Today’s date: June 21, 2009
Buy records, hear samples: All recordings by this versatile singer can be found on his website where you can also get all the Thomas lowdown! Additionally, songs and CDs can be purchased through iTunes and CD Baby.
YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8dE-_bElfs
Bay Area venues played: Pacifica Performances Sanchez Concert Hall, San Francisco’s Octavia Lounge, 7th Avenue Presbyterian Church and the Big Room at LMEC.
Venues (not yet played) but recommended for a Thomas Stafford show: Every one of Branson, Missouri’s great time theaters, Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, San Francisco’s Rrazz Room at Hotel Nikko and – Broadway!
How does Thomas describe his music genre?
“I think of myself as a pop and light jazz singer. I have a 4.5 octave range, so I enjoy using every inch of my vocal abilities. I sing standards like: ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ to Supremes Motown. However, the most interesting thing about my one-man show is that everything the audience hears is me. Although I pre-record some of my accompaniments and my background vocals, there are no electronic enhancements that create the harmony. I really am singing all of those parts. I even perform an old gospel song as a quartet just to prove that I can sing all four parts when I need to!”
What puts the “E” in entertainer for Thomas?
“I enjoy the entertainers that could sing, dance and act. I love creating authentic arrangements of such Motown songs as ‘My Girl’ or the Supremes Medley that incorporates 5 number one Supremes songs in 7 minutes. Sometimes, however, a song just requires sitting down at a piano and singing. I love doing this with some jazz standards like ‘Misty’ or the jazz piece that I wrote to Jean Bartlett’s lyrics, ‘Coffee and You.’”
Favorite gig story to date and why?
“This one is very recent. I put together a show with four of my friends and we did a benefit concert to help raise money for people in my church who have lost their jobs. I felt that this was a need and I wanted to use my talents to help. I arranged all of the vocals and created lead sheets for a drummer and bass player. I played the piano and sang lead on most of the songs while my friends Irene, Tim and Owen did background vocals. We had an excellent crowd at the church social hall and raised over $600.00. The best thing about this gig was working in an ensemble with live performers. There is nothing better than feeling how a song is moving along in syncopation with other fine musicians. I was in heaven. Plus, they let me be the lead! Who could ask for anything more?”
Extra facts: Thomas learned to play piano by ear and by age 8, he was playing in his church in Eastern Kentucky.
“I have a philosophy of having no fear when I sing. I think one has to just go for it. I strive to stay in shape so I can keep my voice healthy. It’s truly a miracle that I can sing at all. I was in a baseball incident as a child and my larynx was ruptured. Since there was no blood, and we lived way out in the interior, the throat had to heal on its own. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s that an Otolaryngologist found the scar tissue because it had caused my vocal cords to tilt. They’re very hard to find, I’m told. But trust me, with this much volume, they’re there.”
Extra family facts: Thomas grew up singing in the Blankenship Church of Christ in Christian Union with his mother, Doris, and sister, Pam.
“We also sang at just about every revival meeting in the area. Mother loved going to church. However, I think she loved showing off that her kids could sing harmony at ages 6 and 10 as well. My sister and I recorded a gospel album of songs that we used to sing with my mother, after my mother’s death. That album is one of my favorites because I feel we really captured the essence of what Mom would have wanted had she been on the recording with us. That album is available through my website.”
Important related stuff to know: Tom is also the District Music Coordinator and Choral Music Teacher for over 600 kids in the Pacifica School District. You can also catch him singing with Pacifica’s Seaside Singers.
“I taught choral music and humanities for 17 years. The last 6 of those years were teaching between 600 – 1,000 students a week in the Pacifica School District. I love teaching and seeing the joy in students’ faces when they realize what they can accomplish. This past year, I’ve been an administrator for the District. However, I haven’t left my musical roots. I continue to be the District Music Coordinator and one of our jazz bands let me sing with them on the year-end final concert. By the way, The Rob Schneider Music Foundation supports the instrumental music in the District. Without Rob’s financial support, there would be no instruments played in the District.”
Who were your early inspirations?
“As a child, I heard a lot of Motown, Frankie Valli and Creedence Clearwater Revival. But on Sunday mornings, we were always watching the Gospel Singing Jubilee. This was a southern gospel show that featured groups like The Happy Goodman Family and The Florida Boys. I loved that show. Every Saturday was American Bandstand. In the 80s I was a huge fan of ‘Solid Gold.’ I love the groups that sang harmony too. I was really influenced by the work of The Manhattan Transfer and The Pointer Sisters.”
How old were you when you realized that music would be a major part of your life?
“I was about 6. It always seemed a given that I would be a musician. I was good at it and not particularly good at sports. However, I could dance too. This was helpful early on because I did Summer Stock Theater and ended up touring Japan in 1985 with, ‘The Stephen Foster Story.’ I’m guessing you can’t figure out whose life was depicted in that musical, can you?”
Why do you love to make music?
“My light shines brightest when I’m singing. It is truly a part of my soul. I not only love to make music, I have to. It’s as natural to me as breathing.”
Work in the arts you are looking for?
“I love to act. I would like to do some serious acting without music as well. I don’t really see myself as a leading man, but I’m a heck of a character. I have pretty good comedic timing as well.”
What about entertainer goals, where do you stand on those?
“There was a time in my life that I wanted to be a pop star. However, as I come of age, I just want to enjoy my music, continue to write music, and get a chance to share that with audiences. I just want to keep on doing it until I can’t anymore. That shouldn’t be for at least 30 or 40 more years, right?”
So, why be on ?
“I love the opportunity to be on this site and to get more opportunities to perform through it. Jean always puts together an amazing quality product. I’m so glad she allowed me to be on this site. Now, I feel like I’ve arrived!”
interviewed by Jean Bartlett for