Tommy Womack – Scorched Bis-quits & Cheese
The wilds of North Jersey, 1988. The guitarist from the questionably named rock ‘n’ roll outfit Government Cheese, hailing from the decidedly lesser wilds of Western Kentucky, turns to the band’s drummer as the pair searches for beer after getting their asses figuratively and literally kicked in Hoboken. “This’ll make a helluva book someday,” he says.
Cut to seven years down many roads. True to his word, Tommy Womack, the brew-hunting, ass-kicked guitarist in question, releases Cheese Chronicles: The True Story Of A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band You’ve Never Heard Of. Granted, most rock band diaries evoke a feeling of “guess you had to be there,” but this one makes you truly wish you had been there. With welcome humor and from a well-earned skewed perspective, Womack reports on the upsides (playing at CBGB), downsides (getting a grand total of $27 — split five ways — for playing at CBGB), insides (the requisite van stories and scatology), and b-sides (his thoughts on the band’s first EP: “Four guys rocking as hard as they can with absolutely no idea what they’re doing”) of life in the occasionally burned-out spotlight.
Between the death of Government Cheese and the birth of its chronicles, Womack continued to make music alongside Will Kimbrough, Mike Grimes and Tommy Meyer in a group called the Bis-quits, which he describes as “kinda like NRBQ meets the Replacements.” (Making them, if I’m not mistaken, the Liquor Giants’ Southern cousins.) “We had a loyal following but also got a lot of static in Nashville at the time because we were too comical for some people’s tastes.” To wit, the Bis-quits’ lone release for John Prine’s Oh Boy label featured song titles such as “Smell the Taste of Love” and “Yo Yo Ma”. But one listen to the latter — a Chuck-Berry-by-way-of-Dan-Baird rocker — testifies to the foursome’s exemplary bar-band blaze. Speaking of which, if fans of Jason & the Scorchers think Womack’s name looks familiar, it’s probably because he co-wrote four songs on the Scorchers’ Clear Impetuous Morning album, including “Cappuccino Rosie” and “Going Nowhere”.
A move several years ago brought Womack and his wife Beth to the city that used to appear in the Scorchers’ name, and like many folks, he has mixed feelings about Nashville. “I like this town for living in it — and it’s been good to me with the Bis-quits and the Scorchers co-writes and such — but I hate the music scene here more and more every day,” Womack says. “There’s more acts than audience, so getting a crowd is very hard, and the crowd you get is usually people clustered around the bar who have heard it all before. Very little dancing, and less money.”
However, there’s apparently still enough of something to keep Womack climbing on stages, as he plays with a band in Nashville while doing mainly acoustic solo stuff outside of town. “It’s still a big kick, bigger in some ways, but I miss the old days, too,” he says. “There’s an energy when you’re 22 that’s different when you’re 34, and I’m not one of those guys looking to fool you into thinking I’m still 22. Iggy I’m not.”
But busy he is. Womack has finished his first novel (“and a long sprawling piece of unfocused crap it is too”), while a collection of high school reminiscences remains a work in progress. “They’re so vitriolic the rough drafts scared my wife, and she made me put them away,” he says. Thus, for additional autobiographical morsels, you’ll have to turn to something else that’s taking up Womack’s time: an impressive demo disc he’s been shopping around that feature a sound halfway between “Sweet Virginia” Stones and “Achin’ to Be” Replacements.
The murderously rocking “Skinny and Small”, a song that perked up quite a few ears at a South By Southwest party last year, is a true reflection of Womack’s formative years — well, at least up to the more homicidal parts. “Eighth-grade gym largely formed my personality,” explains Womack. “They should have separate gym classes for sensitive, uncoordinated individuals. I’d be more well-adjusted now.”
“Positively Na Na” starts off as a self-snapshot, opening with the punchy but poignant observation, “Leafin’ through Rolling Stone/In a waiting room all alone/And you never felt so old/Readin’ the reader’s poll.” Presently, however, it turns into the story of a pregnant woman saying goodbye to her youth, highlighted by the nifty Westerberg paraphrase, “graduate unskilled with a prom dress unfulfilled.”
The liveliest tune of the bunch is “Whatever Happened to Cheetah Chrome”, a punker roll call named after the former Dead Boys guitarist that Womack wrote in his truck while running errands. “Then Cheetah showed up in town,” Womack marvels. “We played it for him at soundcheck one day and he was falling out of his chair, getting a major kick out of it. That was two in a row. First, I write about the Scorchers in the book and then they show up in my life, and then Cheetah! So now I’m writing ‘Whatever Happened to Keith Richards’. After that, ‘Whatever Happened to Uma Thurman’. After that…”