Tom Rhodes Recalls a Wild Ride in the Tour Van and the Rather Intense First Song That He Wrote

September 20, 2016

Tell us about your tour vehicle. Any notable breakdown stories?

My main ride is a 2007 Honda Element. It is my favorite that I have ever owned, and there isn’t even a close second. It hauls all of my gear, is big enough to sleep in (if I have to), and it has a killer stereo. This one is right at 100k, and I haven’t had any breakdowns in it yet. Hopefully I won’t have any if I keep up with it.

The worst that I have had on other cars are really bad blowouts. I had a tire explode at about 70 mph outside of Raleigh one time. Fortunately it was about 1am and there weren’t any cars around me, but the van I was driving took me for a wild ride.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

I don’t eat any fast food no matter what. The closest that I’ll get is a Chipotle or a Subway. With that said I don’t tend to eat super healthy when I’m on tour, I like to try whatever is good in whatever town I am in. When I’m in Nashville I get hot chicken, I don’t care how many calories it is, but I also keep a pair of running shoes in my bag.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I hardly ever break strings. I used to go through them like butter, but I changed the way that I attack the guitar and I cut it out. I also prefer the sound of slightly dead strings, so those two things add up to me spending less than $150 a year on strings.

Where do you rehearse?

Most of my rehearsals happen at home in my apartment, but when the full band gets together we need a larger room. Often I will rent out a space, or we will use one that the drummer has… drummers always have the big practice spaces.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

“You Don’t Really Know Me” is the first tune that I wrote, I think that I was 13 or so. It was about my parents divorce… The first line was –

You don’t really know me, but maybe it’s better that way
Cause there’s too many secrets in this little house and too much of a price to pay
It was time that could have kept us together but it was that time that wore us down
For a love that should not have existed, for you who got lost in my run around

It’s kind of intense when I look back at that, I was a pretty intense kid.

Describe your first gig.

My first gig was at the Border’s Books in Fairfax, VA. I played at the little coffee shop on my Ovation guitar when I was about 14. I shook like a leaf, partially because I was nervous, and partially because they paid me in coffee so I drank about 5 of them.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

My last day job was bartending in Wilmington, NC. I think that my favorite day job was working in a hot ass warehouse carrying heavy stuff. You feel like you did something when you get home and you stay in good shape.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

It comes from different places than it used to, but it’s not too much different. I do a lot less shows in seedy bars now. That drops the day to day gig income, but I get some licensing deals here and there that more than make up for it. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but if I can keep a roof over my head and food in my belly I will keep at it.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

I wished that I knew that I could sing. I spent many years as a side man and bass player because I didn’t think that I could sing. I would try to get other people to sing my songs, but one day I decided to make my own record even if I hated my voice… I wish that I had done that at 17 instead of 25.


For the last five years, Tom Rhodes has been making quite a name for himself in the Americana scene. His award winning music is as real and honest as it gets. His distinctive voice, road-worn and raspy from years of honing his craft, and inviting guitar work that cleverly masks its complexity, form a warm and welcoming home for his heartfelt and inspiring lyrics.

Having played shows across the US and Europe throughout his career, Tom has steadily built a diehard fan base that has seen him through the release of four independent albums: Tom Rhodes (2004), No Apologies (2006), Better Son (2010), and With or Without (2014). Fans have followed him from small bars in the DC area to venues such as the Walnut Creek Amphitheater in North Carolina, the Paramount Theater in Oakland, CA, and Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

Geographical influences are unavoidable, when you’ve spent as much time in and around some of America’s greatest musical heartlands. Born in Houston, Texas, he moved to the Washington, DC area before heading off to places like Memphis, New Orleans, New York City, and even the Caribbean – each place leaving indelible marks on his eclectic songwriting and performing style. In 2011 he moved to Oakland, CA (where he currently resides), while working on new material and following some of his other passions, including illustration and videography.

Who You Were, Rhodes latest album, was released in July 2016.  Connect with him online and on the road.