Tom Jans - A Memoir
Tom Jans, Will
Jennings, unidentified lady,
Mentor Williams & Carole Jennings.
This is an e-mail received from
I met Tom Jans in late 1971 or sometime in 1972 or 1973 in Nashville. He
came to Nashville from California to pitch “Loving Arms” to Dobie Gray,
for Dobie’s second MCA album. The first album, Drift Away, had included
several songs that Troy Seals and I collaborated on and had attracted
notice of our presence in Nashville.
I wrote for
Danor Music, which Troy ran for David Briggs and Norbert Putnam who
owned Quadraphonic Studio, where Danor had a one room office upstairs in
the back. That is where Troy and I and our various collaborators
gathered to write five days a week. And that is where Tom showed up one
day. He and Mentor and Dobie had become friends and Tom, who was very
talented and very funny, eventually made friends with everybody in
Nashville. Mentor produced a fine version of “Loving Arms” on Dobie and
Tom left town after inviting me to come to spend some time in L.A. and
write some songs with him.
He was a very
active friend indeed—he convinced me that I would be better off living
and working in L. A. and then he set about making that happen by
convincing his publisher, Lance Freed, who was running Almo-Irving Music
(owned by A & M Records), to sign me on as a writer and move me to L.A.
and by July 1974, my wife and I had made the move.
In the time
between meeting Tom and moving to L. A. I made some hilarious trips to
stay at Tom’s house and we had some wild rides up to San Francisco,
stopping by Atascadero, where Tom’s parents lived, and in San Francisco
crashing at the photographer Jim Marshall’s apartment and going out to
the folk and jazz clubs, and consuming quantities of Irish coffee in the
misty city nights.
Tom in L.A., I met Rambling Jack Elliot, who Tom had met and become
close friends with on the folk circuit when Tom and Mimi Fariña were
touring. And sometime in the mid-seventies, Tom and Valerie Carter (who
was in Howdy Moon and wrote “Cook With Honey” and later did some nice
albums for Columbia) became close and the three of us used to spend time
all over the L. A. music scene. Years later, in 1981 or 1982, I think it
was, I put Valerie in a lyric I wrote for Steve Winwood’s music when we
were working on the second album Steve and I collaborated on, Talking
Back to the Night, after Steve and I had a hit with “While You See A
Chance” from the Arc of a Diver album in 1981.
version of “Loving Arms” made a large impression on singers and
songwriters and music business people. Tom’s fame spread and the record
labels took another look at him, after writing him off as a folkie who
sang with Mimi Fariña. - and Tom went on to record for A&M and Columbia.
The songs Tom and I wrote for the A&M album were the essence of what we
did together and are, for me, a snapshot of how our lives were then, two
guys struggling to keep moving, keep writing, living through all the
miseries of trying to survive the rough scenes in Nashville and Los
Tom moved on
to work on his Columbia albums and I carried on writing with Joe Sample
of the Crusaders—“Street Life” is one of our better known songs—and
Winwood—we had a string of hits in the eighties after “While You See A
Chance,” including “Higher Love,” “Back in the High Life Again,” and a
refurbished version of “Valerie.” I wrote pop hits with Richard Kerr
just after I moved to L.A., and later I wrote albums for B. B. King with
Joe Sample and a couple of albums with Jimmy Buffett and I wrote songs
for films, the most notable one in the 1980’s being “Up Where We Belong”
from an Officer and a Gentleman and I have had all sorts of other
magical adventures in songwriting through the years. And none of this
would have happened without Tom’s friendship and encouragement. He set
me up with his wonderful lawyer, Alfred Schlesinger, in 1974 and Al is
with me to this day. Tom inspired me to believe in myself and hang on
when I was having trouble believing in myself and hanging on. His love
for his friends and his encouragement of them was one aspect of the
great gift he had.
I was in
Paris in 1984. Buffy St.-Marie, Jack Nitzche, and I received an Oscar in
the spring of 1983 for “Up Where We Belong” and a BAFTA award for that
song in the spring of 1984 and in the fall of 1984 I was in England to
work on the Back in the High Life album with Winwood, and then went on
to Paris. My wife called me and told me Tom had died and that was very
hard to take—something about complications from a motorcycle accident..
I mourned his passing a long long time.
before Tom died, I set up my own publishing company and, to commemorate
his help and our friendship, I named it Blue Sky Rider Songs.
A few years
ago, I ran into Rambling Jack Elliot at the Grammys at the Shrine
Auditorium in Los Angeles and we reminisced about Tom. Jack said, “I
miss him every day.” I think that was how most of Tom’s friends felt
after he was gone. We missed him every day.
I have been
searching the past and I have not yet been able to remember the time and
places Tom and I wrote songs. We probably wrote them in Los Angeles
after I moved out, although some of them must have been started in
Nashville. Here are the songs that I can at this moment remember that we
wrote: Tender Memory, Blue Sky Rider, Old Time Feeling, and Strong
Strong Wind. There may be some others and if I remember them I will let
While I was
looking back, I discovered that Dobie Gray has a web site and I looked
through all that and found that he recorded Old Time Feeling on his
first Capricorn album, called Hey, Dixie, so you can add that to the
list of Old Time Feeling recordings.
thing to note is how important Dobie Gray and Mentor Williams were to
Tom and Troy Seals and me. They were very nice guys and very sympathetic
to what we were trying to do. In fact the most notice that Troy Seals
and I had up to that point came in a front page Rolling Stone review of
the Drift Away album. Of course Mentor’s composition, Drift Away, was
an instant classic,: song, performance, and production--brilliant. And
the success of the single and the notoriety of the album set up Dobie’s
Loving Arms album, and Tom’s song was the masterpiece on that one.
One of my
favorite memories of hanging out with Tom is that trip to San Francisco
in the early seventies. Tom was a boot-wearing, horse-riding,
pickup-driving California cowboy—he and his father, Art, used to
disappear for days at a time, riding and camping and hunting and fishing
in the California back country. Tom and I bought some cold chicken and
odds and ends of other food and a couple of cases of Red Eric beer and a
couple of bottles of tequila and threw all that in the battered old
pick-up he was driving and took Highway One all the way to Atascadero,
in the beautiful Central Coast of California, where his folks—Art and
Jean --had a small ranch, with a stable and a couple of horses, and we
stayed the night with them and then went on up to San Francisco and
beyond, up into Marin County and along the coast up there, and then back
into the city to crash at Jim Marshall’s apartment, where we pitched our
sleeping bags on the floor and made ourselves at home. All the way up we
were chomping cold chicken down to the bones and throwing the bones out
the pickup window and drinking beer and doing shots of tequila. Somehow
the California Highway Patrol was busy elsewhere, or they would have had
us for sure.
My part of
Tom’s total story is a small one, but he was a hell of a good guy and a
hell of a good friend, and deserves to be remembered for that as well as
for “Loving Arms.”
additional notes: “Loving Arms” was originally a very folky up-tempo
song, and then Tom started performing it more slowly, with more space
between the phrases, and Mentor and Dobie slowed it down even more and
theirs became the definitive version.
Tom was Art
and Jean Jans’s only child. Tom and Art and Jean were California country
people and they loved the wild California countryside and all the
creatures in it.
information about Will Jennings, please try a
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this resolution passed by The Texas House of