Rarely do I get the opportunity to write about a musician as unique as Tom Marcellis. Having earned his musical chops playing with the likes of bands such as Widespread Panic and Colonel Bruce Hampton’s Aquarium Rescue Unit, Tom has learned the value of tapping a virtually non-existent musical niche in our area – that of the Grateful Dead and other jam bands whose lyrical poetry have attracted legions of adoring fans. Add that to the fact that he’s a natural born teacher – and songwriter – who gets his greatest joy in seeing his students reach musical nirvana, and you can see how he connects so well with his audiences.
Marcellis told us that he grew up in Chattanooga – a mecca for bluegrass – where at a very young age he was exposed to the likes of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Wes Montgomery.
“As a teenager I frequented the bluegrass festivals around the south, the Mountain Opry on Lookout Mountain, and many other jam sessions around Chattanooga,” he said. “I also worked in local bands playing mostly blues, country and rock. While studying music in college, I performed at area jazz clubs, and played in jazz fusion bands.”
It was during this time that Tom’s unique voice as an instrumentalist began to gel. As a young adult he started writing songs while playing in original improvisational-based bands. Soon after that Marcellis began to tour, mostly in the southeast, playing venues, clubs, theaters, colleges festivals and opening for acts like Widespread Panic, Col Bruce Hampton, Blues Traveler, The Black Crows, Bo Didley, Buckwheat Zydeco, The Kudzu Kings, The Charlie Daniels Band, Blood Sweat and Tears among many others. These experiences kiln-fired his skills as a guitarist and performer.
“I saw my first Grateful Dead show in 1985, and it was a real eye-opener,” Tom told us. “I really connected with the whole Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia dynamic. Hunter’s lyrics are a real experimentation in language – it’s poetry in song and it’s absolutely beautiful. I think that’s why the Dead got so popular – people were moved by those words when Jerry sang them, it became part of the fabric of their soul.”
All of this led to a musical style that is uniquely accessible – improvisational music that engages audiences with a narrative style of rock steeped in the eclectic musical heritage of the south. At the core of Tom’s song writing beats the heart of traditional blues, jazz, bluegrass and other American music adeptly integrated with global cultural styles. “Sometimes the subject matter dictates the arrangement while other compositions exist long before the lyrics arrive,” Tom said. “Dog Song developed from a story my uncle told. He used to raise beagles. The music just played in my head like a score while he spoke.”
Marcellis moved to our emerald shores from St. Louis five years ago on a route followed by so many others – he came here on vacation and decided to stay.
“It’s pretty simple – my wife and I were sick of snow,” he said. “I opened Guitar Studio in Fort Myers in 2001, and I’ve been doing that non-stop ever since. It’s an amazing experience to be a teacher – it’s really created a synergy with my own art to see the process people go through when they’re learning to play music, to see the joy it brings them. It’s so personal, and it’s such a great appreciation when you see someone finally ‘get it’.”
Tom formed the ‘Tom Marcellis Band’ in 2006, and, as the years have gone by he’s found himself performing more and more often. He also released a CD of his originals – available on his website, www.tommarcellis.com, though he admits he mostly uses his Facebook page to connect with his fans (just search for ‘Tom Marcellis Band’ to see it).
Tom’s band, which currently consists of Jon Gregory on bass, Greg Timko on guitars, vocals and mandolin and Laurence Getford on keyboards and vocals – plays locally at Doc Fords (check their Facebook page for dates). Their music is organic and experimental, and they have a unique way of truly connecting to their audience. And Deadheads, rejoice – Tom’s band delivers that special something we normally have to travel great distances for.
“There are a lot of Deadheads in Southwest Florida who – because few bands play their music – will stay for my entire show once they hear a Grateful Dead song, Tom said. “That’s a group that needs to be indulged, and I’m happy to do it.”
But no matter what your musical flavor is, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed by Marcellis and his band. For all ages, their shows are nothing short of a spiritually uplifting experience that should not be missed!
Keri Hendry Weeg