I got the word last night from a friend that Thom Enright had died. While it wasn’t a surprise, it still hit me in the gut and he’s been on my mind all day, and will continue to be – appearing in my thoughts at times I least expect it and staying there for a while until he goes away and comes back later on.
Thom was a guitar player’s guitar player. He played on three albums of mine, and if he hadn’t gotten sick, he would still be my go-to guy when I needed electric guitar. He played on “Blah Blah Blah” which won a Grammy, “I Wanna Play” (nominated for one) and my latest “adult” album, “First Bird Call”. He could play all different styles of music and was up for anything. I’m always trying to figure out how to do something I have no business doing and depend on the musicians around me. “I want it to sound like this,” I say, “and I don’t know how.” The musicians around me help me figure it out. Thom was one of those.
I love the Providence music scene. It is not a big scene, but there are a lot of really great players. Duke Robillard, Marty Ballou, Vinny Pagano, Bill Miele,Dan Moretti, Greg Abate John Allmark. My pal Martin Grosswendt. Keivin Fallon. Cathy Clasper-Torch. Many, many more. I love watching them. Like I said, Thom was my go-to guy for electric guitar. Before Thom recorded with me, I had Paul Murphy play on my albums, and then he died suddenly – way, way too young. Both of those guys were good as it comes. I have a distinct memory of Paul laying his guitar on the floor of the studio and rolling marbles up and down the strings, trying to get a sound we could use when we recorded Roger McGuinn’s “Hey Mr. Spaceman”. And I’ve called on Duke, one of the very, very best, to record with me, and he was happy to do it, making suggestions about sound and arrangement. One of the blessings of recording music for kids is that musicians, who can be very private and reserved people, open themselves up and really give their best. Given the chance, they are very playful. I read an interview with Mark Knopfler once and he said that when he’s making an album, he tries to be the worst one in the room. That’s hard to imagine, but with all these guys around me, that was easy for me to do. It always freaks me out when they ask me what I want.
I’d seen Thom play many times before I ever talked to him. He was a member of the Young Adults, THE Providence band in the late seventies, a breath away from making it to the national scene (David Byrne auditioned for them, and they passed….). He was in the Raindogs (am I right on this??) which was a monster band including the great Scottish fiddle player Johnny Cunningham that got screwed by their record company and self-destructed. He played bass with Duke, I think. He was a killer blues player, and knew reggae like nobody’s business.
And he was a great acoustic player and singer, too. Sitting in nick-a-nees, the very funky bar in the jewelry district of Providence, I heard him do a killer rendition of “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right”. Just right, not too much, letting those amazing words do their work, really rock-solid singing, with his very heart-felt and clean fingerpicking. He knew how to pull the strings with his right hand to get a percussive sound, but not lose the tone, which is a very difficult thing to do. I know.
I first called Thom to play on “Blah Blah Blah” – I wanted a soundscape for my story “Joey, Chloe and the Swamp Monsters”, which is kind of a child’s “Heart of Darkness” story. The kids have to go into the swamp to retrieve sneakers. It’s funny, but scary, too, and I had no music written out – i was experimenting with sound and knew some of it should be slide and there should be bent notes and weird stuff. it was atmospheric (and also a twisted version of “The Hokey-Pokey”). We didn’t know each other and I put him in the booth and everybody was playing while I was just telling the story in a separate booth, knowing I would go back and do my part again – I just wanted sounds.
At a certain point, he lost it. “I don’t know what the……. you want me to do.” He was pissed.
(And I should say here, everyone who knows Thom knows that he had a very dark streak in him. I only had inklings of it, but I saw it then for the first time, and several times after. He could be a tough customer.)
“It sounds good, I said. “Just play along and we’ll figure it out.”
Actually, I was shitting in my pants. But like I said before, I just put the best musicians in the room and hope they can figure out.
Thom nodded and went back to work. And he came up with great stuff. After the session he called and asked if he could come back in, saying he had some more ideas. He knew that I trusted him. How could I not?
Thom got diagnosed with cancer several years ago – he started getting headaches while he was driving the shuttle bus at the Providence airport (further proof that justice is hard to come by in this world) It was a bad kind, and he lived longer than the doctors said he would. He played more music but knew he was going. I wasn’t really close to him, so mostly heard through others what he was going through, though we did talk several times.
I should have called him more, but like I said, he was a private person, and it’s difficult to name things, sometimes.
Which is why I’m doing this here.
Thanks Thom. I’ll miss you.