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Thomas Bradner Harvey
I grew up in Corpus Christi, a child of coastal Texas.
When I was about eight years old, my parents bought me two vinyl LPs: “Meet the Beatles,” and Peter, Paul and Mary's “Movin'” album. The one disc grounded me in the finest pop songwriting of the modern era, the other forged a connection with classic American folk music stretching back to Europe.
At age 13 I got my first guitar, a Sears Silvertone electric with a tiny 3 watt amp built into the case. I loved it because when you turned the amp all the way up, it would distort nicely with a fat buzz not unlike the classic British rock of Led Zeppelin, Cream and Black Sabbath. In those days, ZZ Top used to tour through Corpus and play the Stardust rollercade, a local skating rink, just before they released their first album.
Hitchhiking to the beach with a surfboard one day, before I was old enough to drive, I caught a ride with a guy who popped in an 8-track tape of the Allman Brothers' "Eat a Peach." The lilting sound of clean, sustaining electric guitars played with a mix of southern blues, country and jazz captivated me, and I spent years trying to duplicate the hot licks of white blues artists like Billy Gibbons and Duane Allman.
Corpus was a town with a strong jazz tradition, and I was lucky my parents got me lessons from arguably the finest jazz guitarist ever to play there, Chester Rupe. One day right before a lesson, Chet casually played a solo acoustic guitar version of Jobim's “The Girl from Ipanema” and I said “you've got to teach me that.” To this day, I'm still working through the beautiful melodies and complex chord changes of Jobim's songs.
Around this time, the Santana Abraxas album introduced a generation of rock fans to Latin-tinged jazz, and I spent more years trying to capture the taste and soul of Carlos Santana.
At college in San Antonio I had my most challenging and growthful musical era. I formed a fusion jazz band playing the music of groups like Weather Report and Return to Forever, where I struggled but eventually learned to play Al Di Meola's parts.
After college, I came back home to Corpus and played in a cover band for money. The jazz band experience had disappointed me, since few of my college peers were interested, and I wanted to play music people wanted to hear. Yet after a year of this, I felt restless and confined; Corpus seemed small and parochial.
In 1981, I loaded up an old Oldsmobile Delta 88 with guitars, amps and an entire small P.A. system and moved to Austin. I had a vague yet powerful awareness of Austin as a music town.
Fate moved me to join a Reggae/R&B band called The Darts as lead guitarist/background vocalist. Here I struggled to master two things. First, I had to learn to forgo my busy jazz chops and play simple parts. With six guys in the band, the Darts had to play minimalist parts that wouldn't step on each other. Also, I struggled but finally learned to sing background harmony vocals. The Darts' second lead singer was Mark Pratz, manager of Liberty Lunch, and we got a lot of great gigs there opening for name acts that toured through town.
By 1983, I was writing songs, inspired by stellar talents like Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and The Police, who had figured out how to bring the jazz tradition into the New Wave sound then sweeping college music scene. I formed a rock trio called The Windows. The name came from a dictionary entry about the Vindau river in Latvia.
The Windows developed a small but loyal fan base that followed us around playing clubs like Steamboat 1874 on 6th Street and The Continental Club on South Congress.
One night the band had an important opportunity to play on KLBJ-FM's “Local Licks Live” show broadcast from Steamboat. I double-parked on 6th to unload my gear, and when I came back, two Austin policemen arrested me for an outstanding speeding ticket. The irritated radio show host, Ernie Gammage, announced on the air that The Windows wouldn't be playing because Tom Harvey had been taken to jail.
In 1984, The Windows signed to independent label Austin Records with national distribution via Sound Warehouse. We toured around Texas, playing Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and College Station.
In 1985, The Windows' debut record was voted BEST TEXAS EP OF 1985 in the annual Austin Chronicle readers poll, beating out the Butthole Surfers and Joe King Carrasco.
In 1985, I formed a new band called Body Politik, adding keyboards, and we performed at the South By Southwest Music Conference that year.
A few years later, I got married, got a real job and had kids. I feel privileged to have a career in environmental conservation with Texas Parks and Wildlife, where I lead and support the agency's "storytellers," including the TPW magazine, video, radio and news teams.
Today, I write songs to please myself, because I love it, though I hope others will like them too. I've meandered into the singer-songwriter genre: just one guy and an acoustic guitar. I like the clean simplicity of this approach, and the challenge of trying to create something magical with a simple palette. Take a listen.