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An American singer-songwriter, Thomas George was born on March 5, 1950 in Los Angeles. Commonly called Tom Russell, his music is most identified with the Texas Country music tradition. He is noted for a kind of music which also incorporates elements of folk, Tex-Mex and the cowboy music of the American West.
Russell graduated from the University of California with a degree in criminology and taught school in Nigeria. While living in Spain and Norway, he played music at a circus in Puerto Rico. Russell started off his musical career in earnest in the early 1970s in Vancouver, playing strip bars.
He later moved to Texas and formed a band with singer-pianist Patricia Hardin. The duo moved to San Francisco in 1977 where they would perform regularly in clubs as Hardin & Russell. Around this time, they had recorded the second of their two studio albums.
Hardin & Russell eventually split in 1979, at which point Russell drifted out of the music industry for a while. While working as a taxi driver in Queens, Russell met guitarist Andrew Hardin. After listening to his songs, Hardin convinced him that they should form a new band. Some days later, Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead was a passenger in Russell's cab.
Russell sang Hunters song Gallo Del Cielo who invited Russell and Hardin first to join him on stage at New York's Bitter End. Shortly afterwards, Russell and Hardin became his regular opening act.
In the 1980s Russell issued four albums credited to the Tom Russell Band, also featuring Andrew Hardin and accordion maestro Fats Kaplin. The music Russell produced during that decade blended elements of folk, country and rock. He often featured songs inspired by the American Southwest, blue collar American life, and by events from his own colorful life.
Russells storytelling approach was also showcased in songs like Haley's Comet. This single has also been recorded by co-writer Dave Alvin and tells of the sad last days of Bill Haley. Hardin remained Russell's full-time sideman until April 2006.
Tom Russells songs have been recorded by artists such as Johnny Cash, Nanci Griffith, Dave Alvin, Suzy Bogguss and more. In addition to his music, he is also a painter of folk art and has published a novel and a book of songwriting quotes co-authored with Sylvia Tyson. In the 1990s, Russell made a number of solo albums.
Collaborating with blues singer Barrence Whitfield on two albums, Russell also recorded an acoustic album mixing new material with his favorite cowboy themed songs. The album included guest appearances from artists like Chris Gaffney and Dave Alvin. During this era, his song Outbound Plane turned out to be a Top Ten country hit for Suzy Bogguss.
Tom Russells most significant album of the 1990s was the 1999 folk opera, The Man From God Knows Where. The album was not only drawn on the music of Norway and Ireland in addition to American folk and country, but also took the form of a song cycle tracing the journeys of his ancestors from Europe to America.
Featuring singers like Iris DeMent, Dolores Keane and Dave Van Ronk playing the roles of Russell's various ancestors and telling the stories of their struggle, Folk Opera was recorded in Norway, near the spot where Russells great grandfather was born in 1847.
In the 21st century, Russell's albums have been heavily influenced by his current home city, El Paso. The albums like Borderland would feature a strong Tex-Mex influence while containing songs of life on both sides of the border. Russell released the second part of a planned Americana trilogy, Hotwalker in 2005.
Hotwalker was another conceptual work largely inspired by Toms correspondence with author Charles Bukowski. The album was subtitked as A Ballad for Gone America and featured songs and spoken word pieces. Many of the spoken word pieces were delivered by another friend of Bukowski, circus midget Little Jack Horton.
In addition to working on new music, Russell also exhibits his original artwork. He organizes trans-Canadian music train featuring workshops and live concerts aboard a vintage long-distance streamline train on annual basis. The train trek was depicted in Russell's 2005 concert/documentary, Hearts on the Line.
Hearts on the Line was produced by Canyon Productions, which features a concert with Russell and Andrew Hardin videotaped at Capilano College in Vancouver. The documentary also shows behind the scenes footage of the music train experience.
In 2006, Russell came up with a collection of original songs called Love and Fear. The album was inspired by the highs and lows of Russells relationships with women. Love and Fear was followed by Wounded Heart of America in 2007.
This was a tribute album of Tom Russell songs covered by other artists such as including Joe Ely, Suzy Bogguss, Dave Alvin and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Two new songs included on the album are Who's Gonna Build Your Wall and The Death of Jimmy Martin. In 2008, the American singer Russell is writing, painting, touring and working on a documentary film project called California Bloodlines.
Featuring a blend of passion, innovation, and heart, Tom Russells music has a fire and purity rarely seen in music today. Experience him LIVE as his live shows are unique each night, never the same show twice.