Tucson Jams: Feel the blues with local musician Tom Walbank

All music is the blues if you play it right

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Sam Gross | The Daily Wildcat

Musician Tom Walbank plays at Sky Bar on Tuesday, April 26. Walbank often performs songs from blues legends such as Robert Johnson and Elvis Presley.

Tom Walbank sat with his legs slightly spread, open hands gracing his guitar and mouth wrapped around his harmonica. An audience of 30 or so people sat around the open area of Sky Bar, drinks in hand with Brooklyn Pizza Company pizza on its way, and watched Walbank fill the bar with music as the sun set behind him.

The small trumpet tattoo on Walbank’s left hand wiggled with each blues riff he played. He covered songs by Robert Johnson and similar artists, with a committed loyalty to the blues.

Many of his songs began with Elvis Presley-inspired riffs, which hit high notes as his black oxford shoes came quietly tapping in.

The gig was small, so Walbank frequently interacted one-on-one with the audience. He stopped halfway through his set to take a picture of one audience member wearing a black hat that read, “Coco made me do it.”

Walbank’s music was contagious. After each song the crowd responded with “That was great, Tom,” or audible whoops.

The crowd rejoiced when Walbank sang. His voice is raspy, bluesy and full. He used a mic that highlighted this. The crowd fed off his energy.

“I try to play the same every gig,” Walbank said. “If the crowd is good, it just amplifies it.” 

Walbank is no stranger to gigs. He said he plays five nights a week, every week.

When Walbank finished the gig, one crowd member cheered “One more,” Followed by another “One more,” then “50 more,” and “75 more.”

Walbank obliged, took out his harmonica and made eye contact with members of the audience before slowly playing. The crowd came in and clapped to the beat as he steadily increased the pace. Walbank finished the gig when he made the harmonica holler what sounded like, “Mama.”

“You want your mama?” he asked the crowd with a laugh.

Walbank has been playing at Sky Bar for about three years, in Tucson for 16 and music in general for 30. And it’s always blues.

Susan Eyed, an audience member, brought him a soda and bitters as he was packing up. 

“Good health,” Walbank responded.

Eyed said she watches Walbank play every time she can.

“He plays with his soul,” Eyed said. “You feel it.” 

Eyed said she remembered when she started listening to Walbank.

“A big locomotive screeched into town,” she said. “You can’t help but stop and listen.”

Walbank has a new album, Lady Day, out on Bandcamp  and recently began selling trucker hats.

“I’ll be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” Walbank said.

Eyed’s brother was in Tucson visiting from the Midwest. This was his first time seeing Walbank live. He was overwhelmed by Walbank’s harmonica, vocals and slide guitar. Ultimately, he came to the same conclusion everyone at Sky Bar had. 

“He’s amazing,” he said.


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