Remembering Tom Hobson

Tom Hobson
Photo from Quah

 

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Last updated 1/02/2012 
New CD available; Sad, Sad Daddy 
"Thoughts on Tom" by Jorma Kaukonen!
"Sure, I remember Tom" by Steve Mann!
"The Coffee Gallery on Grant Ave." by Mike Wilhelm!
"I met Tom early in Santa Rosa..." by Dan Hicks

Dear Fingerpickers, Flatpickers, Fans, Friends and Family of Tom Hobson,
I hope you enjoy this web-scrapbook/eulogy for Tom as much as I am enjoying putting it together.  Tom earned his place in history and certainly deserves a book on his life, don't know if that will ever happen so these web pages represent my best efforts to capture his legacy in a forum that hopes to comfort those who knew him well and paint a picture of his life for those who want to know more about the legendary Tom Hobson.  Tom was an under-recorded artist considering his vast repertoire of over 500 songs and only two albums that were ever released.  (Special thanks to Jorma Kaukonen for re-issuing Quah! with 2 more tracks of Tom!) When  I was performing with Tom in SF we had no money to rent studio time.  I had a cheap mono cassette recorder and when I could afford to buy tape I recorded as much as I could.  Unfortunately most of what I recorded had so much crowd noise the tapes are virtually useless.  I hope you are enjoying the embedded audio in this page while you read these submissions.  I thought these two songs would be appropriate; "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" and "I'm Going to Live the Life I Sing About Down In My Soul." I am still going through the old tapes looking for recordings that are worthy of salvaging and I have come across one gem in that pile of sonic rubble; an interview with Tom by Joel Sachs on KPFA shortly after his solo album was released.  There is no doubt this is one of the best recordings of Tom that exists.  Running time is 45 minutes and includes an interesting interview and 10 songs with commentaries by Tom.  You can listen to the entire interview here. If you would like a special edition copy of this on CD I'm only asking $7.50 plus $2.50 s&h.  You can use PayPal  or email me if you want to mail a check or money order. Please check back often because the submissions are still coming in and more audio will be added as time goes on. My unlimited thanks to all who have contributed to the remembrance of Tom's legacy.  in love and light,    
Eric Van der Wyk

Post Script; OK, I found another tape worth remastering.  Using advanced carbon dating techniques, I have traced this one back to 1981 when a SF radio station called KPOO asked Tom to come into the studio and record some songs of "Old San Francisco" they had dug up to use as a soundtrack for a radio program on that subject.  The songs are mainly political satire.  They were all new to us but Tom faithfully deciphered them.  I don't have the air tape of the actual radio program but I have a tape of all the songs.  There are 9 tunes altogether.  Tom sings/plays guitar, Barbara plays mandolin and does a talking blues on "The Curse" and I play banjo except for "The Curse" where I'm playing guitar.  The last track is a real gem, it's Tom's original composition "California," his tribute to his home state.  You can listen to all 9 tracks here.  You can also purchase a special edition CD of that session for $7.50 plus $2.50 s&h with PayPal or email me to pay by check or money order or for combined shipping with any available CDs. 
To see all Tom Hobson CDs available to date, please click here.   Thanks for enjoying these trips down memory lane. 
Eric

Eric Van der Wyk - street musician
Eric Van der Wyk
Street Playing at 18th & Castro, SF 1981


Tom Hobson and Eric Van der Wyk, Ragged but Right at SF's Ginsberg's Dublin Pub 1978


 

 I started taking banjo lessons with Tom in 1966 when I was 10 years old. For the next several years I enjoyed spending a half hour every Saturday morning under his musical direction. It wasn’t just a music lesson however; it was also a time to absorb the feelings, attitudes and stories of a man dedicated to the art of playing music. His stories kept me on the edge of my seat and always left me wanting more. That half hour flew by and I could hardly wait until next Saturday to enjoy his instruction and story telling again.

He was certainly the hippest person I ever knew and was more knowledgeable than most you might meet in a lifetime. Having read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z and every other book under the sun he could talk with anyone on any subject with authority. His musical instruction gave me a solid sense of technique that served me very well years later as a professional banjo player, but he also taught the history behind the music, truly a rounded approach to teaching.

Tom was extremely generous for a man who never had any money. He knew how to buy books and records cheaply and was quick to share. When he learned of my interest in magic he gave me an old book of magic acts of the 19th century. When I became interested in science fiction, he sent me home with a grocery bag full of sci fi books. One day he gave me the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini which turned out to be one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read! He would also lend me records to make tape copies of and on special occasions he would pull out a 78 and wind up the old Victrola.

Eventually, my family moved from San Francisco to Sacramento and I didn’t see Tom for several years. When I returned to San Francisco in 1977 he was one of the first people I looked up. He was playing at “The Odyssey” in Berkeley and let me sit in with him. After that he invited me to join his band and I played in Ragged but Right for the next 5 years. I moved into the flat next door and shared a lifestyle of total immersion into music. We lived on next to nothing but our rent was dirt cheap in those days. Many of our gigs were for food and tips.

Tom had an adoring following. Every place we played there were true blue fans that loved Tom and would always come back for more. Tom did his best to keep it interesting for us all by having a huge repertoire of songs. He had a card file with over 500 songs in it and over the years would gradually rotate through his material. One day he informed me that I had played all 500 songs and I realized what an education and experience I had been blessed with!

Tom was like a second father figure to me. It still hurts that he left us so soon and with his legacy so unfairly unknown. Tom truly enriched my life in many ways and I am eternally grateful. I dedicate this web page to Tom’s legacy so that future fans can get a glimpse of the wonderful man and musician that he was and what he meant to those that knew him.
In loving memory,
Eric Van der Wyk

Tom Hobson and Jorma Kaukonen

Tom Hobson & Jorma Kaukonen
from their album together "Quah!"

Please visit Jorma's websites
JormaKaukonen.com

FurPeaceRanch.comTom's brick of dedication at the Fur Peace Ranch
Thank you to Roger Wheeler for this photo

Some thoughts on Tom

I met Tom Hobson in 1962. I was twenty one and he a couple of years older than I with a wife and children. As we get older, those couple of years mean nothing, but when you are young, they mean the world. Tom and his wife Mickey offered a safe haven in their kitchen for young musicians to play, learn and talk. Tom was a fine picker, singer and songwriter... but there was so much more to him. The discussions... wow! In all the years I knew Tom, through several relationships and many apartments, the walls of his place were always filled with bookshelves and the shelves filled with books. Tom's head was filled with the contents of these books. He remembered everything! His music was adventuresome, his songs alternately droll and moving. He was one of a kind. Life didn't always deal him a winning hand, but he knew how to play the cards.

I last saw him in the eighties at the old Lone Star downtown in New York City. We did a weekend there together. He had moved to Atlanta and was working as a rigger or something like that. Our lives had moved on, but we still had the music in common. He still played the old Gibson Country & Western with the warped neck that only he could play in tune. We used to joke that he kept it that way so he would never have to lend out his guitar. I never saw him again after he returned to Atlanta. The orbits of our lives never again intersected and I regret that. I still think of those times when we were young back in the Sixties. He opened many doors for me. There was only one Tom Hobson and I miss him today!

Jorma

 


Visit Dan Hicks' official website
Dan Hicks new CD

I met Tom Hobson early in Santa Rosa, in kind of a "bohemian" scene going on there.  I was maybe 20 and trying to learn folk guitar, while also playing jazz drums.  The Apex Bookstore was in downtown Santa Rosa and was the gathering spot for us "subterranian" types.  I don't remember Tom much there, but when he moved to the City I followed soon, enrolling at San Francisco State College and gravitating toward North Beach.
When he lived on Pine Street I would visit him and we shared our appreciation for old-time acoustic music.  An un-official lesson from Tom brought me the basic knowledge of guitar finger picking.  He showed me the actual steady-thumb-syncopated-finger-style pattern from which I later made seven million dollars!
Another memory: smokin' a "J" and reading a "Tin-Tin" book he had laying around, watching the characters float from panel to panel.  This Tom was a bad influence!
Mr. Hobson, a dissipated looking fellow, might have been the first up-close & personal beatnik I ever knew, but I sure admired him and still do.
Dan Hicks, Mill Valley 2008

Read this letter in Dan's handwriting

Jerry Garcia

"A real nice San Francisco guitar player named Tom Hobson that nobody knows about, he was one of those guys that was sort of lost in the folk shuffle, but he's still around and he's still great."
from Jerry Garcia's 1972 interview.
Read the whole thing here.

Mylos Sonka

Tom and I lived around the corner from each other in the Castro and I spent a lot of time hanging out with him in the early 70s. He taught me how to finger-pick the Ray Bolger song "Once in Love with Amy" which of course pleased my wife Amy no end. We were both into scrounging through Salvation Army record bins for oddball 78s. He had an entire wall of them, and walls of books, and an encyclopedic knowledge of all kinds of arcane subjects. You don't run across many people in life who are as interesting as Tom Hobson. He was a good friend.  Mylos Sonka

Steve Mann Portrait

Visit Steve Mann's website here
Email Steve Mann here

Sure, i remember Tom Hobson.
He knew a lot of good songs. He was the first person I heard sing "Fenario" and "I Know You Rider." In fact I learned "I know you Rider from him. Tom sang a song called "Blue Prelude" that I never heard anyone else sing except Hoyt Axton. He had a
real clear voice, that was never captured on record as well as it sounded live.
I first heard him at the Coffee Gallery in San
Francisco. He lived on Post Street. He played a big Country Western southern Jumbo Gibson SJ.

Funny story: I once needed a shave real badly before a gig and did not have a place to stay at the time, so Tom let me come over and shave at his place on Post Street. The only problem was that in his really large
sized bathroom, the sink was about eight feet from the mirror. In order tro shave, I had to suds up at the sink, then do a sideways grapevine step to the left, (trying not to drip), for eight feet and only then could I see my face in the mirror to shave. It took a long time, but I really appreciated his hospitality.
Steve Mann

Mike Wilhelm

Mike Wilhelm performing
"How can I miss you when you won't go away?"
 on the
Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks (2003) DVD

Michael Wilhelm

Mike Wilhelm

Michael WilhelmDan Hicks and Mike WilhelmMichael Wilhelm

     I first met Tom Hobson at the Coffee Gallery on Grant Ave. in San Francisco's North Beach around 1961. I had ridden my motorcycle up from L.A. and walked into the Gallery and ordered a draft beer and was very surprised to be served without being carded (I was a couple of years shy of 21). He was playing that evening and I was knocked out both by his skill and the variety of his repertoire. I spoke with him after his set and found him very approachable and ready to talk about most anything. I was somewhat in awe since at the time I was struggling to fingerpick the blues I was learning from Brownie McGhee. I took him to be an "old guy" though at the time he was actually in his early twenties. He had a wizened appearance and a body of knowledge that made him seem much older than he really was and he spoke in the old time western accent that used to be common in rural California...I took him to be an old cowboy. I rode back down to L.A. that very night since I had to report back to my Naval Air Squadron.
 
     Some months after I got off active duty service in 1963 I returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and wound up burning up flatpicks by the dozen playing surf guitar 4 nights a week in the house band at the Monkey Inn in Berkeley but my heart was really in fingerpicking blues and folk stuff and I found myself going over to North Beach on my off nights and playing anywhere there was a mike open and so became reacquainted with Tom and his music. I was surprised to find out that he knew Steve Mann and other musicians I knew from the L.A. scene. Of course both Steve and Tom had this uncanny ability to connect with musicians of importance, no matter how obscure, so in hindsight it's really not surprising that they were acquainted.
 
     A few years later, when I was in the Charlatans, I moved to Eureka Valley (now known as "the Castro") and started hanging out quite a bit at Tom's flat which was a few doors away. He was one who could hold forth on most any subject and we probably spent more time shooting the breeze than playing music though much of that verbal discharge was on the subject of (what else!) music.  He had very strong opinions on most subjects, most of which I accepted...if I disagreed he would argue point and counterpoint until I conceded, sometimes from sheer mental exhaustion! Looking back with the wisdom of years I've got to admit that he was ragged but 99.99% right. I remember how impressed I was with how well he was raising his children and just how together he had his whole scene unlike nearly every other musician I knew including myself.  Tom had some interesting guitars; some that come to mind are his Gibson acoustic, a Les Paul Recording Model and a Harmony thin body electric that was filled with foam to squelch feedback.
 
     In the late '70s, I was playing in Flamin' Groovies and living around the corner from the Sacred Grounds Coffeehouse (where I was to meet my future wife, Ana Maria) on Hayes St. across the Panhandle from the Haight-Ashbury and reconnected with Tom who frequently played the Grounds with Ragged But Right which included his wife Barbara on vocals and mandolin, webmaster Eric Van der Wyk and his brother Kilo on banjo and upright bass, respectively.  He had a bunch of notebooks with lyrics and chords to hundreds of songs and could and would play any request no matter how ancient or obscure. I think the fakebooks were really for the band...Tom could play nearly any song you could name off the top of his head...absolutely amazing!  During this period Tom did a very wonderful duet performance with the then 18-year-old Canadian guitar prodigy Colin Linden who had just completed a tour in Leon Redbone's band and was hanging in Frisco for a few days before heading home to Toronto.  Though they had just met for the first time they played as if they'd been together for years complete with between-song banter for an absolutely seamless performance. It was clear they were enjoying each other immensely and I'm glad I managed record some of this show on cassette...every now and then I listen to the tape and it just blows me away. I was priveleged to sit in for a few numbers and had an absolute ball both as a player and an audience member.
 
     Tom's health was never very good, I remember that he went to the hospital more than once for collapsed lungs. He made light of these occurrences saying he'd just had his lungs retreaded and was good for another 20,000 miles. I was sorry to hear that he'd moved clear across the country and I'd lost track of him. When I heard that he'd died I can't say that I was surprised knowing the state of his health but I was saddened nonetheless. He did manage to pack a lot of living into a very few years and everyone that knew him speaks highly of him...would that we all could live our lives that well!  Though the public at large has never heard of him the list of musicians famous and obscure that he influenced and the countless people whose lives he enriched is a legacy that few if any of us can hope to equal...a true musical hero.
 Mike Wilhelm luteslinger@hotmail.com

John PadgettNed Styx River FerryMarty LanhamMarty LanhamBob FowlerIngred Herman FowlerMike King and Stu GoldbergJerry BeauchampJerry Beauchamp

Eric
Good to hear from you. I was 28 in 1966.. Tommy was only 25 days older than I. I left San Francisco (temporarily I thought) went to Chicago for awhile, wound up married with kids and stayed in Chicago for years. They were pretty good music years there. Steve Goodman was still alive. John Prine was around, as was Paul Butterfield and tons of blues guys (Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Sonny and Brownie et al). Good scene musically but nothing compared with San Francisco in the good old days. The best thing about being as old as I am is that I got to hear and meet many of the old timers in person; Mississippi John Hurt, Mance Lipscomb, Jesse Fuller, Mississippi Fred MacDowell, Papa John
Creech. Man do I love those old blues guys.

Tom, Ingrid Fowler and I were the first teachers at Marina Music (in '64 I think). And then a bunch of great people started coming in: Hugh Harris, Jim Wittes, Mike King, Erik Frandzen, Fred Barnes, Elmer Snowden. And of course just about every great picker playing then would at least stop by for awhile. Jorma, Garcia etc etc etc. Damn it was fine!

In those days I was also working as a photographer and illustrator. I used to have photos of just about  everyone, but a particularly malevolent little shit stole most of them. I thought you might be interested in seeing a few so they're attached.

SF1: A picker and artist I grew up with (in Duncan, Oklahoma). His
name is John Padgett and he lives in LA now. If you ever get up there you should look him up.

SF2: Ned (drawing a blank on his last name). Played mandolin with Styx River Ferry. Died in Nashville in the 70s. One of the great guys of
all time.

SF3: Marty Lanham. Also with Styx River Ferry. He's now a guitar and banjo maker in Nashville.

SF4: Marty at Ingrid and Bob' s house in SF (early 60s)

SF5: Bob Fowler. Great country and bluegrass picker and singer.
Married to Ingrid Fowler and leader of
Styx River Ferry.

SF6: Ingrid Herman Fowler. Daughter of Woody Herman (jazz great)
guitar picker extraordinaire, pretty damn good fiddle picker, and
maybe my favorite person of all time. I'm sad to report that she died
a few years ago in Nashville. Her son, Tom Littlefield, is a pretty
successful songwriter in Nashville now.

SF7: Left to right. Mike King and Stu Goldberg inside of Marina Music in SF.

SF8 & 9: My own self several years younger.


Jerry Beauchamp

Tom Hobson

I was one of Tom's guitar students in San Francisco in 1973. It was challenging to maneuver my guitar up the stairs into his apartment because the walls were so densely lined with books, all of which he loved to discuss and to loan out. After I moved to Oregon, in 1976, I used to visit him when I was in the City. He and Barbara were playing old-timey music in bars for tips and free beer. Sometimes they'd come home with hundreds of dollars, get all their instruments out of pawn and get the kids new shoes, other times not. Since they didn't have a car, they would usually invite some of the lucky patrons to give them a ride home when the bar closed, and then sit up the rest of the night talking and playing music. Those are some wonderful memories.  I'll always be sorry I lost touch with him; he was one of a kind.
--Jain Elliot
photo courtesy of Jain Elliot

Lisa Kelly

Hi Eric,
Just a note to say I was a student of Tom’s back in 1976 when I was 17.  My dad gave me an old Martin mandolin that I got fixed (George Peacock fixed it the first time, I don’t know if you remember him), and I found Tom’s name in the newspaper.  Being familiar with Jorma’s “Quah”, I was very excited to be able to take lessons from him, and he taught me all I needed to know in the brief months I was able to take lessons.  It was at the apartment on Castro or 16th or something, he was very nice, as was his son, who was maybe 16 at the time.  I am sorry to hear that he died, and so long ago too!  Without Tom, I wouldn’t be where I am now musically.  I have just recently released my first cd, if you’d like to check it out.I appreciate your work on this website!
Lisa Kelly        http://www.lisakellymusic.com

Billy Gerrity
I first met Tom Hobson in 1987, in Atlanta. We worked together as riggers & decorators for most of the Atlanta-area conventions & trade shows, usually at the Georgia World Congress Center on International blvd.Tom was a pleasure to work with, because not only was he always energetic - but nothing seemed to ever dampen his spirit. Warm & resilient are the words that come to mind as i recall his nature. He was also extremely knowledgeable about almost anything. I was only 18 at the time & he was around 50 , so it is safe to say that i always looked up to Tom.
 
I was a deadhead & LSD enthusuast, and Tom was always blowing my mind with memories of his SF days & his acquaintances with musicians. He told me about Jorma & the album they made called Quah, and spoke much of his friendship with Jorma & also that of Phil Lesh. 
 
I lived on the edge of Little Five Points & Inman Park, and Tom lived just west of me in Cabbage Town. We would often take the Marta train home together, since we got off at the same stop.
 
One evening Tom was playing at Little Five Points Pub... it was a Wednesday night, which was always acoustic & always free. Back then, Indigo Girls, Caroline Aiken, Kristen Hall, Wendy Bucklew & Michelle Malone would often share the billing. This had to be around late 1988 .Tom was a pleasure to watch & listen to... and I was always reminded of Pete Seeger when i would listen to Tom play. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the last night i ever got to hear Tom play. I left Atlanta in the spring of 1989 & continued to chase after Grateful Dead on a more full-time basis.
 
Tom was a great person, and had alot to share. I loved listening to him talk while we worked... just relating stories & anecdotes. Looking back, my only regret is that I didn't spend more time with him, and that i never accepted his offer of guitar lessons ( i still dont know how to play ).
 
I returned to Atlanta for the Grateful Dead's run at The Omni in March of 1992. On the day of the 1st show, i ran into an old co-worker who worked with Tom & i & he told me that Tom had died of an anuerysm. It was a truly sad moment, and for just a minute or so, i felt an incredible sense of loss. Not as much on a personal level, but that the human race had just lost a wonderful being.
 
On the last night of the Dead's run at the Omni that year, I remember Garcia closing with a Broke-down Palace that was particularly beautiful. I recall thinking of Tom during that & letting go of some tears as I respectfully bid him farewell during that poignant performance.
 
Sincerely,

Greg, Terry & Simon Hobson

 

Tom and I were married in the sixties, we had two sons Terry and Greg who are now in their forties. It was a wild time lots of talented people around. We met in Santa Rosa and shortly moved to San Francisco and lived at 2111 Pine St.with a crowd of other artists and musicians. We eventually divorced and married other people but we always stayed in touch and were fond of each other. He died much too soon, but he never really looked after himself, a problem with geniuses. and he was a genius. I know he is enjoying this website. Thanks Eric for making it possible. Mickie Pancoast
Photo is of Tom's boys in 1984.  Greg is in front, he was twenty one at the time, Terry is left rear, he was twenty two, and their younger brother Simon who was fifteen.  Mickie is pictured below.

Mickie Hobson

Tom and Bob Hobson
Tom and Bob about ages six and four

Tom and Bob Hobson
Bob and Tom about ages 9 and 11

Tom Hobson teenager
Tom as a teenager

Tom & Bob Hobson & father
Tom and Bob with their father

Dear Eric,

I would like to add my thoughts and photos about my cousin, Tom, actually, I called him Tommy. He and I grew up together. His father put Tom and his brother, Bob, into St. Vincent's School for Boys in San Rafael when Bob was in first grade and Tom in third grade. My mother was Tom's father's sister and my parents would take the boys during all the school holidays until they left that school in the 8th grade. Tom went to live with his dad and Bob chose to come live with us during their high school years. For years, I wondered what happened to Tom so I'm very happy to read about him from his friends. I have attached some photos to my text. Thank you for this memorial on Tom.

Tom was my cousin, although he and his brother, Bob, were more like brothers to me.  They both spent their summer vacations and holidays from school with my parents.  We lived in the country and I had no one to play with except my dog and horse, so I was always excited when they came to stay for the summer or Christmas time. 

Even as a child, Tom was unusual, and of course being different, his brother and I used to tease him a lot.  Tom devoured books and I mean that literally, you could always tell if Tom had read a book as while he read he would tear off a corner of the page he was reading and chew on it.  I still have several of those dog-eared books that he read.  He also loved music, had a beautiful voice and sang in the choir at their school and when he was older he bought records to listen to over and over, his favorite at the time being Johnny Ray. 

My last contact with Tom was about 1964 when he, his wife and two young boys came to my sisters in San Lorenzo for Thanksgiving, they were living on Bush Street in San Francisco at the time.  I have spent the last 30 years trying to locate him, I even called a person in San Francisco named Hobson hoping it was his family, the guy must have thought I was crazy.  I really appreciate Tom's friends for giving me a peek into his adult life and it is nice to know he was so loved.

Kay Gordon Wolniak


Hello,
    I am Tom Hobson's second cousin Linda Saunders.  I remember Tom from the Ranch at St. Helena and When my Dad and Uncle brought he and his family over for Thanksgiving Dinner.  I was in High School.  I always wanted to stay in touch with him.  None of us could ever find him.  To think that he was just across the Bay doing his "Gigs".  I would have been there in a heartbeat.  Thank you so much for this site and to all of his friends who provided him with the love that he so richly deserved.  Love is not measured by how much we own but by how many true friends we leave behind who we have loved and been loved in return.  Tom was a success against all odds.  We are having a Family Reunion on the 28th.  His CD's will be played and he will be with us in spirit.  Here's to you Tom with Love.                                  Your Cousin, Linda


I too am a cousin of Tom's, His father was my uncle and I used to baby-sit the boys when they were little tikes. They were such cute boys and I always felt sad that their life growing up was so hard for them. Tom was always a bookworm and I am so happy to know that he found happiness in his life through his music. I last saw Tom and his wife and two children at my house in San Lorenzo where they came for Thanksgiving dinner. The children had never been in a car before and they were a bit frightened of the ride across the bridge.  All of us in the family have wondered what happened to him and thought about him a lot. We are nowhappy to know of his life and how much he contributed to the world of music. Allene Gordon Saunders

Thumbs Carllile special limited edition CDs

Thumbs Carllile special limited edition CDs
Visit Thumbs' Website here

Dear Tom....
This is more or less a letter of apology to you, and our friends Eric and Matt...I've been trying to write it ever since I first saw this wonderful site....Matt asked me to contribute a few words about you early on.....and I think that was the problem...I knew so little about you....I knew you always came to hear Thumbs play...we knew that you'd had a big record when you lived in San Francisco, but we hadn't ever heard it...didn't know the genre...didn't know you played guitar...I knew you were always interesting to talk to, but didn't have a clue how interesting you were....you and I were once visiting about good writers....we agreed on almost everyone from Johnny Mercer to Mickey Newberry, Chris Kristopherson...Roger Miller came up, and I thought boy, I know a great writer that Tom won't know about..I'd only known one other person in this country (Gene Lees) that knew about him, so I mentioned Jake Thackery, an English writer and singer....well Tom, you said, "oh yeah...I've got a couple of his albums"....I ended up borrowing one and never got it back to you....I'm sorry about that...I still have it....
As I said before, Thumbs had no idea you played....he would have enjoyed playing with you so much...all those songs you knew...all those chords you played..he always had so much trouble finding players who knew many of the songs or could have played them...you did... but it wasn't until after Thumbs died that I heard you play...it was some kind of festival in Little Five Points...Kathy needed a ride and I wandered over to that cafe that sat across the street from The Point and there you were...I don't remember if you even had other players....I was just in shock, almost pain...you were just incredible..all those nice great big round chords .. I was so sad that Thumbs never got to hear you...I still am....
After Thumbs died, I just kind of 'didn't get around much anymore' so we didn't see each other often....but I did see you once on the Martin, came up and sat beside you...I said I still had Jakes album and you said, "don't worry about, we have lots of time".....but we didn't.....I thought you looked even thinner than usual, and not well...I asked you about it and you said you were just getting off a 24 hour gig, and you were just tired..and then your stop came up and we said good bye.... it was a last good bye ....About two weeks later I got the sad news you were gone... I'm sad to this day...sad we never knew you better, sad you were so modest and humble that we saw you in the audience instead of on the stage...sad I still have your album...well, just sad I didn't get to tell you all these in person.....but maybe, if things are as they are sposed' to be, you and Thumbs and a bunch of other good players are gigging where there is space and time and beauty, and nobody telling you to 'turn it down'..
That is about it.....everybody here misses you in more ways than you know.....
Love Virginia Carllile

Tom HobsonTom Hobson

Tom Hobson

Tom Hobson

Tom Hobson

Tom Hobson

Tom Hobson smoking a joint
 

Wow, where do you begin when remembering Tom Hobson? From the beginning, I guess. I came to meet Tom after seeing a flyer posted in Little Five Points, Atlanta. It was for music lessons by Tom Hobson, San Francisco performing and recording artist. Teaching guitar, banjo, mandolin, and autoharp. That sounded interesting to me so I called the number and soon went to his place in Cabbage Town over on the other side of the tracks. A skinny man with thick glasses, a ponytail to his waist and worn clothes came to the door and said "come on in man." Saying you can't read a book by its cover, would be a big understatement in Tom's case. It soon became apparent that this rather tattered looking man was very well read, articulate, uniquely interesting and had a lot to say!

I started taking lessons from him and he taught me plenty. I only wish my level of musical understanding was higher at the time so I could have grasped more of what he was teaching. He knew more about chords than anyone I'd met at that time and would give all kinds of variations and ways to get from one place to another. Every lesson was also a music history lesson as he told where songs came from, how different styles developed and sometimes maybe even who was messin' with Big Johns woman in 1928 when he wrote a particular song! I also came to realize I was getting a lesson in life as well.
Tom was pretty new in town and didn't know a lot of people yet. My first wife made a sudden departure about that time and we started hanging out a lot playing music and drinking beer at my apartment. The more I got to know him the more I realized what an amazing person he was. He read three or four books, at least, every week and could carry on a conversation about anything. He would read anything but had a certain affection for science and science fiction. But the main thing was that this man of little means was so full of life and lived it often with the enthusiasm of a little kid getting his first bike. He was gentle in nature and to me seemed to be really tuned in. He appreciated life in all forms. He would literally not hurt a fly. He would use the capture and release method just putting it outdoors where it belonged! Now this is not to say that he didn't have very strong opinions. It was a losing battle having a debate with Tom. The damn thing was that even if you were sure you were right, he'd spew out so many other "facts" that you couldn't counter or disprove, that he was left with the last word. I learned just to nod lots of times. The poor souls that were serious about resolving these kinds of discussions with Tom are still shaking their heads. Anyway, being at this point a single man I put most of my free time into writing and playing music and began to meet a lot of musicians. It was a very eclectic group with everybody from folkies as long time Woody Guthrie pal Ernie, to Dead Heads, to rockers, jazzers etc. I started making the rounds with Tom as did his friend Peter a violinist/fiddler who knew Tom from Cabbage Town. Everybody took to Tom and Tom hardly met anyone he didn't like. So it was like that. Many jam sessions covering the spectrum. All the good musicians appreciated Tom. He was a great fingerpicker (note: even though Tom would sometimes go for weeks and weeks without playing guitar his finger nails were ALWAYS precisely long and shaped on his right hand, ready to fire) and when he sang the old songs you really felt like you had passed through a time machine. He didn't just imitate, he was the real deal. Although I couldn't absorb everything I would have like to from Tom's playing, I would like to think that I picked up on his energy and feeling. When you sing, sing! Play with feeling and syncopation. Make the song come to life. Do the songs YOU like.

Although Tom came up slam in the middle of the San Fran scene in the '60s, he didn't talk too much about it and certainly didn't name drop. He mentioned he gave Janis Joplin lessons and told her to forget guitar and just sing. He talked about the Airplane some as he really liked and respected Jorma. He talked more about his band Ragged But Right and Eric than the celebrities, but he was right there and if you cared to you could dig stories from him about those times.
There are only a few people you meet in life that are truly originals and Tom was one. My life was made richer by knowing him. So simple yet so complex. I saw Tom as a pearl. The pain of his early life started the pearl growing as happens when an oyster has an irritating grain of sand it covers. He was able to direct all this energy in a positive way pouring it into reading and music. The world would a much better place if more people
could deal with situations in this way. Like I said there were lessons about life to be learned from him as well.

On a closing note I also mentioned that Tom really seemed to be tuned into life. Shortly after I met Tom in the spring of '86, he told me quite frankly and confidently, that he had five years left on this earth. He died in the summer of '91. Although I often tried to peel my way down through Tom's personality, I think there are things about Tom we'll never really understand. Here's to ya Buddy and who knows, maybe we'll see you again!
Matt Miller
Tom Hobson and Matt Miller
Tom Hobson & Charles Little
Tom Hobson
Tom Hobson
Tom Hobson
New!  Video of Tom Hobson performing at the "Freight Room" in Decatur, GA July 24th, 1991 just two months before he passed away.  This video is courtesy of Charles Little.  I have encoded the encore of the night, two songs; "China Doll" & "Poor White Trash."
Lee Spivey-Electric Guitar, Peter Loussier-fiddle, Thomas Minton- bass, Charles Little-banjo

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I met Tom around 1990.  I used to go hang out with Peter Loussier who was a fiddle player.  One day I was at Pete's, and there was Tom.  At first glance, you could tell he had stories to tell, thin as a rail, but with a wide-eyed grin that held a snicker of mischief, and a wealth of knowledge.  Tom pulled out this old beat up guitar, and when he started playing, I was locked in on his guitar playing.  The first thing I noticed were the weird timings, the unusual chords, finger-picking that was kinda like Merle Travis, and rhythm where he'd kinda vamp the changes.  There was blues, fast bluegrass, folk, jazz, big band tunes, swing tunes, Western swing tunes, Hawaiin tunes, and some of the coolest originals that he had written, tunes that are totally unique.  It would blow my mind that he could go from the Carter family, to Duke Ellington, to Bill Monroe, to Johnny Mercer, to Mississippi John Hurt, and virtually tranport you back to another time.  Every song Tom chose was like listening to an encyclopedia of musical variety, you certainly couldn't pigeon-hole him, and he was definitely not just your average quirky roots performer.  I've listened to a wide variety of different musicians, vocalists, and songwriters, and most would be amazed at the breadth of Tom's talent, and his voice.  When he sang "Blue Prelude", it was as if Tom was living the tune, and I think he did. 
 
Tom shared a little bit with me about how tough it was growing up in orphanages, but he was not one to complain, Tom definitely had that making the best of a bad situation attitude, and I think the music was a great escape for him because he could breath life into the blues, he could laugh his way through "I Wonder Where My Little Hula Girl Has Gone", he could pull out some old hit, you hadn't heard in years, like "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds", or "Choo Choo Cha Boogie", or "China Doll", and then he could wow you with one of his originals.  I've always had a penchant for songwriters who explored the trials, and emotions of living, people like Tom Rush, Gordon Lightfoot, Steve Earle, John Prine, Steven Brines, Gram Parsons, Hoagy Carmichal, Jim Croce, etc.  Tom wrote the greatest tunes, tunes that had a way of digging deep into your soul, emotions that went places that many can't express.  Tom also had an awesome sense of humor, and could write the catchiest, funny tunes, like "Grandma's gone down yonder, Jesus never saved her soul, she never prayed to God, or heard the holy rollers roll, when she heard the preacher come striding up the trail, she'd pull out some tar and feathers, and have Grandpa split a rail".  Some of the other lines that come to mind are fragments from tunes I remember, lines like, "While sweeping out my attic I found a few old letters there", "I lingered too long til I fell over you, like a sad old country song that lingers to the end", "Let me cry, let me sigh when I'm blue, let me go on from this lonesome town", to an original, which was his favorite, "Pleasure Garden", where the line reads, "can't one apple be for me"  I think Tom felt disheartened about the music business and that's the biggest loss, that Tom's gone, and he never got his due or the recognition while he was alive.   
 
Tom was such a unique talent, that only in passing am I becoming truly aware of how influential he was to so many others.  Tom never talked to me about teaching Janis Joplin guitar, or meeting Hendrix, or probably untold other experiences he had out in San Francisco.  Tom was just that way, a very humble guy, who liked to laugh a lot, and philosophize.  Col. Bruce Hampton told me they had talked a lot about the good old days, and I'm sure they swapped some tales.  The only person Tom talked freely about was Jorma, and thanks to that fortuitous meeting, we have the treasures of Tom's cuts on "Quah".  Tom knew so damn much about everything, that he was always fascinating, and it's true you were never going to win an argument with him.   
 
I think the greatest experience in knowing Tom was Tom the person, the one who would tell me about his life.  He never took care of himself, was way too thin, smoked too much, and sometimes I'd have to make him go with me to eat, just to see him have a good meal.  It was my pleasure, because it was those times that I really got to feel close to him.  In order to make a living, Tom worked building sets, and stages for the many conventions that rolled into Atlanta, it was subsistence living, and I know he yearned to have made it with his music.
 
His passing was rough on me, I tried to break into his house the day he went into a coma, then later got a call notifying me that he'd been rushed to he hospital.  I went down to South Fulton hospital to see him when I found out.  I gave the nurse all the info. that I could, and I was told he had a massive lung infection, and suffered a brain aneurysm.  He stayed in a coma for a couple of weeks, then the strangest thing happened.  I hadn't been by the hospital in about a week, and  I had just finished doing a weekly bluegrass radio show, here in Atlanta, where I spun a bunch of Tom's tunes, and talked about him a bit.  As I was driving home, he was on my mind heavy, and I went to the hospital on my way home.  I talked to the nurse who said she had just checked his vital signs, and while he was still in a coma, he was stable, and I could go in.  When I went in the room, there was Tom with a respirator hooked up, and a growth of beard.  There was some burnt incense on the counter, and some dried flowers, from someone who had come by to see him.  I sat on the bed, and proceeded to tell him everything I could think of that made me like him so much.  It was freeing for me, to tell him how I felt as he lay there.  As I made my peace, I went over looking out of the window, and after a few minutes I heard the respirator stop, and noticed he wasn't breathing.  I ran to get the nurse, and she told me he had just passed.  I was dumbfounded, but so glad that I was there.  I can't help thinking that Tom just needed someone who cared at that moment so he could go on, and somehow in the mystery of the universe, I picked up on the vibes.  I'll never forget Tom, my best musical memories go back to the time we spent playing together, and I still have some recordings.  My hat is off to Eric for putting this page together, and I'm looking forward to learning more about his life as it unfolds.   

Tom Hobson
Tom Hobson's Brother Bob Hobson's family
Our children are Donna (age 42) and Dan (age 40)...
The bride is Dan's daughter, our granddaughter, Jenny, and her husband's name is Pat.  She is now 22, as Dan was only 17 when she was born.  Jenny and Pat have a son, Dalen, who is now two.  He was a year old by the time they got married.... just in case you're totally confused already.  I'm not sure why we didn't have Dalen in the picture, but he may have been napping by the time this was taken.
From the left:  Dan's son, Danny (although he prefers "Dan" now), our son, Dan, his wife, Karen, their son, Bobby, Bob, Carla (sitting down).  On the other side of Jen and Pat are our daughter, Donna, and her family.  Donna is sitting down, Donna's daughter, Britton (in white), Donna's husband, Steve, Donna's younger daughter, Briana, and Steve's son, Zach.

I first met Tom in the fall of 1955, when he was a senior at Santa Rosa (CA) High School and I was there for part of my sophomore year, getting braces on my teeth.  My father worked for an oil company in the Middle East, so I was normally in school there.  Tom went by the name "Kit" then, and wore a long black overcoat.  I remember him telling me that he liked history and English, and wanted to study journalism.  He made excellent grades in the subjects he liked, but he neglected to attend the math and science classes that he didn't like.

In the fall of 1958, I returned to Santa Rosa to attend college, and Tom was part of a group of competitive roller skaters.  I recall that in the fall of 1959, he kind of gave up skating and got interested in learning the guitar and becoming what at that time was a "Beatnik."  I had a pair of silver earrings that had crusader crosses, or Jerusalem crosses, on them.  He liked them and asked me if I could get him a cross like that, so I gave him the cross from one of my earrings.

Also in the fall of 1958,  I met Tom's brother, Bob, and I guess I should say the rest is history.  We married in 1960 and have been married 43 years.... 2 children, 6 grandchildren and a great-grandson.

Carla Barber Hobson

 

Tom Hobson Death Cert
Tom Hobson's Death Certificate, click on the picture to view PDF

The first thing I'd like to say is that the last time my brother, Tom, and I saw each other was in late 1961 or very early 1962. I was 21 years old and married to my wife Carla, and Tom was 23 and married to Glenice (Mickie) Carter. We both lived in Santa Rosa, CA at that time, but early in 1962 my wife and I and our toddler daughter moved to Mississippi, and Tom and Mickey moved to San Francisco.

Tom and I were both born in the Oakland, CA, area, Tom in Sept. of 1938 and myself in July of 1940. While we were still small our parents moved to Santa Rosa, CA, and not long after were divorced. Apparently neither of our parents were prepared to handle children, so we became wards of the State of California and went through a series of foster homes (at least 6-8 of them I think) never staying in one home very long. Sometimes we were in the same home together, and sometimes not. Eventually we were placed in St. Vincent's Home for Boys in San Rafael, CA, where we remained until Tom finished the 10th grade (which was as far as the school went) and I completed the 8th grade. At that time Tom went to Santa Rosa, CA to live in an apartment with our Dad and to finish high school, and I went to St. Helena, CA to live with my Aunt and Uncle and cousin Kay on their ranch. My Aunt Eleanor Gordon was our father's sister. Up to this point in time, Tom and I only saw each other sporadically, like during vacations or holidays when Tom and my Dad would come to the ranch. Even at St. Vincent's being 2 years apart in age meant separate dormitories, separate classes and separate play areas. In fact while we were in St. Vincent's we probably saw each more often at my Aunt and Uncle's when they would pick us up for vacations than we did at school. When I finished high school, I moved to Santa Rosa to attend junior college, and for a short 3 months Tom, our Dad and myself rented a house together (like a real family)! It was during that time period that I really got to know my brother again, and to get some sense of the person he was becoming. He read voraciously, and had begun to spend a great deal of time at the local bodega (coffee house and tavern) in Santa Rosa, where he could discuss what he'd been reading with others and to listen to some music. Three months after we had rented the house, our father committed suicide. Tom and I never entered the house again. He went to stay with some friends of his, and I with some friends of mine. I saw him only occasionally after that, just enough to know he had started playing guitar and that it had become a focus for him. This all leads back to my first paragraph.
We did not have each others addresses in Mississippi and San Francisco, and then both of us moved several times and getting in touch with each other became a hopeless situation.

The first inkling I received regarding a way I might find Tom only came along about 5 months ago. A cousin of ours mentioned that she had spotted the name Tom Hobson on a website document regarding Fur Peace Ranch. A look at the website linked a connection with Jorma Kaukonen, and talked about the re-release the following day of a CD titled "Quah". My wife and I ran out and bought the first copy we found, and sure enough it not only included some biography about Tom, but pictures that confirmed it was indeed my brother. We were able to contact Jorma by e-mail, and he replied immediately to let us know that Tom had passed away in Atlanta in 1991. This was enough to allow us to contact Atlanta Vital Records Service and acquire a copy of the death certificate, finding that Tom had died of a brain aneurysm.

The first 22 years of Tom's life is all I have ever been able to talk about, but thanks to you, Eric, and your website I'm now learning about the last 33 years of his life. I now have the Quah CD recorded in 1974, the Ragged But Right CD we got from you recorded in 1979, and the Sad, Sad Daddy CD recorded by Matt Miller in 1989 including several songs written by Tom. So now I know what he sounded like while performing his trade, but without your letters, I would not what kind of person he had become. Several people have mentioned how much they appreciated Tom's talent, but all have talked about how much more they appreciated him as a friend. He may not have been "commercial" with what he chose to play, but he was certainly "rich" by all the standards that count -- friends that care. Thanks to you, Eric, we are now in touch with Tom's son Terry, and hope to find his son Greg soon.

Bob Hobson
 

Philippe Boncoeur

Philippe Bouasse a.k.a Philippe Boncoeur bilip@club-internet.fr

This is all Jorma's fault ! I was not meant at all to meet Tom... until I met him. And I feel blessed about it.

Back in '79, I was a young, 18 years old travellin' frenchman, willing to see the world. Frisco was just a stop on my journey around the world. At the time I left France, Hot Tuna's first record was quite popular, thanks to french guitar picker Marcel Dadi whose "Méthode à Dadi" of tablatures featured the classic "Hesitation Blues". My guitar buddies at school were
into fingerpicking and I loved it, although I was not practicing anything.

Then came Jorma. As I hit Frisco, he was appearing on a solo gig at the Old Waldorf. I went to hear him play... and was totally mesmerized. Period. The day after, that was it: I was going to settle in the city, get me a guitar and someone to teach me acoustic blues.

I found this ad in the SF Chronicle¹s that said: "Let your fingers do the pickin", call Tom... with a phone number. Total random !

Called the guy, took the bus down Mission Street, arrived at Tom's place. Did not know anything about Tom Hobson nor the San Francisco scene... Very nice man opened the door, introduced me to his wife Barbara, took me to his room with millions of records and books...

"I want to play acoustic blues," I told him, "in the vein of Jorma Kaukonen, if you see what I mean." "Jorma?" Tom replied. "Funny, I did talk to him on the phone a few days ago!" Then Tom starts to show me some great acoustic stuff on his old Gibson C&W. First piece we started to study was Mississipi John Hurt's Spike Driver Blues. Great stuff and me practicing non-stop now.

On my second or third lesson, as I was leaving his place, I handed me this record out of a box. That was "Quah!" "This one is for you. Check it out, Philippe. I did play a couple songs on it." Boy was I impressed ! Not only does this man know Jorma Kaukonen, but he played with him too ! (I know,this sounds a bit stupid but hey, I was young!) Tom was very modest about his talents and acquaintances. In retrospect, that was a great lesson for me.

I became a regular student of Tom during the time I lived in Frisco.Very often, he and I would got out after the class and shoot some pool at the bar down the block, drinking beers and talking about music. I would
sometimes got out and listen to his "Ragged but Right" band with its 500 songs repertoire and I started to educate myself with great records of Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lightnin¹ Hopkins...

Tom opened a door for me, he was very patient, warm, wise and generous... He loved music, really. I have nothing but great memories of him. God bless you, Tom Hobson! Philippe Bouasse a.k.a
Philippe Boncoeur bilip@club-internet.fr

Mark Lind-Hanson

Mark Lind-Hanson
It was the first I had even learned that he had passed on, browsing Jorma's site this afternoon. I played a gig in the City here with Tom once in about  1985, a benefit for the Big Mountain Indians. What I recall about him was his dedication to that old-timey style, his excellent fingerpicking, and the sheer musicianship embodied in his personality. My best friend's brother, also took banjo lessons from Tom while living in the City back in those days. while I must admit to often being a fairweather fan of Jorma's (even though, I HAVE followed his work off anfd on in the years past as Hot Tuna has made its various morphings & regroupings)-I really do enjoy the "Quah" record though...at the time it came out it was something of a change of pace... It does make me sad to see Tom departed so soon from the scene. Last I had heard, he was on his way to Nashville...

 

Peter Remmen
What a treat to run across this website for Tom Hobson!  To see his impish, lackadaisical face staring out of my computer screen brought on a flood of memories from over 35 years ago.  I met Tom in San Francisco back in 1968 or 69.  A mutual friend introduced us, and I signed-up to take some guitar lessons from him.  At the time, he was living in a flat over a shop on or near Castro Street before it became the gay center of San Francisco, and I was living just over the hill in Noe Valley.  Tom was sharing quarters with a girl named Carrie and her two kids and a cat. Back then I was hanging out (or hanging on) with some of the bluegrass musicians that were 'happening' in the city then, and deeply involved with a Gurdjieff School that met nights and weekends in the Haight and Sonoma County.  Tom found 'pure' bluegrass too limiting, and thought the Gurdjieff work was a bunch of bullshit.  So we had a lot of discussion about that.  Actually, we had a lot of discussions about many things, for to know Tom Hobson was to discuss, debate, harangue, and argue about virtually everything.  Tom was a walking font of information - most of it useful, but much of it obscure, eclectic, and revolutionary.  He had an amazing talent to play music, but to me his mind was even more amazing. The guitar lessons quickly grew into long head sessions.  I was (and am) a lousy guitar player but a passable country singer, so Tom and Carrie and I worked up some country songs and a couple of Tom's originals, and started going around to clubs and playing for free - usually when the house band took a break. Carrie and I were bad, and Tom was ambiguously brilliant.
 
Everyone in 'the scene' in SF seemed to know Tom, and he not only knew them but he knew their musical credentials and their musical history.  He always talked fondly of his friendship with Jorma Kaukonen which, as I recall, went back many years.  He told me his story of life in an orphanage, and always seemed to regard the experience as bittersweet.
 
Tom had absolutely NO money at that time.  And, it was evident even back then that he was not very healthy - too skinny, bad diet, bad eyes, bad teeth, and very limited strength.  But he was either blissfully unaware of that, or consciously indifferent to it.  He always seemed optimistic and contented, and was always looking ahead.  And his mind was always active.  I believe that Tom's mind was his biggest liability as a musician.  He could never just do a song 'straight'.  His mind was constantly working out new fingerings or chord progressions on the fly, and he would often stop mid-song and say something like: "Well, lets see....Um, you could play it this way, or maybe this way, or perhaps this way....."  He couldn't stop inventing music long enough to just play it -- because just playing it was kind of mechanical.  Tom's wonderfully active mind made him the typical absent-minded genius, and one story I remember seems to typify this: Late one rainy SF night, a fire broke out in another flat in Tom and Carrie's building.  Tom and Carrie jumped out of bed and began scurrying around the flat gathing up all of Tom's broken-down worn-out instruments, the tab sheets to his songs, etc.  They dashed out into the street, standing there in the fog and mist in their pajamas, arms full of instruments waiting for the fire deparment.  All of a sudden, Carrie said "My God, we forgot to get the kids out of there!"  Fortunately, the fire was never a threat to Tom's flat.
 
Tom introduced me to Ouija boards (which he was very fond of) and to Romalar - his favorite poor man's high.  I remember several nights of walking into walls, and Romalar was never my favorite.  Tom's flat, like nearly every flat in SF, had lots of cockroaches.  I can remember times coming back to his flat late at night, and when he turned on the lights the cockroaches scurrying across the linoleum sounded like a whole castanet orchestra.  Tom's environmentally elegant solution was to get a pet gecko that lived on the ceiling by day and roamed the flat eating cockroaches at night while Tom slept.  His house was full of musical instruments/devices - guitars, mandolins, fiddles, banjos, mouthharps, autoharps, jewsharps, spoons - nearly all in some state of disrepair.  He could make music on all of them, though the guitar and the autoharp seemed to be his favorites.
 
We drifted apart after 6 or 7 months, but I have always regarded him as one of the most wonderfully eclectic people that I met during those years when SF was the eclectic center of the universe.  His talents were prodigous, his friendliness and hospitality were amazing, and I shall always remember him as a friend I was destined to meet at that stage in my life.  Thanks Tom.
 
Peter Remmen pjremmen@juno.com


Dale Miller

Dale Miller 1971
http://DaleMiller.com

I moved to San Francisco in 1971, determined to make it as a guitar player. I had pretty good technique on the instrument and had great success in the hair growing department but I needed to work on stuff like getting loose, being cool and living in the moment. My family background was pretty far from that.

Within a couple of months I snagged a gig as a guitar teacher at Acoustic Music on Haight St. (a store that eventually evolved into today’s Haight-Ashbury Music) and began to meet some local guitarists.

Tom Hobson was one of the first. We never became best friends but we’d enjoy jamming in the store or shooting the breeze. He was a true Beatnik and hanging with him and other similar sorts helped me realize that guitar playing is only partially about technique, that making music is it’s own reward and that enjoying life as it plays out is more important than focusing on careerism.

Of course I wasn’t able to get it all together but I’m still working on it.
Dale Miller

 

Tom Hobson baby photo Myrtle Hobson, Tom's mother, ceased contact with her mother's family in the
1940's because of a disagreement over her raising both Tom and his brother Bob. Soon after they were left in a state home run by the Catholic church. Our grandmother was asked to adopt both boys and, being financially unable to, was told by the home that they would be adopted out and we were to have no further contact with them. Years later our family found out that this was untrue and the boys had bounced between the home and their father's family. Finding out about Tom's talent only happened posthumously. Everyone in our family regrets the lost years that could have been, the events we didn't share, and the friendships that could have bloomed. Thanks to friends of Tom's like Eric Van der Wyk, Matt Miller and Jorma Kaukonen we are able to enjoy Tom's music and tales of his quirky nature. Thank you!
Yours,
Maggie (Tom's long lost cousin)
maggieh@midi.net

Tommy was just a few months old in this picture so it would have been early spring 1939. The picture starts on the left with my mom, Dorothy, Tom's great-grandpa Fouts (at back), Tom's great-grandma Fouts (front/center), Tom's grandma Myrtle Hansen (back), and Tommy in the arms of his mother Myrtle Hobson. From the pictures it appears that Tom looked a lot like his mom.
 

Carrie HelserTom Hobson Carrie and Hannah

B & W Photos by Trish Newton
The little girl pictured is Hannah Newton

Barrier by Tom Hobson

Manuscript of "Barrier"
courtesy of Christopher Newton

Carrie Hobson

Hello Eric -

My name is Carrie. I began living with Tom shortly after he moved to 19th & Castro Street and we were married on Halloween, 1969. During the time we were together, Tom wrote a number of songs including "Sweet Hawaiian Sunshine", "Pimp's Song" and "Barrier". I accompanied Tom to all his gigs
and the various venues where his friends were performing - the Avalon Ballroom (Quicksilver, The Charlatans, Big Brother, etc.) the Carousel Ballroom, the Fillmore Auditorium (Jefferson Airplane), Winterland, Dino & Carlos (Dan Hicks & his Hot Licks) and Paul's Saloon for bluegrass and old
timey bands such as the Styx River Ferry and High Country. I shared his enthusiasm for old music and regularly joined him for thrift stores prowls where we both purchased stacks of 78 rpm records that we played all night, culling for real treasures and breaking the rest. Tom added many of these wonderful songs to his repertoire. We separated about the time that Tom & Jorma went into the recording studio. I left all the 78s with him, intending to tape them all over time, but never did. I continued to collect 78s as long as interesting ones remained affordable and was able to build a new, if significantly smaller collection than the one Tom and I had together.

Recently I purchased the new issue of Quah with the four additional cuts, one of which is "Barrier" and was distressed to see that the composer was indicated as "Unknown" on the liner notes. Enclosed you will find a scan of one of Tom's early working drafts of "Barrier" (where it had previous been title "Drugstore Cowboy Hell").

Best regards and thanks for your memorial site.

Carrie (formerly Hobson) Helser
 


Tom Hobson and friends

"Folksingers Tom Hobson and Friends"
©1962 Dave Archer (aka: David Nelson)
Approx: 7" x 5" pen & ink, drawn from life.

Dave Archer
Photo of Dave Archer approx. 1965

http://www.davearcher.com/fox.html

Dave@DaveArcher.com

 

 
In 1961 I was walking down upper Grant Avenue, the heart of bohemia and the Beat scene, my eyes darting about for a "real" Beatnik or two who might actually speak with me, and especially, might give me a job. I didn't know what a "real" Beat was supposed to look like, except for having a beard and wearing black, the women too I supposed. And yes, I know, Beats giving anyone a job, when they didn't have jobs themselves, pretty funny ... still, that's what I was doing as a recent arrival there from San Luis Obispo, California, 250 miles below The City, at 20, (I'm 62 now) desperate for money, yet a somewhat timid painter (unless drinking, then watch out, I'd not only sing a mean version of, "Raglan Road," I jump your bones until you either punched, kissed, or gave me money to go away).

Anyway, I saw this guy who looked "bohemian" to me sweeping out the door of a coffeehouse called: "The Fox & The Hound," and asked if he had work for me. I have never forgotten the moment, because it was surprising, after being turned down in other places. Lee Fraley looked me up and down and said, "do you sweep?," and handed me his broom. And I was "hired" for 2 bucks a night like everybody else, plus a gigantic (over a pound) hamburger on half a loaf of sourdough French bread from the Italian bakery a few doors up the street. MAN, that was good bread, warm from the oven. Tom Hobson was also just getting started there, although he had a guitar and was one half of the entertainment, on many nights Lee and Tom were the only folk singers there.

 
Soon, word got out among folk singers as far away as New York and New Orleans, that this little dinky place in Beat San Francisco's North Beach let you sing and pass the hat. By then I was cooking the burgers, and playing the all round sideshow roustabout, doorman, nut, dancing with the customers, etc. I was wild back then. Lee gave us two dollars for beer and cigarettes when we first came in for the evening. In 1961 Pall Malls were 25 cents a pack,  beers a quarter each too. A pack of smokes and 7 beers would get anyone singing. Hoyt Axton showed up one night, for his first public performance. Something amazing was going on. Then Janis Joplin, completely unknown as yet, and a list of future NAME artists that never ceases to amaze me when I think back on it. Pete Stemphel, Steven Stills, David Crosby, and on and on. Tom was always there doing sets. I still have one of his old set cards he used to tape to his guitar somewhere, and when I find it again, I promise to scan it, and send it in for this document, because it is so interesting to see what songs the man was actually performing in those days. He was ahead of the times really, performing all the songs that Joan Baez would do later, before she did.

Tom and I hit it off from the first night. Here was a man like me, finally. Perhaps the first one I'd ever met in life who had TRUE passion for ideas, and especially uncovering odd bits and pieces of useful lore, long buried in the past, and then breathing life into it again. I love that! That was my thing too. Tom talked about every topic with avid interest. He was a great listener too, and had a sense of humor that was so quirky it was hard to breakthrough to it at times, but once I did, (which I tried to do all the time), and struck the man funny, he would simply laugh like an animal until he couldn't breathe, and I loved doing that to him. I suppose I enjoyed "getting" him (as much as he loved being "gotten") because Tom Hobson had such a keen interest in books, various authors, philosophy, and especially the obscure, that he could come off as a bit "know it all" at times. I remember Tom "lighting up" like a bulb when friends walked up, and soon he would be sharing his latest arcane nuggets from literature, and especially, delta blues, Reverend Gary Davis, and old English ballads.

Tom's finger picking always made me think of a wonderful old music box that you find in the attic, or basement, and open the lid, and don't want to close it. 
 
We kept in touch through the 80's when I finally lost track of my friend, busy as I was, moving my work into galleries by then, and lost in the American Scream. One thing that always impressed me about Tom, was that he was a man forced to live  in poor health all his life, (the hand he was dealt at birth seemed cruel to me at least) yet my friend never let it stop him like it would have many others. His keen interest in discovering lost GEMS of music seemed to act as a permanent psychic IV for him. When Tom made a new discovery, (a song, poem, artist, etc.) he could get as excited as a boy in love, and I believe that saved him. I am certain now, looking back, that exuberance and curiosity gave Tom such pleasure, the "other" couldn't drag him down until it finally did, and it had to work like hell to do that. I will  never forget his indomitable spirit, and how he kept going, decade after decade, in spite of all. Thank you Tom Hobson, for teaching me some of the courage I would need in overcoming my own physical problems later in life. Tom was a keeper. A fine soul. I will always miss him. Tom knew me by both of my names, my given name: David Nelson, and my painter name: Dave Archer. You can find more about the time and place we met, at my website: "davearcher.com," in my "Writings" documents, under "Janis Joplin" and "The Fox And The Hound And The Coffee And Confusion".
Dave Archer

Tom HobsonJorma Kaukonen and Tom HobsonTom and Barbara HobsonTom Hobson and Eric Van der WykTom HobsonTom Hobson

Not long after I first met Tom Hobson, he began the recording sessions, with
long-time friend, Jorma Kaukonen, that ultimately produced the album, "Quah". These took place at Wally Heider Studio, another door in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. In the Tenderloin, many doors took you to sleazy strip clubs, massage parlors and grim, grimy bars - but this one took you to a million dollar recording studio, where many of the great albums of the late Sixties and Seventies were recorded.

He brought along a following - raggedy counter-culture urchins, musicians, friends and admirers from the local clubs where he performed, (including myself, and Barbara Rotch, whom he had also just met). We sat and goggled in this Olympian environment as the likes of Papa John Creach, Grace Slick and Jack Casady, (in addition to Kaukonen) wandered through.

Tom later would tell the story where he watch Casady (who produced the album) closely for long periods of time until asked just what the hell he was doing... "Watching you produce", he replied.

I found a corner where I could watch and sketch; this is pretty much how I spent the time I was there - making drawings of the performers, of the crew, of the miscellaneous folks who drifted through, and also sketches from my imagination; 'sports' and fantasies that birthed themselves in response to the goings-on around me.

I recalled this experience when, several years later, and just before the recording of his second album, "Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home", Tom and I wandered the Dark Side of Bernal Heights in the City, looking for photo ops which I could use as the basis for the cover illustration. These were hard times for the both of us, and we worried every day about keeping a roof over our heads. On impulse, and specifically to comment on his current dire
situation, Tom perched on a discarded toilet, smiling broadly amongst a pile of discarded furniture and other junk - the image certainly worked with the title song, I thought - I took the picture, but made a mental note not to include the toilet in any final art.

The pile of cast off objects, however, reminded me of the vast collection of prized possessions that we dragged around with us - In Tom's case it was musical instruments, old victrolas, vast quantities of books and comic books; 33, 45 and 78 rpm record albums (the number of musicians and groups Tom introduced me to are innumerable); reference books, encyclopedias and unabridged dictionaries, not to mention well chosen and comfortable old furniture, including the four poster bed he had slept in for years. This is what I drew for the cover art, piled on the corner where we took the original
photo, adding Tom as a Raggedy-Andy type of doll, picking a guitar.

I also added many of the above objects, and more - items that reminded me of Tom, and do so to this day, but I also included what I hoped would be something of an incantation against the current crises and all hard times to come - the image of money falling from the heavens.

The Victrola is there because I recall Tom demonstrating how to use the baffles and drawers and doors on his "high-end" player to contour and control and improve the sound - kind of like a mixer created by the original cabinet maker - and in his hands the result sounded infinitely better than the usual scratchy old 78.

The Go board is there because Tom taught me how to play Go, a game which has
fascinated me to this day, even profoundly influencing my view of politics.

But the earthglobe, Atlas, Dictionary and piles of reference book are there because of  Tom's love of learning and knowing - not just in finding things out or getting answers, but of constantly seeking knowing, as an end in itself. This is an ailment I caught from him, and which I will thank him for all my days.

- Steve Campbell
Tom Hobson Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home
All drawings in this section are by
Steve Campbell.  To view larger versions of these images, please click here
Click here for his Flickr feed
Tom Hobson and Steve Campbell
Peter CaseBertr Deivert & Peter CaseBert Deivert and Peter CaseTom Hobson - The ATD BluesTom Hobson - The ATD Blues I met Tom in 1973 when I was 22 years old playing with 19 year old Peter Case (who like me continued to make music his whole life) on the streets of San Francisco down by Fisherman's Wharf and in North Beach. I don't remember all the details now but he was around at times, and I heard this hilarious talking blues called ATD BLUES - I think it meant Aid to the Totally Disabled. I loved it and asked him if I could write down the lyrics and play it myself. He said sure, so he patiently went through it with me, and I wrote it down, and for some reason kept it all these years. It surfaced in a move recently and I wondered if Tom ever did other stuff, so I did a search on his name and came up with your site. Peter and I used to talk to and listen to Mike Wilhelm too. He was our blues and fingerpicking hero.... We used to catch him at the Coffee Gallery in North Beach. So it was nice to see all these different associations that Tom had. I didn't really know Tom, but his guitar skills were far and above stuff what we were capable of at the time. I never realized what a chance I had to learn country blues then if I had only known! But at the time I was struggling to make money for food and living in crash pads and free places so life wasn't very easy. Here is the song. Tom did it in a kind of talking blues mode.

all the best from Sweden
Bert Deivert
http://www.deivert.com/blues 

A.T.D. BLUES - Tom Hobson   (talking blues style) transcribed by Bert Deivert in San Francisco down at the Cannery in 1973.

Well, I was walking down the street early today
When I met an old friend walking my way.
We stopped in a bar to have a chat
And we talked about this and we talked about that.

I asked him how his time was spent
And how he was managing to pay the rent.
He looked all around and he looked at me
Said, my ship came in, I'm on A.T.D.
.
Well I didn't have too much to say
Cause I'm only getting that old G.A.
So I asked him how he pulled it off
Drank some beer, and he began to cough.

I told the doctor I was lonely and sad
All the time I was feeling bad.
And I said Doctor, Doctor, I can't take it no more.

I jumped up and down, I gave a hoot and a holler.
I was doing my best to get the government's dollar.
Told 'em I was followed by the CIA
And why was he looking at me that way!

Well, he heard my story and he wrote something down
He put on his ear and turned his eyeball around.
Says here's a little secret between you and me
Forget about Hollywood
And Welcome to ATD!

Well my friend said he had to go and he'd see me in awhile
Drank down his beer and gave me a smile.
He stood up and took off his clothes
And he walked out the door, pickin' his nose.

Well I watched him leave and I said to myself
Man's got talent, and it's up on the shelf.
Now I don't know if he's crazy for real,
But he left me here to pay the bill.

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