“Soulful as Sam Cooke, outrageous as Cab Calloway, intelligent as John Lennon, funky as James Brown, down to earth as Hank Williams, Tommy Dean puts his own spin on a crazy variety of highly danceable, beautifully listenable music…” Elise Witt, EM World Records
After performing as a child in summer stock productions of Flower Drum Song and Oliver at Theater Under The Stars in Atlanta, Tommy Dean was faced with a early choice between music and theater. He chose music and never looked back.
A decade of learning the Anglican choral music repertoire of the Episcopal church in a men and boys choir and years of tuba lessons led to playing electric bass and singing in rock and roll bands as British Invasion, hits from the LA Pop music machine, and RnB out of Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago, and Detroit filled the radio airwaves around Atlanta in the sixties. By the time he was fifteen years old Tommy was working with the Fly-Bi-Nites whose one and only 45 RPM single was featured on Mad Men episode, "A Tale of Two Cities" during its 2014 season.
Irate parents broke up the Fly-Bi-Nites and soon after he graduated from high school, Tommy began his formal education in a speakeasy called Kokomo Lounge on what was then Capital Avenue south of Atlanta Stadium. The gig started at midnight and ended at 4 A.M. and there he was inducted into the mysteries of Al Green, Johnny Tayor, Donny Hathaway, and Bobby Womack as he apprenticed under Eddie B. Tig learning first-hand a music and style of singing that was all about passion and Soul.
It was not long before Tommy got the call from session guitarist/songwriter/recording artist Joe South to join him in Nashville, Tennessee to help record an album. While there, first call pedal steel guitarist and producer Pete Drake invited him to join his mostly female stable of songwriters in Nashville at his Studio Bee. Tommy did some recording session work as a bassist and performed as part of the Atlanta Voice Squad with Roy Orbison's former backup vocalist Barbara South, delivering backup vocals on recording sessions at Pete's Place. Nashville was not a particularly good fit for Dean who observed, "Music City was full of guys from Ohio and Michigan wearing cowboy hats and boots and I did not relate."
By 1973 he was back in Atlanta where he helped put together a succession of bands that performed original music throughout the Southeast, up and down the East Coast from New York to Key West, and into the Midwest and Texas. In 1976 he was asked to travel to London to record an album with Joe South for Island Records. Joe's album, "Midnight Rainbows" was completed at Studio One in Doraville, Georgia. Tommy played electric bass and wrote some of the material for the Island Records release and Rolling Stone magazine's review of the album sited Dean's tune "Home and Homesick" as "key to the album's mystery."
Dean continued traveling with original bands until he settled down in Atlanta to raise a family. In 1984 his brother Britt Dean opened The Point in Little Five Points, an eclectic neighborhood just east of downtown Atlanta where Tommy started League of Decency with multi-instrumentalist Billy McPherson. What started as a duo quickly grew to be a quartet by the time The Point changed hands. Dean expanded the band to become an eight-piece powerhouse that developed a near legendary reputation as a dance band, recorded the album "Swing, Soul, and Rock 'n' Roll" and hired iconic radio personality Alley Pat to host the concert recorded live at the ficticious Gate City Lounge. The following year Dean was hired by Intersound International Records to produce four compact discs with the League for a series of party discs of cover material. At the last minute Intersound ordered a Christmas album with only six weeks to deliver the finished product. The result is a classic Christmas CD titled "A Swinging Christmas." The following year the League worked twenty-one events during the seventeen days of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. They worked the pre-opening celebration and the post Olympic party for all of the volunteer staff at Centennial Park and performed as the official band for Olympic Shaggers on the Olympic Dance Stage.
In 1991 Dean helped write and sing "Talkin' 'Bout Longhorn" with Stuart Hill for Catspaw Productions. His ad lib at the end of the ad created the "Big Haired Lady" for the Longhorn Steakhouse ad campaign. He has sung on ads for the Atlanta Braves, Rio Bravo, Longhorn, Kroger, and many other organizations. His composition "Jumpin' At The Jubilee", cowritten with Michael Ewbank won "Best Jazz with Vocal" award from the Just Plain Folks organization.
In 2000 Dean recorded an album with League of Decency and released it as "Jump Yer Bones" by Mondo Heptet. "Jumpin' At The Jubilee" which Dean wrote with pianist Michael Ewbank was placed on the Chris Isaak Show. Sheet music for that same tune was requested by Tony Bennett's publisher for an album of blues material produced by Phil Ramone. The tune did not end up on the album but you can see the title on Phil Ramone's work sheet for the project in his book.
Dean let go of League of Decency in 2008 after a successful twenty-four year run. Around the same time he started playing double bass so he could work as a duo with pianist Mike Ewbank playing much the same material he did when starting the League. They released "Blues Say Goodbye" in 2012.
In 2014 T. Wesley Dean was selected as one of sixteen vocalists to participate in a year-long study with Rhiannon who performs in Bobby McFerrin's Voicetra and teaches with him at the Omega Institute. Her "All The Way In" program is a study in how to improvise as a group. Additional workshops with Rhiannon's trio WeBe3 in New York City and with Bobby McFerrin's Circle Songs workshop at the Omega Institute have pulled Dean deeper into how to open performance up - how to make it more participatory for audiences. At the very least it has developed an empathetic presence with audiences who sense a sincere authenticity in his performance.
Dean continues to work in the metro Atlanta region and he is somewhat of a shape-shifter as he sings Jazz Standards, American Songbook favorites, and a bit of Ray Charles and Van Morrison material every Tuesday evening with the Walkup Trio. Other times you can find him doing the same on double bass and singing with with Mike Ewbank or playing Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd songs with Swami Gone Bananas. He also participates in an improvisational circle singing group that meets a few times a month.
Experimentation with jazz and how to improvise is an ongoing process that takes him deeper into being present to the moment on stage and in Life. If honest singing means anything to you, you will enjoy a performance with Tommy Dean, or T. Wesley Dean as he is known in the song circle community. Join him and hear what the music wants to be.