Poor Man’s Dream


Tom Russell was driving a cab in Queens when Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter flagged him down. Russell, no mean songwriter even then, sang him an a cappella version of Gallo Del Cielo, a rags to riches to rags saga of a cock fighter and his rooster. Soon Russell was Hunter’s opening act at The Lone Star Cafe, and almost thirty years later is still working, still writing, still among the most vital of songwriters.

Tom started out singing Hank Williams songs in what he called “knife and gun clubs,” tough skid row bars in Vancouver. Since then Tom’s work has defied genre. He’s always gone his own way: for Russell  “songwriting is about building on your roots then finding out who you are … and writing down to the blood and bones.” Listen to one of his songs and you know he’s paid that price.

While Russell’s masterwork is undoubtedly his “folk opera” The Man From God Knows Where, I find myself going back to his records with the Tom Russell Band, led by Andrew Hardin and Fats Kaplin. Here Tom’s songs speak for those who have no voice: a steelworker whose plant has closed, a Vietnam vet who never came home, an old drunk dying in a sad LA hotel room. Tom Russell won’t forget them, and he won’t let us forget them, either.

Dave Alvin once called Blue Wing “one of the best songs ever written anywhere by anyone,” and who’s a better judge? Here’s Tom Russell singing Blue Wing at a festival in Norway in 1993. Please enjoy.

One Response to “Poor Man’s Dream”

  1. Trish Hogan Says:

    This wonderful course which never ends! Perfect.

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