“Touring,” says country-rocker Tom Gillam, “is 23 hours of doing absolutely nothing and one hour of doing that thing you’re there to do.” In between, “Drinking passes the time.”
At least, that’s how it was for the Deptford native and Gibbsboro resident until March 2006. Gillam had just returned from a string of dates at Austin’s South by Southwest Festival and was planning to finish recording his fourth album. On
the way home from the Philadelphia airport, he started having chest pains. His wife, Caroline, drove him to Virtua West Jersey, in Marlton, where he suffered a heart attack and flat-lined. He was rushed to Lady of Lourdes in Camden, where he flat-lined again. Following surgery, he woke up three days later in the ICU, where his doctor told him that it was rare to survive a heart attack at such a young age—Gillam was then in his mid-40s.
Though Gillam had survived, he was hardly in the clear. The doctor told him that his abuse of alcohol had contributed to his heart attack, and ordered him to cut out drinking for good. Amazingly, Gillam managed to do just that.
Looking back, it’s not his willpower that surprises Gillam the most. It’s that sobriety has actually boosted his creativity. “If I would’ve known that my playing, my writing, my singing would get to this level, I would’ve quit twenty years ago,” says the guitarist.
Gillam did complete his fourth album, which came out in September. The title, Never Look Back, comes from a song that Gillam’s guitarist, Craig Simon, wrote well before the leader’s medical emergency and sobering up. “I thought it was a good song,” Gillam says. “But after the heart attack, it became a great song. It was like, Okay, this is my theme. My life had changed completely. There was no way I was going to go back to the way I was.”
It had taken Gillam a long time to find his voice. In seventh grade he had decided to be a rock or pop musician. But he bounced from genre to genre for two decades until he found his metier in a fusion of country and rock. Suddenly, he recalls, “There was no end to it. I started to write more and more and more.”
Gillam’s band, Tractor Pull, plays most of its shows in Texas, where he’s well known. “I get off the plane there and people go, ‘Hey, it’s Tom Gillam,’” he says with a laugh. “In Jersey they go, ‘Hey, that’s Ozzy.’”Click here to leave a comment