Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Forgotten Records #2 - Tommy Keene

You may have noticed from some of my previous posts that I’m a bit of a Who fan. Today’s post is Who related, and also could just as easily be called The Unknown Artist #1. Unknown to me anyway, until very recently. I picked up the February issue of MOJO because of the great cover stories on the Who. A nice bonus was a CD of Who covers by the likes of the Jam, Flaming Lips and Richard Thompson. By far my favorite track on the disc is a cover of Tattoo, by a guy named Tommy Keene. The track features impeccable guitar playing and great pop vocals. Who is this guy?

Tommy Keene apparently peaked commercially in the 80’s as a guitar based pop singer/songwriter. Somehow he managed to fly under just about everyone’s radar, as far as I can tell. His story seems to be one of those cases where critical accolades and sheer talent don’t translate to record sales, for reasons that no one can explain (think Marshall Crenshaw, Greg Kihn and Matthew Sweet). My All Music Guide to Rock is nothing but four-star ratings and praise, but is also quick to point out that most of his recordings are out of print.

From Bethesda, Maryland, Keene enjoyed strong local support in the 80’s and after a few stints in local bands, signed with the Dolphin label in North Carolina. His 1984 release Back Again (Try) was produced by T-Bone Burnett and Don Dixon, and received heavy college radio airplay (not in Champaign, that I recall) Keene eventually signed with Geffen, who dropped him after two albums. In the 90’s, Keene signed with Matador and recorded several more well crafted pop records. 1993’s The Real Underground is a retrospective of his early career, and is probably the place to begin, if you can find it anywhere. It's where you'll find Tattoo.

For more recent activity, I turned to his website, which reveals that Keene is still recording and touring. His website features three free downloads.

Tattoo is one of Pete Townshend’s most brilliant pop songs and Keene nails it. This performance alone is reason to look a little further into this guy’s catalog.

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