by Pam Baumgardner
More venues are offering more live music as we transition gently back towards normalcy. I’m grateful to see strict Covid guidelines in place at the venues I’ve frequented the past couple of weeks. I’m hearing Winchesters will be offering live music on Thursdays (along with Fridays and Saturdays), the Raven Tavern in Oxnard now has live music on the weekends, Pierano’s has been ramping up their live music roster, and more and more artists are reaching out to me sharing their live music schedules which can be found at VenturaRocks.com. You can find the week’s listing on the Ventura Weekly Music Calendar link and the current day’s line up on the homepage.
In this issue of the Breeze, I have a Q&A with local artist Tom Buenger, He first landed on my radar performing as Tom & Milo around town a few years ago. Tom has been working on original music which always warms my heart. He has his debut release Suburban Gospel this month so I thought I’d reach out and get the community acquainted with Tom Buenger.
Pam: How long have you been playing live music in the 805?
Tom Buenger: I grew up in the 805 and have always been around music one way or another. But after I left the military and settled into Ventura County in 2014, I quickly met Milo Sledge. Milo and I played a few times a week at venues between Goleta, Oxnard, Ventura, and Camarillo. One New Year’s, (2017 I think), I picked up a gig, and Milo was unavailable. I asked Teresa Russell if she would play the gig with me, and we instantly hit it off. She and I then played at least weekly until 2020 or so.
Give me the background on your musical journey.
Tom: I grew up singing. My mom has the most beautiful voice, and I was raised with her constantly singing to me. Singing, melody…just a sort of melodic communication…is even more engrained into my brain than the English language. I did not pick up an instrument until I turned 21. While in the Air Force I went to this Blues Club (Blues Central) for my 21st, while I was stationed in Alaska. There was a man playing wonderful boogie woogie blues on the piano, and I eventually asked if he would teach me a thing or two. He taught me the Nashville system, and it was downhill from there. I obsessed over piano, locking myself in my apartment on my days off until I had the basic skill (and courage) to play at a local blues jam. I got up, played my one song, it was absolutely terrible, but I loved it. I was obsessive about it and practiced not to memorize, but to understand the language of it all.
Eventually I fell in love with the Hammond organ sound; I saved and bought a Hammond B3, and played in a classic rock band while I was at the Air Force Academy where I learned how to be a good band-member and musician. After a while, I got tired of lugging a 350-lb organ everywhere, and looked for the smallest instrument I could find…the harmonica. Similarly, to piano, I obsessed, keeping a few in my car, playing and practicing harmonica for hours while in traffic and on road trips.
Then a couple years ago, I turned my time and attention to the guitar, which has been the hardest instrument for me, by far. However, it’s opened up a whole new level of understanding and satisfaction, and it really opened the door to allowing me to (1) play extended solo gigs, and (2) write my own music.
What music most influenced you growing up?
All the great music my mom and dad listened to. We would go on camping trips, and the playlist had everything from Elton John to Earth Wind and Fire, to Clapton, and so on. In high school, I discovered jazz, which led me to the blues, which brought me to gospel (sort of backwards!). And I fell in love with the gospel sound. All that said, I spent many hours listening to Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, and funny enough, Bradley Nowell from Sublime. I tried hard to emulate their voices as a kid before finding my own.
How is it you landed back in the 805?
After leaving the military, I wanted to come back to where I grew up, which is Oxnard and Ventura. It’s a pretty magical place.
Where are a few of your favorite places to play?
I cut my teeth locally, at The Waterside Restaurant in the Channel Islands Harbor. However, some venues that have been particularly good to me (while playing with Milo and Teresa) are The Red Piano in Santa Barbara, Captain Fatty’s in Goleta, and Madwest now and again. These days, I split my time playing between Oxnard/Ventura with Milo or Teresa, and solo gigs around Seattle.
When did you first start writing original tunes?
I started writing original tunes about a year ago. Until that time, I felt like I had always had some mental block, keeping me from writing original music. With COVID slowing the world down, coming through a tough personal time in life, and then finding new love, I learned that writing (for me) is all about head-space….open space, mentally, to allow my brain and body to communicate feelings I hadn’t quite understood before.
Suburban Gospel is your first release as a solo artist?
Suburban Gospel is my first release. I’m not typically one who is good at self-promotion or shouting about my successes, but I will say that I’d put the music on Suburban Gospel up against anyone’s; it’s a great album for which I’m incredibly proud. I also have another 15 songs just about complete for album number two.
What does the title suggest?
I grew up in the church, and I love the gospel sound. I’m also a middle-class white guy who loves the blues, soul…all of it. I thought Suburban Gospel sort of fit what I was going for. For some songs, I get a bit up onto my soapbox (or pulpit), while others are more songs of hope, and then others are love songs. I’m not sure what genre this album is…It’s certainly blues and gospel influenced, but I truly believe I’ve created something uniquely me. It breaks the mold of a “blues” album in too many ways to be considered blues.
What kind of plans do you have in motion to help get the word out?
I will probably hire some marketing or push toward a label. As of now, I’m hopeful the music will speak for itself, once it comes available May 14.
Where can people find out more?
Tom: Follow me on Instagram @tombuengermusic, or on my website www.thomasbmusic.com
Tom: Suburban Gospel is available everywhere, beginning May 14. I have a bunch of collaborations in work, and I’m excited to share more music with the world!
Don’t forget to tune into the Pam Baumgardner Music Hour on KPPQ-LP out of CAPS Media at 104.1 FM here in Ventura where you can hear Tom Buenger’s single, “Butter my Bread” off of Suburban Gospel. My show airs Tuesdays at 5 pm with repeats on Fridays at 5 pm and Sundays at noon. You can also listen via the MyTuner app on your smart device or online at CapsMedia.org/radio.
Do you have any music-related news or upcoming shows you want help publicizing? Please send all information short or long to [email protected], and for updated music listings daily, go to www.VenturaRocks.com.