Oh, For the Love of Music

One of Savannah’s most gifted and versatile musicians gets ready to unload on the modern world with his latest album, “The Age of Propaganda.” Before he heads out on tour in support of his latest, we catch up with the musical Renaissance man.

Fruitcake. That’s the word that comes to most folks’ minds when the name Claxton is mentioned. Especially here in the South. Every year for over a century, the eponymous bakery bearing the name of the small Georgia town where it’s located has cranked out tens of thousands of iconic, dense, heavy fruit and nut filled pound cakes that are shipped worldwide and cherished by legions of fans.

However, if one Savannah-based singing guitarist has his way, before long “fruitcake” will face some serious competition as the go-to definition of his surname.

For well over a decade, Thomas Claxton has steadily made a name for himself in the Southeast as an impressive bar and nightclub act, offering up studied and theatrical solo, acoustic interpretations of popular rock, pop and soul hits by an unusually wide variety of artists — and occasionally playing full-band, electric shows with his impressive backing group The Myth, made up of some of the most versatile veteran musicians on the Savannah scene.

Through steely-eyed determination and a diligent work ethic, this ambitious performer has parlayed his initial local acclaim into a full-time career that finds him playing road gigs everywhere from Atlantic City to San Francisco, and helping to plan charity fundraisers at major music industry conventions like the annual Summer NAMM show in Nashville.

He’s also performed at nearly 80 percent of all the Hard Rock Café locations in the USA and won numerous peer-reviewed awards for his past DIY albums.

On the eve of the release of his latest indie CD of original material (his last album sold several thousand copies in the Savannah area alone), I spoke with Thomas at length about his humble beginnings and his aspirational goals. Continued on the next page are highlights from our conversation, edited lightly for space and clarity.

SQ&A

How did you come to learn to sing and play music? Was it a hobby that became a career, or was it always your goal to do this for a living?

I first picked up the guitar when I was 16 years old. I was on a vacation in North Georgia with my dad and met a really cool musician, who it turns out actually plays and sings around Savannah under the name Samuel Adams. I told him I’d been wanting to learn, so he taught me the basics. He even helped me book my first gig. As soon as someone showed me what was possible on guitar, I knew then that I wanted to become a full-time performer and turn it in to my career. Everybody has a calling and I knew ever since I was a kid that music was mine.

Tell me a bit about your new album, “Age of Propaganda.”

The more people I meet, especially when I’m touring and experiencing different walks of life, I realize that depending on who you ask, we are either living in the best times any of us have ever seen or the worst. But I’ve found that for the most part, people have the best intentions — regardless of their views. Most people do agree the world seems to be going through an overload of propaganda — from all different directions. Due to the internet and modern TV, many people don’t know what to believe. Most of the songs on my new album reflect that theme.

This record was produced and engineered here in town by Eric Winbush, and it features an unusual assortment of musicians.

Eric has become my mentor in many respects and without a doubt, one of my best friends. This is the first album we have done together and we certainly took the time to make sure it was done right. I wanted to have a mix of guest performers alongside members of my band, “The Myth,” including: drummer Paul Cooper, guitarist Craig Johansen, and bassist Rodney Smith — plus, my best friend and former bandmate, drummer Mark Vaquer from Savannah’s own “Shut Up & Drive.” They all worked countless hours with me, but the album also features Grammy Award winner Mario Cipollina, who’s a founding member of Huey Lewis & The News. He plays bass on about 70 percent of the tracks and recorded his parts in California. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and former member of Parliament-Funkadelic, Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton worked with us in Los Angeles as well. Touring members of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Mother’s Finest and the B-52’s appear on the album too, as does British guitarist Phil Hilborne, from the London Queen musical “We Will Rock You.”

Approximately how many live solo shows do you perform a month? How many band gigs? 

On average, I perform a minimum of 25 solo gigs a month. In 2017, I performed 317 dates. My band plays on average once a month and now only does ticketed performances and festivals. Of the 317 performances, 195 of them were here in Savannah and the rest were out of town.

I’m told you have big plans to promote this new album. How will your touring in 2019 differ from in years’ past?

I regularly perform in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Orlando and other major markets. I have also done two tours in Alaska as well as shows in cities ranging from Philadelphia to Vancouver, British Columbia, and generally perform in rooms that hold between 500 and 2,000 people. Next year is definitely shaping up to be exciting, though. My goal is to focus much more on my original material and book bigger shows. I am currently working on multiple promotional tours across the U.S. and a cross-Canadian tour is being discussed for the Spring. I am organizing different bands to back me up in different parts of the country, and am entering this album — and individual songs — into a variety of different competitions, including the Grammy Awards.

What is your favorite place to play in away from Savannah, and why?

I have to go with Los Angeles and New York City. There truly is something electric about the vibes those areas offer. The crowds are passionate and love performers from out of town. One of the main reasons I first went to New York City years ago, and continue to make frequent trips there, is to stay humble and grounded. You may think you’re amazing, until you’re face-to-face with some of the performers in the major markets. Many of those players are world-class. They have to be! If they’re not, they’ll get replaced before you can snap a finger. It’s easy to be a big fish in a small pond, but when you throw yourself in to the ocean and you see the size of some of the truly big fish, you really haven’t experienced as much as you think you have. •

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