By Roger Sharman.
CL: Hi, good afternoon everybody. Today I’m honoured and privileged to be chatting to Mr. Tom Buller, a man who has been described by Saving Country Music as one of the greatest discoveries of 2018. His debut album ‘When A Country Boy Gets the Blues’ has been like candy to my ears and I’ve been loving it since then.
The late great Keith Whitley’s wife, Lorrie Morgan has described you as “the best male country singer out there today” and who we to argue with that? So, how are you doing, Tom?
TB: I’m doing good, thank you so much for asking.
CL: And how’s your family?
TB: They’re good, everyone is doing great. My little girl and my son are both doing awesome. My son is pickin’ and singing up a storm, you know, and his little sister is singing as well.
CL: Is that Bradley, your son?
TB: Yes, it is.
CL: Yeah, I’ve seen him performing with you on some of your Facebook live streams and yeah, he’s a talented kid.
TB: Yeah, I’m pretty proud of him. I’m might have to keep him around for a little while, I guess.
CL: Are you hoping that he follows in his father’s footsteps?
TB: You know, so far, it’s kind of seeming that way. I’ll tell you what, at 14 that boy knows a lot more about country music than a lot of folks my age do. You know, he really, really loves Country music, and he loves singing and man, he’s just really coming along so well. I’m very, very proud of him.
CL: He is certainly in the right household for that anyway because obviously, that’s how you started wasn’t it, playing in the family band?
TB: Yes sir, I started out in my mom and dad’s bluegrass band.
CL: You still have very strong ties to Bluegrass?
TB: Well, I do as a matter of fact, you know, back in 2018, we released that Country Album independently, and let’s see, a year ago this last October, I signed a record deal with a small bluegrass label here in Nashville, RBR records, and they released two singles. The first one made it to number eight on the Bluegrass charts. The second one didn’t do as well, but they’re fixing to release our third single, tomorrow, I do believe. Anyway, so we’re looking forward to that. The beautiful thing about the deal is that, you know, I can release whatever I want on my own as long as I don’t go and try to release my own Bluegrass record, then I’m okay.
So, we’ve got a Bluegrass album in the works with the Record Label, and we’ve also got a brand-new Country Album, that’s about halfway finished, and I’m really excited about it. It’s got some very special guests on there, which is gonna be awesome. I’m really excited about it.
CL: Are you allowed to name anyone?
TB: Well, I’ve got the Risches on there, Lillie Mae Rische is on there, as well as McKenna Grace Rische, and Frank Rische is on there singing and pickin’, and you know, they’re just some of my favourite musicians in the whole world. I grew up with them, we’ve known each other since we were all little kids. We frequented a lot of the same bluegrass festivals. There’s another guest on there, but we’ll have to talk off the record, I don’t want to say anything, I don’t want to spill the beans, you know, until till it’s set in stone but it’s pretty exciting.
CL: Well, we’re looking forward to it. Which one’s going to come out first, the Country album or the Bluegrass album?
TB: Well, I’m betting that the Country album will be done before the Bluegrass album. We’re going to release independently a Country single here probably in about the next five weeks, which will be one with a very special guest on there. That I’m really looking forward to and oh God, I wish I could tell everybody right now but I had better not, but it’s a pretty big thing, you know for us! We’re really excited about it, and I think it’s great song. I wrote it with a friend of mine, and I’m really proud of the song and really proud to have our special guests singing on it with me, it’s really an honour have her record with us.
CL: At least you revealed that it’s a female that you’re duetting with then **laughs** So that cuts it down to 50% **more laughter** Okay, so what else have you been up to recently?
TB: We’ve just recently, I mean, over the summer, played maybe five or six shows, all of them were private events, you know, with all the clubs and venues being closed down, everything that we’ve played pretty much was private events.
We’ve just been back to work in Nashville now for about five weeks, and there’s still a lot of restrictions so on and so forth here in Nashville, but we are back to working here in town.
Other than that, when I wasn’t working, on top of being a Bluegrass musician, my father was a general contractor, so growing up, when I wasn’t picking a guitar, which wasn’t very often, he would haul me to work with him. I’m just grateful that I paid attention enough when I was younger, to be able to kind of fall back on some construction work a little bit here and there over the course of the last few months. With all the Corona and everything going on we’ve not been able to play, so I’ve been swinging a hammer and writing songs and working on some recordings, and, you know, just trying to keep myself as occupied as possible.
CL: That’s a very wise thing to do, otherwise, you go crazy. I’m close to it, trust me. ***laughter** So what’s it been like performing to socially distanced audiences? I guess it’s very, very different to what we’re all used to. Over here in England, we haven’t had any live music since March, there’s been the odd small show outdoors, but obviously, with the US artists being unable to travel, we’ve been starved of our Country music over here. We’re all desperate for some decent shows to come up, you know, but when that will be, I have no idea.
TB: Yeah, I’m certainly hoping for the best in the next year, but I guess we’ll just have to see what happens. Here in town the bars are open, but number one, there’s no dancing, everyone has to say to stay seated at their table, and if they’re not seated at the table, then they have to have a mask on, and, of course, you know, all of our crowds are smaller, because all the clubs have to do the social distancing thing. So, most of them are at 50% capacity. It’s been all right, I mean of course I can’t wait for things to go back to normal whenever that may be, but there’s folks saying exactly what you just said, there’s folks starving for some good Country music. So, we’ve had people coming out to the shows and everything, it’s just smaller crowds, a little more intimate, I guess.
I did play a Bluegrass Festival a couple weeks ago, up in Flemingsburg, Kentucky, that was probably the most normal thing I’ve done, since all this, this happened and even that festival normally has a crowd of a couple thousand folks, and there was, I think, maybe 500 people there. The chairs and what not were spread apart and so on and so forth, and it was outdoors, so it wasn’t as much of a worry to be in close quarters with folks and what not, but it’s definitely a change! I hadn’t really done anything other than play music since I was about 14 years old, other than some side stuff here and there, so it was kind of different working in construction. I worked a regular construction job from the middle of March through the end of May, while I was back home, and it was just me and one other guy, so there wasn’t a big crew to worry about or nothing like that, and we were both working in separate areas of the building. I’m just grateful, like I said, that I paid enough attention to my dad to be able to scoot by with some of that stuff.
CL: Yeah, quiet, because obviously, most musicians have been absolutely crippled by, COVID in the sense that It’s taken all their work away from them, so yes, well done, Dad.
TB: Yeah, every musician I know is in the same boat, you know, and I have to keep reminding myself of that, because sometimes it gets so frustrating, but I have to keep reminding myself, man, you know, this is not just me, every musician that I know and every musician that I don’t know, is going through this exact same thing, so it’s really been pretty challenging, but, I have faith the good Lord above will get us through this in his time, so we’ve just got to keep hanging on to that.
CL: Yeah, I think we’ve all got to hang on to that right now. Things will get better. It might take a little bit more time, but yeah, we’ve just all got to hang in there right this minute and see it out.
I know that things are a lot more restricted over here than they are there, although, without wanting to get political that might change now when you have a change of administration?
TB: In the US, I think, yeah, it might be a lot more restrictive. I certainly have heard that Biden is asking everyone wear masks now. Um, so that’s a total shift in policy.
My parents live in Nebraska, and I’m living in Tennessee, so I’m travelling back and forth a lot and the masks are already pretty much worn everywhere. You could get out into some of the rural areas, and they’re not mandating it as much, but for the most part, in my route from Tennessee to Nebraska, every stop, every truck stop, every place you go, you have a sign on the doors, saying, you have to have a mask to enter and this has pretty much been going on for quite some time now. I guess since July at least, I guess the difference is, it’s not necessarily a law, but everybody’s been wearing them everywhere.
I was recently down in Texas, just a few weeks ago, I played a couple shows down there. They just recently reopened, as a matter of fact I’m not sure if the clubs and venues down there have been open a month yet. But as I was saying I played a couple shows down there just a few weeks ago, and it’s the same down there you know, they’re telling folks, you have to wear a mask. It’s the same thing inside the bars, when you go inside, if you’re sitting down you can take your mask off, but you have to have it on at all times if you get up walk to the restroom or walk to the bar or whatever. You know, you have to have your mask on you, so I don’t feel that they’re being as lax on the mask things as a lot of people think, because it seems to be everywhere I’ve gone anyway.
CL: That’s good to know actually because I think the people over here are certainly not wearing them as much as they should. The bars are currently shut, they’ve been closed up for about two weeks now and I think they will be out till the second of December so we’re back into kind of a lockdown again, as is most of Europe.
TB: Yeah, my brother lives in Spain, and he was telling me they just recently did the same thing and went back into Lockdown. They’ve got pretty strict regulations over there from what I understand, and from what he’s saying, they’ve got a six o’clock curfew and you can only go out for essentials. I will say one thing however, essentials over there might be a little different to what essentials are over here, you know. So that’s what my brother’s telling me is happening over there right now.
CL: What is the mood like in Nashville right now? You know with COVID, obviously the election and with music being really only reintroduced recently is it tense? Are people happy what’s the mood like generally speaking.
TB: There’s definitely a big mixture of feelings, you know, when we first opened up, with COVID and everything, it just felt weird being on stage because a lot of folks are scared to come out, some folks are so relieved that they’re able to come out and they just jump in headfirst. Also, there’s certainly a lot, of what’s the word? I guess it’s just kind of being uncomfortable a little bit at first, now that we’re back into opening up, we’re about six weeks into opening up or so, things are lightening up, the mood, I guess is lightening up a little bit, but the election certainly has created a lot of tension. I, myself have felt it, my stomach been in knots, for the last two weeks. But, like I said, I’m just trying really hard to lean on the good Lord above, and have faith that he’s got this him and he’ll get us through it.
There’s been a large spike in cases, we’re experiencing a second wave as well, and so there’s been talk of things shutting back down, and so on and so forth. But, so far, we’re still open for business, and we’re still playing and just being as careful as we can, wearing masks where we need to, washing your hands as often as you can. But it’s definitely different. That’s for sure, the mood is definitely a little heavy, I guess.
CL: Hopefully, bringing some live music back to people will help ease that and get people back to some kind of normality.
Let’s talk about the Country record now. What should we expect from it? How will it differ from ‘When a Country Boy Gets the Blues’?
TB: We might be leaning a little more towards Country. On ‘When a Country Boy Gets the Blues’ I really wanted to show the blues influence in my life, and so on and so forth. This one might lean a little more towards heavier on the Country side, there’s still elements of blues in there, but not quite as heavy as there was on ‘When a Country Boy Gets the Blues’, on the previous album, and of course, the title track there’s a lot of blues influence on that definitely.
Then on the song ‘Shackles of Your Memory’ with AJ Ewell there’s a lot of blues influence on that too of course. There will always be blues influence in what I’m doing, I kind of strive for that, but I think this album will definitely lean more towards the country side.
I’m really excited about it. We’re using lot of the same writers, Bart Hansen is writing a lot with me on this one, but then I also co-wrote a song with Ms Lorrie Morgan’s brother, Marty Morgan, and we’ve got that one on there. Then also, my drummer, and producer of a few of the songs, and co-writer of one of the songs on ‘When a Country Boy Gets the Blues’, on this upcoming album, we recorded a song he wrote on his own, I’ve loved that song for a long time and we finally found the opportunity to record it.
Our first single off of the country album will be the one that I wrote with Lorrie Morgan’s brother, Marty. It’s called “I’ll just Let it Ring’ or ‘Just What I Don’t Need Right Now’ is what Marty calls it, but anyway, we’re really excited about it.
Another cool thing about it is that a couple of the tracks on this, this new record, were recorded up in Nebraska, while all my kids and I were up there earlier in the year with some very good friends of mine. They’re a great rhythm section, Jarron Wayne Storm on drums, and Eric Elworth on bass guitar.
What we did was we rented a studio up there in Omaha, we went in and I did my guitar parts and my vocals, and we did the bass and drums up there. Then we sent the tracks back here to Nashville and had the rest of my band, Mike Freid on steel, Boyd, spout on fiddle do their parts. So half, well, not half, four of the songs, on this new record have some, but not all Nashville players, so I’m kind of excited about that because Jaren and Eric, they definitely gave it a little bit of a different feel. It’s not your typical Nashville sound, so I’m pretty excited about that.
The rest of the album is all being recorded here in town, using a lot of the same guys on the last record. It’s got some different aspects and different things going on than on the previous record. I’m actually really excited to be leaning more towards the Country side on this one, there’s some, there’s some really good Country stuff on there. I’m just so, so grateful for the players and, co-writers, I definitely couldn’t do it without them, they’re all just spectacular musicians and writers and they’re all good friends of mine, you know, and I’m very grateful to have them on the record with me.
Bart Hanson, who co-wrote over half of the last record with me, we’re kind of at it again, we’ve been writing buddies for a long time. I’ve known Bart since I was about eight years old. He’s originally from Sioux City, Iowa. I used to follow him around at all over the Country and Bluegrass festivals when I was a little kid, I always thought he was the closest thing to Randy Travis I was ever going to get, So he’s been one of my heroes since I was a little kid and to be able to do as much writing with him as I have, it’s really an honour and a privilege to me, you know?
CL: Little did you know back then when you were a kid that you’d actually get to meet Randy Travis and get to sing one of his songs to him.
TB: Hahaha …Well, I certainly hoped that something like that would happen, and when it actually did, it was a pretty amazing feeling to be able to. Randy’s been one of my biggest influences and one of my biggest heroes, since I was a little kid. Ever since that night, since I sang for him, he’s been out to a couple shows with his wife Mary. They’re really great folks and Mary she’s such a sweetheart, she’s really taking good care of Randy. It’s good to see him out and about. Of course, I haven’t seen him out and about since COVID for obvious reasons. He’s still got some health issues and what not, so I think they’ve been staying pretty hunkered down, but we’re looking forward to seeing him when things get better.
CL: How did that all come about anyway, singing to Randy? Where was that?
TB: Well, the night before, we had done the Keith Whitley tribute show at the Country Music Hall of Fame, the show with Garth, Tracy Lawrence, Joe Diffie and Lorrie Morgan. The following night they had a show called the Keith Whitley Fingerprint on Country Music Association, and they have an award show every year. Anyway, I was nominated for what they call the Torch award that night. I had just performed, and after the show was over the guy who is now President of the Bluegrass Record label that I’m with, was back there talking with Randy and his wife and some other folks, who are just kind of sitting around, and he says “Tommy”, he says “pick up a guitar and play one for Randy”. So, to sing “High Lonesome” to Randy Travis was pretty thrilling, you know.
CL: Yeah, I guess it must have been a great honour for you as well as being invited to perform on Keith’s tribute show. It’s pretty obvious that you’re a big fan of Keith Whitley as well.
TB: Oh, yes, sir. Yeah, I think, I think other than George Jones and Merle Haggard, he was probably one of the best voices ever grace Country music, and, you know, there was just so much emotion in his vocals and really, I quite often wonder, what might have been, had Keith not left us so soon. What an amazing talent.
That whole tribute show at the Hall of Fame, they’ve been trying to get Keith inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame for quite some time and really the whole reason behind that tribute show, 30 years after his passing, was to show the influence and the impact that Keith Whitley had on Country music. When you have guys like Garth Brooks, Joe Diffie, Tracy Lawrence and Trisha Yearwood, coming out on stage, and talking about how Keith Whitley’s music impacted their lives and their career, I think it’s fair to say that he had a pretty a pretty big impact on Country music. Garth Brooks, when he was on stage, said, when you walk through the front doors of the Country Music Hall of Fame, there’s a big bronze plaque and it’s got a bunch of names on there, well, there’s one missing and we need to fix that, and of course, he was referring to Keith, and I totally agree, I definitely think he should be in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
You know, he had a short album career, he only released three albums while he was alive, but the thing is, his song-writing career kicked off way before his singing career did and even before that, he had a long career in bluegrass music. He was playing with Ralph Stanley and, and Ricky Skaggs. Both grew up playing bluegrass together up in Eastern Kentucky, and they were both in Ralph Stanley’s band and then later on, Keith was with JD Crowe. There’s way more there than what a lot of people realise, as far as Keith’s career is concerned. He’s definitely been a big impact on me and, many, many others.
The night that I was singing for Randy Travis at the Keith Whitley Fingerprint on Country Music Awards, Tim McGraw was also in the house, he got up and played a Keith Whitley song. Tim credits Keith a lot as an influence in his career as well. There’s a lot more to Keith than what a lot of people know. His song catalogue goes, way, way back. We’re just waiting for that day, when they finally put him in the Country Music Hall of Fame, it’ll happen.
CL: It has to…
TB: There’s so many great, great entertainers in Country Music that should be in there and aren’t yet and so it’ll happen eventually and I’m looking forward to it.
CL: To my mind, Keith is probably one of the top three greatest voices in Country music of all time, along with George Jones and Vern Gosdin.
TB: Oh absolutely
CL: But You’re right up there with them, Tom as well, so hopefully, one day, we’ll see you up there too in the Hall of Fame.
TB: Ohhh thank you, Roger, thank you!
CL: You certainly deserved to be I think, anyway. Do you still have a residency at Layla’s?
TB: Yes, sir.
CL: So, we can catch you there. When it’s open again, I guess.
TB: Every Friday and Saturday when we’re in town.
CL Okay. Well, hopefully we can get some people to come down and see you live when they’re over visiting Nashville or wherever. Anyway Tom, I think that I’ve taken up enough of your time. Thank you so so much for taking the time to have a chat to us. It’s been a pleasure.
TB: Likewise, Roger. Anytime.
CL: I’ll take you up on that!
TB: Thank you. So much for the support.