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Tom Jans
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The Eyes of an Only Child
Japanese Release - Liner Notes

Jugo Nagisa
summer 2007

It seems it was so long ago
Staying many nights until late
Forgetting about the time passing
Talking with friends,

Aware only of the countless stars quietly fading before dawn
I’m speechless,
For the first time
I realize that, without knowing it,
I am obeying the stars’ movement
Like the high tide

These mysterious feelings about myself
Are all becoming ordinary,
I am gradually losing my purpose
Becoming meaningless
Losing my child eyes.

How far is Los Angeles from here? … must be really far…
You can’t speed up before you reach San Louis Obispo

The Santa Lucia Range
Roads along the shore
Is this America?
It’s Big Sur already.
Speaking of which, Tom Jans, who grew up here,
Is like the main character of Richard Brautigan’s novel,
The confederate general from Big Sur…
Like a man on the top of a cliff,
Ready to jump in the ocean…
Like a man who has had a life
Like a winding road,
Like a man who wants to escape from where he is…

About Tom Jans

Tom Jans was born in Washington in 1949 (or 1948, according to some), but grew up in California, near San Jose. Apparently, the place was not like the typical image we have about the American West Coast, but a bleak place by the ocean, in the middle of nature. According to Tom, his father was a hardworking craftsman and his mother, Hispanic, opened his eyes on psychological and cultural problems. Musically, he was influenced by his grandmother, who played the trombone and drums in a jazz band. At the university, Tom majored in English literature. He says that he was able to learn about 19th century English authors, such as Byron, Shelley, and Keats, owing to his mother. However, it is interesting to notice that Tom’s songs reflect more the simple emotions of his father, who liked Hank Williams. The melodies, and the word choices in the lyrics too, are rather clumsy than literary. Maybe that’s Tom searching for simplicity, or his feeling of having lost his child heart, which seems to be the constant theme of his songs.

The first records he bought were Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans”, in a folk-country style, and Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog”, a rhythm & blues album. Then, like everybody else, he was influenced by the Beatles and Bob Dylan, he started creating songs on guitar and piano, and then, after singing in a high school band, he chose the solo path. His performance in a coffee house in the bay area was seen by Joan Baez, and she introduces him to her younger sister, Mimi Farina, with whom he will form a duo. A few years earlier Mimi had lost her husband Richard Farina, with whom she had performed, and she found in Tom a male music partner with a style very similar to Richard’s. Under the name of “Mimi Farina & Tom Jans”, they release “Take Heart” in 1971(A&M Records), and this is where Tom starts his path as a song writer and solo singer. He has a smash hit with the single release “Loving Arms” sang by Dobie Gray, and he starts to get the attention as a songwriter. Afterwards, he releases a solo album, “Tom Jans” in 1974, at A&M Records, produced by Mentor Williams and recorded in Nashville.

He finds a house in Los Angeles and, for about a year and a half, he keeps writing songs. In his aim to obtain an album sound similar to Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” (1972) and “Dixie Chicken” (1973), he asks Lowell George (whom Tom probably got to know through Valerie Carter, his girlfriend at the time) to produce his next album, “The Eyes of an Only Child”

 About The Eyes of an Only Child

Lowell George,
In a corner of his soul
Watches over the voices of people singing
And the performances during recordings,
And makes sure they all become better.

Well, it’s not exactly like that. It seems that Lowell George was involved in the production of only two songs on that album. Tom had asked Lowell George to give him a sound image like that of “Sailin’ Shoes” and “Dixie Chicken”, but since Tom’s perspective, who wanted a more band-like approach rather than a collection of folk and rock songs with a unified sound, and Lowell George’s perspective, who wanted a more song-like sound, were facing different directions, it seems that Lowell stopped getting directly involved in the studio work. However, because Lowell did introduce to Tom many musicians, and thus influenced the album musically, Tom thanked him when the album was completed.

Tom continued producing songs. He co-produced with Ned Doheny Ned’s first album, and he helped John Haeny, who was the engineer for Jackson Browne’s second album “For Eeveryman”, with producing and recording engineering.

During the sessions at the LA Sunset Sound Studio, he continued working with the musicians Lowell had introduced to him. In addition to musicians such as guitarists David Lindley, Jesse Davis, and Fred Tackett, Bill Payne (piano) from Little Feat, Sam Clayton (conga), and Jeff Porcaro (drums), the background vocalist Herb Pedersen also is a musician that frequently worked with Lowell. The fact that other musicians (guitar, bass, drums) joined for the rhythm sessions is due to the fast change of producers, but the overall sound is well balanced, and the album is very pleasant.

 About Songs

(1) Gotta Move
Co-written by Tom and Lowell George, and produced by Lowell. A song of departure to drive California's coastline.       In a song mentioning Salinas, a place on the West Coast, and expressing memories of wandering around, the rhythm of two acoustic guitars harmoniously mix with Bill Payne’s piano, Mike Utley’s organ, and Jim Keltner's drums, while David Lindley plays lead guitar, like a softly dancing wind. This is an excellent reprise of the West Coast 70’s “style”. This is probably how Lowell George would have wanted all Tom’s songs on the album to sound.

(2) Once Before I Die
It has a casual introduction, but the two acoustic guitars intertwine and create an exquisite rhythm. Tom had used several acoustic guitars in one song on his debut A&M album as well, but in Tom’s sound, the tone of the rhythm cutting of the acoustic guitars plays a special role. Furthermore, Herb Pedersen doing harmony in a deep voice on phrases like “
I'm just like that eagle / I keep searching for the sky / I know I’m gonna love you / Once before I die”, gives a deeper meaning to the lyrics.

(3) Where Did All My Good Friends Go?
Would this funky sound, accentuating the rhythm, be the next step Tom wanted to achieve? The rhythm cutting of electric guitars, David Lindley’s electronic slide, then for the rhythm sessions, Harvey Mason’s drums and Chuck Rainey’s bass, the electric piano, the Little Feat session’s conga come and join as well. If the previous song was a continuance of Tom’s solo album, “Tom Jans”, this song predicts the sound of Tom’s next album, “Dark Blonde”.

(4) Inside of You
The child who grew up surrounded by nature, in California, and who knew love as a teenager, has become an adult, but he always feels he has lost something too… the only thing that’s left is the feeling of having loved… A chilly sound that is similar to the shade in the monochrome photo on the album jacket. There are only a few measures like those that Graham Nash plays, but the peculiar piano reverberations are another sign of Tom’s originality.

(5) Struggle in Darkness
Just like Tom, Bill Payne, who participated to the sessions, had low blood sugar problems, especially at night. Payne liked the theme and the song and accepted to arrange it for Tom. The piano phrases in the introduction part are especially memorable. Here too the rhythm of the acoustic guitar is casual, but very effectively used. The ending part contains Bill Payne’s synthesizer solo and Jeff Porcaro's drum fill, a sound like Little Feat meets the future TOTO. Tom’s vocals have an old age flavour, a little bit, but are delightful and soulful.   

(6) Out of Hand
This may have been a song written by a song-writing team, to make it easy to sell. It’s a typical country pop song, co-written by Tom and Jeff Barry. The song was covered by country singer Gary Stewart and become a No.1 hit on the country chart. Tom’s first solo album producer Mentor Williams also covered it on his solo album “Feelings” (1974).

(7) The Lonesome Way Back When
Bill Payne’s electric piano intertwines with two acoustic guitars, and then a third acoustic guitar carves the rhythm. This song has a tone that reminds of Tom’s solo creations from the A&M period. A simple melody with simple chords, lyrics conveying a feeling of loss, but in the end it shows the same pastoral country sound as Tom’s previous works, with a nuance of relaxed exoticism of Californian Hispanic descent.  

(8) Lonely Brother
Like the previous song, the melody of this song symbolizes the “Tom Jans sound”. The song starts with a piano arpeggio phrase that shows Tom’s habitual, concise, but peculiar melancholy. Here again, in addition to the rhythmic electric guitar and the casual acoustic guitar, Jim Keltner's snare drum admirably brings a soft introduction. How much hardship must one endure to be able to find his heart’s eyes, and steadily look at his own sun? Tom’s vocals are dark shouts. The lyric’s theme is isolation, so specific for Tom, but Jim Keltner's drums captures and charms the listener.

 (9) Directions And Connections
Life, and hope too, are obscure, like hidden behind a frosted window. We only have one life, and we cannot go back. We must take the right direction, otherwise we cannot express ourselves. This is a song that reminds us of the solo “Just A Stone’s Throw Away”, of 1977, almost the same year Tom had a connection, musical as well as private, with Valerie Carter, and Ned Doheny’s “Hard Candy” (1976). In this period, Tom and Valerie contributed to each other’s albums, and it seems that their relationship lasted for several years. 

(10) The Eyes Of An Only Child
It is said that Tom’s mother, after listening to this song, felt very sad and phoned him. She thought that the content – looking at the future with a child’s eyes – referred to his hard childhood times, Tom remembers.

The album’s theme, “eyes of a child”, is also reflected in the design of the jacket. The suggestive monochrome photos for this album and the next one, “Dark Blonde”, were taken by Ethan Russell. Russell was famous for his photographs for rock album covers, such as the Beatles’ “Let It Be”, or The Who’s “Quadrophenia”, but for me personally, his name will always be linked with the cover photos for McGuiness Flint’s “When I’m Dead and Gone” and Lambert & Nuttycombe’s album at A&M Records, “At Home”.

After this album, Tom was looking for a more band-like sound, so he created a band, did rehearsals and live concerts, and got involved in production. He wrote his third solo album, “Dark Blonde”, in 1976 (issued as a CD with paper jacket). After a period of silence, in 1982 he released the album “Champion”, produced by Don Grusin and issued in Japan, which also contains a piece co-written with Kazumasa Oda, “Champion”. He takes a break in 1983 to recover from a traffic accident. On March 25 of the following year, he dies at his home. Some say that he died due to a drug overdose. In an interview immediately after the release of “Dark Blonde”, Tom had said that he was preparing another album, and it seems that he made some recordings at his new recording company, Infinity Records, but all these materials are now lost.

Tom Waits dedicated a song to Tom Jans, “Whistle Down The Wind”, on his album “Bone Machine” (1992). The song captures well Tom’s personality: a man who feels he cannot stay here any more, who dreams of leaving this place, but who in fact is stuck and cannot escape. The melody is similar to Jans’ “The Eyes Of An Only Child”.

Also, among Tom’s songs covered by Bette Midler, there is “Mother’s Eyes” (originally recorded by Tom on his album “Champion”). It is a song almost like a prayer, that talks about a child who grew up into an adult, with his mother’s eyes and father’s hair, who wants to leave his place, but at the same time realizes that he is who he is owing to his parents. The melody is very close to the present album’s title song, “Eyes of a Child”. “wandering” and “a child’s heart” are probably Tom’s most original themes. In addition, as I wrote in the beginning, he probably was also strongly influenced by the landscape of his hometown on the West Coast. It must have been the melancholy of trying to keep his balance on a slope, the sea breeze blowing over his leaning spirit.  

“Tom Jans”, the album issued at A &M Records, has been one of my most loved albums for a long time. The album’s style brings before my eyes the view of LA, built over the desert, and the city’s Mexican atmosphere. I like the LA exotic country taste of the singer-songwriter. I listen to the album many times every summer, on my turntable.

Compared to his original loose personality and charming song writing, “The Eyes Of An Only Child” is an adventure, a step forward that Tom took in experimenting with sound.  The album is a masterpiece of wandering sound, where in a moment, a form is born, and the form reflects the moment. This is what music is…

“The Eyes Of An Only Child” is Tom’s second solo album, after the debut album “Tom Jans” and before “Dark Blonde”. It contains the best singer-songwriter pieces of the time, and has a very balanced band sound approach, in the Little Feat style, with a pastoral Californian country feeling.

 Long ago, this man was a child.
He was a child for a long time,
then he grew up, like his childhood had been in vain.
Something essential, an inside atmosphere,
The innocence that connects everything, I don’t know what, 
Is vanishing.
The link is broken.

T
he wide world, full of unknown things, is waiting,
The ignorant eyes of a child, like a flowing river,
Are full of not yet deciphered things,
A look full of all the things that run, not yet understood…
Eyes of a child
Surely everybody has them.   

Jugo Nagisa
A Child in These Hills
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 would seem that Nagisa has used the existing 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 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.


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photo credit:
tom sheehan London 20th May 1977

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


so many thanks to andreea

This page updated October 2007 by Geoff
GMGough@clara.net