Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Thom Enright. Know that name? Well, he’s a musician. Or more accurately, a musician’s musician. Three of Thom’s old bands — plus Thom himself, natch — will be inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame tomorrow.
Thom’s a certified big star in New England. Maybe he’s not a household name where you live, but if you think you’ve never heard him play, think again.
He was a regular member (and MVP, some would argue) of numerous bands of historical significance: The Young Adults (finalists for SNL’s house band gig), The Duke Robillard Band and The Pleasure Kings (“Duke’s Blues” hit #6 on Billboard’s blues chart; Count Basie called them “the hottest blues band I’ve ever heard”), Ken Lyon and the Tombstone Blues Band, Roomful of Blues, Shakey Legs (the first New England rock band to record for a major label, Paramount), and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band (they made Eddie and the Cruisers a cult hit).
Thom was also a first-call guitar and bass player who performed on many Grammy-winning and gold-selling albums for Sony, Columbia, and Rounder. Thom worked with Bo Diddley, James Cotton, Robert Cray, John Lee Hooker, Paul Butterfield, Ronnie Earl, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Vaughan, Big Joe Turner, John Hammond, Jimmy Thackery, and Dr. John. You can read more about his career here, here, and here.
As an artist and especially as a friend, Thom was unmatched in grace and style. His wry wit was legendary. He was some kinda snazzy dresser, too. I wish I’d gotten to see 1970s Tombstone Band Jewfro Thom, and skinny-ties Pleasure Kings Thom of the ’80s.
Should time machines ever be invented, here’s the top of my do-over list:
✔ See Thom Enright perform “A Power Tool Is Not a Toy” in a kimono and fishnets.
✔ Buy Apple shares at $22.
✔ Kill Hitler.
Thom and I met in the ’90s during his blazers-and-berets period, after he joined Beaver Brown. JCBBB sax player Tunes Antunes introduced us. “You should meet the new guy,” he said. “He needs a fan.”
He didn’t really. He totally had that covered. But I was sold. Long after Thom departed JCBBB and well into his Barney’s-manager-lookalike phase, I was still bugging him for his gig sked.
He was cute. And funny. And he really could play the hell out of every kind of music. I am not exaggerating. I heard it all.
What I’ve been hearing for the past few days, though, is lots of Thom Enright stories. Here’s one of my personal favorites:
After one of his shows, he was saying his goodnights to everyone. I grabbed his guitar case and said, “I’m carrying this!” He looked at me sideways and argued half-heartedly (girls didn’t carry anyone’s guitars back then, except their own, if they had one). Realizing that resistance was futile, he laughed as we hauled his gear out to the parking lot. One of the band wives happened to see this. We caught her glowering at us (we were both very married to stay-at-home spouses, so this cartage business was simply unacceptable). We paused to speculate about the havoc we’d wreaked on her moral sensibilities. That took, like, two seconds. Then we waved at her and resumed laughing and gossiping and cramming stuff into Thommy’s car.
A prize in every box
For sure, everyone in The Biggest Little knows Thom. It got me out of a traffic ticket once, when I blew through a red light I didn’t see because I was looking at a map instead. The cop who pulled me over asked me where I’d been. I told him I’d just left a Thom Enright show. It was my get-out-of-jail-free card.
Whenever I went to any of Thom’s gigs, I felt like I’d won the nightlife lottery. One time his wife Olga and I alternated loud singing of our favorite Enright tunes with loud yakking about shoe shopping, which I’m sure the band really appreciated. She isn’t your typical band spouse, and it was obvious why Thom loved her. She came to his gigs often, presiding over a salon of sorts with their friends.
There were always interesting people who came to hear Thom play. His audiences regularly included music world royalty, and sometimes Hollywood’s. It seemed perfectly natural to see Duke Robillard, Bobby Farrelly, Paul Geremia, or Barry Cowsill at the bar.
But a lot of Thom’s admirers were just crazed fans. When he was a regular at the Narragansett Cafe and I was in my cowboy-boots-and-DA period, I always got followed into the ladies’ head by an angry Jamestown mob that thought I was some drunk guy stalking their women.
Me, I was just there for some dazzling musicianship. I sometimes had to battle my way out of a restroom for it, but I was never disappointed.
Some Thom history & trivia
Thom elevated every band he ever joined, and he was in a lot of them. I saw him perform with two national acts.
The configuration of JCBBB that included Thom was their best. He gave them an oomph — sometimes on guitar, sometimes bass — that was new for them, yet complemented their style perfectly. One night Cafferty broke a string and ducked offstage to replace it. The band had already started playing their barn burner “Runnin’ Thru the Fire,” so Thommy and Gary Gramolini covered Cafferty’s absence with a dueling guitars shootout. It was such a steaming hot can of whupass, the band kept it in the act.
Thommy eventually left JCBBB for Roomful of Blues, who were willing to perform and record his songs. His blues romp “Love to Watch You When You Go” was the big hit on Roomful’s eponymous album of 2001. The Enright era of the long-running franchise was a particularly successful one. Roomful was so much in demand that Thom had to leave, he told me (with no hint of irony), because the constant travel was killing him.
He started recording his own albums, and it’s too bad there weren’t more of them. Blue Teeth (1994) and Intoxicated (2005) featured original material, plus blues and rock standards stamped with his unique creative spin. Thom was a superb tunesmith. He could also take pop songs you’ve heard a million times — “Don’t Worry Baby,” “To Love Somebody,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” — and finesse them into something refreshingly new.
Reviewing Intoxicated for the Boston Phoenix, Bob Gulla wrote: “The lead title track stands out, with some wicked riffs and an edgy arrangement.“ If you want to hear what all the fuss is about, you can get Intoxicated here.
When he fronted his own bands, serious magic happened. That’s when Thom became a really good singer, too. He sounded a lot like Warren Haynes. I heard him wring the bejeezus out of “Crazy” — any vocalist’s nightmare — and was blown away. I congratulated him on it. And this guy — this honkin’ monster talent who could play everyone else under the table — said this: “Thanks. I’m still kinda self-conscious about it.”
I don’t know which was more amazing — the sheer scope of Thom’s talent or the fact that he never got a big head about it. He welcomed any opportunity to play. No club was too small. That’s what he lived for.
You know, the dude could’ve been a raging egomaniac and no one would’ve questioned it. But he wasn’t. Years ago he asked me to write him a press release. The original title was: All Meat. No Filler. Enright Delivers! He was embarrassed and changed it to something not so Mister Saturday Night. Actually, his title was much better: Plays Right. Sings Right. Enright.
And that was Thom in a nutshell. He towered over everyone in his field (literally and figuratively). Yet he was never a diva, not that I ever saw. He’d be so mortified by this post, he’d turn eighty shades of pink. Sweetest guy you ever met, always with a joke and some gossip, always glad to see you. Unless you were a ginormous dick, in which case good luck with that.
For those who weren’t, an evening with Thom was always fun. Once I asked him to sign one of his CDs for me. “Write something steamy,” I said. He wrote: “Hurl, baby, hurl, all night long!” Another time he asked me if I wanted to sing. Sing? Really? I’d never suggested that was in my arsenal of dubious talents. I was quite shocked and wildly flattered that he trusted me not to skunk up his gig. He admired my fashion statement that night — blinding white Varvatos Cons.
I wore them to his funeral. In 2008 Thom was diagnosed with a brain glioma and given six months to live. He died on February 20 after kicking its butt to hell and back for four years. He never stopped performing, nor being a friend to the many people who now have one more reason to admire him. There’s been a disruption in the force, and it’s big.
Text & Photo Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved.
Thom Enright album covers copyright © Thom Enright.
No, you can’t use them without permission.