Key to the Highway: Tommy Womack

Interviews Key to the Highway Series

Americana Highways’ Key to the Highway series photo by Stacie Huckeba

Fans always clamor to learn more about their favorite, most beloved musicians and those who travel with them. There’s such an allure to the road, with its serendipity, inevitable surprises, and sometimes unexpected discomforts. This interview series is a set of questions we are asking some of our favorite roots rock Americana artists to get to know more about them and what they’ve learned and experienced on the road. We are sure they have key insights to share and stories to tell. Here’s one from Tommy Womack.

How do you like your coffee or other morning wake-up beverage?

Coffee? I’m one of the world’s leading consumers. I actually go to bed at night looking forward to that first cup of coffee and getting jazzed on my ADD med, watching Morning Joe and every now and then going out on the back deck with my wife so we can smoke cigarettes and cough a lot. But I stop drinking coffee about 10:30 and switch the diet coke. I have an occasional cup of Earl Grey tea in the afternoon. Tea is wonderful because it’s a different kind of caffeine buzz: It’s mellower. Now what I USED to do in morning was three cups of Kahlua and Coffee. I did that for years until I figured out that nobody likes a hyper drunk.

What’s the most interesting or strangest motel/hotel or place you have stayed (while on the road)?

Narrowing it down to one would be a challenge. Back in the Government Cheese days around 1987 or so, there was this absolutely dirt-cheap dump in Carbondale, IL. It was disgusting. Hookers, malevolent people hanging out. One of the Cheese guys had a groupie one night who would have f-cked him in a dumpster, but she wasn’t going to that motel! Her Cheese dreamboat was her heart’s current desire… but not at that place! Then there was the much lesser carnal experience I had around 2012 alone at a skeevy motel room in Charlotte, NC that was also a storage room they rent when there’s no more room in the inn, and no stable or a manger or anything like that. The room I stayed was larger than normal and had four beds in it, no television, no phone, and no climate control, a room with no AC in Charlotte in June.

If one CD is stuck in the player in the van for the entire tour, what do you hope it is? And why?

The Clash’s first album. The original English version. It’s got everything. Great rocking songs that are intelligent and so rawly recorded. One of the greatest rock and roll records ever.

What’s one personal item you must have with you on your road trip?

My antidepressants. I have a little SMTWTFS pill packer and that has to go with me when I hit the road.

What is your relationship with food?   How do you handle this on the road, and what’s your favorite dish on the road, (or restaurant, and what do you order there)?

It doesn’t matter if I’m home or on the road, I don’t eat enough. It’s one of my worst habits. I just get too keyed-up for any kind of food to sound good. Now, when I’m traveling with a band, I actually eat better than any other time, because the band expects regular food and so I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner on those days. Now my personal preferences are Cracker Barrel (cheap and everywhere), Steak ‘n Shake, and anything Mexican. You can find amazing Mexican restaurants in the unlikeliest small towns. Of course, in the back they’re selling drugs, guns and of course being rapists. It’s an emergency. For you morons reading this, I’m kidding.

If you could pause your life for a few weeks and spend some time living in a place you only have passed through, which would you choose, and why?

Tuscany in Italy. I played an unforgettable gig in Castiglione Fiorento, an ancient town with cobblestone streets and buildings many hundreds of years old. It’s built up at the top of big hill and affords an incredible view of miles and miles of a Tuscan valley with all its vineyards and fields and a whole small village visible from miles away. I stood on one of those steep cobblestone streets that afforded a view and was transfixed for a good while. Absolutely beautiful.

What quote or piece of advice have you gotten from someone on the road that has really stuck with you?

The best advice I’ve ever gotten was from a legendary blues guitarist in Bowling Green, KY named Kenny Lee Smith. He told me 30 years ago that there are three things you need to do: 1-Learn to play in tune, 2-Learn to play in a steady rhythm, 3-Learn to sing in tune (and may I add, anybody can learn to sing! I’m living proof!) I do those things pretty well nowadays. Took quite a few years though. I always have also liked a quote from one of my son’s music teachers, “play like nobody’s listening.” One more thing: don’t play your instrument, play the song.

Remember, don’t order spaghetti in a restaurant that doesn’t specialize in it!

Find all things Tommy Womack here: For a cool vinyl project involving Tommy, see here:

See other Key to the Highway interviews here: (click here for: Eric Ambel, Dan Baird, Robbie Fulks) Sign up for our weekly newsletter here for your Friday reminder for this series and more: