Bill Toms
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Bill Toms


Band Americana Singer/Songwriter


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"The West End Kid"

Music Preview: Bill Toms turns up electricity on new Hard Rain CD
Thursday, October 20, 2005
By Ed Masley , Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bill Toms could have called Hard Rain's new album "Harder Rain," kicking it off as he does with a street-tough bar-rock anthem fueled by Joffo Simmons' pounding Motor City beat, a fierce garage-rock riff on distorted electric guitar and Toms' impassioned vocals growling out the story of a faded boxing champ getting drunk at the neighborhood bar.

"It is harder," he says. "As a matter of fact, what I did is I didn't put any acoustic guitars or mandolin or any acoustic instruments at all on the record. I wanted it to have that certain edge to it that you can only get with the electric instruments, that tension. I didn't want to warm it up or anything."
With Phil Brontz adding to the gritty wall of sound on saxophone, "The West End Kid" is pretty much the sonic opposite, in fact, of his previous effort, 2002's "One Lonesome Moment," a solo acoustic affair.

There's a definite lyrical arc to the album, and Toms says it mirrors the arc of his own life as the songs on "West End Kid" were forming in his head.

While the opening track is a character sketch inspired by the portrait of a '50s boxer hanging in his old rehearsal space, there are echoes of Toms' own life in every song.

"I look at the whole CD as a project," he says. "As a piece. It goes from these characters that are in very depressed states and about halfway through the CD there's a song, 'I'll Take My Pride,' about picking up the pieces and putting yourself back together and finding the hope. I didn't write it with that in mind, but over the past year and a half or so when I wrote the record, I realized that's what was happening to me. I was coming out of that depression into the light. I had to fix some things in my private life and fix some things mentally with myself, get things in order. And finally, by the end of that record, you can see, you're looking at the light, you're seeing the hope."

When Toms isn't fronting his own band, he's playing guitar for Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers with any number of the same musicians -- bassist Art Nardini, keyboard player Joe Pelesky, percussionist Bernie Herr and Joffo Simmons included. And this time out, Grushecky even stepped in as a guest and co-producer.

"This one, I just wanted to get everyone involved," says Toms. "And Joe's always good at that outside ear. He's such a part of how we sound anyway so he knows. But he's on the outside listening to these new songs for the first time and came up with some pretty good ideas."

With seven players in his band, including relatively recent add Tom Breiding on guitar, and a background in playing acoustic shows, Tom says he plans on supporting this record by any means necessary.

"I plan to play a lot with this record, whether it's with the band or I do a lot of solo acoustic shows," he says. "We can do duos or trios. It's one of the things I kind of worked myself into because I know it's hard to take a band out on the road. It's so expensive that I've tried to work up a show for any type of environment. Like, I can go out and do a solo acoustic tour, or duo or trio or a four-piece rock 'n' roll show, depending on the economics." - Pittsburgh Post -Gazette

"This Old World"

Bill Toms reflects on 40 Years while getting 'Old'

Saturday, October 27, 2001
By Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Turning 40 is a benchmark in anyone's life. For musician Bill Toms it also marked an important milestone in his career.

"There was a lot of reminiscing, a lot of going back and appreciating of what I've got, both personally and musically".

Those sentiments are evident in Toms' new release, "This Old World", an introspective album of songs about desire, yearning and the endless road of rock 'n roll.

The CD release party for "This Old World", Toms' third release with Hard Rain, will be tonight in Blawnox.

The longtime guitarist in Joe Grushecky's Houserockers has a grizzled, earthy voice that's perfect for the intitmate material that dominates the album. According to Toms, a lot of the songs came from a newfound experience of his lot in life. At 40, he says he realizes he's probably never going to headline Madison Square Garden or sell a million units.

But that's OK.

"I think the best music I've ever made, the most fun I've had, the most creative moments I've ever had, are when I've been able to say ' I'm doing this for myself', " he says. "People always come up to me at Houserockers gigs and say 'I don't know why you guys haven't made it'. But my theory is we have made it. Look at all the things we've done, and I get to play the music I like".

Tom's gigs with Grushecky have taken him to Europe, Chicago, Las Vegas, the Jersey Shore and other music centers. But the experiences that most influence "This Old World" come from the other side of the spotlight. Memories of road trips - "coming home from a gig in the middle of the night from Punsatawney on the Pennsylvania Turnpike during a snowstorm" - are the inspiration for songs such as "Moonlight Mystery" and "Million Miles from Home". "I always try to paint a picture", Toms says. "And in my mind it's sitting in the back of a van for last 15, 20 years, going from gig to gig. You're living for that connection with the audience.".

"But there are many other shows that are terrible", he says. "You're not connecting, you sit in the back of the van for eight hours, it's snowing, and you stop and think, "what the hell am I doing?".

Yet Toms admits he could do nothing else. As taxing as some of the gigs are, as long and hard as the highway can be, there's an undeniable sense of celebration and joy that infuses "This Old World". In "Here with You Tonight", which is build around a bluesy riff that sound like vintage J. Geils, the simple line, But it's alright, I'm here with you tonight is an homage to his wife and to the fans who come out night after night for a few hours of escape.

Then there's "I'm Getting Off This Train", the last song Toms wrote for the album: I'm getting off this train/This scene has got to change/Yeah, I'm getting off this train/and finding a better place.

"There's a point in your life when I said I'm doing this because I have to do it", he says. "This is what I want to do and this is what makes me feel whole, this creative release, whether it's with the Houserockers or Hard Rain".

Musically, it's clear that Toms has subconciously integrated artists such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen into his mix. But even as a chord or two echoes one of these artists, there's a greater sense that Toms' music really comes from his own hand.

"I've been lucky enough to play and record with Joe Grushecky and Bruce Springsteen", he says. "And the one thing they always said is to find your own voice. And I think the secret of that is not to think about it". - Pittsburgh Tribune Review


DISCOGRAPHY With Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers: “Rock and Real” - Rounder Records, 1989 “Swimming with the Sharks” - Rounder Records, 1991 “End of the Century” - Razor and Tie, 1992 “American Babylon”- Razor and Tie, 1995 “Coming Home” - Big Star, 1997 “Down the Road Apiece, Live” - Schoolhouse Records, 1999 “True Companion” – Schoolhouse Records, 2003 With Bill Toms and Hard Rain: “Paradise Avenue” - Schoolhouse Records, 1997 “My Own Eyes” - Moondog Records, 1999 “This Old World” - Moondog/Schoolhouse Records, 2001 “The West End Kid” – Moondog Records, 2006 Bill Toms Solo: “One Lonesome Moment” - Out of the Rain Records, 2002

The Cd 'The West End Kid' reached #100 on the Americana Radio Charts



Pittsburgh native Bill Toms is the reincarnate troubadour. His songs are stories he paints about the human condition, in all its frailty and triumph. He touches the listener’s soul, speaking the language of rhythm, blues, soul, and country, while offering a peek at the light. His gifts of music and storytelling, paired with his creative compulsion for songs that burrow deep into the soul, have his dedicated fans continually coming back for more. Bill Toms' guitar skills were recognized early on. He joined Pittsburgh”s legendary band, The Houserockers, as lead guitarist in 1987. The band’s meteoric rise into the professional music scene enabled Bill to tour the United States and Europe repeatedly. The Houserockers opened for and played with a long and impressive list of notables, such as The Band, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Little Feat and Stevie Ray Vaughn. During his 19 years of playing guitar and singing back-up vocals for the Houserockers, Toms’ recorded six studio albums and one live concert album. In 1995, the acclaimed CD, “American Babylon,” was recorded and produced by Bruce Springsteen. Even though playing with the Houserockers was a full time gig, Toms continued to pursue his own musical career. He formed his own band, Hard Rain, in 1997. His engaging style and gift for songwriting, combined with his consummate musicianship, evoke the deepest emotions from his listeners. His songs pay homage to the little guy, the dreamer in us all. He weaves tales about lovers, boxers and working stiffs, saints and sinners - the soul who sees the light but can't quite bask in its glow. Bill Toms’ solo performances have taken him all over the United States and Europe. His Italian and Spanish tours bring out his old fans and consistently draw many new ones, as they are usually sold out and return bookings are scheduled. Some of the headline artists Bill has opened for include Marshall Crenshaw, The Kennedys, Steve Forbert, and Ellis Paul. In addition to his four studio CD's and one EP, he has a new CD/DVD scheduled for release in April 2008. Upcoming projects also include: Bill Toms’ Annual Thanksgiving Benefit Concert (2007- Darfur) (2006-ALS), December 2007 solo European concert tour Summer 2008 US/European tour with his band, Hard Rain.