I’ve known Tommy Fuller for several years and have featured him here in Shoreworld in the past. Tommy Fuller and musical partner Jan Heywood are Spoondrift.
Jan Heywood got his musical start in the family, taking up piano before ditching that for guitar and eventually gravitating toward bluegrass, learning banjo and mandolin. One thing led to another as he joined a band and started shopping labels. He ended up recording at The Hit Factory and The Record Plant, striking up friendships with A&R honchos from Columbia Records who started using him on recordings of artists that they were thinking of signing. After a while, Heywood decided that the country life was for him and moved to a 240-acre farm in the Ozark Mountains. It was while he was here that he met and played with several members of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, delving into rock and bluegrass. At one point he returned to the East Coast to take care of family, and that’s where he hooked up with Tommy Fuller.
Fuller has also had an interesting background when it comes to musical journey. Fuller is a songwriter that has been behind some of the industry’s most important discoveries and time frames. Fuller is an artist that has spanned decades in popular culture, hitching a proverbial ride with rock and roll’s biggest names on their run across the plains of history. From his early days as a musician at the Ed Sullivan Studios in the ‘60s to his current platinum status of a number one song for Polish artist Andrzej Piaseczny, Tommy Fuller has been at the forefront of self-induced musical success.
Fuller and Heywood were introduced by a mutual friend around 30 years ago. This friend thought they could be a good team. Hitting it off right away, they started writing and recording a slew of pop rock tunes in Jan’s studio. Soon after they started writing with Frankie Previte (Time Of My Life), creating songs for major artists and movie soundtracks. They’ve had songs considered by Peter Wolf and Iggy Pop, among others.
ASCAP picked one of their songs to be played at an ASCAP meeting with an audience and four major producers for feedback. They also got an honorable mention in an ASCAP songwriting competition. Years later instead of writing songs geared for other artists they decided to do a CD of their own. And so Spoondrift was born. They decided to form a duo and start playing together full time. They’ve opened up for Peter Case at The Saint, played at the Asbury Hotel for The Asbury Park Underground Party and played The Strand at the Bowie show.
Besides their previous live successes, Jan and Tommy have both been active on the scene, releasing important music and have thankfully come back to release another multi-song platter of contagious pop hits with the latest disc called When I Close My Eyes.
Comprised of 11 pop-flavored jewels, When I Close My Eyes is filled with musical references and flavors of the past and present. I took a listen to some of the songs, and this is what I came up with as far as my outlook.
First up is a song called “I Don’t Know Why.” Wrapping the influential sonnets of The Monkees and Rick Springfield into an excellent composition filled with addictive parts, “I Don’t Know Why” hums along with all the appeal of a top contending hit song. Choruses are brilliantly written and fit like a glove. The vocal magic of Fuller and Heywood meld perfectly, giving off the airs of an easy thing but also the knowledge that this is a well put together tune by master craftsmen. Jeff Pallay’s drum work fleshes things out and provides steady support as Heywood handles bass. Memorable and catchy, it’s a great first song to kick things off with.
“Days” is next and reminds me of those great early ’80s rock days. Part Styx, part Little River Band, “Days” is a winner. Instrumentation weaves like a tapestry on the loom, bobbing in and out of each other’s way as Fuller croons in his original style. I should note that except that they are utilizing different drummers, Tommy and Jan play everything on this disc. This is yet another interesting song that shows the writers in a brilliant light as composers. Hitting on all cylinders, “Days” could easily fit into any playlist that features classic rock sounds.
The disc namesake is “When I Close My Eyes” and features the first vocal talents of Jan Heywood. It also features the drum magic of Joe Bellia. This reminds me of 1960s Who. Melodic and thick, “When I Close My Eyes” is as close to modern psychedelic rock as you’re going to hear from these two. Heywood’s vocal attack is metered and dynamic, leaving plenty of room for the backing vocals and instrumentation to do its thing. The slide guitar work (courtesy of Heywood) adds a musical hook, as does the 12-string work of either Fuller or Heywood. This is another highpoint of a very classy disc.
Fuller is back on lead vocals for “Wild One.” Once again, 12-string acoustic and electric guitars crank out huge slabs of gold-toned sound as guest drummer Jeff Pally lays down a righteous groove of drum work. Heywood and Fuller work as one with the guitars, and it makes for a fantastic sounding tune. Choruses work like gangbusters, and backing vocals are lush and magical.
“Falling Down World” cranks out under mandolin ministrations of Jan Heywood as Fuller sings from the heart. Think Procol Harum meets England Dan and John Ford Coley and you would have “Falling Down World.” Lush instrumentation and stacked vocal harmonies set the stage for outstanding drum work by Joe Bellia. As before, choruses sing with abandon and precision, making for yet another excellent song.
“Why Can’t We Get Along” is once again manned by Jan Heywood on vocals. This reminds me of the ripe 1970s sounds of Cheap Trick meets Firefall. Heywood and Fuller have different vocal approaches, and they work extremely well together. This song covers the age-old conundrum of love and the stumbling blocks that come with it. Outstanding drum work is courtesy of Matt Wade, a guy we usually hear on the B3. I never knew Wade could play drums but play he does, and he does it quite well. All I can say is this is another outstanding song that utilizes skill and years of woodshedding to produce a gem that could be easily heard on the radio.
Moving around the disc, I came to “The Best Is Yet To Come.” Culling the influential power and harmony of The Byrds, this song swings along with panache. Heywood sings on this one and is a beautiful job. Fuller’s harmony work is flawless and seamless in execution. Guitars, bass, drums and other instrumentation sing in perfect unison as the duo take us through their musical imagination.
“I Can’t Stop” winds out of the player next, and it’s a commercial winner for sure. Focused on the topic of love that can’t be turned away, Fuller leads the crew through a rousing verse and chorus of a combination of rock and country blues. Joe Bellia is back on drums, leading the group down their pathway of musical vindication with class and style. Heywood’s mandolin work is simple but effective as they run into the song’s conclusive ending. Extremely top-notch work.
The last song is listed as a bonus track. The song is “Think Of You.” Warm electrics, bass, and drums lead the charge before acoustics join the fray as Fuller croons his story of young love. Backbeats pave the way for an incredibly addictive set of choruses. Once again Heywood and Fuller harmonize to beat the band, and it’s some great musical teamwork. Heywood’s slide work hits in the middle-eight before they return to the pulsing rhythms that make up this commercial gold.
Spoondrift has hit on something with When I Close My Eyes. While it might not agree with the hipster crowd that’s taken over everything on earth, it has much appeal to rock and roll fans that appreciate those famed sounds of the late 1970s and early 1980s from the Eagles and Ozark Mountain Daredevils to Rick Springfield and more. It’s an excellent record, and I would suggest checking it out as soon as possible.
For more on Spoondrift, When I Close My Eyes, show details and purchase information, head over to spoondrift.rocks.