Dignified Pet Services presents 'People in the Neighborhood'
Portland has long been home to many fine musicians, their careers studded with record deals, and national and international tours. Among these greats is Tom Grant, who has charted #1, performed all over the world, recorded many albums, and won the hearts of local music lovers. He is a staunch animal lover and professed “recluse” whose elegant visage belies a warm, gregarious manner, both on and off stage.
Raised in a musical family in Portland, Tom’s father was a vaudeville tap dancer, who after meeting Tom’s mother and starting their family, opened and operated a record store for over a decade.
“That’s really what I remember as a kid,” says Tom. “We had records around. There wasn’t shrink-wrap then, and people just listened to records at the store. We took them home . . . it was like a library.”
Tom’s mom was a singer, and he, his brother and dad all played piano — his dad by ear. “My brother and I had lessons,” he says, explaining that they learned to play jazz from records, and “later teachers helped us along the way.”
When his parents died young — at 54 — Tom found himself at loose ends. “I went to U of O, thought I’d try teaching.” Nearing graduation in ’68, he realized he had miscalculated his hours. He continually “kept coming back to music,” he says, and when he realized he wouldn’t graduate with his class, “I joined a band.”
The pack loaded up and headed for LA, and with their “Mamas and Papas sound,” landed a gig at the Troubadour and the attention of the right guy. “We landed a record deal with a big-time manager — the guy represented Steve Martin, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band . . . we thought we were pretty hot,” he chuckles. [Enjoy a snapshot of these days on Tom’s Blog under “Funniest Ever” at TomGrant.com.]
After a not-so-glamorous run in LA from ’68-’70, Tom returned to Eugene to finish school, ultimately earning a Masters in Teaching and Education.
He moved to the small town of Mill City where he taught for a couple of years, then to Portland where he was a substitute teacher by day, performer at night. “I met up with people who were influential — Jim Pepper (sax), Ron Steen (drums), Dexter Gordon (tenor sax) and started playing with some big names in jazz.” At this point he also began getting noticed by the press. “The gigs got to be six nights a week, which is unheard of now . . . even three nights a week,” he says. “This period led me to become a solidified musician of some competence. Suddenly I started running into some really big names.”
In the mid ‘70s Tom joined others in touring Europe and cut his first record, “Mystified” in Amsterdam. He has recorded 25 more to date.
At that time a musician’s fate was controlled by radio — the support and promotion (or lack thereof) could make or bury a hit. Tom signed with the Polygram label ‘Verve,’ made a handful of records, was touring with many bands, and his songs were ‘charting’ in the Smooth Jazz category — including several #1 hits.
“In the mid ‘90s radio changed,” he says, explaining that a company called Broadcast Architecture contracted with the stations, taking over the work of screening talent and, using a formula, flagging those destined for play and promotion and therefore the charts.
Over the years, Tom says, he’s “tried all kinds of music and toured all over the world . . . played some really big venues. It’s been a good run.”
Married and divorced twice, Tom now lives with Mary Garvey, his partner of 15 years and also an artist, and their Golden, Lola. His daughter and her young sons are in town, and he enjoys being a grandpa.
“My child, though, is our Golden Lola, age 9.” Diagnosed 2 years ago with lymphoma, Lola underwent chemo for six months, after which the vet told Tom and Mary the cancer would likely return six months later. “Sure enough,” says Tom, it did. “I never thought I’d do this, but we did another round of chemo. This time the vet said the cancer would return sooner — six months would’ve been about October 2014.” This time Lola has beaten the odds, and in fact, Tom says, is doing great. “We’re giving her a supplement we feel has really made the difference, ‘Life Vantage.’ It’s hard to say, but we think it’s extended her life.”
So what’s a world-traveling, hit musician in his early 70s got on his bucket list?
“To get to the beach with Lola one more time,” he says.
With a little nudging, he adds, “I’d love to tour again. I’m pretty healthy — I’d love to get out there again.”
Sounds likely — he is tentatively scheduled to perform in Indonesia in August, followed by a stint in Japan.
In the meantime, this local gem performs frequently in town — Sundays at 6:30 at Tommy O’s in Vancouver, where the show is followed by a jam session. “Some biggies show up and play . . . Curtis Salgado, singers and players. It’s a little hole in the wall with great food, great service. Just a really good time.”
Great title for his life story, that: “A Really Good Time”.
About our Sponsor
Dignified Pet Services has served the Portland-area community for 13 years. In addition to their core business of cremation and memorial services, Dignified co-sponsors the beloved annual Service of Remembrance at The Old Church in downtown Portland, as well as serving as wonderful supporters and friends of pets and those working in animal welfare. Proprietors Michael, Randy and Avani live in Sherwood.
Kristan Dael is a freelance writer and the alter ego of Jennifer Mccammon. She lives in Portland with her 4-pack, and strives to produce articles that inform, edify, engage and entertain.