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Tom Jans
A Memoir


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Tom Jans - A Memoir

Will Jennings
July 2005

Tom Jans, Will Jennings, unidentified lady,
Mentor Williams & Carole Jennings.

This is an e-mail received from
Will Jennings:

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.

Hanging with 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.

Dobie’s 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 Angeles.

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.

Sometime 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 you know.

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.

An important 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.”

Two 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.

Will Jennings July 2005

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Group photo probably taken by Dobie Gray
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This page updated August 2005 by Geoff

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