Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: Bill Toms and Hard Rain
Bill Toms started playing in Pittsburgh clubs in the 1980s with his bands Pendulum and The Shades. He spent almost 20 years in The Houserockers with Joe Grushecky and, most recently, has been making music with his band Hard Rain. Their new song “Walking On Water” is a hopeful song inspired by time spent listening to The Rascals and Sly & The Family Stone.
Bill recently spoke with WYEP’s Joey Spehar about the new song, listening to The Monkees, and learning from a jazz legend.
Bill Toms and Hard Rain are:
Bill Toms- vocals, guitars
Tom Breiding- guitars
Eric Kurtzrock- drums
Tom Valentine- bass
Steve Binsberger- keys
Phil Brontz- saxophone
George Arner- trumpet
Stephen Graham- trombone
Bernie Herr- percussion
This conversation may be lightly edited for content, clarity, or length.
What’s your musical history up to this point?
I started playing music in the clubs around Pittsburgh in 1980 with a band called Pendulum. From 1982 until 1986 I had a band called The Shades. Playing clubs like the Decade and the Razzberry Rhino. In February of 1987, Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers was formed as a four piece band. I played for 19 years with the band, stopping in 2006. During the last 8 years I was also releasing my own albums with Hard Rain. We continue as Bill Toms and Hard Rain 27 years later.
How do you describe your sound?
I like to think of it as Rhythm and Blues. Basically a combination of blues, soul, gospel, folk, and rock and roll. American roots music.
Tell us more about the song “Walking On Water.” What inspired you to write it and what does it mean to you?
I was listening to a lot of Rascals music and Sly and the Family Stone, and thinking that the lyrics that I had for “Walking on Water” needed a similar summer/ ‘sunshiny’ piece of music behind it. The lyrics are about hope. It’s about the need to help or assist those that are struggling.
What was the first album that really changed your life?
When I was 6 years old, my parents bought me the first Monkees album. Changed everything. Then again, they also got me 45s of the Beatles (Strawberry Fields) and Sly and the Family Stone (Family Affair). Never looked back. I think the first album as a teenager that made me think that a career in rock and roll was possible was Tom Petty’s first album.
Who are some other Pittsburgh artists you think more people should listen to?
I just did a show with Bill Deasy and Jim Donovan and the Sun King Warriors and am awed by the talent from Pittsburgh. Young blues artists like Pierce Dipner and songwriters such as Dan Bubien and Wil Kondrich need to be heard. As well as Aris Paul, and Andre Costello
Any other super interesting things we should know about you?
I took guitar lessons as a teenager from Eric Susoeff, who is one of the greatest jazz guitarists around. Now I’m not much of a jazz musician but I really appreciated the knowledge of using improvisation within the blues and rock and roll genre I received. I always wanted to write a jazz inspired instrumental. Maybe someday.
Learn more about Bill Toms and Hard Rain:
Check out previous Pittsburgh Artists of the Week here.