Tommy Tutone ready to dial up classics at Edmonton Rock Music Festival
Tommy Tutone, playing at the Edmonton Rock Music Festival in Hawrelak Park on Saturday night. Supplied
Nobody knows that Tommy Heath is a rock star in the town that he lives and works.
“I never play at home,” the singer for Tommy Tutone wryly says over the phone from Portland, Oregon, where he spends his days as a software engineer. “I just put on my nerd glasses and go to work, and then I get to go somewhere else where I can walk into my own myth.”
That myth (which is a fact) includes a natural hit single in 867-5309/Jenny and a couple of self-titled power-pop records that still glisten with hooks decades after the fact. Heath and company never quite reclaimed the sparkle of the band’s single top five entry, splitting up in 1984 before retooling in 1996 with the record Nervous Love, but Heath has kept busy. He’s tried his hand as a country songwriter, was a substitute teacher for a few years, and by-and-large treats music as a hobby that can pay for itself.
Q: I hear a connection between your singing and the singing of Craig Finn from the Hold Steady, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you could grab that audience.
A: I don’t know those guys but I admire people who channel earlier music. Like Martha and the Motels, who were thoroughly modern but you could still hear the echoes of Roy Orbison in their music. My early history was in rockabilly, soul, and country; I didn’t play rock until the ’70s.
Q: Tommy Tutone guitarist Jim Keller and Alex Call of Clover wrote 867-5309; what do you think you would have done with the money if you’d had a slice of that chart scorcher?
A: Well, I’m a cheap date. I don’t think I would have gone crazy with money, though I’m generous in some ways. I mean, I would never have spent it all on dope or anything.
Q: People don’t remember the song Cheap Date, but that was your first notable success.
A: It got bootlegged off my record and became an AOR phenomenon. That song helped K-ROQ in Pasadena establish the modern sound.
Q: Are you enjoying this latter-day Tommy Tutone resurgence, with accompanying festival dates? Do you think you’ve improved over the years?
A: I’ve become a much better storyteller, yes, and I’m enjoying the times when I play acoustic. Sometimes it’s just me and my guitar with a washboard player. It feels good; I just put my dad in the ground at 99, so I figure that maybe I have legs.
Tommy Tutone at the Edmonton Rock Music Festival
When: Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
Where: Heritage Amphitheatre, Hawrelak Park
Tickets: $140 weekend pass, available in advance from the Rock Fest website; single day tickets also available