Tom Guerra Loves Making Rock and Roll Records
“The music I love is pure. It is guitar, bass, drums, and some keyboards. It’s rock and roll! My mantra is ‘don’t bore us get to the chorus’ which goes back to [playing] in the Mambo Sons. Anything I’ve ever been involved with was done to respect the three-and four-minute rock and roll song: get in, say your thing, get to the hook, make a little noise – and that’s it!” Tom Guerra, guitarist, recording artist, journalist
“Tom Guerra is a great guy, and great guitarist, singer, composer, arranger – about whom it is easy to come up with a string of fine adjectives: charming, personable, knowledgeable, solid, reliable, professional, meticulous, powerful, dedicated, thoughtful, staunch, devoted, polite, loyal, rock-steady. He is also smart enough to realize the value of bringing in a wild card like yours truly to mess up his albums! We’ve only ever played together ‘by email’ so far, and I look forward to the day it happens for real.” Morgan Fisher, keyboardist, recording artist, composer, ex-Mott the Hoople
“…because he is a sweet heart of a guy and he trusts my instincts and ability as a bassist to come up with the right parts and get the right sound with respect to his ideas and songs. So there!!!‘ Kenny Aaronson, bassist
I’m going to let readers in on a little secret; when you hear a band or recording artist you love, whether on record or on stage, from any era or sub-genre, those musicians on the bandstand and on record love it more than you do!
My theory applies to Rock and Roll Hall of Famers (whom I have met, befriended, and interviewed) to journeymen ensembles to our beloved indie rockers whom I have conversed with, and played with all of my adult life. Sure, they sometimes do a cool job of hiding it – but the fact is they need us as much as we need them.
And ’twas a time when guitarists made “guitar” albums: not so much the improvisatory virtuosos who filled a slab with solos ala the jazz cats. I’m referring to players such as Rick Derringer, Tommy Bolin, Mick Ronson, Mick Ralphs, Davey Johnstone, George Harrison, Brad Whitford and Joe Perry, and their bands, to cite a very select few, who grabbed listeners for a lifetime with riffs within the context of a pop song that exuded melody, passion, and above all – brevity!
Additionally, when we the rock and roll people transfixed our eyes on these guitarists’ respective album covers – we could actually hear the music. And we couldn’t wait to tear the shrink-wrap and set that platter free on the turntable. It is a heart-pounding ritual (dare I say “fetish”) that some of us never lose the thrill for.
So, where have all the guitar heroes who don’t bore us on the way to the chorus gone? Enter veteran rocker Tom Guerra, a rock and roll lifer who wears his rock and roll heart on his sleeve. Mr. Guerra has ably fulfilled all-of- the-above referenced non-boring guitar hero criteria by way of two splendid solo albums: All of the Above (2014) and his latest release Trampling Out the Vintage (2016).
Indie rock fans may recall Guerra with Mambo Sons; an acclaimed indie ensemble also comprised of bassist / singer Scott Lawson and drummer Joe Lemieux. In addition to their stellar sides, one of which featured Rick Derringer (Mambo Sons / 1999), Guerra and his band waxed a glorious tribute song to Mott the Hoople’s legendary bassist “Overend Watts” which can be found on their Heavy Days (2009) release. Watts remains a source of endless fascination to us.
“Overend does not use computer” notes Guerra. “And he found out about our track by way of a Mott fan club member.” Supposedly Watts feared that the song that takes his name “would be by someone horrible like Poison or someone of that ilk!” Guerra continues “he really liked it and knew that our hearts were in the right place, and that’s how I kind of met Morgan Fisher. After we did that song I was in London that same year to see the first Mott the Hoople reunion (2009) and I went to a venue where Morgan hosted an exhibition. I met him there and we kind of hit it off, and stayed in touch. He loved the song about his former bandmate and I mentioned that I’d love to have him play on my future stuff – so when I did All of the Above – he played on that and on this new record as well.”
As he did on All of the Above, Guerra has waxed a traditional LP’s worth (10 tracks!) of hook laden tunes and assembled a backing band to die for on Trampling Out the Vintage.
The keyboardist, as mentioned, is the legendary Morgan Fisher of Mott the Hoople’s latter day line-ups (including Mott and British Lions), solo recording artist, and accompanist to Queen, among others. Matt Zeiner, recording artist, bandleader, and former member of the Dickey Betts Band, renders keyboards on Trampling… as well.
Guerra’s bassist is yet another bona fide rock legend, Kenny Aaronson, who has anchored far too many giants to list, however I’ll cite Bob Dylan, Rick Derringer, Billy Idol, Joan Jett, Ian Lloyd and Stories, and Sammy Hagar. Kenny was also considered for the Stones gig when Bill Wyman bolted in the early 1990s. And in the drum chair is session cat Mike Kosacek.
Tom reveres all his men in the trenches.
“I love these people as players and personalities” proclaims Tom with a noticeable air of fan fervor and professional pride. “Morgan Fisher, as you know, has a certain classiness and elegance about him. He brought a sense of class to Mott the Hoople, one of my favorite bands, and he brought that to my recording as well. Matt Zeiner I’ve known him for many years. Whether he was playing with Dicky Betts or his own group – Matt is a monster – any time I ask him to play something – and I think he played on all the Mambo Sons records – I almost have to apologize to him for the simplicity of my music – he always brings something good to the table, he’s not a musical snob.”
“As for Mike Kosacek, besides being a great drummer, he has a great sense of what the song calls for. Kenny Aaronson is a ‘happy accident.’ I’ve known Kenny for many years as well. I was talking to him right around Christmastime and I told him I’d written a little Byrds-like tune ‘Tell the World’ on 12- string and he immediately responded ‘I’m a big fan of that stuff! You gotta let me have a go at it!’ And what he gave me just blew my mind – it was beautiful – it was like a little song within a song. For ‘All Purpose Song’ I told Kenny ‘I want you to play this as if Roger Glover was playing with Elvis!’ And he knew exactly what I meant. And when you listen to that song you can hear the two elements – it’s ‘Highway Star’ meets ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky!’
Among two of the additional outstanding tracks on Trampling Out the Vintage (a title Guerra pinched from a line in “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) are reinterpretations of the Mama Cass hit “Make Your Own Kind of Music” and a Bob Dylan deep-track from Tempest entitled “Pay In Blood.”
With regard to the Mama remake, Tom’s inspiration stretches back to his childhood. “I was lucky enough to grow up with young parents who loved the music of the 60s such as the Mamas and Papas. One night my mother and I were watching The Sammy Davis Jr. Show and Cass came on and did a great version of that song and it stuck with me all those years.”
Guitarists of yore have a storied history of covering Dylan: Jimi Hendrix, Roger McGuinn, Eric Clapton, Glen Campbell, Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, Duane Eddy, Richard Thompson, Slash, Ritchie Havens, Steve Howe, Wilko Johnson, Albert Lee, Ron Wood, Leslie West, Johnny Rivers, Tom Verlaine, and Johnny Winter come to mind. Once again, enter Tom Guerra to keep the Bob flame burning with regard to guitar player paeans to the mighty bard.
Guerra expounds “he is the most important writer of my lifetime and even beyond my lifetime. The only way I can describe his albums is that they have a rare quality in that they become your friends. For me it’s Highway 61, Blood on the Tracks, Infidels, and now Tempest comes out. The first time I heard that album, I fell in love with it. Dylan’s voice has that Tom Waits quality to it now. I heard ‘Pay and Blood’ and got real excited about it because right off the bat I’m hearing a rock and roll arrangement. All my favorite rock and roll guitarists have covered and interpreted Dylan, and who wouldn’t want to? His songs are a great blueprint for experimentation. We did that first take, it sounded like a demo until I added the Hammond. I envisioned something Al Kooper might have played—which became the glue that kind of holds that track together.”
As such, Guerra was so intensely focused on his own take on Dylan that he barely recognized his Tempest template when he heard it again. “I was taking a long ride in my car the other day, and I put Tempest on and ‘Pay in Blood’ came up -and it took me a few bars to figure out what song that was! I’d worked on mine so hard I forgot what the original was like! I did not realize how much I had changed it…”
Friends, lovers, fans, and colleagues have encouraged Tom to press Trampling… on vinyl, however such an endeavor is cost prohibitive among other snags, yet the compact disc / download at least affords the aura of the beloved record album format, as does the engaging, cool retro cover.
“If I picked up the album off the rack I’d laugh and say the cover is a cross between Jeff Beck’s Wired and Rory Gallagher’s Photo Finish – not coincidentally two of my all-time favorite guitar albums. Trampling… is a song album with a lot of guitar on it as opposed to the guitar hero thing. The photographer is a dear friend of mine from the Mambo Sons – Joe Lemieux. He did a masterful job with the cover, getting that trailing effect, matching the lettering to the gold on the Vox amp…” It’s all in the details.
Who loves making rock and roll records more than Tom Guerra?
Tom Guerra Trampling Out the Vintage is out now on Casa Del Soul Productions and available at music retail on Amazon, CDBaby, and other outlets.
For information on Tom Guerra and/or to purchase Trampling Out the Vintage visit: http://www.TomGuerra.com
Tom Guerra “Tell the World” video from Trampling Out the Vintage on YouTube.Com: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_1zLzia3oQ
Tom Guerra Trampling Out the Vintage promo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZNH1VtjLE0
Mambo Sons “Overend Watts” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9R-eyw3eHAU
All photos of Tom Guerra by Joe “The Cat” Lemieux
Tom Semioli Music Glossary:
slab: deep-rooted hipster idiom for a record album
sides: an even older hipster term for a record album
cats: annoying reference that substance addled musicians refer to themselves as
riffs: musical passages best rendered on a loud electric guitar
shrink wrap: clear plastic impenetrable packaging that often destroyed vinyl album covers and CDs
platter: DJ dub for record album
turntable: device for playing record albums which are suddenly available again in chic retail outlets