Sunday, August 15, 2021

Tommy Clark & The Shadows

Tommy Clark was born in 1945 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin but moved to San Antonio by the time he was one year old.
By the mid 50's, Tommy was bit by the Elvis bug after watching him perform on TV while legions of young girls screamed in the audience. Tom would soon get a chance to briefly meet Elvis in person one day when his mother called him over to the Cadillac dealership she worked at. After catching a bus and enduring a rainy walk to Goad Motor Company, there he was indeed. Tom and Elvis quickly shook hands before the king left the building.

At age 12, Tom suggested that he wanted to learn to play guitar. His parents decided to take him to Caldwell Music on Main St to enroll him in music lessons. Ed Fest was the manager at the store and greeted them as they entered. He turned his back to Tom's father and looked down at Tom and said: "son, are YOU interested in taking these guitar lessons or do your PARENTS want you take them?"
Once Tommy clarified that he was the one that genuinely had the interest, they let him start.
He was to take lessons from the excellent and versatile guitarist Spud Goodall, who played with many music stars in his time. At the time he was a member of the house band on the Tommy Reynolds Show on local TV.
The store would loan Tommy a Stella acoustic guitar for six weeks while he was learning. The initial task of learning an F bar chord on the guitar proved to be a challenge, however, McMahon excelled at sheet music reading and melody recognition tests. The Caldwell music program was a great program for developing the natural talent in its students.

Tom quickly found that he had a penchant for performing live. He began performing at events such as army bases, ladies organizations around town, and at the burn and psych wards of the local hospital.
Those experiences, especially at the latter two venues would help forever temper his perspective as a performer.
Although Tom's last name is actually McMahon, he would later take the stage name of Clark to continue to honor his aunt's stage name (Gladys Clark), who was in a highly successful Vaudeville song and dance team along with her husband Henry Bergman. They duo were major stars performing under the name Clark & Bergman.
Tom's father Joseph happened to be a member of the same bowling league as record producer and pressing plant mogul Bob Tanner. Bob would record bands at his studio and often released them on his prolific TNT records label. Joseph happened to tell Bob that his son had just written a song about Elvis, who had just been drafted into military service.

Soon after, Tom was in the studio recording his original song with just his voice and guitar. He recalls seeing soon-to-be country music star but then local KMAC radio DJ Charlie Walker at the session. A 78 RPM acetate disc complete with TNT labels was produced featuring two songs: an original song called "Poor Elvis" and an impromptu cover of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti". The last song had to be quickly dug out of his repertoire since Tommy was so new to recording that he hadn't thought to consider the fact that he would need two songs to fill out both sides of a record.
Tom humorously still refers to his then unchanged voice version of "Tutti Frutti" as the worst ever in recorded history.

The first serious band that Tom would join was mostly a studio project which went by the controversial name of The Wetbacks. This group featured friend Dan Green on lead guitar, his sister Jimmie on bass, and another girl named Kay Armstrong on rhythm guitar. A mystery saxophone player named Shake Snyder was hired for the session.

The group produced one 45 record at Jeff Smith's Texas Sound Studios and released it on Lonnie Fairbanks' Wildcat Records label. The record featured two versions of a song entitled "Jose Jimenez", inspired by a character of the same name played by Bill Dana who appeared on the NBC television series: The Steve Allen Show. East coast jazz drummer Cozy Cole's unstoppable 1958 radio hit "Topsy" (parts 1 & 2) had also been a major inspiration on the Wetbacks record. Two-part songs were all the rage at the time.
"Jose Jimenez" was co produced by a radio disc jockey named George Lester who Dan had called out to the bands practice space to help them arrange their original song. George did the spoken intro on each side of the record.

George Lester had moved down to San Antonio from Omaha to work at KTSA in December of 1959. During the early to mid 60's he helped produce 45's by Harley Davis (on the Wildcat label), a solo recording of the song "Old Shep" (also on Wildcat), The Wetbacks, and an un-seen 45 by an R&B artist simply named DeJean on his own Lessie Records label.

The record became somewhat of a local hit and got a lot of airtime on KMAC and KTSA. It didn't hurt having a prominent DJ having a hand in creating the record!
The group went on to headline a well attended performance at the Mission Drive In performing alongside local legends Doug Sahm and Freddy Fender. The Wetbacks were joined by Danny Segovia playing the saxophone parts featured on the recording.

The next major band that Tom played with was a band called The Royal Fairlanes. The group was led  by Rodney Enlow, whose parent's house the gang would practice at. Rodney's dad could often be heard from the other room between songs exclaiming: "That's a good one! Add that to your set!"
The constant involvement of papa Enlow in the bands rehearsals ruffled a few of the members feathers enough to where they decided to split off and form a new band with Tommy.

Tommy Clark & The Shadows formed in 1963 while Tom was still in high school. The group comprised of two of Tom's former Royal Fairlanes members: Frank Flores Jr. on drums, Bill Beeson on lead guitar, and was joined by John Miller on bass, and Tom on rhythm guitar and vocals. Steve Heather was later added on keyboards.

The group was augmented on backing vocals by two siblings named Shirley and Louise Montgomery who were originally from Abilene and went by the name of the Montgomery Sisters. The two west TX girls had moved to San Antonio recently and were classmates of Tom's at Jefferson High School.
Tom's dad managed the band and booked them at their many local engagements. When it came time to record, several sessions were produced at Texas Sound Studios and released on Joseph's own label Shamrock Records, named so due to the McMahon's Irish heritage. Several of their records sold quite well and went into second or third pressings.

Tommy Clark and the Montgomery Sisters.

There were four Tommy Clark 45's released on Shamrock records:
Shamrock 101: That's When You're Alone / I Want To Love You
Shamrock 102: That's Suzanne / Loneliness & Me
Shamrock 103: Lovesick Boy / Syrian Lullaby
Shamrock 104: If You Know What I Mean / Eileen

Tommy was classmates with Harvey Kagan, another working musician who would have most likely been playing with Denny Ezba & The Goldens during this time. The two had a friendly rapport and were encouraging of each others endeavors despite being in competing bands.

When Frank Flores joined the Navy, Mickey Drumm, the drummer from popular local band The Rel Yea's was brought in to take his place. When Bill Beeson joined the Marines, Ron Baker joined the group, though both were kept in the band once Bill returned from his duty.

In January of 1966, Tommy went into military service himself. He had wanted to get into Armed Forces Radio after attending military tech school in Amarillo. After yearly stints at Randolph AFB and Korat Royal AFB in Thailand, Tom was assigned the job of "fuel specialist" at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM. The very last option he would have chosen for himself. He was honorably discharged on May 12th 1969.
While still in active service in New Mexico, Tom would drive up and down along Central Ave (the old Route 66) looking for clubs to get solo bookings at. The first club he was booked at was the Daily Double, where he would alternate sets with a topless go-go girl. He gradually upgraded to working at a place called the Circus Room before he auditioned for a venue called the Wine Cellar where he performed for seven years as Young Tom Clark.

At the Wine Cellar, he started out on Monday and Tuesday nights as a singing Troubador going table to table. Eventually, he became very popular and the club ended up buying the store next door in order to accommodate the crowd he was attracting. By then he was performing five nights a week.

McMahon eventually moved to Los Angeles where he continued his nightly residencies. Wine Cellar club owner Earl had financed a studio demo that Tom recorded in California, under the agreement that Earl would become a part of the management team if he was picked up by a major label. During his time in California, Tom started performing under the stage name of Lewison Clark, which was suggested by a Columbia Records rep.
Although there was a few promising record label meetings on the studio demos, nothing serious was to take hold from these recordings.

Tom was disappointed in the and the prospect of continuing on as just a saloon singer in the Los Angeles area.  After a year and a half shopping his music to agents and record label A&R men, he decided to move back to Albuquerque where he continued to compose his original music. In 1983, he moved back to San Antonio to manage El Tropicano hotel bar. Though he kept writing songs on his own time, nightly entertaining was no longer fun enough to continue.

Tom is still recording and he does so at the Ellie Mae Studio in Port Aransas owned and operated by Tom's good friend (the aforementioned) Ron Baker. He currently lives in San Antonio and has since produced three CD's worth of original material, with a fourth on the way.

Many thanks to Tom McMahon, Carol Meyer, Harvey Kagan, and George Lester for all their help!

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