For two decades Tom Heyman has been a vital part of the San Franscisco music scene, a go to pedal steel man and guitar slinger who has recorded and played with the likes of Chuck Prophet, Alejandro Escovedo, Russ Tolman, Mark Eitzel and John Doe. He came to Blabber’n’Smoke’s attention when he released his third solo album, the late night wallow that was That Cool Blue Feeling and we got to see him play live when he toured over here with Dan Stuart and Fernando Viciconte. On Show Business, Baby, Heyman wanted to capture the experience of “seeing a great band getting down in a small club, “citing his love of bands such as Rockpile, The Flamin’ Groovies and NRBQ, an experience he knows all too well having spent ten years with Philadelphia’s Go To Blazes and he succeeds in spades.
With 13 songs, all hovering around the three minute mark, the album is an excellent collection of taut and punchy numbers, many of them capable of being inserted into The Groovies’ Teenage Head with no seams showing. There’s a sense of juvenile delinquency (and more so, inadequacy) on several of the songs along with tons of swagger and snot – the closing number, Sonny Curtis’ Baby My Heart (with Heyman digging into Bobby Fuller’s version) is straight out of Nuggets. The curling guitar riff which kicks off the album on Baby Let Me In sets the scene as Heyman snarls and whines impotently at his girl who’s locked him out as the band barrel on magnificently, a Seeds like keyboard stab incessant along with a deranged guitar solo from Heyman. It’s a great start to the album but throughout there are songs which just spring from the speakers brimful of attitude, stuffed with memorable riffs and stomps. The cowbell happy Show Business recounts Heyman’s time as a bartender, What In The World is NRBQ meets Bo Diddley while Whiskey Wolf kicks off with a Dragnet like guitar riff as Heyman sings of a 9-5 guy transformed into a booze fuelled predator at the weekend with guest guitarist Eric Ambel howling at the moon on his “rip snorting guitar solo.” Meanwhile the hero in Out West dreams of getting it together by heading for the coast of the setting sun as the band clatter along like Joe King Carrasco and All Ears has the pounce and drive of Nick Lowe’s Rockpile.
On a couple of the songs Heyman comes across as a successor to Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter whose hip sense of sneer ruled songs such as The Golden Age Of Rock’nRoll. Etch A Sketch is a clever metaphor for a broken heart while Little Killers is one of those songs stuffed with rock’n’roll cliches tossed off with a cool attitude and a fine pop sensibility. Finally, there’s a magnificent cover of Dion’s Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms) which is heavier than the other songs here, an evil sounding organ fuelled blast with pummelling drums, it’s like a Vanilla Fudge cover of Dion’s fuggy folk psychedelic original leading one to wonder whether Heyman could investigate a late sixties voodoo vibe somewhat further.
With this sleek, sharkskin suited (with a hint of glitter), album, a hymn to tight rhythm, cool riffs and snarly rock attitude, Heyman succeeds perfectly in his quest to capture the joy of close up musical nirvana. It would be a joy to see him deliver any of this live.