tj1.jpg (9751 bytes)

Tom Jans
Press Cuttings

"print the legend"

 

Index
TJ Home Page
Discography
In Concert
Press Cuttings
Cover Recordings


Dark Blonde
Japanese Release - Liner Notes

Jugo Nagisa
Mid Summer 2007

I have an image in my mind,
and a pen, ink and paper on my desk.
A good paper to write on. With an easy feeling,
I write down ordinary things,
The important thing is the urge to write.

I go out on the terrace and sing with my friends,
I might be able to write down something from inside me,
The urge to write is still there.
The air is warm and still

It’s a warm night,
Unusual for San Francisco in September.
I go back to my room.
In the cool room hidden from the sun,
the words finally come to life,
The rhythm comes to life, and the rhymes too,
and they finally become
A tune.

People are just like music,
They follow the clouds
And flow away like the clouds,
And their shapes fading out
Leave a trace like a dream.

 A singer-songwriter who has the eyes of his mother,
And his father’s hair –

who knew to search for things,

This is Tom Jans.

Tom Jans, born in Washington and raised in San Francisco and Los Angeles, mostly in a town near San Francisco, was almost twenty when he started writing songs for guitar and piano, and singing in folk clubs near San Francisco.

Through Joan Baez, who had seen him perform in those folk clubs, he was introduced to her younger sister, Mimi Farina, and they started recording duets. Despite going beyond the folk idioms, the roots of his songwriting, and being nonchalantly backed by session musicians who had worked with singer-songwriters such as Craig Doerge, Lee Sklar, Russ Kunkel, or Jim Keltner, for the refreshing album Take Heart (1971), Tom Jans and Mimi Farina quickly broke up. As a solo singer looking for a songwriting partner, Tom headed for Nashville. In 1974 he completed Tom Jans (A&M), an album which also contains songs co-written with a songwriter from Nashville, Will Jennings. The pastoral San Francisco country sound created in Nashville at Quadraphonic Studio fitted Tom’s simple style perfectly. But even though he had found a place where he could create in peace, he leaves on a journey again, for new songs. He changes his recording company to CBS and, in search of Little Feat’s sound, he entrusts Lowell George with the production and starts writing his second solo creation in L.A. But soon after starting writing, Tom, who was focusing on the sound, parts ways with Lowell, who was looking for an album that could be sung. Eventually, Tom’s previous album, The Eyes Of An Only Child, released in 1975, will become Tom’s best creation. The album contained Tom’s characteristic touch of an exotic West Coast country singer-songwriter, but after the release of the album, Tom takes the next step in his music writing, and his sound will become more band-oriented, with funky elements. This will be the sound of Dark Blonde.

One solo creation from his A&M times, Loving Arms, has been covered by many other artists; moreover, other songs from the same album, Margarita, Old Time Feeling and Free & Easy have been picked up by other artists, and Tom must have thought that he had succeeded to combine his country style songwriting with a career as a solo singer.

However, he never settles in one place and is always on the move. After the release of Dark Blonde in 1976 he is quiet for a while, and in 1983 he releases his last creation, Champion, in Japan only (Pony Canyon). This one is produced by Don Grusin, a long-time acquaintance from his previous albums, but all in all the album is only a creation of someone who has no place of his own on the AOR route.

Tom Waits wrote this in his song Whistle Down the Wind, dedicated to Tom Jans (on the album Born Machine, 1992):  

I've grown up here now
All of my life
But I dreamed
Someday I'd go
Where blue eyed girls
And red guitars and
Naked rivers flow

But I'm different in my dreams

I always stayed around
I'm scared to leave

Sometimes the music from a dance
 will carry across the plains

Does it come from a place in my dreams?

So I will take the Marley Bone Coach
And whistle down the wind

Even his friend, Tom Waits, probably saw Tom Jans as a man continuously searching for new places, and this song beautifully captures Tom Jans’ personality. If you listen to it again and again, the song of the wandering man, you want to become him and start your journey.

Until now, I haven’t always been
In sunny places.
The ups and downs of my life
Are such a strange thing
There are people beckoning to me
But I always run from them, and watch them drift away.

At no time
Have I conformed
It is decided that I keep walking
In search of far, forgotten places

  

From the Eyes Of An Only Child To Dark Blonde

After all, is Dark Blonde the album of somebody who hasn’t found his place to be? Or maybe the feelings and spirit of a man who wants to escape from his present place, who wants to leave, whistling, somebody like me and you, have overflowed the album.

The powerful album title, “Dark Blonde”, seems to bring to us the image of a woman, but refers in fact to the color of a child’s hair. “I have never seen such a dark blonde child like you”, would say his grandmother to Tom. The album presents a contrast between children and grown-ups, a concept already used in The Eyes Of An Only Child. Ethan Russell’s  black-and-white photo on the album jacket gives the same strong impression.

In a room not very large, under the indirect light from a desk lamp, there is a child in the corner, suggesting Tom’s own childhood. The boy sticks to the wall, as if frightened, while Tom, at the desk, scribbles something down, scratching his head. From outside the window (but you can barely see it in the CD-size photo), a devil-like figure peeks inside the room. According to Tom’s story, he had a room identical to his room when he was a child recreated in the photographic studio. Later, it seems that Andrew Gold used that recreated room for his album What’s Wrong With This Picture and Tom was very unhappy about it.

 I remember seeing the producer’s name, Joe Wissart, somewhere else… Wait, isn’t he the producer of Gordon Lightfoot’s Summer Side Of Life (1971)? And the co-producer of Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind, with Lenny Waronker. Both these albums show Gordon Lightfoot’s graceful style. Let’s search some more. Joe Wissart, became a producer in the mid-sixties, and is credited for producing Lovin’ Spoonful and The Turtles’ Happy Together. In the seventies he also produces female singers such as Helen Reddy and Janis Ian, but he is better known for his work with Earth, Wind and Fire, J. Geils Band, Boz Scaggs. The album immediately following Boz’s big hit Silk Degrees is Tom’s Dark Blonde.

Kelly Shanahan: drums
Kerry Hatch: bass, vocals    
Jerry Swallow: guitar
Scott Shelley: guitar

For almost two years in that period, [Jans] played with these band members, recorded this album, and had live concerts throughout the United States. When he went to Europe to promote his album, he had the guitarist Jerry Swallow supporting him. As guest musicians on the new album, as in his previous album, there were Fred Tackett on guitar, David Paich on piano and organ, Mike Utley, Bill Payne on Moog (synthesizer) and synthesizer, Ernie Watts on sax, Nick DeCaro did the string arrangements in the last track and [Jans] girlfriend Valerie Carter as background vocalist.

 About the songs

Ready To Roll
The rhythmic arrangement could be the work of the producer, Joe Wissart, who had just finished Boz Scaggs’ album, or maybe the result of Tom’s rehearsals with his band, still conscious of the Little Feat sound. The disco, funk rhythm approach is interesting. The sound is full of the desire to move on to a new direction. “I feel like leaving on a journey” – the first track where Tom’s feelings are reflected.

Why Don’t You Love Me
Judging from the tune here, the band needs to be more tight, but in the places where the rhythm falls a little bit, Bill Payne on the synthesizer, and Ernie Watts on the sax, create a lovely supporting sound.  The slide here is played by Tom’s band member, Jerry Swallow. Tom himself must have been around, with this sound so representative for his work during that period. For some reason, the track is released in Holland as a single album, with Fineline on the B side.

Bluer Than You
Very often, this is what you end up with when you keep recording, with an energetic band sound. Maybe they wanted to give a funky nuance to the lyrics “I’m sure there are people even bluer than you”. With this funky arrangement, and the bass phrases in the disco style (who had won the generation) , Mr. Tom, were you this time looking for something refined and for something at the opposite pole, or maybe you were just going with the times, just like that Jackson Browne did? 

Fineline
A song very conscious of Boz Scaggs, or, to better say, a sound that reflects the period. After the introduction, reminding of TOTO’s West Coast sound, the tune changes into a rock’n roll riff. The song will tell you how good this combination was.  

Distant Cannon Fire
Though it is not very known in Japan and the United States, the Spanish historical personality [lit] Franco seems to be famous in Europe. The song is about the civil war in Spain.  David Paich on piano and Mike Utley on organ, create a quiet Tom Jans sound. A medium pace number similar to the first song on the previous album, the solo Gotta Move.

Young Man In Trouble
Had this album started with the song Distant Cannon Fire, we could have said it is the previous album’s sibling. The connection between the previous album and this song is smooth and pleasant. Then, the flow of the sound from this song till the last one, Starlight, is very nice. There is a feeling of restlessness, but Tom Jans often writes about unfulfilled hearts in his lyrics.

Rosarita
Rosarita, the mysterious feminine name – I wonder if he used it as a generalization, or perhaps it was about Valerie Carter, his girlfriend at the time. The rhythm arrangements remind of Boz Scaggs’ works. It is said it took Tom a year to finish this song.  On a radio show with the theme “Just before the ‘80s”, a DJ would surely choose this song, followed by Crazy, the first song on Valerie Carter’s album Wild Child.

Back On My Feet Again
This kind of L.A. exotic mood is Tom’s specialty. Just like the band members’ photo on the inner jacket, the sound suggests a lovely LA evening, spent with the friends and music. There is Michael Bolton’s cover.* Valerie Carter is doing harmony, like a walk along with the others, but this is a song she sings herself on her own stage. The song I mentioned before, Tom Waits’ Whistle Down the Wind, is also part of Valerie’s live repertoire.

Starlight
People always keep a number of mental images, that intertwine and become their path in life, creating the map of their lives…This is probably a song Tom wrote in a moment of self-awareness. A song about the shining stars showing the way. It is a famous song, how many times have I heard it?

On this album, there are several songs that took a year or so to be completed, but this is a love song he composed in 8 minutes, with Valerie Carter at his side. It is also a song about a man walking his path in life, and a song where the world is seen through the eyes of a child. Yes, the eyes of a child…

Take Heart / Mimi Farina, Tom Jans (A&M / 1971)
Tom Jans (A&M / 1974)
The Eyes Of An Only Child (CBS / 1975)
Dark Blonde (CBS / 1976)
Champion (Pony Canyon / 1982)

As a musician, he didn’t have a colorful activity, nor did he collaborate with many people. He participated in the recording of the album Just a Stone’s Throw Away (1977) by Valerie Carter, the woman he fell in love with at the peak of his solo activity, to Hoyt Axton’s A&M album South Bound (1975), and Tom Snow’s album Tom Snow (1976). Also, he and Valerie were guest vocal performers in the chorus on Tender Memory, his own song on Richard Torrance’s album Bareback, and on Mongolia, the song he co-wrote with Don Grusin on the album 10K-La in the eighties In addition, as a songwriter, he co-wrote songs with the no. 1 solo producer, Mentor Williams, with Nino Tempo, with the fellow songwriter Richard Kerr (the author of Barry Manilow’s hit Mandy) – two songs on the album No Looking Back (1982), for which he was credited under “special thanks”.

While being a West Coast singer-songwriter of the ‘70s, he never entered any music circles, preferring to collaborate with AOR and pop musicians.

After Champion, the 1982 Japanese release, he has a traffic accident, and he dies in 1984 at his home in LA, due to an overdose.

The song he left, Loving Arms, was covered by Elvis Presley and become famous. In addition, the last song on his last album, Mother’s Eyes, will be sung by Bette Midler, and these two songs are enough to illustrate his brilliant career as a songwriter. After he passed away, Bette Midler will publish the lyrics of Mother’s Eyes in Billboard Magazine, as a tribute to him.

In loving memory
Tom Jans
February 9, 1949 – March 25, 1984
Bette Midler

I have my mother's eyes and my father's hair.
Does anybody really care?
It's gettin' cold out here.
I keep walkin' with my head held high,
with my head to the sky,


The other boy is inside the house, not feeling well

I need to find a phone.

And my mother's eyes are with me
in the darkness that's been paid for.
I'm just a nameless stranger, don't know why.

She sees everything

Have I seen more than I should?
Have I seen all that I could?
With my mother's eyes?

I know everything about this town,
since I was a child
I have seen ugly mindless fights and hate,
But now, people’s faces
walk in line in front of my eyes
It’s like stamping on a calendar
Announcing the change of seasons

Have I seen more than I should
With my mother’s eyes.

 

A poem is a path arriving at a pure hour,
It is only immersing your body in the water
where existence originates
                                            – Octavio Paz

 

Music is for us a means by which its creator’s deep feelings, his story or confessions are better unveiled than by prose or poetry. 

A man with his mother’s eyes, and his father’s dark blonde hair, a songwriter and singer – this is Tom Jans.

Jugo Nagisa
Mid Summer 2007

 

Notes by Geoff:
The translator asks us to note that this is a rather rough translation, adhering to the Japanese text as much as possible. The poems and metaphors may not work so well in translation. For complete clarification we can only refer you to the original japanese text.

It is not clear if the poems are by Jans or by Nagisa. Given that Paz and Waits are credited, we presume the poems are by Jugo Nagisa.

The translation of whistle down the wind, from english to japanese and back to english leaves only one line where Nagisa seems to make his own truth. Wait's lyric is "and the places that I'm dreaming of - do they dream only of me ? " Nagisa writes "Does it [the music or the dance] come from my dreams". Nagisa also adds "but I'm different in my dreams"  in the middle of Wait's lyric, perhaps as a summary.

It would seem that Nagisa has used the earlier web sources to perpetuate the myth of Tom Jans having been born of an Hispanic mother. As mentioned in notes on other pages on this site, although Tom Jans did attribute Spanish ancestry to himself at one time, it seems to have been an embellishment added during enthusiastic discussion of some of the songs on Dark Blonde. It has been confirmed by the Jans family and also by documentary evidence that Tom Jans was born in 1948.

* Michael Bolton's "When I'm Back on my Feet Again" is in fact a different song.



Return to
Press Cuttings

Index
TJ Home Page
Discography
In Concert

Cover Recordings

photo credit:
tom sheehan London 20th May 1977

cd image "borrowed" from
 " classic_mode1223" on ebay.


so many thanks to andreea

This page updated February 2009 by Geoff
GMGough AT clara.net