Alternative-rock singer-songwriter Thomas Claxton is interviewed about the people who have helped him along the way, his experiences travelling beyond Savannah, products he endorses, and much more.
I first discovered my passion for vocals when I was a little kid singing in church around the age of four or five. Starting in elementary school, I joined the chorus department and when I was heading in to middle school, I wanted to join band. My parents didn’t think I would stick with it and didn’t want to invest in an actual instrument that I might or might not use, so they told me no and I joined the middle school chorus under Mr. Jack Mullis and Dr. Lauren Ringwall. I stayed with it until I graduated and afterward I continued to study as a classically trained vocalist in some college courses, which I ultimately didn’t see through as I had no desire to be a professional teacher at any point in my life. The biggest influences as far as teachers go in my life as a vocalist were Dr. Lauren Ringwall, Jack Mullis, Dr. Scott Buchanan, and currently internationally acclaimed vocal coach, Ron Anderson in Los Angeles, CA.
Rock and Roll started having a major influence on me around the age of 12 when I heard about this group called “The Beatles.” Even though they were long gone, (by nearly 30 years), by the time I was a teenager, their music, (especially the Sgt. Pepper era and beyond), hit me a certain way. All of them, but specifically John Lennon, impacted my life and I’d easily say he’s my favorite lyricist. Soon after… I caught the Progressive Rock bug and dove deep in to bands like Rush and Yes. Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Queen and other similar bands have continued to be my favorites. The music of artists like David Gilmore and Roger Hodgson and the vocals / stage presence of Freddie Mercury, (due to the fact that he also came from a classical background and used it in his rock career), did and continues to have a major impact on me today.
I’ve seen a lot come and go over the years in Savannah
The Bayou Café was actually the FIRST venue to ever pay me to perform when I was 19 years old. Prior to that, I was working coffee shops for tips while still in High School. Because of that, I’ve always had a sense of loyalty to the venue for believing in me enough to pay me that first time. Maybe they were desperate, I don’t know, lol… but it worked out and I continue to play there when I’m back home and not on the road touring. I also assist with booking some of the live music at The Bayou and always happy to help in any way they need. I’ve seen a lot come and go over the years in Savannah. People, businesses, trends, etc., but The Bayou Café has always been consistent for the most part and I can appreciate that.
I had considered doing a podcast for quite a while. Due to the relationships I had developed with many recognized people in the industry, I always thought I could deliver a product that would be interesting and informative and still entertaining. I’m also a firm believer that hard work breeds the right results and another of my biggest supporters, Ms. Crystal Morris (CEO of Gator Cases) approached me during a meeting at their Tampa headquarters and said they were releasing their new podcast mic stands at the 2020 NAMM Show and asked me if I would like to host my own podcast on the NAMM Show floor and invite any guests I wanted. I never turn down real opportunities, so I agreed and contacted friends of mine in the industry including members of Evanescence, Pink Floyd, Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band, Satriani, and more, who all agreed. We recorded both audio and video for one hour-long interviews featuring 13 guests during a 3 day time period and I release them bi-weekly.
Savannah will always be special to me, having been my home base for so many years and there’s been so many, but it’s not hard for me to narrow it down.
I would have to say my most memorable Savannah performance would have to be the Savannah Civic Center when I was on the road with Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night. To play the Civic Center where so many amazing performers had been and in my hometown to boot, was unforgettable. The tour itself was short-lived to say the least, but it was my first exposure to the “next level” of my career and taught me a ton of valuable lessons.
Honorable mentions to these gigs as well:
a) St. Patrick’s Day 2007 in Savannah City Market with Savannah music vets Mark Vaquer, Jon Willis, and Chris Stubbs. We had a band that could best be described as a dysfunctional family called, “The Long Awaited”, and to this day, I’ve never seen a larger crowd in City Market. They were obviously there for the celebration, but we pulled and kept them and the entire area was slammed from behind the stage to the front and all the way to MLK. There were thousands of people in the market alone that day.
b) Opening for Mike + The Mechanics in 2018. I was always a huge fan of the band and Mike Rutherford especially and when I got the call to be their opener in Savannah, I was super excited. Wasn’t the largest crowd, but absolutely memorable.
c) ANY gigs with my band, “Thomas Claxton and The Myth”, with my bruthas from uthas…. Paul Cooper, Craig Johansen, Rodney Smith, and Chris Stubbs. That band is full of nice guys who are all talented. Still don’t know what the hell I’m doing in it?!!??? I’m privileged to share any stage with them.
I officially endorse the following brands:
Having manufacturers accept me in to their Artist Rosters is an enormous compliment. This is their endorsement of me and much as my endorsement of them and to be recognized with an endorsement deal is humbling. Endorsements are not easy to acquire, but I recommend any touring artists to try. It speaks volumes when someone is debating booking you or not than seeing household names from the music gear world putting their stamp of approval on you.
My advice to performers when getting endorsements is this: ONLY ENDORSE PRODUCTS YOU TRULY BELIEVE IN. Too many performers go after anything that appears to be “free” or highly discounted, even if it’s not a product they frequently use. Another piece of advice: Stop expecting free gear. Those days are over unless you are a huge name and even then, it doesn’t happen nearly as much as it used to. Be realistic with your career and where you currently are.
Don’t get too full of yourself and fool yourself in to believing you’re bigger than you really are. Be realistic and ask yourself, ‘Why should this be free to me? Have I done anything notable to deserve free gear?’ 99 times out of 100, the answer may not be the one you wanna hear, but it helps you reassess and put more efficient goals in your future to get further, faster.
To date, I’ve released 3 original albums. “Middle of Nowhere”, “Return To Nowhere”, and the most recent 2019’s “Age of Propaganda”. Each of them is extremely different. The first one was 100% acoustic. My goal with my original albums is to put out a quality product that is mainstream acceptable, but still true to myself as an artist. I believe there’s a balance there.
That being said: I DO NOT CARE if every song itself has a mainstream feel. Often times I write based on what I’m going through or drawing inspiration from at a certain moment and I know that it may NEVER see any radio time.
The voice isn’t the same as the hands and feet. You HAVE to take care of it because when it’s gone… it sometimes can’t be recovered to it’s full potential
Well that’s the billion dollar question, lol. I’ll be reducing my number of performances in 2020 to make more time for touring. I sometimes look back on it all and wonder how I’ve kept it up for as long as I have since most of my gigs are solo. I point that out because in a band, you have others to fall back on when you’re just not feeling it. Solo however… is just that. YOU. All alone and nobody to pass any songs to for 3 or 4 hours. I also refuse to use tracks and loopers in my local solo gigs because I want to be true to what I’m portraying on stage: Just T Clax and his acoustic. That is not a slight on anybody who chooses to use tracks and loopers. You have to find what works for you and go with it. I, personally, choose not to.
As far as my voice goes, I’ll go back to my classical training for that one. It taught me how to protect it. How to warm it up… AND COOL IT DOWN. I see SOME singers around town and I feel for some of them because they may have never had that teaching that I was fortunate to have and I know for fact they’re damaging their voices, potentially irreparably. I can often times hear it and see it when it’s happening. The voice isn’t the same as the hands and feet. You HAVE to take care of it because when it’s gone… it sometimes can’t be recovered to it’s full potential. Unlike the hands and feet, (assuming you don’t have some type of medical situation), which can continue working to some degree even if you’re sick.
You wanna know if you’re any good? Leave town. Get out of your comfort zone. It’s too easy to be a, “big fish in a small pond”, and Savannah certainly has it’s share of those. Head to New York City or similar places and watch some of them. Watch the internationally-recognized technical performers. It’s humbling.
That was why I left for NYC on my first time out of town. I wanted to be humbled. I wanted to feel minuscule because I knew nothing would push me harder than feeling like I had a mountain to climb. And I was right and I’m still climbing. My first time in New York City had me rethinking whether or not I was cutout for this. I soon realized that was my inner-critic talking and instead of running and giving up, I dug in and went for it.
I’ve failed more times than I can count and learned lessons the hard way, but thanks to me leaving, I’ve been taught valuable things that Savannah couldn’t teach me. At some point you hit a wall. It’s up to you to stop and turn around or stop and knock it down. Since then, I’ve performed all across the United States from Los Angeles to NYC and the Florida Keys to Alaska and I never take any experience for granted. I don’t want to look back and realize I was too busy to pay attention, so when I tour these days, I try to take time in each area and appreciate where I am. I visit the National Parks and different sights each area has to offer if my time permits.
I got lucky. Look, it all comes back to never thinking you know it all. These are performers who’ve done things and performed at levels most people will only dream of. I have performed or recorded with members of Three Dog Night, Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band, Parliament-Funkadelic, Huey Lewis and The News, Jane’s Addiction, Satriani, and more, and each experience was different and a huge wakeup call, reminding me to stay grounded and work hard. These are guys and girls that have already been there and done that. They’ve already forged their paths. So if you want to know how to do it, why WOULDN’T you learn from them? Don’t know your way around? Get a tour guide, lol.
Chuck Negron helped me refine engaging the audience. Mario Cipollina reiterated to me to stay humble and focused. Mario once told me that no matter how much you climb in the industry, never forget your background and beginnings because where you are… may not last forever. Enjoy it while it lasts and be grateful for the opportunities.
I remember using that same learning philosophy when I was first popping in to the local scene also. I listened to the players that had already been there and done that locally and knew how to make money doing it. The Mark Vaquer’s, Beaver Felton’s, Roy Swindelle’s, Gordon Perry’s, Howard Jobe’s, and many more had a huge impact on me whether some of them realize it or not. Those are the guys who taught me to “walk before running.”
To not get too caught up in it to the point where it all becomes a blur. The only guarantee is that there isn’t one. I want to look back fondly and remember each experience. I’ve spoken to many performers both local and international who’ve told me that it was all happening so fast that they didn’t take the time to breathe it all in and appreciate. I made a pact with myself a long time ago, especially when I began traveling more and more, to never let that happen to me.
It’s music. Life in unimaginable without it and us as performers are simply contributing a few notes to life’s sheet music. Nobody is the entire picture. We’re all just a piece of a puzzle or a “brick in the wall” as Pink Floyd would notoriously claim. It’s up to us what we do with our time and I just want to make the most out of mine whether I’m home or abroad, and whether IT lasts one more day or another 70 years.