places you’ve been and experiences you’ve had? How would you define success for you?
Tom Jacob: That’s pretty easy for me, and that is to reach someone. Whether it be one person or 500 or 1,000, whatever it is. When somebody says, “I’ve listened to your song and it blew me away,” that is success for me. It affected someone in their heart and when it’s expressed directly to you, it’s so very flattering.
I mean, that’s what we write for really, isn’t it? In fact, recently I hooked up with an old friend, Jeff Rochlin. He has been a tight friend of the family, dating back to Saratoga, a poet and music connoisseur who remembered a ballad that I had written several years ago called “Sometimes I Always Feel this Way.” I recently made a live radio appearance with KROQ DJ Buddahman, Alan Lohr; Jeff introduced me to Alan and he was there with me for the broadcast and the first thing he asked was, “Are you gonna play ‘Sometimes I Always Feel this Way?’ Man that is just an all-time classic!” I was just so grateful. It almost brought me to tears. That’s a very personal song for me and a ballad! (Chuckling) That is success for me. When you reach someone and they get it! Especially when it’s somebody that knows music and you respect. Even more so. I grew up in a family of performers but never had an attitude about it. I treat people with the respect and kindness that I would want. I think that’s gotten me further in my life than anything else. Respect those that work with you and if they don’t work right with you, don’t work with them — it’s as simple as that. I try to migrate to the right people. Every once in a while there may have been some rough spots with band members and things. You either work through it or move on to hopefully something better.
My mom would always say, “Leave everything behind when you hit the stage and never stop smiling.” I’ve always valued those words as a recipe for success, on and offstage.
As far as upcoming projects, what can we expect maybe in the next few months to a year?
Tom Jacob: My new website is currently up and running, with my music, photos, video, bio, etc. I have a new release coming out this Christmas, a single I wrote and co-produced with the multitalented Tim Piper. He will also be producing and directing the video for the song. He is an accomplished musician, composer, producer, videographer, director, etc. I am really thrilled to be working with him on this project.
I’ve also got a cache of new material and some archived stuff that I’m experimenting with. I have a moderate studio at home and I’m working on a new record. I am also experimenting on writing a book regarding my history in entertainment, including Vietnam, the Beach Boys, etc. I’ve talked to a couple of writers, people I can bounce ideas off. There are a couple of ways I can go. I’m hoping to release a book in the next couple of years. Fingers crossed; knock on wood, salt over the shoulder (laughing). If I only had all the time in the world….
We close out our session with Tommy relaying a story from a gig played in Portland, Maine. The group could not find a B-3, which was critical to the show. One was located at a nearby church. As the story goes, the church was described as something more like a mortuary. Purely by coincidence, Tom came out onstage that night dressed in black slacks, black coat, a white shirt, and this Beatle-like vest, so he almost looked like a priest. Tom shares that the group had two shows lined up. After the first night, Billy Hinsche says, “Hey Tommy! Is it okay if we call you The Right Reverend?” Needless to say, the nickname stuck and Tom, without missing a beat, appeared onstage the next night with Bible in hand, which left everyone in stitches. Tom considers it an honor having been nicknamed by his peers, especially with that being The Beach Boys.
He’s now introduced at every gig as The Right Reverend, Tommy Jacob.