who co-founded the Parlor Boys with Janet, is a unique musician.
Born in San Jose,
California in 1949, Tom grew up in the "Little Italy" section
of town. His grandfather, a Sicilian immigrant fisherman, played guitar
and sang, and gave 5-year-old Tom his first lessons. He would take the
boy to Tom Marotta's barber shop on cannery row, where the old musicians
Family strife played a role in his musical development: to escape from marathon parental arguments, Tom would lock himself in his room and practice for hours.
Tom began collecting old phonographs and records at age twelve, which developed into a lifelong passion equal to playing the guitar. He haunted San Jose thrift stores, looking for vintage machines and Italian 78s. He soon filled the family garage with them. He knew no other kind of music than Italian until age 15, when someone turned him on to Fats Waller's great 1936 Victor record, "Floatin' Down to Cotton Town." This opened Tom's ears to a wider variety of the jazz, dance, ragtime, and ethnic styles that are audible exclusively on early records.
During these formative years, Tom met and played with many of his grandfather's musician friends such as, Tom Marotta, Pete Huerta, Joe Nicaro, and Rudy the mandolinist, who, including his father, worked in Special Services orchestras in World War II as well as Vaudeville pit bands in the 1920s and 30s.
In 1972, Violinist Paul Shelasky (q.v.), introduced Tom to the classic recordings of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. A late-1973 gig with the well-known Bay-area band The Arkansaw Sheiks led to a chance meeting with cellist and future film director Terry Zwigoff, who in turn, introduced Tom to legendary cartoonist and musician Robert Crumb. Tom instantly became a member of R. Crumb's Cheap Suit Serenaders, playing and recording with them for several years. This association has lasted until today, which explains the occasional presence in the Parlor Boys of 'suits' Robert Armstrong (q.v.) and Al Dodge.
Tom moved to Los Angeles in 1976, and plunged into the music scene there, playing with Brad Kay's Majestic Dance Orchestra, crack ragtime ensemble The Hollywood Red Hots, legendary entertainer Nick Lucas, The Knotts Berry Farm Entertainers (with whom he toured Japan in 1981), and, over the years, countless other gigs and bands. In the late '80s, Tom began a lasting association with crooner Johnny Crawford, which combination gave fortunate listeners the chance to experience a vocal-with-guitar sound not heard since the days of Bing Crosby and Eddie Lang. This may still be found each month at L.A.'s Atlas Supper Club, and is not to be missed.
Janet Klein had very little idea that she was going to have more than her own ukulele for accompaniment, when she met Tom late in 1997. He sensed her potential, and quickly helped her to work up a considerable book of the '20s-era songs they both loved. They were soon joined by bassist Buster Fitzpatrick and percussionist George Edwards (both q.v.), and a band was born.
More than a few fine musicians have commented that Tom's playing is the "best-kept secret in the business." With his increasing visibility and popularity with the Parlor Boys, that is, happily, no longer the case.