Tuesday , February 24, 2015 - 12:00 AM
Tom Bennett, folk singer and bluesman who is based in Salt Lake City, but currently lives in his van in St. George, is the living definition of a one-man band. While playing live he incorporates either resonator guitar or mandolin with harmonica, vocals and foot percussion. Bennett also books all of his own shows, creates and sells his own merch and drives all around the country himself.
Although self-taught, Bennett wouldn’t call himself completely self-made. He said he received a lot of help from musicians far and wide. In other words, Bennett has friends, not fans.
“I put in a lot of work, but because of that people see it and I get a lot of help from people and it would be really impossible to do it without all the help,” Bennett said, taking a break from performing on a street corner in downtown Salt Lake City.
“I’ve got friends I've made on tour that have helped me find shows in different cities and that is the only reason I’m able to do what I do, just the friendships you make on the road and the people that hear your music that it resonates to.”
Bennett is continuing to make friends on his tours, and because of a connection he made earlier this year, he is booked for a show in Ogden at D&R Spirits with Brad Rizer and Danny Wildcard. Bennett is kicking off his Pacific Northwest tour at the Ogden show on Monday, March 2.
Busking in the city of salt
Bennett only recently picked up the mandolin, and he’s only been playing guitar for about two years. His hope for this year is to improve his skills on both instruments. He practices and performs around the clock, but one of his favorite venues is the city streets.
“That’s where a lot of times I write my songs, on street corners. That’s where ideas come to me most,” he said. “The instrument is in your hand, you’re playing for people as they walk by so you want it to sound good, but it’s also a good opportunity because there’s not a captive audience to try out different things. So I was playing mandolin a lot today.”
Although music has always played an integral part in his life, Bennett didn’t pursue folk and blues as a full-time lifestyle until after he created his own record label, Sweet Salt Records. Bennett was asked to perform at the Peery Hotel in Salt Lake City; the only problem is he didn’t know how to play. With the help of some musician friends, Bennett booked the show and started a weekly folk music night that continued on for six months.
Bennett started up Sweet Salt as a way to thank the musicians who helped him that night and in a way, unite the Salt Lake City folk music scene.
“It became very popular and was a really good show. I wanted to put out a compilation CD to help ... unify the Salt Lake music scene.” He wanted to help all the talent get publicity. he added. “I wanted to put out this album and have everyone sell copies of it, use it to record and just use it to fund the label basically.”
With the label, Bennett recorded and produced his full-length album, “The Man Who Shook The Trail of The Devils Hounds.” The album features Bennett on vocals, guitar and harmonica, which is why he’s working on re-recording it now.
“It came out really good, but I was only playing guitar, singing and harmonica on that album, so it doesn’t catch the energy of the live show,” he said. “It just makes for a bigger sound, it almost sounds like a full band at times. You’ve got the percussion going, the harmonica, the guitar, and vocals all at the same time. So I can usually do what three or four people can do just by myself.”
Ain’t no rest for the wicked
On his Pacific Northwest tour, Bennett is traveling alone, save for his puppy lil’ Oakie. He’s had bad luck booking tours with other musicians in the past, and dealt with last-minute cancellations. Soon enough that shouldn’t be a problem. Bennett is currently working on creating a network of like-minded traveling folk musicians who can share vital information about life on the road.
“There’s a lot of people that play music that’s called folk music, but people who really do it the real way just staying with the people, and touring with the people and working with different activist groups and doing all that good stuff, playing music based on what they see,” he explained, noting the lack of “authentic touring folk singers” out there.
“I’m working on building an actual formal network for those guys and all of us so we can share our information and all the friends that we’ve made and the places to stay and play music at.”
Bennett’s seeking other folk singers and musicians who want to use their music to help people and change lives for the better. During the Clean Air No Excuses Rally at the Utah State Capitol in January, Bennett could be seen performing his song “Governor, We Cannot Breathe.”
“Now whenever I’m around I try to get involved with different activist groups in the area,” he said. “I’ve done stuff with gardening, I’ve done stuff where we feed the homeless and put on concerts for the homeless. I enjoy all that stuff.”
Hard-working musicians like Bennett have seen it all, and he said the only thing that’s tough about being a musician is getting folks to come out and support local musicians.
“Some of the shows are surprisingly well attended and others are surprisingly unattended,” he said. “I played a show last week, there was one paying customer and that happens, that happens.”
In music hubs like Ogden, Salt Lake City and even St. George, Bennett is leaving his mark and making it known that he’s trying to build up the music scene wherever he travels to. He said Ogden was unique in that people help each other out and musicians spread the word about shows and events.
“The last time I played in Ogden I recognized in the audience six or seven local musicians who just came out to hear the music and that’s really cool,” he said. “I always have a good time in Ogden.”
Contact reporter Raychel Johnson at 801-625-4279 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @raychelNEWS.
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