With his guitar virtuosity and richly textured voice Tommy had much to do with what made the Contenders so different from their peers. His singing was unique in solo but could also blend with the others’ while adding its unmistakably earthy note. Capable of jazzy riffs one minute and searing rock solos the next, with his trademark red Epiphone Howard Roberts guitar Tommy could produce an almost acoustic tone or a fat, burning overdrive sound as needed. His songs with the Contenders could be funny and playful or serious, almost dark at times and it often seemed that he wrote songs the way other people write short fiction.
Along with his partner Steve Runkle, Tommy cut his musical teeth growing up in Raleigh, NC listening at first to the old-time traditional sounds of the first generation of recording artists of the 20’s and 30’s but also became fascinated with the British Invasion groups of the mid 60’s. Tommy was playing in high school rock bands by the late 60’s, and the Soul explosion of that time served to round out the picture. After moving to Nashville in 1971 and bouncing back and forth between there and Austin, Tommy had built a resume including work with the Contenders, Tim Krekel, Marcia Ball and Riders in the Sky. As a producer he has worked with Tracy Nelson, David Olney, and Elise Witt. and his songs have been recorded by Olney, the Riders and the Nashville Bluegrass Band. He is also a co-conspirator in that unquantifiable institution known as the Nashville Jug Band.
Tommy went into journalism, spending many of those years at The Tennessean in Nashville. With his wife Renee and sons Hudson and Nate, he returned to Raleigh to join the staff of the News & Observer for 14 years. During that time, also collaborated with Tom House and Karren Pell on musical adaptations for the stage of Lee Smith’s novel Fair and Tender Ladies and, with David Olney, two of William Faulkner’s works, Light in August and As I Lay Dying. After being downsized at the N&O, Tommy has contributed to several news services and authored a couple of critically acclaimed books, The Bluegrass Reader and Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain Breakdown: The Making od an American Classic.
Tommy remains musically active. The family moved back to Nashville in 2021.