R.I.P. Tommy Hoehn

This is turning into a depressing weekend.

I was so startled by the loss of Pete Quaife yesterday that I didn’t even realize it was Friday and therefore time for my weekly TGIF feature. By the time it dawned on me, I didn’t really care to go back and rectify the oversight; I spent a few hours last night reading tributes and thoughts from other Kinks fans who were also saddened by his passing.

Now just a day later, more bad news. Memphis takes another kick in the nuts with the loss of Tommy Hoehn who died late Thursday night. You might not recognize his name right off the bat, but he was an integral part of the powerpop scene in Memphis and a contemporary of Big Star and other Ardent Studios artists who were plowing a different field than corporate radio in the 1970s.

Memphis is still reeling from the loss of Alex Chilton in March; now this. Besides the obvious thoughts and prayers to friends and family, my heart goes out to John Fry, Jody Stephens, Van Duren and other musicians and associates who knew and worked with Tommy for so many years.

Back in the day, it was Creem Magazine that first tipped me to Big Star and I wanted to gobble up as much of that type of music as I could find. During that expedition I discovered Losing You To Sleep, Tommy’s second album. It was on London Records and sure, with his beard and opened white shirt, he looked more like J. D. Souther or Andrew Gold than your typical powerpopper. But “Hey Polarity” and the title song knocked me out, and another track (“She Might Look My Way”) was a Chilton co-write. 

Hoehn had his hand in the jelly jar for Sister Lovers and also did some work with The Scruffs, but he slid to the melodic Paul McCartney and Emitt Rhodes side of the fence more than he did the crunchy sound of The Raspberries or Badfinger. Reportedly his musical hero was Todd Rundgren, but listening to his beautiful melodies and delicate style, you realize that his doppelgänger might have been his friend from Big Star,  Chris Bell.

Coincidentally, another album I picked up at that time was Are You Serious by Van Duren; Van would later record with Tommy as the Hoehn-Duren Band during the powerpop rebirth of the 90s,  releasing Hailstone Holiday and Blue OrangeNothing disappears on the Internet, so I can give you this link from an eleven year old blog post that sums up how they got back together after years apart. (Van has a new album out, but more about that very soon.)

The anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death is sucking all the oxygen out of the atmosphere this weekend and no doubt both Quaife and Hoehn are getting lost in the shuffle. Maybe that’s par for the course, since both were underrated and undervalued in the commercial scheme of things. But for those of us who get it, these are sad and painful goodbyes to people who have contributed far more to the music of our lives than Jacko ever could.

R.I.P., Tommy. Ironically, we’re losing you to sleep.

Scott Homewood’s 2007 essay on Tommy from Lost In The Grooves

Amy Nyman’s 2007 blog post about that Memphis scene.

Ardent Studios

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4 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Features and Interviews, Music

4 responses to “R.I.P. Tommy Hoehn

  1. edd

    The Duren/Hoehn albums “Hailstone Holiday” and “Blue Orange” are really good power-pop records–at times they sound a bit like “Apple Venus”-era XTC, and there are a couple of great Big Star-style rockers, “Red” and “Love Falls Up.” The London Hoehn albums I’ve heard are a bit less rocking than either Duren circa “Idiot Optimism” and “Are You Serious?”. They’re good, but they don’t knock you over. “Blow Yourself Up” remains perhaps the greatest Hoehn track, but I really do recommend those two Hoehn/Duren albums–they appeared in 1999 and 2002. It has been a bad couple of years for Memphis musicians, absolutely–Hoehn, Andy Hummel, Chilton, Jim Dickinson, Willie Mitchell, Jay Reatard…man.

  2. edd

    and, wanted to say I’ve heard Van Duren’s later stuff, and he’s still just great. really melodic but with some great, tense hooks. as of late summer 2010, he tells me he’s got some new stuff cooking. I’ve corresponded with Van over the last few years, and he’s a generous, great guy whose music I really love. He told me he was with Tommy Hoehn during his last days and hours, and I know it hit Van and all of Tommy Hoehn’s friends hard, as it did all of us who dig power-pop. As does Alex Chilton’s death; it really does feel like part of my past his been ripped away there…

  3. drbristol

    Van does have a new album out (Resonance Road) on Three Cool Cats records; I’ve got a review coming up soon.

  4. Wess Bramlitt

    Tommy & I worked on the cover of Blue Orange starting at 2 o’clock in the morning in my living room. The other shots were completed later. He was my dear, close friend since the 5th grade at Presbyterian Day School.

    I miss him terribly…
    He knew who Jesus is.
    I WILL see him again…!

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