Tom Baker’s band has had several different names and iterations over his long musical career. His first paid gig as a teenager – with a group regrettably named “Flying” – was at a country club in Hingham where a member told him to turn it down before they had even started playing.
Later, with bands like The First and The Baker Brothers, Tom toured Europe and played venues in London, Germany, and Amsterdam.
His latest project, Tom Baker and the Troublemakers, has been tapped by the city’s ParkARTS Citywide Neighborhood Concert Series to perform on Wed., July 18, at 7 p.m. at a venue a bit closer to home – McConnell Park in Savin Hill, where he grew up.
Tom is the brother of a city councillor, Frank Baker, but it was another sibling, John, who was responsible for Tom’s musical beginnings. “He was an amazing musician,” Baker said of his late older brother. “He could play anything he put his hands on. His main instrument was guitar and vocals, but he also played the sax and the flute in the band. He was the oldest in my family of 13 kids, and he had an extensive record collection and tuned pianos for his day job. He was a real amazing influence.”
John, who was blind, earned a reputation as a legendary musician in the 1970s Boston music scene, garnering local fame with bands like The Techniques and the Three Blind Mice, a group featuring him and two other blind musicians.
Tom looked up to his older brother as a kid, and as such was introduced to music by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix at an early age. Eventually, John inspired Tom to pick up a guitar himself.
“Some of the first times I played in front of people were with his bands,” Tom said. “Just immeasurable experience. Once I started playing, he would ask me questions like, ‘What are you waiting for, when are you going to start a band?’ I’m like, ‘You think I’m good enough to be in a band?’ He’s like ‘Yeah, you’re better than all the guys I know. Just go ahead and start doin’ it.’ Just gave me the confidence, you know?”
Tom soon was accomplished enough to be in John’s band, and they toured the country and much of Europe together as The Baker Brothers in the late ‘70s, when people on both sides of the Atlantic still clamored for live rock and roll. Later, in the ‘80s and ‘90s in Dorchester, Tom said his band enjoyed a handful of regular gigs up and down Dorchester Avenue at bars and clubs like The Banshee, Ned Kelly’s, and Scruffy Murphy’s. But that has since changed.
“It’s not like the old days,” he lamented. “Just on Dorchester Ave alone there used to be 10 or 12 clubs that I could call to get work for regular bands playing there. There’s not even two on the Ave now...none of them have live bands anymore. The owners put on their iPods or have a DJ come in, because it’s a fraction of a cost and, you know, they think it’s the same product.”
Baker said he was lucky to hail from a time when an original band could come up in the Boston music scene and get a record deal. With the exception of a few places near Faneuil Hall, he said, today there’s nowhere that bands can cut their teeth on a nightly basis.
“To have Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory teeming with hundreds and hundreds of kids who need a place to go out and play and get their band and their craft together, it’s disgraceful,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that Boston doesn’t have like an amazing music scene.”
Baker, who has a day job in plumbing and heating, often drives with his band to Cape Cod and New Hampshire for gigs. The Troublemakers troupe comprises about ten local musicians with considerable levels of professional experience, and the lineup varies depending on which three or four guys are available for a performance. The version of the band performing at McConnell Park will be what Baker calls his “A-Team”– a lineup featuring Baker on guitar, Doug Marsden on lead vocals and harmonica, Steve Hart on drums, José “Pepe” Hernández on bass, and Dan Kenney on keys. All members of the band also sing.
Baker said the family-friendly show will give the band members an opportunity to stretch their legs and play covers from a diverse array of rock and R&B artists such as The Beatles, David Bowie, The Police, Marvin Gaye, The Talking Heads, Chuck Berry, and Ray Charles.
“I appreciate that they’re giving us a chance to do this and we won’t let them down,” he said. “We’ll give them a good show,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. It should be a fun night.”
All ParkARTS neighborhood performances are free of charge. For information or a full schedule of events, call 617-635-4505 or visit the Parks Department online at boston.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation.