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MUSIC | Vol 6, No. 42, October 19, 2006
(Broken Levees, Broken Promises)

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Nashville's Badass

by Sam Baltrusis

THANK GOD HE'S A COUNTRY BOY

Trent Tomlinson was country when country wasn't cool. At least, that's how the 31-year-old Nashville "Drunker Than Me" crooner describes himself when asked if he's had any difficulties being accepted by traditional, diehard Southerners because of his Missouri roots.    

"I don't see where you're getting your information because I've always been country. I've never been rock 'n' roll," he bites when asked if he's ever ventured into the rock realm. Even though the bio on his website reads, "he was sneaking out to work in the bars in his hometown, playing rock before settling into country," Tomlinson insists he's a simple farm boy who picked up the guitar after spending years learning to play the piano.

Truth is, Tomlinson grew up in Kennett, Mo.—which is also the hometown of Sheryl Crow—and only a hop, skip and a jump away from Nashville.

"I like all kinds of music, especially if it's good," he says with a thick drawl. "But I was country when country wasn't cool. Ya know what I mean?"

When asked if his outlaw country image has been skewed to satiate mainstream rock's sensibilities, his combative tone returns. "I'm the No. 1 new country artist, so I don't think my image is a problem," he shoots back.

Tomlinson continues, "I don't want to be an asshole about it, but I get that question a lot. I wasn't raised in Texas. I'm not a cowboy. I didn't ride horses. But I grew up on a cotton farm. I dress the way I like to dress and I've been doing this long before I got a record deal. I'm just being myself."

If you listen to tracks like "Drunker Than Me" and "Hey Batter Batter" from his debut CD, "Country Is My Rock," his music is raw as road rash and proudly irreverent in that rebel country sort of way. But there's also a reverence for the traditional ballad, especially the homage to his father—a 6-foot-8-inch former basketball star with the Cleveland Cavaliers—in the song, "One Wing In The Fire."

"If you don't believe in what you're saying, how do you expect everybody else to believe in you?" Tomlinson continues. "I'm the type of guy who's in the trenches, working hard, finding my soul and then writing songs about it. That makes me happy and content."

The singer-songwriter, who is slotted to perform at the Pensacola Interstate Fair on Monday, Oct. 23, says he still gets choked up when singing "One Wing In The Fire" onstage.

"I get the same emotion every time I sing that song," he says. "I have people come up to me telling me that they've played the song at funerals for their family member. I'm getting e-mails from all over the country and it's really touching people. 'One Wing In The Fire' never gets old to me because it means so much to so many people."

While he's able to handle misty-eyed sentimentality with ease, it's his rowdy, honky-tonk inspired "Drunker Than Me" that received national attention a few months ago. On July 24, 2006, Tomlinson performed his barroom anthem on "The Howard Stern Show" as a duet with an intoxicated Andrea Brooke Ownbey (also known as "Miss Howard Stern"), who is a fan of the single. "Drunker Than Me" catapulted the songwriter, who has been performing for almost 12 years, into the national spotlight.

"I have no regrets," he says about his drunken duet with Ownbey. "I was able to reach an entirely new group of people I haven't reached before. I had a blast."

Did the "Drunker Than Me" singer find the sketch to be exploitative?

"She's a sweet girl, but she has a serious problem," he remarks. "She's a fan of my music but she's a lost girl that needs help. If there's anything I can do for her, I will."

Tomlinson hesitates a bit, realizing the potential contradictions perpetuated by his maverick image "I'm a good-time guy, don't get me wrong," he says. "I can relate to the idea of self-medicating—and that's what she's doing—she's running away from her problems by drinking too much. In that way, I guess I can relate to her."

As far as the upcoming performance in Pensacola, Tomlinson says he has a few surprises hidden beneath his rock 'n' roll doo rag.

"I've never performed down there but I drank a lot of Crown Royal in Pensacola," he jokes about his whiskey-soaked days vacationing on the Gulf Coast. "Get ready to open up a beer and have a party. I've got a great band lined up for the show. The guitarist, I can't say who he is, but he's a real rock star. It's going to be one helluva night."

sam@inweekly.net


What: Pensacola Interstate Fair with Trent Tomlinson
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23
Where: Pensacola Interstate Fair, 6655 Mobile Hwy.
Cost: $9 admission, $17 handstamp
Details: 944-4500 or www.pensacolafair.com.