On Saturday, September 1, and Sunday, September 2, Tom Pacheco comes to the Empire State Railway Museum (ESRM), for his traditional Labor Day Weekend concerts there for Flying Cat Music. The ESRM is located at 70 Lower High Street in Phoenicia. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and music begins at 7:30. Admission is $18 or $15 with reservations. For information or reservations (strongly recommended), email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-688-9453.
They listen to him in Japan, Ireland and Scandinavia. He has avid fans in Great Britain, Italy, and Australia. Tom Pacheco’s had a strong international following for decades, but although he’s been called, “One of America’s greatest songwriting treasures” by FolkWax, and a “quintessentially American songwriter” by Dirty Linen Magazine, relatively few Americans are familiar with Tom Pacheco’s music. Except, it seems, here in the region surrounding Tom’s home town of Woodstock, where his large and fervent fan base rightfully lauds his work. This will be the eighth year that Tom, who performs as often overseas as he does here in the states, has presented his traditional Labor Day Weekend concerts at the old Phoenicia train station and, as he often does, Brian Hollander will again join Tom on stage for both shows as his accompanist.
It is easy to understand why Tom Pacheco is popular in so much of the world but a bit more baffling to explain his relative anonymity in America. Tom Pacheco has a legacy that few musicians could dream of possessing. He’s been a clarion voice in music ever since the sixties when he could be found performing in New York’s Greenwich Village. Tom was writing his own songs then and he continues to do so today, touching on all aspects of society and the relationships that define us as Americans. Maverick Magazine calls Pacheco, “one of the genuine troubadours of our time.”
Dirty Linen Magazine (referenced above) goes on to state that, “Tom Pacheco deserves to be mentioned in the same tones of reverence as John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Steve Earle.” While AcousticMusic.com observes, “Pacheco can very well stand in a line of great folk singers, ranging from Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan. There is nothing that makes him less relevant or important than them, except the demands of capitalist culture.”
In 2016 Flying Cat Music first published a detailed exploration of some of the milestones in Tom’s long and illustrious musical career. It is uncanny how repeatedly his path took him to the heart of pivotal scenes in American music history, many of those moments previously little known or under reported. For those who may have missed it we repeat it here below:
Tom Pacheco’s recordings date back to the mid-sixties. The Ragamuffins, a “psychedelic folk/rock” band he had formed, released two obscure singles in 1965 on the Seville label. John Hall, who later found fame with Orleans, was a band member for a while. In 1969, Tom’s next group, Euphoria (with Pacheco as main songwriter), recorded an album on Heritage Records which was an affiliate of MGM. That album went on to achieve underground cult status. Euphoria was slated for a performance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, but disbanded before appearing. In 1971, Clive Davis signed Tom Pacheco and his partner Sharon Alexander to Columbia after a live audition, and the duo released one album. In 1974, the Jefferson Starship included Tom’s song “All Fly Away” on their album Dragonfly, and Richie Havens included a Pacheco co-write “Indian Prayer” on his album Mixed Bag II.
During 1976, RCA Records recorded two Pacheco solo albums in Los Angeles. Both were produced by the legendary George “Shadow” Morton (known for his work with the Shangri-Las, a then-young Janis Ian, Vanilla Fudge, and the New York Dolls, among others). RCA refused to release some of Tom’s more controversial songs and insisted on a more “commercial sound,” with an emphasis on traditional love songs, before they would record a third album with him. Pacheco broke ties with the label to preserve his independence, setting a precedent for his career that persists to this day.
Taken as a whole, Tom Pacheco’s personal odyssey sounds too improbable for even the wildest Hollywood film script. How can someone have been all the places he’s been, and known all the people he’s known, and still be largely obscure? Pacheco’s band The Ragamuffins used to open for Jimi Hendrix when the latter was playing at Cafe Wha? prior to Hendrix moving to England and forming the “Experience.” While in Britain, Jimi helped get airplay for a Ragamuffins single, “Four Days of Rain,” on European pirate radio, a harbinger of the popularity Pacheco later gained in Europe.
During an early Grateful Dead trip to New York City, Jerry Garcia ended up at Tom’s apartment where they both discovered a mutual love for acoustic Americana music, leading Jerry to later send Tom a pre-release copy of Workingman’s Dead for his feedback and enjoyment. Before the “Fast Folk” movement fully emerged in New York’s Greenwich Village, the precursor to it met at Tom’s MacDougal Street apartment where musicians like The Roches, Rod MacDonald, and David Massengill came to congregate. Roger McGuinn dropped in to play “Chestnut Mare,” and an already-depressed Phil Ochs performed “Pleasures of the Harbor” there, just months before his tragic death.
Yippie icon Abbie Hoffman became a fan of Tom Pacheco’s music and he often called up Tom to talk while living underground in the seventies to elude arrest. During the late seventies, Pacheco chanced upon Lucinda Williams singing on a street corner, and he invited her to join him onstage that night for a gig he had at Gerde’s Folk City. That is where she first met Bob Dylan, who showed up that night to hear his friend Tom Pacheco’s set. It also marked the beginning of Lucinda’s continuing friendship with Tom Pacheco.
Tom then spent time in Austin during the early eighties where he participated in the underground alternative country movement that was taking hold there alongside performers like Blaze Foley and Townes Van Zandt. In late 1983, Tom was lured back to New York City with the offer of a recording deal by a new subsidiary of CBS. That arrangement was dashed when the label rejected songs deemed liable to attract controversy. Eventually Pacheco moved on to Nashville seeking a secure paycheck by working as a songwriter for Mel Tillis Music before the commercial straight jacket again became too stifling for him.
A subsequent excursion to Ireland soon morphed into a ten-year residency in Dublin. There Tom’s music finally was fully embraced and, to this day, he is highly popular throughout the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Italy, touring those countries frequently. On one of his Norwegian tours, Tom met that country’s top country music star, Steinar Albrigtsen, leading to six Pacheco-written Top 5 Norwegian singles for Albrigtsen and to an ongoing musical relationship.
Pacheco’s move to Woodstock was the result of his desire to record there, hopefully with one or two members of The Band joining him on a track or two. Tom sent a tape to Jim Weider, the guitarist who had replaced Robbie Robertson, and Jim, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, and Rick Danko all decided to back Tom on the entire project which became his now classic Woodstock Winter album released in 1997. Though he then returned to Ireland, the connections he forged with members of The Band and a desire to live closer to his parents, ultimately brought Tom back to Woodstock to stay.
Despite Pacheco’s continuing commercial obscurity here in America, Pete Seeger made sure Tom joined him onstage at Pete’s ninetieth birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden, and Barack Obama asked Tom to perform for him at campaign stops during his 2008 presidential campaign. Throughout it all Tom Pacheco continues to do what he knows best, write new songs that capture glimmers of current truth, sometimes with humor, other times flashing with anger, often poignant in ways it seems that only great songs can capture.