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The Art of the Hang: Tommy Womack Talks His Nashville Manual for Stardom to Oxford American

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Jan 20, 2014 05:10 PM EST

Let's change gears for a second. In fact, let's hop on another train and take it further south, from the Big Apple to Music City, Tenn. Yes, I am speaking of none other than the heel-toe clicking Nashville--city of lights, dreams and music.

But before we buy our tickets, allow me to interject with my own story.

I've been a musician since I was nine years old. (The story of my first guitar is already published in the archives here on Classicalite, so I will spare you the pain of redundancy.) And I came into understanding something very early on about music that made me think this was the right path, the way to fulfillment and bliss.

I learned blues scales to get myself going, branching off onto "One Headlight" from Jakob Dylan's Wallflowers, making my way through Santana's mystifying bolero of "Black Magic Woman" and, ultimately, finding a deep sensibility in Johnny Cash and Port Wagoner. While I may have learned to fret a guitar, I discovered something much more profound.

You could learn something from this, from these words and stories of earlier musicians. Much of the problem with music today, I feel, is the immediacy of it. Most people don't want to hear music anymore, they just want a song every now and then.

I spent my youth learning technique and style, and I began to write songs and play in bands. My taste became that of the trendy screamo/post-hardcore sub-genres, but I found my way back on track with Bob Dylan. But playing in these bands, I came to understand yet another thing about music: It comes secondary when in a band.

Now, that isn't to say it's not the life force of a group--obviously--but being able to hang out with your bandmates (being the kind of person that when people are asked, "with whom do you want to write?") it's your name that comes first. Not your buddy's.

While I continue my musical endeavor through myriad songs, countless un-recordable hooks never deserving to see the light of day and tunes undeserving of even a Rebecca Black feature, I've come to realize that it's all about The Art of the Hang.

It's a time-old maxim: "There's always someone better." And I'm here to validate the truth of this adage. Yes, your music must be unique and central to yourself--that's what this is all about, idiosyncrasy. If you're a pain-in-the-ass to work with or be around, even if you're Clive Davis, people will rather a swift kick in the groin to your presence.

The Art of the Hang is essential in all formats: music, visual art, painting, sculpting, acting, hell, even cooking for that matter. Tommy Womack and I would agree on this stage, and a new article on the Oxford American website confirms this truth--from one musician to another.

Let's move, now, from Jersey and New York to Nashville. While I lay no claim to this foreign land, I was able to receive a first-hand look into a very similar culture of music-making and hanging.

"Now, say you play or sing really well. If you're good enough to back somebody up or play in the recording studio, then this is the town for you," recounts Womack. "That's not enough, though. Everybody plays and sings great; that's a given. But you get jobs because you're a good hang, relaxed and easy to deal with. Charlie Watts once described his career in the Rolling Stones as 'five years of work and 25 years of hanging around.'"

"That sounds about right," he continues.

The greatest of competitors in the music realm are there for exactly that. To compete. And you might be great, but there's someone else out there that's equally great, and for you two, there's someone that's double great.

Even Tommy Womack felt it. "With all the competition, it's a challenge to get ahead in Nashville, though it does happen," he says.

"I don't consider myself a very good musician compared to others around here, and my songwriting is idiosyncratic (to put it kindly), but I've put in my time; I've learned what not to play; I've done Leno and Letterman in backing bands, played some sessions, had my songs recorded by artists like Jimmy Buffett...regardless, the money was green and I got a check that bought me the laptop I'm typing on now, and it enabled me to re-roof my house," he rants.

So, while the invention of music spans borders, cultures from here to Nashville resemble one another reflexively. If it were not for this unique bond between musicians, then this would be somewhat less meaningful.

If you're interested in continuing your read on Tommy Womack's story, check it out here. And who knows, maybe I will run into Tommy Womack in a studio. And maybe you, reader--not to pull too much Italo Calvino here--will fall into line with us as well.

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TagsTommy Womack, Bob Dylan, Lay Lady Lay, Johnny Cash, Ring Of Fire, Nashville, New Jersey, New York City, Jimmy Buffet, Charlie Watts, Oxford American, Santana, Black Magic Woman, Jakob Dylan, One Headlight, Port Wagoner

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