.Everyday Bluesman

Tom Heyman’s songs from the heart of a changing city

Tom Heyman’s new album, 24th Street Blues, presents 11 vignettes that dig deep into the heart of the people who make up San Francisco’s everyday culture, while also shining a light on the songwriter’s own history. The album, available on CD and LP, is accompanied by a songbook that includes the lyrics and sheet music, along with paintings by Heyman’s wife, Deirdre F. White, that illustrate some of the album’s more significant moments.

“I had a song published in Acoustic Guitar Magazine a few years ago,” Heyman said. “Seeing it in print, in lead sheet form with notation, made me think back to when I was first learning to play guitar. I would buy the songbook for a particular album—Neil Young’s Harvest comes to mind. The book looked just like the record, with all of the chords right in front of you. I wanted to have something extra to sell with this album, and I wanted to collaborate with my wife. Deirdre is an oil painter, so this was a tough job for her. She’s not an illustrator, per se. Her inspiration usually comes from the inner recesses of her creative mind, but the images she came up with blew me away.”

The songs on 24th Street Blues explore the effect the city’s rapidly changing financial, political and physical landscape has on the people who live and work there. The songs are mostly played on acoustic instruments, to preserve the downhome feel of the narratives.

“My last album, Show Business, Baby, was a genre exercise,” Heyman said. “I set out to pay homage to my pub-rock heroes like Rockpile, Doctor Feelgood and the Flamin’ Groovies. I wanted to play some ripping electric guitar and say ‘baby’ as many times as possible in a song without feeling self-conscious. This time, I wanted something quieter. I wanted to write songs about ordinary people doing ordinary things, if there’s such a thing as an ordinary person. People are all extraordinary in their own way. There’s nothing oblique about the songs. They’re not exactly autobiographical, but I’m in all of them as an unreliable narrator or hiding in the corner of a song, even if it isn’t about me.”

Heyman added, “I didn’t grow up in San Francisco, and even though I’ve lived here more than 20 years, I still view things from a distance. Recently, the changes in the city have accelerated, making me feel simultaneously more at home, and further from home, than I’ve ever felt. The songs comment on those feelings.”

With the concept in place, Heyman assembled a set list. “White Econoline,” a song about the challenges faced by migrant workers as they travel through the city, is the oldest of them; the title track, a meditation on the creeping gentrification of the city, is the newest.

“When I was ready to record, I decided to go up to Portland with my pal Rusty Miller and make the album with Mike Coykendall [M. Ward, Bright Eyes],” Heyman said. “He has a great aesthetic. He likes to keep things raw and naturalistic, but is also into sonic experimentation, with the studio working as an instrument. Since the bulk of the songs had not been performed live, we figured out what to do as we went along. The studio is in his house and I made another album with him a few years back, That Cool Blue Feeling. It was easy and natural, so I wanted to do this one with him. It’s a more intimate collection. Most of my guitar parts are acoustic and he really gets that kind of stuff. We have a shorthand between us and that makes things go smoothly. Mike and Rusty are also adept multi-instrumentalists, proficient on bass, drums, piano and more, so between the three of us, we can work quickly to get a song down.”

To stay busy during the shutdown, Heyman turned the monthly songwriter forum he hosts at the Make Out Room into a show that was posted on YouTube. “I call it The Sad Bastard Club,” Heyman said. “I invite a singer/songwriter down to perform a few songs and then I interview them about their creative process. I made it with my friend Justin Frahm. He shot and edited the footage, and I wrangled the talent and conducted the interviews. I know how important social media is and I’m trying to drag myself towards learning how to use it more effectively.”

Tom Heyman is scheduled to play a record release show for 24th Street Blues on Sunday, Oct. 8 at the Make Out Room, 3225 22nd St., San Francisco; 415.647.2888; makeoutroom.com. He’ll also appear Oct. 15 at The Lost Church, 988 Columbus Ave., San Francisco; 415.320.1408; thelostchurch.org. On Nov. 5 he will play at the Ivy Room, 860 San Pablo Ave., Albany; 510.526.5888; ivyroom.com.

He also hosts a free live edition of The Sad Bastard Club on the fourth Tuesday of every month at the Make Out Room. The next show is Tuesday, Sept. 26. The Sad Bastard Club archives can be viewed on YouTube at youtube.com/@sadbastardclub9341.

Heyman’s website is at tomheymanmusic.net.


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