Tom Rozum Discography
A long-time fixture on the Bay Area music scene, Tom Rozum is best known for "The Oak and the Laurel," his 1996 Grammy-nominated album of duets with Laurie Lewis. With the release of "Jubilee," Tom Rozum steps into the national spotlight with an auspicious debut solo album -- a deft mixture of bluegrass, old time and western swing. Throughout the album, he lends his mandolin, guitar and vocal talent to a great selection of little-known country music gems by Merle Haggard, The Louvin Brothers and Bill Monroe interwoven with contemporary songs by David Olney and Mark Simos, among others. "Jubilee" was co-produced by long-time collaborator Laurie Lewis, and features an all-star cast of musicians including Laurie, Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Herb Pederson, David Grier, Rob Ickes and Todd Phillips.

On "Jubilee", Tom obviously has a lot of fun in the spotlight. And each song has an interesting story behind it. "Don't Fix Up That Doghouse, "was co-written by Don Helms, Hank Williams' steel player, as a follow up to Hank's "Move It On Over." And here's how Tom describes his cover of David Olney's "Walk Downtown"... 'Another one of those fiddle-driven swingy old-time numbers about an Elvis impersonator.'

Originally from New England, Tom Rozum moved to Berkeley from Arizona, where he played many kinds of traditional and original music with Summerdog and Flying South; and San Diego, where he honed his swing chops with the Rhythm Rascals. Since joining forces with Laurie Lewis in 1986 as part of the original Grant Street Band, Tom's versatility and diverse musical influences come to the fore every night on stage with the band. He plays primarily mandolin, but is also an accomplished fiddle, mandola, and guitar player. His rhythmic approach to mandolin especially punctuates the band's repertoire, adding a verve and excitement to their on-stage shows, and has become a distinctive feature of their performances. He is a fine lead vocalist, the ideal harmony partner for Laurie, as demonstrated on "The Oak and the Laurel, "and occasionally functions as the comic foil for on-stage goings-on whenever things get too weighty.

TOM ROZUM- An Interview by Pete Wernick
As printed in Bluegrass Unlimited, March 1996, Vol 30, No. 9 and reprinted here with the publisher's permission. For more information about Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, call 1-800-BLUGRAS.

If an award were given out for "Most Valuable Side Musician in Bluegrass," what would the criteria be? Certainly, playing with great tone and taste, reliably providing strong and sympathetic backup as well as excellent solos. Multi-instrumentalists would get extra points. Contenders would have to be strong vocally as well, able to blend seamlessly with the lead singer in duets and with the group in trios and quartets, and sing excellent solo parts when called upon. Band leaders would give extra credits for dependability and good team play both on and off stage.

In the "Most Valuable Side Musician" sweepstakes the name Tom Rozum would appear year after year.

Ace mandolinist, fiddler, harmony and lead singer with Laurie Lewis and Grant Street since 1986, Tom has earned the respect of his fellow musicians and fans alike for his musicality, his versatility and his quiet good-natured way of getting the job done right. In the words of his "boss:" I feel extremely lucky to have Tom as a musical partner. His approach is so intuitive; not bound by what a song 'should' sound like but open to what sounds good. I'm a pretty emotional singer and he's able to get deep into the material with me. His soul is muy simpatico."

Twice voted IBMA's Female Vocalist of the Year, Laurie made an unexpected move with her 1995 Rounder release. It was neither a solo album nor a band project as in the past, but a long considered-but-put-off duet album with her "main man," Tom. As the liner notes explained, "In March of 1994, we were in a serious auto accidentŠ It made us decide to not procrastinate any longer on things we really want to do." And so with all the trauma and pain resulting from the accident, there is also a happy result: this collaboration, "The Oak and the Laurel." It's clearly a labor of love, bringing together two great talents behind an inspired choice of material, within an atmosphere of creativity and loving familiarity with tradition. In a word, it's a gem. This release also marks the first time Tom Rozum's name has appeared on the front of an album, some 30 years after he started to play music.

Born January 21, 1951, and raised near Waterbury, Conn., Tom was inspired by the Beatles and taught himself to play electric guitar learning licks off records. "I was a closet guitar player all through high school and college." He also picked up old-time and bluegrass sounds from radio shows in the Boston area where he went to school. Having finished a degree in biology, he headed to Tucson, Arizona, "just for fun." He took up both mandolin and fiddle and a year later (1974) was recruited to join his first band. "They knew I could sing. I barely knew how to play a G chord on the mandolin. 'Earn while you learn."'

The band, the Summerdog Bluegrass Experience and Mariachi Swing Ensemble, was an eclectic unit that played bluegrass, swing, and Mexican norteño music. "There was a big swing dance craze in the mid '70s." After four years in Tucson, Tom moved to San Diego and joined the Rhythm Rascals, and acoustic string band specializing in music from the '20s and '30s: "a lot of Boswell Sisters, Mills Brothers... I played mandolin, fiddle, guitar and some tenor banjo. We had a bass player who doubled on tuba."

The early '80s saw Tom in Flagstaff, Arizona, in a mostly-bluegrass band called Flying South that also included Peter McLaughlin, later to be a member of Grant Street. They incorporated some Bob Wills-style western swing influence and frequently played for dances.

The next stopping point in Tom's musical rambles was in Mesa, Arizona., where he took music classes by day and at night played fiddle in a country band with "some older guys who were great musicians. Some had been playing country music for 40 years and I really learned a lot just listening to those guys play and sing.

I've been very lucky in that just about every band I've been in has been successful enough so that I could just play music and not have to worry about a day job. Of course I didn't require a lot of money. That changed when I moved to Berkeley, where the cost of living was much higher. I got my first day job in about eight years, doing scientific illustration, drafting for engineering companies." Tom's artistic skill has had other outlets in recent years as well, including the whimsical and handsome design of Grant Street's T-shirts, and the Singing My Troubles Away album cover.

In Berkeley Tom found yet another musical context, playing in restaurants and acoustic jazz band, Back Up & Push, on fiddle and electric mandolin.

"I listen to all these different types of music and I just take it in and play what I play without specifically trying to copy someone else. I just listen to good music. I'm definitely a sum total of all my listening experiences. No matter what kind of music, I try to play in the appropriate style. I don't consider myself a great soloist, but with whatever band I'm in, I can really add to the feel."

All these diverse pathways finally led to his association with Laurie Lewis in 1986. The original Grant Street String Band had disbanded and after Laurie released her first solo album she asked Tom to join her touring group playing the music from the album.

"I've never had a desire to be a star. What turns me on the most is being part of a good working band. It's really satisfying for me to do whatever it takes to do my part, to get the groove going. I realized I could do a lot to help the band with just my mandolin. I guess that's one of the reasons I play the mandolin-it's such a driving rhythm instrument."

"I was never really attracted to the machine gun style of mandolin playing. I'm in awe of people who can do that, but when I first heard it I said, 'what's the point?' What really knocked me out was the playing of people like Buck White-very lyrical with beautiful phrasing. When I'm doing it best, I try to play like I would sing, and I've been singing a long time. When you sing, naturally you have certain phrasing because you have to take breaths. That's the way I like to play the mandolin. I like to leave a lot of holes, or at least break it up into different phrases."

On tone: "I've been very fortunate to hear a lot of great mandolin players in the (San Francisco) Bay Area. That was one of the reasons that I moved there, though I didn't take lessons from anyone. David Grisman, John Reischman, Butch Waller, Mike Marshall, Tom Bekeny. What I really noticed about these people was the tone that they got. They influenced me quite a bit, trying to keep up with those guys.

"I had mandolin envy. I really noticed a difference in the tones of the instruments. I went back and forth, wondering how I could get an instrument like that. It seemed like there was no way I could possibly afford it. Finally I just made a commitment and bought a 1929 [F-5] Fern and it cost me and enormous amount of money. I had to take out a loan, like someone would do with a car. Believe me, it caused me a lot of anguish, wondering 'Why would I ever do this? Is this the stupidest thing I've ever done?' I had to make payments for many years. Then this 1924 Lloyd Loar [F-5] was made available to me by a friend, and I was able to sell the other mandolin and get this one. Now I feel that it's the smartest thing I've ever done." Tom also plays a recently-made F-5 by Steve Gilchrist, commenting, "He's really a great builder."

Everyone suffers misfortunes at times, but the one that beset Tom in early 1993 cast an especially dark shadow on a devoted career musician:

"I started noticing my ear was clogged up. It wouldn't go away. Then when I was in East Germany with the band, I got up from the bed in my hotel and the room started spinning. I had this intense vertigo. Back in the states I was diagnosed with Menierè's syndrome. It's a set of symptoms. They don't know what causes it. I've lost at least half of my hearing in my left ear, and what's left is mostly distorted. There's ringing in my ear, and when I sing high, it distorts in my head. I also have to deal with the dizziness from time to time."

"It's taken me a couple of years to try to work around that, and still sing and play. It's an attitude thing. At first it devastated me and I had a real hard time just concentrating on anything, and trying to sing. At gigs, if the monitor system wasn't right and I couldn't hear very well, I had a rough time singing. It made me very nervous. But I noticed that the more I tried to just rise above the problems, I could do it somewhat. I try not to let it get to me. There are guys who paint pictures with a paintbrush in their mouth. Things can be done, and given the choice of not playing music and playing music, I went for playing music. Mostly it's concentration and blocking out unwanted noise.

"The prognosis is not all that great. With some people the hearing just goes. I don't really know, and I'm just trying to do what I can do right now. I have to get a lot of sleep. I have an extremely low salt diet. It's kind of tough when you're touring to try to find some food with no salt. No caffeine or alcohol. I've had to train myself to lead the life of a saint (laughs). I'm on my way to sainthood! I've had to try to clean up my act, and I've always lived a pretty healthy life. I've tried acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

March 15, 1994, traveling the road home with the band from a gig in Arizona, Tom was listening to some self-help tapes on relaxation, lying on the back seat with no seat belt, when fate struck again. The car lost control and began to roll and crash. Tom was thrown 30 feet. "It was extremely lucky that I didn't have a spinal cord injury or that the car didn't run over me. My HMO flew me directly to Oakland in a private plane where I had a series of operations and then a lot of rehab. I broke my right wrist-my mandolin tremolo wrist, my right shoulder blade, I fractured the femur head of my left leg, dislocated my hip a couple of times, and completely tore the ligaments in my other knee. I was in the hospital for a month and a nursing facility another month. In May I played a gig with the band sitting down. It really felt great, but for a while I still couldn't travel. I was back full-time with the band by July."

Most of the year following the accident, Tom used a walking stick to help him get around. In fact, one of the most poignant parts of recent Grant Street shows has been his emotive solo vocal on "My Walking Stick," an Irving Berlin chestnut with the key line: "Without my walking stick I'd go insane."

"I have a new respect for life. I realized as a lot of people do when you get older that we only have a very short time to be here, and life can be taken away at any moment. I'm just happy to be playing music. It's something that I want to keep doing even though it's hard, especially as a touring musician. I've got a hard skull or something. I just want to keep doing it."

"A lot of people ask me, am I getting back [to] 100 percent. There's a lot of stuff I can't do. I can't run, which I really used to enjoy doing. I used to jog every other day. Now I swim and I use a stationary bike, but it's hard to do that on the road. Between the accident and the ear, the ear is definitely the hardest thing to deal with.

"One thing that Laurie and I realized immediately was that there were a lot of people out there that really cared about us. It was just an incredible feeling. Even though we were really beat up, the fact that all these people were pulling for us made us feel like we could get through anything. She was hurting very badly but it was very clear for her that she could be doing this again. She was just going to do it. She was back touring a month later. Her resilience was inspirational. It made me want to do it too. And it was great to get cards and letters and flowers from people all over the country. I can't tell you how great it felt. There's no way to describe that."

Within a year after the accident, Laurie and Tom were in the studio bringing their dream of a duet album to reality. The Oak and the Laurel overflows with the feeling of musical soul mates energized by inspiring material and the first quality support of their musical allies and friends.

"I'm the only member of Grant Street who's been in the band since Laurie has been the leader. Our singing has become easier and easier the more we sing together. We would sing lots of songs together that we wouldn't do on stage. On stage we tend to do more songs that Laurie has written, because that's one of the main reason's we're out there. But there's a whole collection of things we like, such as 'Texas Girl', from the Carter Family, 'So Sad to Watch Good Love Go Bad,' by the Everly Brothers. 'The Lighthouse' is a song by David West of the Cache Valley Drifters, that I liked the first time I heard it. Right now my two favorites might be 'Sleepy Eyes,' a Mark Simos song, and 'Millionaire' a David Olney song.

"I've always liked duets, and the fact that I could sing on this album with Laurie and be on every cut with her is a big privilege. I've always liked recordings with more than one lead singer. Maybe it goes back as far as my listening to the Beatles. The total of two voices blending is greater than the sum of the parts. Duets are really fun. I like all kinds of harmony singing, but paring it down makes it more intimate. We also used fewer instruments than usual. You can hear the instruments and the voices better."

Tom speaks wistfully of his younger brother Alex, who died of cancer in 1988 just after recording a solo record of original rock music for Warner Bros. "Alex was a great singer as well as a songwriter and I probably have never sung with anyone so effortlessly as with him. We grew up talking and singing together. Our phrasing, pronunciation, and musical background were identical. If either of us would try something different, the other could latch onto it immediately. Although we got into different musical styles, we were very close, and I can't tell you what a hole his absence has made in my life.

"On the other hand, I feel extremely lucky to have found such a great singer as Laurie for a singing partner, after having lost the one I was raised with."

In more ways than one, Tom Rozum is a survivor. Along many pathways over the years, with some serious bumps in the road, he has maintained a positive attitude and an ever-richer flow of flow of music. What will the years ahead bring? "I'm playing it by ear," he says with a chuckle.

Pete "Dr. Banjo" Wernick holds a Ph.D. in sociology and has over 25 years experience in bluegrass bands, including Hot Rize, Country Cooking and the Live Five.

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