Tommy Halloran: A 20th anniversary and a new CD
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - Tommy Halloran is celebrating an anniversary this Wednesday, Dec. 4. And appropriately enough for singer/guitarist/ songwriter Halloran, this particular anniversary is all about his musical history – and is being celebrated with a concert.
Halloran will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of his first musical performance in a club, which took place on Dec. 4, 1993, at the now defunct Bastille’s, a West County club that hosted a performance by Halloran’s’ first band, GraHm.
“That was my junior year of high school, Halloran said, as we talk at Native Sound Recording Studio on Cherokee St. in south St. Louis.
“That was our first gig,” he said. “We had a nine-piece band. The Ska music craze was just starting to pick up here, and we had a full horn section. We ended up played out at Bastille’s twice a month, and also at places like Kennedy’s and Wizards in South County. Don’t ask me how we came up with the name, GraHm. I guess it was a high school thing!”
Like most high school bands, GraHm broke up when the members of the group graduated. But music was in Halloran’s blood, and he’s been playing ever since.
“I knew right away after that very first gig that playing music is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Halloran said. “So after that when I was in college, I played open mics a lot. And after college, I got back into playing with bands.”
At that time, his primary band was the Ambiguous His jazz-inflected guitar work and mellow vocal approach fit in well with the band’s swing-influenced musical mix. In addition, Halloran played solo, hosting plenty of open mic nights.
He also played bass with the rock-oriented Rowdy Cum Lowdies for a time, and continues to play lead guitar with the group, Jon Bonham & Friends.
“With Jon’s band, we play a lot of Americana music,” Halloran said: everything from Dylan to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. I used to play with them up to 120 times a year, but now it’s down to about 40.”
These days, Halloran’s primary musical focus is in his own band, Guerrilla Swing -- featuring Halloran, bassist Mark Wallace, Kristian Baarsvik on saxophones and Kaleb Kirby on drums.
Although the present lineup of Guerrilla Swing has only been together a few months, the evolution of Halloran’s musical focus toward the group began a couple years ago when he decided to focus full time on playing music.
“I had a day job, but I decided to give it up and try to make a living just playing music,” Halloran said. “And I thought it would be possible in St. Louis to make it work if I put myself out there, made enough phone calls, and hustled enough. And it’s really worked out.
“Jeremy Segel-Moss, the guitarist for the Bottoms Up Blues Gang, told me a number of years ago if you can hit about 20 gigs a month you’ll be just fine. So that’s what I’ve been going for. To make it work for me, I need to play five to six times a week – that’s the magic number if I’m going to pay all my bills.”
For Halloran, Guerrilla Swing is his primary focus. But to hit his goal of about 25 bookings a month, he also plays private events as well as other solo and duo performances.
“I do a lot of duet gigs with Kristian from Guerilla Swing. He plays flute as well, and we just played a casino gig. But I really want to feature the band as much as possible,” he said.
Into the studio
To make that happen, Halloran and Guerrilla Swing have just finished recording, mixing and mastering a new CD, “Under the Catalpa Trees.”
“I’ve recorded a bunch of stuff over the years,” Halloran said. “But really, the only significant recording under my name was one I made a few years ago called ‘Moan and Shout.’
“People said they liked it a lot, but although I still like the songs I wrote then, I think about them differently now in terms of sound and approach.”
About a year ago, Halloran began thinking of recording again. And he had seen fellow musicians use Kickstarter (asking for contributions for a specific art project such as recording an album) to fund their efforts.
“The Kickstarter concept seemed the right way to do it, but the band didn’t quite seem right at the time,” Halloran said. “I was already working with Mark as my bass player, and I remember telling him that although I loved old, classic songs, I didn’t want to be a nostalgia band. He told me we just really need the right players - guys who can play in a hip, modern style while playing those old songs.
“So Mark suggested we start playing with Kaleb and Kristian. He was jamming with them then. And that’s really how we formed Guerilla Swing. And I knew this was the band to make the recording.”
Halloran raised $3,500 this past summer through an IndieGogo campaign, and the band went into Native Sound Studio to record.
“At this point, the new CD is mixed and mastered,” says Halloran. “Under the Catalpa Trees” is the title and the name of one of the songs on there. It’s also one of the songs I did on “Moan and Shout.” We liked playing it live enough that we thought let’s record this band doing it. So I also used that for the name of the CD.
“It’s 10 originals and three standards – a Fats Waller tune, an Irving Berlin tune and Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.” Only one or two were actually written for Guerrilla Swing. One song is from my high school days – and my first band played it on that first gig 20 years ago.”
Halloran is aiming to have the new recording out for a Jan. 25, CD release concert at Mad Art Gallery. He’s also looking forward to Guerrilla Swing’s first performances at Jazz at the Bistro on April 24 and 25, 2014.
But the immediate focus is the 20th anniversary concert on Dec. 4 at the Livery Company on Cherokee St.
“I’ve been playing music for 20 years, and I was looking through some things and realized I still had the poster from that first club gig I played 20 years ago,” Halloran said. “So I knew the exact date. And I thought I should try and do something to mark it. So I put the 20th anniversary concert together.
“I’ve even assembled most of the musicians in that first band from high school to show up and play. The trombone player told me he hasn’t played it in this century, so we’ll probably only do a couple of songs before Guerrilla Swing plays.”
Wednesday’s concert is also part of the long-running “Stag Nite” series, started more than 10 years ago on Cherokee Street. The series featured three bands on a Wednesday night with a $5 cover – and Stag beers selling for a buck that night.