Tom Wilson: A Literary Recital in Grimsby, ON

Tom Wilson

We recently started a new recurring feature here at Great Dark Wonder titled “Doors at 8, Show at 9,” which focuses solely on smaller music venues that are ideal for concerts of a much more intimate nature.  Our debut feature explored ‘Station 1 Coffeehouse’ in Grimsby, ON, who have attracted some very recognizable names lately as part of their “Fire Hall Studio Concert” series.  It was shortly after publishing our article about this venue that we received advance notice that the iconic Tom Wilson would be bringing his “Literary Recital” tour to Station 1 in support of his recent autobiography, “Beautiful Scars.” This was an event that we simply could not afford to miss.

We first experienced Tom Wilson live in concert last summer during a Blackie and the Rodeo Kings show, and following their amazing performance, we knew that a future date with all three members on an individual basis was essential (we have yet to see Stephen Fearing or Colin Linden live).  With this show at Station 1 Coffeehouse, the timing meant that Tom Wilson would provide our first opportunity to make such plans happen.  We arrived at the venue with some good friends on a beautiful Saturday evening, took advantage of some tempting entrees and beverages prior to the show, and found some great seats in front of the stage to await the arrival of Tom Wilson.

During his “Literary Recital” tour, Tom has been accompanied by Jesse O’Brien, a Juno-award winning keyboard player and producer in his own right, best known for his work with Matthew Barber, Colin James, and The Cowboy Junkies.  However, with this venue being in such close proximity to his Hamilton home, Tom would delight all by proudly introducing his son Thompson Wilson back home (he had spent the previous six months in Australia), thus providing an evening of music with all three gentlemen.  The packed out room at Station 1 Coffeehouse suddenly became very aware of how special this evening could prove to be with father and son reunited.  We certainly knew that there was no better place to be than on Main Street in Grimsby on this particular Saturday night.

With such a huge and diverse back catalog of music from which to draw material, Tom incorporated songs from across the spectrum into his set.  From Lee Harvey Osmond, to Junkhouse, and of course, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, there was plenty to satisfy fans of all these musical endeavors.  And, lest we forget, those moments spent discussing his book, his experiences, and the reciting of select passages to connect both aspects.  Throw in some music from Thompson too, and Tom had earned the undivided attention of the room before strumming a single chord on his guitar.  Part literary tour, part musical journey; this had all of the ingredients for a great evening of entertainment courtesy of one of the best in the business.

From the opening “That’s How I Walk” to popular favorites such as “Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Shine,” Tom would frequently offer stories behind the origins of the songs; some in depth, others with a brief acknowledgement of the inspiration.  Many stories were shared covering his hometown of Hamilton and its people, his friends, and his formative years.  Reading aloud passages from his book opened doors for Tom to share many intimate and personal family tales, with raw emotions and comedic elements offered as he orated his journey of dealing with the revelations of his recently discovered family history (I would strongly encourage you to read “Beautiful Scars” to fully appreciate these defining moments in Tom’s life).

Tom Wilson is a naturally gifted storyteller, and shared so many tales that it was impossible to recall them all.  One highlight for me was learning of the history behind “Blue Moon Drive,” which Tom claims to have written with the intention of selling the song to blues rocker George Thorogood as part of his plan to “get rich, buy spaceships and have plenty of girls.”  With a pause for effect, and that extra layer of Wilson charm, he continued, “but George didn’t buy it, so I had to sell drugs to tourists in L.A. instead.”  Yet it would be a tale about the time that Blackie and the Rodeo Kings were invited to Nashville, TN, that received plenty of feedback from the room.  Making their debut on the famous Grand Ole Opry stage, Tom craftily built up the excitement and honor that the band had gracing this stage, and how he was amazed at the older sections of the stage that had been preserved due to their historical significance.  Noticing how bandmate Stephen Fearing was performing on a spot where Hank Williams once stood, Tom recalled how he had wanted to stand there so badly, that he had carefully swayed over to Stephen’s spot, only to have Fearing kindly inform him to “stay away from my Hank Williams star.” And with one last punchline before his performance of “Gotta Stay Young,” Wilson would add the question, “Can you believe that?  Stephen Fearing said that!  Stephen Fearing!”

Thompson Wilson would collaborate with his father on several occasions, providing harmonica and vocal harmonies to popular tracks such as “49 Tons,”, “Oh The Gods” and of course, “The Price Of Love.”  Each track would be performed flawlessly; the result of time spent touring together on the road prior to Thompson’s adventures overseas.  Jesse O’Brien would rotate in and out as the set list demanded, and remained on stage during Tom’s recitals to add some backing keys for extra effect.  And after all three artists closed the evening with a rousing rendition of “Shine,” Tom would hint immediately at an encore by stating that he did not plan to leave the stage just yet, but questioned, “do you know how much I am dying for a smoke right now?”  On a whim, he would ask Jesse to give him a beat, before firing up a comical partial cover of the Charlie Rich classic, “Behind Closed Doors,” and addressing the audience about this song title being so ridiculous; “of course we know what goes on behind those doors,” he joked.

Informing the room that there was time for just one final number, Tom Wilson strapped his guitar back on and closed the show in style, opting for a loud and lively rendition of his Blackie and the Rodeo Kings hit, “I’m Still Loving You.”  Receiving a well-deserved standing ovation from the packed out room at Station 1, Tom thanked everybody for sharing his 59th birthday party with him, and made one final reference to really needing to grab that smoke now.  Our first live music experience at Station 1 Coffeehouse proved to be a monumental one, and while we know that we will return for more shows in the future, Tom Wilson certainly set the bar high for all others to follow.

Set List:

  1. That’s How I Walk
  2. Fennel Square
  3. 49 Tons (with Thompson Wilson)
  4. Dreams Come And Go (with Thompson Wilson)
  5. Blue Moon Drive
  6. Gotta Stay Young
  7. How Does It Feel?
  8. Fire Cracker
  9. Leave This House
  10. Cuckoo’s Nest
  11. Oh The Gods (with Thompson Wilson)
  12. Big Chief (with Thompson Wilson)
  13. Price Of Love (with Thompson Wilson)
  14. Shine
  15. Behind Closed Doors (partial Charlie Rich cover)
  16. I’m Still Loving You

~ M

Visit Tom Wilson’s website.

Learn more about Tom Wilson’s memoir “Beautiful Scars.”

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