Nobody who ever heard me play my three-chord rendition of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” would mistake me for Tom Walker, THE guitar player.
And yet, an excellent series of articles recently in the Arizona Daily Star's Caliente section reminded me that I at one time had a long-term relationship with Tom Walker the guitar player and blues legend, even though I only met him once.
Walker was one of the founding members of The Dearly Beloved, a once-promising 1960s garage band. The articles, by Cathalena E. Burch, chronicled the Tucson band’s rise and fall, and what became of its members after the band broke up.
I never knew anything about The Dearly Beloved or its big hit, “Peep Peep Pop Pop”. All I knew was that, soon after we settled in Tucson in 1973, I started getting calls from people asking if I was “Tom Walker the Guitar Player.”
“No, I’m sorry,” I’d say. “You’ve got the wrong Tom Walker.”
Several times a year for many years, I got these wrong numbers. Meanwhile, I did come to know something about the musician who shared my name. For one thing, he became pretty well known, performing at Tucson nightspots. For another, he had managed to hit some rough spots along the way.
For a while, the people who called spoke with concern about him. “Is Tom out yet?” they wanted to know. I didn’t know what he was in – jail? hospital? rehab? So I couldn’t tell the callers where he was now or how he was doing.
It was troubling.
Then finally, around 1980, I got to meet the Great Man himself. He was playing the guitar and singing at some nightclub that escapes memory. The reason I went there wasn’t to see Tom Walker, but for an interview with the woman he was performing with. The woman had made something of a name for herself with a Chamber of Commerce tribute to Tucson that got a lot of play on local TV.
Ah yes, 1980. The glory days of local news gathering.
Anyway, in addition to my interview with the Chamber of Commerce lady, I got to meet Tom Walker the guitar player. I’ve often fantasized about what I'd do when I finally met him face-to-face. All the times I’d been interrupted in whatever I was doing, or worse yet, roused from a sound sleep by some clown wanting to talk to someone I’d never met.
Well, here he was, a big, Teddy Bear of a man with a full beard, and the only thing I could think of to say was, “Hi – I’m Tom Walker.”
He laughed. “Hi, so am I.” he said.
“I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls over the years, from people who were looking for you,” I said.
“Huh," he said. "So, that’s where all those calls went.” he said.
And then, in honor of our meeting, he played the most wonderful rendition of “Margaritaville” I’ve ever heard – much better than Mr. Buffett’s. I can still hear that mellow guitar, and his voice mourning those wasted days, those blown-out flip-flops.
Tom Walker was inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame in 1997. He died of a heart attack in 2005 at the age of 58. I kept waiting for a phone call from someone looking for old Tom after that, but none ever came.
Guess everybody got the word, this time.