Tom “T-Bone” Giblin (or just “Gibby”) has 30 years experience as a professional musician. Playing everything from Rock, to R&B, to Blues. He’s been a solid organ and piano sideman to Elvin Bishop, Albert Collins, Jimmy Rogers, Luther Allison, Big Joe Turner, The Dynatones, A.C. Reed, Bryan Lee, Kenny Neal, Andrew “B.B.” Odom, Jimmy Johnson, Lonnie Brooks (13+ years), Bo Diddley, Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Mary Wells, Koko Taylor, Fenton Robinson, Mighty Joe Young, Carey Bell, Abb Locke, and Big Time Sarah.
The following interview with Tom was conducted
and written by Jamie Gorecki in 2000.
“There was always music in the house as far back as I can remember,” reflects Tom. “It was my father that played the piano and later the organ. My first memory of the ivories was playing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and having the keys eye level.” Gibby remembers starting piano lessons while in second grade and staying with it up until seventh grade while attending St. Matthew’s grade school.
“I took organ lessons from Mary Jo Votroubek at St. Matt’s,” Tom says. “She was great! She’d teach me as much as I could learn. Basically, they were the modern day standards, the songs from the radio. We’d hear a new song and she’d play it for me. I then took my assignment home and learned it before the next lesson. That was my homework! At that time, groups like The Beatles, The Monkees, etc. were on the Top Ten. I do have to admit, I am a big Monkees fan. A lot of people won’t ‘fess up to it, but I will.”
Tom’s early musical influences came from the two local AM stations. He was into the Pop scene, but was also influenced by his older sister’s musical taste. She passed on the sounds of Motown and R&B such as The Supremes and The Box Tops. T-Bone formed his first band with neighborhood and school friends in his freshman year of high school. They called the band Aspen Grove and it lasted about a year. They would play at school dances and were able to land a gig at Farrah’s Lounge. Remember, these kids were only 14 to 16 years old.
One night at Farrah’s, he was approached by two “older guys.” They liked his style of playing organ so much they invited him to sit in with them on their weekend show at The Mirror Lounge. “I think it paid $35 a night. Pretty good bucks for back then,” adds Gibby. Those two “older guys” were local favorites Dennis “Daddy-O” McMurrin and Ron DeWitte [a member of the IBHOF] and their group was called Mercy. He stayed with that for about a year and a half. While still in high school, Tom played with a couple more popular local bands, American Legend and Steamboat Willie, which gave him more exposure in the local bar and club scene.
Shortly after high school, Iowa’s own favorite son of the Blues, keyboardist Steve Miller [also a member of the IBHOF], left the very successful and popular Blues band, The Linn County Band to join the Southern-rock group Grinderswitch. Creating a vacancy on the keys, Tom was invited to fill it. “That was the first Blues band I played with,” Tom says. He stayed with that band close to two and a half years. During that time, Tom experienced several personal and musical changes. Tom’s father passed away in ’76 and Tom stayed around town to help out his mother. Disco was big during those years and there wasn’t that much call for live music around Cedar Rapids.
Tom was in his early 20s and had never been away from Cedar Rapids. He was getting antsy and was ready for a change. January of ’78 found Tom moving to San Francisco. “I heard that was a real cool place so I thought I’d give it a try,” Tom says. “While out there, I hitched up with a couple bands, did the coffee house circuit and such. While out there, I got a call from Milwaukee Bluesman Bryan Lee. He got my number somehow through the grapevine and invited me to play with him. I said, ‘Sure!’ It would bring me closer to home for one thing.” Playing with the likes of Freddie King and other rockin’ Blues bands, this was something Tom could identify with for awhile. But once again, Gibby got bored and found himself at a point of not knowing what to do.
Returning back home to Cedar Rapids in mid ’79, Tom tended bar for a while. Then one day, he got a phone call from Blues legend Mighty Joe Young of Chicago. “He got my number from the old sax player with The Linn County Band and asked me if I wanted to move to Chicago and play the Blues. I said, ‘Sure,’ and off I went,” says Gibby. “I played with Joe for about a year and a half, and boy, did I do a lot! I took my first trip to Europe, had a cameo shot in the movie Thief starring James Caan and Tuesday Weld [also Willie Nelson and James Belushi]. The Mighty Joe Young band played in a bar scene in the movie. I played with Joe at one of the very first Chicago Blues Music Fests. It was great!”
Time ran its course with that gig and it was time once again to try something new. Tom looked up friend Bryan Lee from Milwaukee again, and played Midwestern gigs for about 6 months, but kept his residence in Chicago.
Gibby moved back to San Francisco when he got a call from his buddy Walter Shufflesworth, the old drummer for The Linn County Band. He’d been working with Charlie Musselwhite as his back-up band, The Dynatones. The band was going on their own and Walter wanted to know if Gibby wanted to join up. This was right up Tom’s alley, and during the period Tom played with the great Motown/R&B/Soul band, things were going their way.
Tom remembers, “It was about a year and a half later when I got a call from one of my old Chicago buddies, Lonnie Brooks. Back when I lived in Chicago and played with Mighty Joe Young, Lonnie and I hit it off pretty well. We’d hang out and shoot pool together and we became pretty good friends. When Lonnie had an opening come up for a keyboardist in his band, he offered me the gig and I couldn’t refuse. I played with Lonnie from January of ’84 till November of ’97, and what a ride it was!”
“I have to say one of the biggest thrills for me came back in 1980 during my first tour to Europe. I was with Mighty Joe Young playing this huge Jazz and Blues fest called Tour de Grande Jazz Festival. It was chock full of talent: B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, all the great names in Jazz and Blues. These tour buses would take all the musicians back and forth to the hotels. One day, I got on the bus, went all the way to the back and found an empty seat next to this guy. He was sitting there, gazing out the window, turns to me, and it was Dizzy Gillespie. What an honor. We shared some quality time, exchanging stories all the way back to the hotel. I’ll never forget that! I remember another time, I was playing the Grand Emporium in Kansas City with Lonnie one night in about ’86 or ’87. This guy appears on the side of the stage, and it’s Stevie Ray Vaughan! Our rhythm guitarist, O.C. Anderson, offered up his ax and Stevie took over. He jammed with us for an incredible hour and a half. That was fantastic!” says Gibby.
So why give up all that fame and fortune and move back here? “After being on the road for over 20 years, playing basically the same gigs, the same sets for the last 13 years, it was time for a change,” Gibby explains. “It takes a toll on a person. By that time, I saw more reasons to move back than I did to stay. When I moved back, I knew I’d be playing but I didn’t know with who or where. I’d kept in contact with friends and such. It was great to fit into the Flat Cat band (early ’98) and play with a bunch of my childhood buddies. It’s really rewarding to play with and for people you know, friends you grew up with.”
Tom’s also 25% of another local “super group” called D-Dog & the B-Bits. They cut an album in 2000 called No Foolin’! He also hosts a live music jam at J.M. O’Malley’s, a popular local pub every Thursday night as well. Tom completed a project of a CD of live recordings titled Choice Cuts, also from 2000, from his Thursday evening sessions. “I had this idea to bring in new bands to every week and sit in with them. It’s evolved into a nice, relaxed setting where everyone has a good time. It’s really great to be able to play with all these guys.” [end of interview]
Giblin has since played on albums by Bryce Janey and Mike Bader. Previously, he appeared on albums by Bryan Lee, Craig Erickson (Force Majeure from 1996, which also featured Chris Duarte and Eugene Gales), and several albums with Lonnie Brooks on Alligator Records.
Gibby has also been a part of the Lonnie Brooks band in some concert films, including Houston PBS’ Live At The Woodlands (during the B.B. King tour), Milwaukee’s Got The Blues, Pride & Joy – The Story of Alligator Records (commemorating the 20th Anniversary tour – directed by Robert Mugge), and a Lonesome Pine television special.
Earlier this year, he became a member of the Iowa Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of The Linn County Band. Obviously, 2004 is a big year for T-Bone Giblin and all in all, he has a very impressive career resumé, to say the least.