by Kenny Kerner

Sometime later this year, Tommy Roberson is likely to receive his 100th forward through TAXI. But his story was not always a happy one. In fact, to a degree, it was tragedy that inspired the artist to push ahead with his career.

Nothing ever seemed to go right for Tommy when he was younger. Growing up with his best friend, Jimmy Ellison, Tommy didn't really start playing a musical instrument seriously until his mid twenties. "My great grandmother would always give me gifts. It seemed like every time I saw her she would lay an instrument on me. They were always these really big harmonicas. She would also give me accordions that would get smashed within a year from the abuse of a five year-old. In school, second or third grade, I took a class in Coronet but discovered I had little interest in it. It was pretty boring to me."

At this point in time, Roberson had no serious attraction to music or the music business. As he puts it, "it just seemed to be the thing to do at that time." In the mid-Eighties, Tommy, now in his early twenties, dabbled with the bass for two years and when his friend tried to persuade him to form a band together, Tommy declined. "He was all anxious to form a band with me but I thought it might be important if we really learned how to play first."

Name: T. Roberson
Residence: Chicago
Age: 40
Occupation: Musician/producer
Joined Taxi: 1997
Songs Forwarded: 94
Deals: Pending

Tommy and his friend began buying and selling guitars more as a hobby than to make a living. And in 1993, at 31 years of age, Tommy bought his first guitar and decided it was time to get down and get serious. "I actually took lessons from somebody and was actually able to sit down with other musicians. We got together in the back of this barber shop and drank beer and played cover songs. It was everything I didn't want to do. At this point, I really had no focus."

By this time, Tommy began writing and doing some recording, always watching the progress of his best buddy, Jimmy, who was now in a national act called Material Issue. "I always tried to be good enough to get up to his level. I kinda wanted to be where he was. It was total envy. I would always tell him how proud I was of him and always helped him by hanging banners and promoting shows." In a way, having Jimmy close served to drive Tommy to work harder and set goals for himself.

Material Issue's career peaked with the single, "Valerie Loves Me" and when their label dropped the act, Jimmy and best friend Tommy decided to vacation in Mexico and just get away from it all. "Jimmy and I went to Mexico for about ten days and he was a little despondent but fine by the time we returned to Chicago. About 10:30 that night he called to thank me for taking him on the trip. Three days later his mother called me in the middle of the night to say that Jimmy had committed suicide. I was devastated."

Tommy used this tragedy to make him strong. He realized that everything he had learned, he did by himself. "I truly believed that I had what it took. I was into 4-track recording and drum programming. I also played guitar and bass parts on the songs I was writing. I turned my life upside down completely. I quit my job and I asked my wife of 12 years for a divorce and totally focused on my career. All I wanted to do was put my nose to the grindstone and accomplish something."

Tommy began submitting his material to publishers but nothing really panned out from anything. Tommy knew that with the talents he had developed he could make a living if he were only able to get his songs to the right people who would listen. In 1997, Tommy Roberson joined TAXI.

"At first it sounded too good to be true. I went out and bought about 30-40 books trying to learn everything I was going to need to know about this business. Then I read through the package you guys sent me and it was overwhelming. I sent in my money and started submitting material. With TAXI, I don't send my stuff out and hope that someone is going to listen--these people on the other end are waiting to listen. All I have to do is supply what they ask for. Where else in the world am I going to be able to get 26 sets of listings a year with fresh stuff on it every single time. There's always something new there for me. It's not only a major part of my music, it's a major part of my life."

For Tommy Roberson, triumph came from tragedy. His life is now focused. His songs are better and he's going for his 100th forward. We're glad to have played a small part in this story. Way ta go, T.


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