"It’s not so much a come-back", says Tommy Heath, best known as 80’s pop-rocker, Tommy Tutone. "Let’s say I’m resurfacing." Emerging into American culture shoulder-to-shoulder with MTV back in 1982, Tommy Tutone’s hit single, 867-5309/Jenny launched his band on a speed-of-sound trajectory to a permanent place in pop history.
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Yet the mega-hit also left the somewhat shy, soft-spoken performer with the label of "one-hit-wonder", an unfortunate marker for an artist whose catalog of songs reflects a diversity and rich texture that takes the listener far beyond the simple pop rhythms of Jenny.
Getting his other work, which just as effectively captures the cache of the times as Jenny, before an audience has always been a priority for Heath but the crowd usually bests him with chants of "Jenny-Jenny" half-way through the set.
"I’m always happy to play Jenny for a crowd but I make sure they get a full dose of my other music—both new and classic—first ", Heath related from his new home base of Portland, Oregon. "I’m not an ‘oldies’ act", he emphasized.
The June 30 release of his latest work, tutone.rtf (Rich Text Files) on the new San Francisco-based indie label, Secret Disc, should go a long way in re-educating die-hard fans and enlightening a new generation of listeners. As Raoul Hernandez of the Austin Chronicle wrote earlier this year, "With the release of Rich Text Files, it seems the Portland-based Heath…has finally made the follow-up to Tutone-2…updating it unselfconsciously."
Growing up as an Air Force brat exposed Heath to a smorgasbord of musical influences. From his grade school days in Texas listening to Buddy Holly and Elvis, to high school in Montana when surf and folk music held his attention, on to his early college days in Japan when he was caught in the tidal wave of Beatle-mania that hit that country with a vengeance.
With three albums of work from the 80’s, a European-released pop-meets- R&B album entitled Nervous Love in the mid-90’s, and immortality status from any number of New Wave compilations, Heath maintains he’s never stopped writing, recording and performing.
Although he pays his bills with work as a software engineer, he’s always thought of himself as a musician and performer first. Thus, the tag "come back" doesn’t really resonate with this artist whose phone-number song served as the soundtrack to the lives of millions over a decade and a half ago. "Even if they can’t get the numbers straight," observed Heath, "they tell me that was their personal anthem for the 80’s."
Now 51 and the father of two daughters, Heath recounts a recent incident with a fan on the beaches of San Diego. "The guy was introduced to me and he immediately dropped to his knees, genuflecting and saying, ‘I love you, man, I love you! You’re the greatest! Say, what was the name of that song you sang again?"
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