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Interview with Tom Cron
by Torsten Mörke, 2019

Tom, first please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born in 1949 in the US mid-west and moved to New Jersey at age 9. I was not too enthused about the process of being educated, but participated as required, and gravitated towards socializing with others who were not among the popular crowd.&xnbsp;In the mid 1960's, I was feeling that music was becoming one of the most important human activities as far as my experience of being teen aged was concerned, and I got involved by getting a guitar and learning some chords. Before long, bands were being formed and I was invited! Through necessity, I became a bass player, and it suited my nature to fulfill a supporting role, in fact, a vital, throbbing, basic role. I suddenly had a purpose and a social identity and this formed the center of satisfying the need to express the fact of my existence and my feelings. Somehow, I met and bonded with some exceptional fellows and we became serious about creating original music, of our own shared creation and not so much composed of popular forms and fashions, while being reflective of all the many types of music we had heard and were hearing. For a few years that now seem like quite a long time, we were actively creating, performing, and mostly practicing our art, and somehow we eventually found ourselves existing in the same time and place with several other musicians who were on an entirely more cosmic track, who went on to become famous.

This part of my life somehow melted into the rest of my life, which did not include being in bands, but which has been a sequence of many sorts of experiences, good and bad, and, like all our lives, leading to the present day, with many satisfactions and also some regrets. I am very happy with my time spent here, and so I don't mind revisiting the past, as long as we understand that like a crusty old reel-to-reel tape recording kept in a damp basement for 50 years, my memories are rather musty and prone to be incomplete to say the least.

Naturally. We talk about things that happened 50 years ago. Aren't those memories always musty and prone? Please tell us more about the bands you were in.

Sure, as best I can recall... I may misstate a name and the sequence here and there. When I first started playing a guitar, it was with a friend or two, using about a dozen chords we learned, and we hardly needed a name for the band. But soon after moving from Red Bank New Jersey to nearby Middletown, I got a bass and we had enough members to actually play around a bit. The first band with a name was Sherlock Holmes and the Watsons. This was my neighbor Richie Holmes on drums, myself on bass, George Forbes from Red Bank on guitar, and Mark Stryker, also from Middletown, as lead vocal. We had a list of songs including the Stones, Beach Boys, just a mix of all styles of the mid-60's, provided we could manage to play them. We played at a few parties, a teen club dance or two, and so on. Pretty soon we got a keyboard guy, Joe Griesi, whose family owned a pizza parlor in Red Bank. What a great place to hang out and be cool! Soon his big brother Michael was managing us and we were getting gigs at more places and with better gear. By now we were using the name The Plague and actually made a small amount of money once in a while.

It was about then that we joined with a crowd-pleasing vocalist and guitar player named Buddy Norris. He had been with Steve Van Zandt in a band from Middletown named The Shadows, but Steve had moved on to new bands, so Buddy took the name and we had a brand-new band. Now we were somewhat known and getting gigs like dances at beach clubs, with a better list of songs to play and we actually had a number of fans among the local high school crowd.

About then, my high school senior year of 66-67, we started talking to guitarist Tom Dickinson, also from the Middletown area. Tom was at a bit higher level of musical talent I would say, but totally into the kinds of music Rich and I were crazy about. Soon we were forming a new band, with myself, Richie and Tom, and we called ourselves Odyssey. This being the ďsummer of loveĒ, 1967, we were trying some acid and pot, and our minds and talents were being exercised in new directions listening to the incredible bands of that time like the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver, Cream, John Mayall, and all kinds of blues. It was an incredible universe opening up for us! We could now jam for hours, and decently render covers of a lot of good stuff. At this point, after seeking and talking to other musicians, and looking for places we could play, we found ourselves accepted and appreciated at the Upstage Club in Asbury Park, where we met and got to listen to and jam with such folks as Southside Johnny Lyons and Bruce Springsteen, who were among the many aspiring musicians who frequented the club. Upstage was remarkable in many ways, a place where all kinds of players were accepted and encouraged by the owner Tom Potter. We were joined by the talented keyboard player Kevin Kavanaugh about this time as well, who later went on to play all over the world with South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. As Odyssey, I had some great experiences playing cover songs of our favorite bands, as well as jamming onstage into the wee hours, losing the sense of ego while feeling an otherworldly yet somehow familiar sense of creating and being created by the music.

I am not too clear about some of the changes which came during this time. I had gone off to college as had some of my band mates. I had tried going to 2 different colleges but it just wasn't working out for me. Soon I was out of college, and back in town, living at home as usual. But that wasn't great so myself and Tom and another good friend started renting an apartment in Asbury Park, and we started getting a new and better band together. Gradually we gathered some good musicians and came up with the name Sunny Jim.

Which is not exactly unknown to Springsteen fans. What happened next?

Well, Sunny Jim consisted of Tommy Dickinson on lead guitar and vocal, and myself on bass, and a very good keyboard player named Bobbie Alfano, known to us as Ally. He was also a great harmonica player which greatly enhanced the sound of blues numbers. Joining us on rhythm guitar was Bill Ross, former fine arts student and a very skilled instrumentalist, nicknamed Bo. On drums was Vincent Manniello, who had formerly been with Bruce Springsteen in the Freehold band The Castilles. Vinnie was a great drummer, capable of really subtle accompaniment when we were all listening to each other, building new songs. We started to play together and we just clicked. Right from the beginning we were creating new songs based usually on a few riffs Tommy or another of us had come up with, then building it gradually with each of us making up our parts. I guess thatís what all bands do, but it was new to us! Pretty soon we had a pretty good number of songs, but for the longest time, it seemed like all we did was practice them endlessly, trying to perfect them, in the basement of Boís Church in Point Pleasant which somehow allowed us to do so, quite a fortunate thing as we could really be loud there without causing noise complaints like when we practiced in one of our homes. We did try a lead vocalist or two also but somehow that didnít work out. We were creating weird, original songs. Tommy in particular would bring in an idea, a guitar riff and some lyrics for a verse or two maybe, but in no time his original version would grow as we all added our interpretations and the song evolved into something we all owned. I canít really recall if we had more than a few gigs in the early days but we were impressing a few folks who got to hear us. And one day a reporter from the Asbury Park Press came downstairs to listen and wrote a really glowing report that surely got us noticed! I think that was just about when Carl West, also known as Tinker, got interested in us. I am not sure how that happened but it was likely Vinnieís doing, as he was keeping in touch with Bruce who was then working with Tinker.

Please tell us about the Brookdale concert, from which you have these awesome photos on your homepage.

Yes, the Brookdale concert was in July 1971. At that time, we had played a few concerts though at this point I would have to do research to get them in order for you. Tinker had invited us to practice at his surfboard factory in Ocean Township, which coincidentally was serving as Bruceís temporary headquarters and residence. The concert was a day-long affair, a free concert billed as ďThe 2nd Annual Nothingís FestivalĒ. This was featuring Bruce in a band called the Bruce Springsteen Band. As opening performers, besides Sunny Jim was another band Tinker brought on board named Odin. I donít really remember their style but they had a lot of fans. They played their own original material also. And there was also a solo female vocalist Jeannie Clark who I think did folk music.

Who made the photos?

Well I took those pictures, except for the ones where we were onstage. The ones of Sunny Jim playing were taken by my girlfriend and future wife Jeanne Bartholomew. I have to say, if I had somehow known the future or maybe just wanted to create a more complete record of the event, I would have taken pictures of Bruce and his band, but it seems I had less interest in them than random crowd shots. It is possible I ran out of film, of course. There was another roll of pictures but somehow they got lost in the decades between my early days and the present. I did have a great picture of shirtless Bruce standing in front of a Volkswagen van looking fabulous!

You were managed by Carl West. How do you recall him?

Tinker, as he is known, was and I am sure still is, rather a brilliant guy! He took to us in a big way. We as individuals certainly knew we wanted to be heard and had vague ideas on where to go next in some sort of progression towards recognition, but Tinker knew how to do it. And he was just really good at the technical equipment side of the equation. He built a sound system which for the time was quite exceptional, I would say. To us, it was amazing to suddenly be on real stages with a real sound system and with Tinker running the board. He wasnít pushy but rather had real knowledge and overwhelming enthusiasm. He had ideas for us too, it was like a door was opening. He lined us up with several concerts, including opening for Bruce at Damrosch Park bandshell in New York City, and opening for his band at a venue named Dí Scene in Sayreville N.J., all in the weeks following the Brookdale concert. I would say I was mostly in awe of Tinker as I seemed to be of other really smart folks I have met.

That Damrosch Park concert is quite famous, as we have this brilliant recording of Bruces set. How do you recall that day?

Sorry, I donít really remember a whole lot. Just the excitement I guess, to be setting up in the park in New York City. Looking back, I do wish I had paid more attention! It was part of my life but I was going in a lot of directions simultaneously I would say. The bandís association with Tinker did not persist as I recall, and though we played with Bruceís bands a half dozen or so times in 1971 Bruce was seriously on the move and very soon he was busy getting famous. Sunny Jim was changing also, losing drummer Vinnie and I donít recall many gigs after the Tinker connection faded. We were still getting together and writing songs but not really performing, along with trying out drummers and once in a while a vocalist I think. We were friends but gradually our individual circumstances took us in separate directions so that by 1975 or thereabouts it was mostly over as far as my own participation in playing in a band goes.

Thanks a lot for sharing your memories with us! Any last words?

I guess I would have to say that chance nudged me a bit close to several motivated folks who have gone on to achieve great things, and if I had the personality traits of such people I might have had a clue how to build on it. But I am supremely blessed to have ears and a brain that learned to listen and participate with music which I hope will continue to be one of the best parts of my lifeís experience.

Interview by Torsten Mörke
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