Tom Hartman is known primarily as the ex-singer/composer/guitarist of The Aerovons, the St. Louis based band who flew to London in 1969 to record an album “Resurrection” for EMI, only to be shelved for 32 years and given an official release in 2003. Being an avid fan of The Beatles with a dream to record at Abbey Road and with a mother as business manager, Tom’s life has been a very unique and fascinating adventure which I’m sure you’ll find by reading the following interview.
Tom, first off, thank you so much for taking time to visit with me and conduct this interview.
I always like to begin an interview with recollections of childhood. From what I gather yours was a fairly happy one?
Yes and no. From a family perspective yes, my parents took care of us well with much love and attention. But my Dad was always trying to find a better way to make money so we moved a lot. I was always the new kid. I went to many schools and we went back and forth between St. Louis and Florida (which my Mom loved) a lot. So I would just get situated and make friends, etc, and then we’d move again. So in that sense, I was kind of a lonely kid I guess. It made me sink deeper into music though, because that was friend I would never lose.
What fond memories do you have of Pompano Beach?
Pompano Beach was one of the high points. I had come down here from dark, snowy, cold St. Louis to sunny Florida. The school was open, in that in between classes you would walk out in the “hall” and be outside in the sun, walking to your next class. It’s where I really started putting my first little band together, and where I got my first serious guitar. It was a wonderful time, I still remember driving with my Mother toward the beach one sunny day and hearing “This is brand new by The Beatles!” on WQAM and they played “Eight Days A Week.” The happy sound of that song pretty much sums up my time in Pompano.
Your family has always been pretty tight knit, as well as a strong circle of friends. That support net must have meant a lot to you not only growing up but in your musical aspirations as well.
My Mother supported my musical desires early on. Mainly in the form of buying me records even when I was about 6, that I would play in my bedroom for hours. I was in love with the sound of guitars on records by The Everly Brothers and Rick Nelson, etc. They had me on piano lessons at 5 or 6 but I didn’t take to them well, I wanted to just play on the piano and make up my own things, which they also encouraged.
Your mother was a singer. Why did your grandmother not encourage her to pursue singing as a career?
My Grandmother was just being careful I guess. My Mom had been invited to go on the road with a very good Benny Goodman style band but it was felt she was too young. It was probably true, but Mom had a really, really pretty voice. I didn’t realize how nice until I grew up and heard some old tapes of her singing stuff like “Summertime.”
Mom, Maurine Hartman, must have been some kind of special lady. What is the “pink center” to which she referred and how did this come back to play a central theme in not only your musical adventures, but your life?
You were brought up in a musically inclined family. You and your sister Carole were raised in classical music. Talk about your training and Carole’s scholarship to Tampa University.
Carole was a wizard on piano. I grew up listening to her playing concertos on sunny Summer afternoons, and doing endless scales and exercises. We actually had a Steinway Model M (kind of their medium size) in our living room, crammed in there. When Carole would be done I’d get on the bench and start fiddling around. Then back to my room to listen to “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley” or something. There was always music in the house. My sister did get a scholarship, but ended up feeling like she wanted something all her own, that she discovered, and that was not music, but instead, the airlines. She ended up as flight attendant for Eastern for almost 30 years.
Are you and your sister still close today?
Absolutely, she lives a few miles from us and I we speak daily and I see her about twice a month. We’re all so busy it’s hard to find time.
Back to your mother. I think she’s the kind of mom that most of us would loved to have had, supportive and encouraging your dreams and aspirations. Later on with your band, The Aerovons she would actually be your business manager. Great to have a manager you could trust to have your best interests at heart.
Well yeah she just couldn’t have been more supportive. Probably because she wanted to make sure she didn’t repeat the non encouragement from her Mom…..so she got me my first guitar, then after the teacher told her I was kind of a natural, she got my first electric, etc. She made sure I had what I needed musically whenever she could. She became the business manager almost by accident. She heard one of the early incarnations of The Aerovons at practice one day, and we were all talking about how great it would be if we could get on “The Last Train To Clarksville,” which as a local promotion in St Louis, where the city’s top bands would be set up in train cars….a different one in each car….and the train would leave St Louis for Clarksville, Mo, and return all in one afternoon. Tough to get in. She offered to try to get us in (we were a new, unknown band) and I kind of said “Oh Mom, you don’t understand, nobody knows us, this is for the big local names.” The guys said “Hey, let her try man!.” So of course, she got us in, and from then on started booking us.
I learned that just because someone is your Mom, or friend, or whatever, doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to do something you thought you need a professional to accomplish. We were all really impressed with how she got it done. My Mom was just able to talk her way into anything.
Aerovons – the name of a local band that you admired. So these guys had no problem with you taking their name?
That was part of Pompano. The guy who started the band, Chuck Kirkpatrick, is a dear friend to this day. They were the first “pro” band I ever heard. Absolutely crazy to me. Great harmony, jangling guitars, I used to stand in front of Chuck (lead guitar) all night and watch and listen while girls asked me if I wanted to dance. When I moved back to St Louis Chuck wrote and told me his band broke up, and he was starting a new one with a different name. So he didn’t mind, in fact was flattered.
Talk a little about the formation of the band and different personalities involved.
The first Aerovons band was formed when I was 14, in 10th grade at Bayless Senior High in St. Louis. I had found a few people at school, and we managed to play a few pool parties. Then I replaced the rhythm player with Bob Frank, who is still a friend, and who was pivotal in getting the group really sounding good. So Bob, Gary (drums), Brian (bass) and myself started playing high school dances. We practice at each others houses, except for mine since I lived in an apartment until we could find a house, having just come back from Florida. Soon we rented a house and everything moved there…where the band developed over the next few years, and eventually where we wrote everything on the album, after some more member changes.
St. Louis, Missouri in the mid to late 60′s. A relative hot bed of rock music, huh?
Very musical town, just not my kind of music. Very SOUL based, a lot of bands like Bob Kuban with brass, white kids trying to be black. Not my thing;)
What were some of the early gigs you played? And how did the audiences respond?
Well we mainly played school dances. No DJs then….all live bands. The kids loved us. We were very professional. We had two strips of lights my Dad built in front of us, that sat shooting up on us in the front of the stage. In between songs, the lights would go out, there would be silence, and then BANG!….into the next song. We were like a machine eventually. Really good. It came me a LOT of practice.
Early on you guys played a lot of Beatles cover tunes. Which ones were your favorites to play?
Well let me think. I loved playing some of the off the beaten track numbers, like “I Don’t Want to Spoil The Party,” which we did well. And we often opened with “I Feel Fine.” We also played “All I’ve Got To Do” which was another good one you don’t hear much. And George’s “I Need You.”
“I’m A Loser,” and “Eight Days A Week” were other faves. We did “Good Day Sunshine,” “Taxman,” good grief we did a lot of them. We actually did “A Day in The Life” in club in London and got a standing ovation. Never forget that!
Your mom, having a good business sense, realized you needed a demo of an original song to tout to the record companies and radio stations. “World of You” was chosen as that song. Talk about how the idea behind that song and how it was composed.
A friend had an old piano and offered it to us. We managed to get it into the basement where rehearsed and I started banging away on it. My childhood piano lessons kind of came back to me, and I started playing that riff and next thing you know “World of You” was born. I was thinking that when you fell in love it was both new and exciting, but also a bit scary. You ARE a stranger there after all….it takes you by surprise and you’re not sure what’s next. Kind of like “This is new, scary, exciting, and I have to watch my footing, because if I slip, it’s back to the old world of emptiness.” I’ve always been a bit too dramatic about everything I suppose.
Were there many choices of local recording studios at that time?
No, just two mainly, an expensive more well known place called “Technisonic,” and another small one called “Premier.” We took that because it was cheaper.
What did the “older” engineers think of Aerovons compared with the musicians and styles in which they were used to working?
Oh I think they got a kick out of these long haired kids and their Mom. They had little idea what to do, but they did their job.
Although you had a scratchy throad, how do you feel the recording session went overall?
It was exciting to be in a real studio, but I didn’t know enough to suggest how to make it better. I thought it was very cool but I heard all the bad things on playback and thought “How come it doesn’t sound professional enough, like the records on the radio?” That kind of thing.
Nice touch using the cello player. Your idea? From the classical influence?
Yes I wanted strings. I love strings. To this day. I love orchestration. Whenever someone hears something and says “Oh that’s overproduced” I usually like it When I was a kid I would go to the movies and the scores would just give me chills. French horns, strings. It sounded epic to me. So I wanted a taste of that. A touch of class as it were.
A rep from Capitol Records called a couple of weeks showing interest. But you turned him down in favor of recording at Abbey Road in London. So the old “bird in the hand” adage didn’t cross your mind? Pretty bold manouever there for a unsigned band.
Yeah I shudder to think now. But I really wanted to go to England and record where The Beatles did. I felt like there was magic there. I felt like it would seem like home to me for some weird reason. And it did.
The risk paid off as the Capitol guy gave you the name of a Roy Featherstone at EMI in London.
And a meeting was set up with Roy, right?
Yes. We got there and played the demo for someone named John something, and he smiled and took us up to Roy’s office. Roy was a warm, wonderful guy and he just loved it. He thought it was great someone from the States wanted to come to record there! “All our groups want to go to America” he laughed.
What was the reaction of everyone that you would be going to England to record?
Stunned. At the end of our last gig, instead of saying “Thanks for coming tonight, next week we’ll be appearing at the such and such club,” I got up and said “Thanks coming….this is our last live show until we return from London, England, where we will be recording for awhile.” Everyone’s eyes got really big.
You flew to London. Talk about your first impressions once you arrived. Did you do any shopping on Carnaby Street? How were the locals? Did any think you were English or in a band?
I thought it was amazing. All the stuff you had seen on TV and in books. Right there. We shopped at Carnaby Street and Kings Road, and did the whole thing. Walked around in pink bell bottoms (I still HAVE THEM!). It was cold, the food was awful, and it was exciting as hell. We heard music we had never heard. The people were great. They walked everywhere. We’d say “We want to go to such and such, do we need a taxi?” and someone would laugh and say “Heaven’s no, just go to the next block, turn right and you’re right there.” Yeah well, you would turn right and have to walk about ten blocks in the cold….THEN you were right there. Those people were tough;)
In the meeting with Roy Featherstone, he thinks it’s odd that an American band would travel to England to record since most British bands were trying to make it big in America. What were your thoughts on that?
It’s the whole grass is greener thing. In reality the studio doesn’t matter as much as the producer and engineer. I didn’t know that then. There WAS certainly magic at EMI, but there was magic wherever The Beatles recorded, they still always sounded like The Beatles. I should have realized that then.
The arrangement was made for you to return home and write as much new material as you could and then return to actually record. Did the long period of time test your patience or phase the band in any way?
No not at all. We had something BIG to look forward to, and we spent the Winter in the basement writing. Sometimes I think we thought it was SO FAR away that we probably lost focus. But not very much. We pretty much worked every night or every other night, ’til the wee hours of the morning.
Before leaving you got to meet Paul McCartney at a club called The Speakeasy. Were you guys believing this was happening?
We had heard it was club where celebrities hung out. When we found out he was there we sat and waited and finally saw him. It was the most unreal experience in my life to walk up and speak with him. Just like seeing a spaceship land in your backyard at night. Fortunately he put us at ease. Very funny, relaxed and kind. I said “No one is going to believe this when we get home” and he said “Ah well, but now you’ve got this!” and handed me back the autograph he was signing. It’s still right here on my wall from that night.
Later you took a tour of Abbey Road studios and happened upond George Harrison. Relate how you saw him in the control room and “coaxed” him down and the visit that ensued.
Well Mal Evans was giving us a studio tour, to show us around. When we looked up we could see a figure looking down at us. We were all dressed in our newly acquired Carnaby Street clothing so I guess we caught his eye. I said “Is that George?” and Mal said “Yes.”
“Do you think he’d have a minute to come down?” I asked.
“Oh he’s very busy right now…” said Mal. He then went on pointing out things in the studio. I looked up, figured what the heck, and motioned with my hand to “COME DOWN.” He immediately walked away from the window. Then the door opened at the top of the steps, he looks out, and says, “Are you with a magazine? (probably seeing my Mom with a camera).
“No, we’re just a band that’s going to be recording here,” I said.
“Oh alright” said George, and proceeded down the steps to meet us. Another saucer lands in the backyard.
You actually got to sit in with a band, The New Formula, for a few songs at a club called Hatchets. The band told you that as a rule English groups would not play Beatles’ material. Was this just out of respect?
I think so, I think it was like “untouchable” or “hallowed ground” for some weird reason. We played a Bee Gees tune I think, and we played “A Day in The Life.” They really liked us. I thought we sounded bad because we weren’t using our gear, and the band, The New Formula, was really good. They were doing stuff like “Reflections” by The Supremes.
Through this whole experience at the time you were still so in awe of The Beatles, still huge fans, that your own imminent recording session just had not really sunk in, right?
It was always on our mind that we might see them there, but we had no idea that we actually WOULD. We really thought there was a chance, but no we did look forward to the recording sessions, very much.
In fact, the worst news for you was that pictures taken with George Harrison were overexposed. At least one picture was salvaged, correct? Do you still have that photo?
Yes that photo is on our website, and is still with me. My Mom actually got some lab that did work for the FBI to salvage it. We were so heartbroken, but glad that at least one came out.
On your second trip to England in August of ’68 you had a meeting with Dick Rowe who wanted to set you up with Tony Clarke, producer of The Moody Blues. You did get to meet The Moody Blues. Very funny how you were caught unawares when Justin Hayward asked you if you smoked!
Yeah I was very naive. They were nice guys. I was just kind of embarrassed when I realized he was asking me if I wanted a joint after asking me “Do you smoke?” …oh boy. But they were fine about it.
And you also got to meet a band you had long admired, The Hollies, even going with them to a pub. To top it off you got to jam with them on the song “On A Carousel”. How was that experience?
Well that was simply amazing. Tony Hicks was tremendous. I was so nervous I forgot the chords and he yelled them out to me until I recovered. Funny.
Back home in the Winter of ’68 you set out to write songs in your homemade studio which was a laundry room in the basement of your house? Small quarters huh?
It was actually a large basement, where we had the stage kind of setup. But when we went to record, we wanted it more “dead” and isolated so we moved into the little laundry room. I have no idea how we fit in there. It was just like what The Beatles did when they recorded “Yer Blues,” come to think of it.
There were also a couple of personnel changes that took place. For the best?
Yes and no. We lost Bob, as he was afraid he was going to be drafted, and was also very serious about a girl. So we got a replacement at the last minute, Phil Edholm, who didn’t work out. Nice guy, but not really a good fit.
Finally in 1969 you returned to England to record the album “Resurrection”. I won’t ask you to go over the details of the recording session as the reader can go to your website here http://www.aerovons.com/aerovons_main.html for that account. I will ask you how you liked working with Alan Parsons and Geoff Emerick.
Both were great, Emerick was a quiet gentlemen, and Alan was a funny mad scientist type. Great ideas, lots of joking, lots of talent. I still am in touch with him, when he comes to town we get together backstage at his shows. Really wonderful still to know him.
Once the album was recorded you say you were numb and that you missed home. So it would be a little while til it all soaked in?
I did miss home. I missed the food, and my house, etc. There was nothing left to do there, and now the wait for its release would begin. It would be a 30 + year wait.
Just when it did start to hit you that you had a full length album under your belt, things went south in a hurry. Not to bring up old wounds, but the band began to splinter for different reasons and EMI did not release the album. Looking back now, do you feel it was all meant to be? Things happened for a reason?
I think that had we gotten a hit or two the money would be long gone. So the experience of what I did is what counts. Meeting The Beatles, learning about recording from the greats, that’s a nice start to your career.
Do you think you were more disappointed in the outcome than your mom was?
I think I would have been had I not fallen deeply in love with a girl when I got back. When I look back, I realize that she was just taking the place of my band, which I had learned to rely on as friends, support, etc. It’s almost like I didn’t think about the album anymore. Strange.
Without a band, you and your mom got in touch with Mike Post to record the single “Sunshine Woman”. From what I gather, you’re not exactly overly fond of that song and experience?
It was great experience with Mike, I learned a lot from him. He’s a monster. He influenced me greatly. I still follow advice he gave me back then even today. But the song was OK, I just can’t sing that kind of thing. So I hate how I sound on it.
Was it at this time you came to realize your talents were more suited to be an arranger and composer rather than a solo artist?
I think I always knew that. I think deep down I knew that I had everything going for me but a strong voice, and you really have to have that as an artist. If not a great voice, then a unique voice, like Neil Young or Randy Newman. I didn’t have that.
In hindsight, do you feel you may have been a little too young at 17 to go through this whole band/signing/recording experience?
Yes. I think I needed more songwriting experience to be sure, but then again, many groups start like that. Back then, companies would give you more of a chance. They might let you do two or three albums to grow. So I think we would have grown, and gotten more savvy had we had the chance. Our biggest problem was I was not concentrating on writing singles. I was writing SONGS. That’s nice but you need hits.
You chose to go to school, moved to Miami and graduated from the University of Miami.
Yes I actually wanted to go to USC Film School but they were filled up. I would have had a one year wait. I heard UM had a new film department and I could get in, and with our Florida history we just said “OK let’s go for it.”
Talk about how you got into writing music for TV, radio and films.
That old love of movie scores, as I mentioned, was still always with me. So I did a student film at UM, scored it, and that got the attention of people whow started hiring me to do TV and radio spots.
Fast forward 32 years later and you get a phone call from one Kieron Tyler, an English music journalist. What did you think when he mentioned his interest in getting EMI to finally release “Resurrection”?
I thought it was great, but then I thought, “Do I want people to hear this thing? It really has a lot of problems…” but since it was being bootlegged, I felt it would be nice to have a real release done well.
And EMI did just that in 2003 on RPM Records. Could you believe after all those years it had finally come to fruition?
I wish my Mom had been alive. She would have been so proud. I get emails from all over, from even young kids, saying “Hey just heard your album, fantastic!” etc. So it was actually worth it all after all. It just took awhile.
What about all the fan mail and letters you’ve received from all over the world? What does it feel like to be have that kind of cult following and renewed interest in the album?
I respond to each one and thank them profusely. It’s hard to believe that something you did is appreciated so many decades later. Heck, I know it’s faults, and there are many, but all in all, I own albums from the Sixties by groups with hits, and other than the hit, their albums are no better really.
I did read on your “News And Updates” section on your website that as of 2008 I believe you may be working on a follow up LP? Any updates on that?
I have been working on it FOREVER. It’s become kind of a joke that it may never get done. But you know, what I DO have done, sounds really good. Doesn’t sound like an old guy or some half baked material. It’s very strong. That’s why it’s taking so long, I keep throwing things out. This time I’d like to hear the album all the way through with cringing once. So far that is happening.
Back to reality Tom, you now work as a freelance music producer and composer and are married with 5 kids. Share a little (or lot) of the family situation as well as how busy work is keeping you.
I get hired to do TV spots, and I get hired to do all manner of things, even karaoke, which I did a couple of soundalike tracks for someone once, and now I have people coming to me all the time saying “Could you do a track of such and such for us?” ….really funny.
My kids are all over, from age 8 to 20. All totally different. Several are very musical. My son Tommy is great on guitar, Jonny is picked up bass last year and is just rockin’ on it, Lea plays piano and is just amazing. She’s my Beatles buddy, as she’s the one who will come up and say “Dad, what day is it?” and I”ll say….”Uh…..” and she’s say “DAD….it’s PAUL’S BIRTHDAY!” ….that kind of thing.
I feel very blessed to be alive and kicking, doing music daily, and having people like yourself kind enough to show interest in what I did …all those years ago.
Thank you too so much, and I will let you know when the album is ready. At this point it might shrink to an EP if I ever want people to hear it. Will keep you posted.
Lastly, thanks again Tom for taking time out of your schedule to do this and my best wishes to you and your family and all the Aerovons/Tom Hartman fans out there!
For more info on Tom and Aerovons check out the website here http://www.aerovons.com/