Tommy Womack on Playing a Go-Go’s Cover at a Frat House and How to Create an Orgy of Noise

June 28, 2016

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

Well, I drove a sleek Nissan Sentra that I destroyed (almost destroying myself in the process) and that was the end of that. It was perfect for what I do – room for a guitar, harmonica case, guitar stand and my swag. For band gigs, it wasn’t so good. That car died a gruesome death (almost taking me with it) a year ago. Paper beats rocks, rocks break scissors, tractor trailer trucks beat Nissan Sentras. I drive an Acura now, a gift from a mega-fan, God bless her.

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

It’s VERY important to eat right on the road. I try to have a sit-down meal with vegetables and some sort of meat every day. I’m not necessarily fond of supporting Cracker Barrel but it’s usually the only place you’re going to find right off the exit. (And it’s cheap!) You do have to go sometimes through a drive-thru (like if you’ve put off eating too long and your sugar’s crashing, or you’re running too late to sit down and eat.) Sometimes you do what you gotta do.

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

I play mostly acoustic shows now and I can’t tell you the last time I broke a string. I don’t beat the guitar very hard. I use Elixir Phosphor Bronze strings and they sound fresh for months. I bet I don’t change my strings anymore more than 3 or 4 times a year. Now, electric gigs, especially reunion gigs with my old punk band Government Cheese, that’s a different story. That’s a lot of banging hard on a telecaster and the occasional top E string giving up the ghost, and for some reason the D strings, don’t know why.

Where do you rehearse?

My rehearsal space is one of the bedrooms in my house. It’s not used as a bedroom; more as the venue for an experiment of how loud and incoherent a band can possibly be. To mention Government Cheese again, they rehearse here whenever we have one of our infrequent gigs. Picture it: a 30-Watt Fender Blues Deluxe, a Vibroluxe that’s been modified within an inch of its life and puts out 40 watts, my own blackface deluxe that’s been modded to 28 watts. Throw in a bass through an amp and a maniac on drums, and a woefully anemic PA designed for acoustic acts in coffee shoppes, you’ve got an orgy of noise. At other times, I write songs in there and have little rehearsals with my small acoustic combo. Those rehearsals don’t necessitate as much Excedrin.

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

“It Couldn’t Have Been any Better if You Were Awake” (That’s the title and I don’t remember any other lines.)

Describe your first gig.

It was a frat party at the Sig Ep house at Western Kentucky University. We played “Twist & Shout”, “Louie Louie”, “Take it Easy” by the Eagles, “Our Lips are Sealed” by the Go Gos, “Honky Tonk Woman”, “Shake it Up” by the Cars, “Lola”, oh… what else. It was a thrill just to be playing. At last, after years of wanting to, I was in a band playing a gig. I would have played “How Deep Is You Love” if they’d wanted to.

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

I worked at Vanderbilt University Medical Center until two years ago, in the Center for Patient & Professional Advocacy. I read patient complaints against doctors and staff, and coded them according to 34 different categories of complaint. (Rudeness was a 19, Physician ran late – 17, Misdiagnosis – 28, etc.) It couldn’t have been more boring if it were a Prince’s Trust Concert with Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Dire Straits. But they were cool about letting me leave and do things like tour the UK for a month, until Human Resources caught wind of it and told me I couldn’t do that anymore. I had no choice but to quit. I’d worked at Vanderbilt in different departments for 15 years and every job blew chunks. It was misery. I hate that Vanderbilt’s guts. I hate every brick, every squirrel, every blade of grass. I don’t even drive past it if I can manage not to. I don’t have a favorite day job.

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 hasn’t changed. It’s not good. Five years from now? Dare to dream.

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

I wished I’d taken more responsibility for my talent, and worked harder to support it, grow it, and respect it. I wish I’d known that three beers and two bong hits before the show wasn’t as positive a move as I thought it was at the time.


Tommy Womack has always been considered cool, from his days in Bowling Green, Ky.’s next-generation punk-rock band Government Cheese to the Bis-Quits, his first Nashville outing with musical brother and Daddy co-founder Will Kimbrough, who plays guitar on Namaste. Womack built further cool cred with his book, The Cheese Chronicles: The True Story of a Rock ’n’ Roll Band You’ve Never Heard Of.

Along the way, he honed his folky twang and Replacements-influenced rock edge into a sound that’s all Americana, filling seven solo albums and writing songs recorded by Jimmy Buffett, Jason Ringenberg and others, including sometime co-writer Todd Snider. He’s also earned two “Best Song” awards in the Nashville Scene critics’ poll, and entertained the community with his Clash cover band, Tommy Gun, and an occasional event he and co-conspirator Bill Lloyd called the Alphabetical Kinks.

Womack’s latest album, Namaste, was released this month. Connect with him online and on the road.