As the son of a rancher and a former burlesque dancer, folk rock singer/songwriter Russ Tolman grew up in California and Arizona with a romantic view of the American West. Whether images of the open range of the cowboy, the hobo jungle of skid row, or the cross-country adventure of Kerouac’s On The Road, Tolman held a fascination with the freedom and promise of the West.
Meeting Steve Wynn and Kendra Smith at university, Tolman found himself along with his new cohorts forming a band called Suspects. Fast forward a couple years, and Wynn and Smith have moved to Los Angeles to become the Dream Syndicate, while Tolman founded True West, which became the northern guardians of what was to be called the Paisley Underground.
Psychedelic guitar slingers True West shared many stages with their paisley pals Green On Red, Rain Parade, Long Ryders, Three O’Clock, and Dream Syndicate, but True West’s two guitar sound was darker and more hypnotic.
Their debut 45 single, a blistering cover of Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” brought the band national attention, and was quickly followed by their Hollywood Holiday mini-LP.
True West had long been fans of seminal NYC band Television, so were thrilled to go into the studio with Television’s Tom Verlaine as their producer.
True West’s next album Drifters brought more touring around the U.S., U.K., and Europe, including supporting R.E.M on their 1985 Fables of the Reconstruction Tour.
However, Tolman left the band soon afterward to start his first solo album Totem Poles and Glory Holes, which made many critics’ year-end best-of lists.
Tolman relocated to Los Angeles and recorded his paean to his new found city Down In Earthquake Town, starting a long-term relationship with co-producer Brett Gurewitz, best known as a founder of punk band Bad Religion and head of Epitaph Records.
Coming next were Goodbye Joe, Road Movie, and Sweet Spot, which included many of Tolman’s Hollywood pals like Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, John Wesley Harding (aka Wes Stace), Howe Gelb of Giant Sand, and Chris Cacavas of Green On Red.
A relocation to San Francisco brought Tolman’s next album City Lights, which was not only evocative of the City By The Bay, but also of John Steinbeck’s mythical central California coast country.
New Quadraphonic Highway found Tolman dabbling at the crossroads of Brian Eno and Texas honky tonk.
The last few years have Tolman going south again, returning to “Palm Tree Land” to release singles like “Los Angeles,” “Time Flies,” “Everybody’s Gonna Love Me,” and his latest “Vancouver Sun.”
In the works is a new album for 2017 that Tolman describes as being inspired by and evocative of the great ’60s-’70s Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter scene.
“I want to write a final love letter to Los Angeles,” says Tolman. That album Goodbye El Dorado was released in 2019.
Whether tender acoustic ballads or blistering rock guitar rave-ups, Russ Tolman has crafted some of the most literate and memorable music in underground rock.
So buckle up, throw it in gear, put your foot on the accelerator, and hit the road with Russ Tolman.