By Jim Hagarty
I live in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, home of Justin Bieber and where many other fine musicians have gotten their start. To this day, the small city of less than 40,000 souls is teeming with homegrown musical talent.
Amidst us, encouraging fellow musicians every step of the way, is a talented songwriter, singer and instrumentalist named Tom Waschkowski who has also made his mark as a record producer. Tom got his first instrument, an accordion, at the age of three in his native Poland and fell instantly in love with music. It is a passion he has pursued for the past seven decades. And while not a Stratford native, he eventually made his way here and now works hard to give other musicians a chance to shine.
A couple of years ago, Tom set to work on two lifelong dreams. One of them was to record a solo album of original songs and a few of his favourite covers, and the other to write an autobiography. By the end of 2015, he had fulfilled both of his quests. He released both his CD, A Crow By My Door, and his book, Is Anybody Listening? (Chasing Rock & Roll Dreams) at a launch in Stratford in December of that year.
Is Anybody Listening? is a remarkable effort, all the more so given that Tom decided to simply express himself in his own words and style without the use of an editor or ghost writer. He wanted his effort to be raw and honest, and he achieved both goals in spades.
Tom is not a professional writer of non-fiction, but the reader might be forgiven for not knowing that. Yes there are a few minor errors here and there, but it is a gripping series of very interesting tales he has to tell. He tells his story chronologically beginning with his origins in Europe and move to Canada and weaves in an incredible amount of detail along the way. The reader is left to wonder how he could remember so many details of his life but he gives that secret away when he says he was an avid keeper of journals over the years.
Tom was drawn to rock ‘n’ roll from his earliest memory and has played it all his life, as a member of so many groups it is hard to sort them all out. But he was also a fan of finer music and even folk music, which he sang and recorded in his earlier days as a member of a group called the Folklords.
Over the years, Tom has rubbed shoulders with many famous musicians, and even at almost 70, is still as big a fan of popular music as he ever was. Eventually, he was able to realize another dream, to own his own recording studio, which he and a friend opening in a small hamlet near Stratford. That was in the late ’70s and though that studio is gone, he has continued to produce recordings for others to this day. He also runs a local music hall where he books all sorts of great acts, both local and international.
And while he has never regretted pursuing music as a career, Tom does not shy way from some of the pitfalls of the fields, especially when it comes to touring. He dispels any notions people might have about any glamour attached to travelling from town to town, often in bad weather, and staying in some very basic motels and hotels. And there was also the encounters with drugs and alcohol.
Tom does not skimp when it comes to the personal details of his life, his upbringing, his marriages, and the regrets he has about not always being there for his family. But his is a contented man today and has the support of a loving wife, a son and a daughter.
Is Anybody Listening? is a compelling tale. It is available in the Corner Store.