Tom Tom Washington (pictured at left) is basically my hero. He’s also a very humble and cool individual to be around.
As a Chicagoan and a music lover, his distinctive Horn and String Arrangements are like home to me.
Tom Tom came up in Chicago’s Ida B. Wells Projects and studied music under the tutelage of James Mack (an awe-inspiring arranger in his own right). He wound up arranging dozens of records for Chicago Music Heavyweights such as Earth, Wind, & Fire, The Emotions, Tyrone Davis, Deniece Williams (who is from Gary, IN), The Staple Singers, Ramsey Lewis, Leroy Hutson, The Chi-Lites, Otis Leavill, Betty Everett, Jerry Butler, Loleatta Holloway, and many, many, more.
In my cratedigging, I actually look for his name on a record as a mark of excellence. I call it looking for a “Tom Tom”. I have at least a couple of hundred cuts he’s had a hand in (under the names Tom Tom, Tom Tom 74, Tom Tom 75, Tom Tom 84, Tom Tom Washington, and a few other aliases).
Tom Tom Washington also branched out and worked with artists from all over the world, including Phil Collins and The Whispers. The Whispers are a Los Angeles-based group, and in 1978, he did arrangements for an album called “Headlights”. I know this because I recently found a 45rpm single taken from the album. I’m not usually a fan of the Whispers, but it’s a beast, featuring the top cut, called “Olivia (Lost and Turned Out)” (which is about exactly what you think it’s about), and the B-Side called “Try and Make it Better”, which is bangin’. The tunes’ arrangements capture the distinctive sound that Tom Tom made classic on hits by Earth, Wind, & Fire and The Emotions. It’s amazing. But why wouldn’t it be? It’s a “Tom Tom”.
Here in Chicago, music fans know Linda Clifford as a singer affiliated with Curtis Mayfield’s camp in the disco era. But Clifford, a native New Yorker, is also a former Miss New York State, and at one time worked as an actress who played minor roles in major films like The Boston Strangler with Tony Curtis and Henry Ford and Sweet Charity with Shirley MacLaine.
Still performing today, she is best known for the cuts from her 1978 debut album on Curtom: “If My Friends Could See Me Now” (#1 on the Disco Charts), and “Runaway Love” (#3 on the R&B Charts). Backed by The Jones Girls, her Curtom hits were electrifying, and fully Chicago-bred in an era when the City’s influence on popular music was waning (after the peak of Chicago Soul, and before the House Explosion).
Below, it’s Linda Clifford dishing it out with a televised performance of “Runaway Love”. Jive on!