R.I.P. Tom Sheehy: mover, shaker, and Philadelphia music fan
This past weekend, the local music community was saddened to hear about the passing of Tom Sheehy, a long time, behind-the-music-scenes mover and shaker. According to a report in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sheehy died on Sunday, April 26th from a heart attack in his home in Torresdale. He was 69 years old.
For over a decade, Sheehy was best known as the publicist for the legendary South Street club, JC Dobbs. He was the guy who would “put you on the guest list,” and arrange interviews with bands with various press folks to help promote the bands playing Dobbs. But first and foremost, Sheehy was a music fan, and his love of music drove anything and everything he would do to help bands connect with audiences, and to cheer lead for local bands and unknown bands like Beck, Pearl Jam, Indigo Girls, Live, Dwight Yoakam, Alan Mann, Nirvana, Tool, Stereolab, Rage Against The Machine, and many others whose earliest performances in Philly were at the famed club.
Before working as the publicist at Dobbs and the Empire Rock Club in the mid-Eighties, Sheehy was promotions director at WMMR. He was a fan first, and a major life long Rolling Stones fan.
To many in the Philly music scene, Sheehy was known as “The Colonel.” He was named that by John Eddie, who Sheehy managed for a while, and whose rock and roll career broke out of Philly in the mid-Eighties when he was a staple at the South Street rock club, JC Dobbs where Sheehy was a publicist.
Eddie, who now lives in Nashville, wrote a heartfelt tribute to Sheehy on his Facebook page:
It hit me pretty hard when I learned that Tom Sheehy had passed away over the weekend.
I saw Kenn Kweeder had posted an article on Facebook. The article called Tom “The Colonel”.
I gave him that nickname.
When I first met Tom I was a young punk playing guitar who wanted to be Elvis Presley. So of course when he became my manager I called him Colonel Tom Sheehy.
I was proud to see he kept the name after all these years.
There were a lot of firsts with Tom.
He set up my first real photo shoot.
He got me played on the radio for the first time ever.
We did a cover of an Elvis song called “I Gotta Know”.
I remember being in the shower of my girlfriends apartment when it came on the radio. You don’t forget the first time you hear yourself on the radio.
Thanks for that Colonel Tom.
Tom was a true rock and roller. He loved the music and he lived the life. He taught me that the Rolling Stones were the worlds greatest rock n roll band. I still believe that because of him.
I cant even remember why we ended our relationship. No big falling out. Probably just rock n roll growing pains. But I do remember the night we decided to stop working together we both cried.
That’s not very rock n roll is it?
Either that or it’s VERY rock n roll.
So I never got to be Elvis.
But my crazy career has brought me to a place where I’m now working on a TV show that I created with Priscilla Presley about Elvis.
I have no doubt that Tom Sheehy played a part in me getting here. Who knows what direction my life would have taken had he not been there for the early steps.
Thanks Colonel Tom.
I got to know The Colonel during the first phase of my music career in Philly as a freelance writer for the City Paper and the Philadelphia Weekly and we stayed in touch over the years as he moved out of the music business to pursue a PhD in American History at University of Pennsylvania. Tom opened a lot of doors for me in the business. When I covered local music for the very now defunct South Street Star (remember that?) it was Sheehy who would tip me to the local up and comers like Kenn Kweeder, Executive Slacks, Robert Hazard, Trained Attack Dogs, Scram, George Thorogood, and many others. He’d call me when Dobbs co-owner Kathy James would book an emerging national band that he was excited about and would regularly set up interviews for me.
Sheehy was the music fan that every music obsessive needed in their lives. Someone who would hip you to the coolest new bands you needed to know about, and even though he was a behind-the-scenes important fixture, he was a quiet influencer who was always honest and forthcoming in his opinions about music. Not a fan of outdoor concerts, he’d often tweet “No roof, no rock” to me and others.
At Dobbs, Sheehy and I would often stand together towards that back of Dobbs, at the sound board, watching bands, taking notes, sparring critical points of view. The last show Sheehy and I watched together was in November, 2015, when Kendrick Lamar played the Trocadero, on a run of shows Lamar was doing to promote To Pimp A Butterfly. It was one of those magical nights, experiencing a superstar in a special setting. There was a moment during the show when the power went out and Tom turned to me and said “this will be remembered as a great rock and roll moment.”
There’s lots of bands that owe their careers to Sheehy and Dobbs. There’s lots of music fans whose lives were brightened because of his passion for music. WXPN’s Robert Drake was one of them. Drake writes:
Tom was am amazing spirit with an incredible ear for discovering good music – demonstrated by his years at J.C. Dobbs. We spent many a late night on South Street, talking about the state of music as the sun came up. Tom was one of the good ones – he was the epitome of #PhillyLove �
Rest in rock and roll peace to Tom Sheehy, long may his spirit run.