Tom Size October 10, 1959-October 30, 2016
I am toiling up a mountain of grief these days, dealing with and processing the illness and death of my friend and musical collaborator, Tom Size. I had the great good fortune to begin working with him in 1992, when he engineered my album, True Stories. A former engineer at Fantasy Records in Berkeley, he had just recently started recording at his home studio in Pacheco, CA. I will always be grateful to Mike Marshall for bringing me there. I loved the flow of the work with him, the way nothing ever had to be said twice (or sometimes even once), the way he was always one step ahead of me and always, always listening so intently–not just to the recording mechanical aspects of the music, but to the emotional impact as well.
I met and loved his four-legged companions Roger, Rosie, Red, Roxie, and a couple of others whose names have faded (except for the indubitable fact that they started with an “R”). Here are a couple of photos of Roxie, relaxing on the lawn and with her favorite item (a ball). She was found when she was a few weeks old, thrown away in a dumpster. Tom took her in and she grew into one of the happiest, most loving and trusting dogs I have ever met.
Tom and I worked together for 24 years on over 30 projects, from reel-to-reel through ADAT tapes to digital platforms of many iterations. Always he was learning, embracing the new, listening, listening, listening. He was a real gearhead, and always had the latest gadget, and he loved sharing what they could do. Very unlike me, who finds what she likes and then just sticks with it until forced to change.
Here is a list of albums that I worked on with Tom, either as artist or producer, not in any particular order:
True Stories (Rounder 0300)
Steve Edmunds Lonesome on the Ground
Erica Wheeler The Harvest (Signature Sounds)
with Tom Rozum The Oak and the Laurel (Rounder 0340)
Laurie Lewis and Her Bluegrass Pals (Rounder 0461)
Seeing Things (Rounder 0428)
Earth and Sky (Rounder 0400)
Blossoms (Spruce and Maple SMM2005)
Skippin’ and Flyin’ (Spruce and Maple SMM2006)
Steam and Steel (Spruce and Maple SMM2007)
Deidre McCalla Playing For Keeps (MaidenRock 3050)
David Thom That Old Familiar (Swollen Records SW 1016)
Nell Robinson Loango
Ray Bierl Any Place I Hang My Hat
Wendy Burch Steel Open Wings (Dragon Fly Bridge Music)
with Tom Rozum Winter’s Grace (Spruce and Maple SMM2003)
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands Live (Spruce and Maple SMM2004)
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands The Hazel and Alice Sessions (Spruce and Maple SMM1013)
Alice Gerrard Bittersweet (Spruce and Maple SMM1008)
The T Sisters Kindred Lines (Spruce and Maple SMM1010)
Birdsong (Spruce and Maple SMM2002)
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands The Golden West (High Tone HCD8194)
with Tom Rozum Guest House (High Tone HCD8167)
Melody Walker and Jacob Groopman We Made it Home (Maker/Mender Records MM1002)
One Evening in May (Spruce and Maple SMM1009)
Tom Rozum Jubilee (Dog Boy Records)
Peter McLaughlin Cliffs of Vermilion (Dog Boy Records)
with Kathy Kallick Laurie & Kathy Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray (Spruce and Maple SMM1012)
Kristin’s Story (Spruce and Maple SMM2001)
Susie Glaze Green Kentucky Blues
Charles Sawtelle Music From Rancho DeVille (Acoustic Disc ACD-44)
In addition, there were many one-song projects, overdubs, and guest spots on other albums recorded there.
At the impressionable age of 14, I was smitten by the bare-bones, no-frills music of Doc Watson. For Tom, at the same age, it was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Tom’s personal taste in music ran decidedly more to the complex, modern, electric, and metal than mine, but his ear was just as attuned to a fine pre-war Martin as to a Strat, to a mandolin chop as to a full drum set.
On the rare occasions when we were lucky enough to have Tom run the sound at concerts, it was a revelation in how smooth a sound check could be. And he helped out in so many other ways, always checking in to see that everything was good both onstage and backstage.
There was never any artifice in Tom’s dealings with me (or probably any of the other lucky enough to work with him). We had disagreements on occasion, and I always did want the banjo up louder in the mix than he did. But he always tried to understand and give me what I asked for, and together we worked and grew. When I started recording at home, Tom was remarkably generous with his knowledge. I could always call him and he would talk me through my various (usually operator-error) problems. Through his discerning ears, I developed mine, and I feel gratified to know that I influenced his art at the mixing console, too. He was a good man, a fine soul, and exceptional human being. It’s so hard to know that he is dead at the young age of 57. For 23 of the 24 years I knew him, he virtually crackled with vitality, with that great thick bush of reddish hair barely under control. He loved to sail, loved the natural world, loved his garden and the sun. The sun did him in, in the form of melanoma. He was beautiful and I loved him and will miss him always.
Dave Meniketti of Y & T posted a beautiful tribute to Tom on Tom’s gofundme page. Read it here