Remembering Tommy VanWormer

Posted on June 30, 2010 – 8:13 PM | by OldManFoster
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By Dennis Yudt  photo courtesy Holly Horn

“Imagination is stronger than knowledge — myth is more potent than history — dreams are more powerful than facts — hope always triumphs over experience — laughter is the cure for grief — love is stronger than death.”
– Robert Fulghum

It is hard to imagine the Sacramento music scene without one of its most ardent supporters, Tommy VanWormer, who passed away on June 13th at the age of 57.  This sentiment is being echoed from all corners as the news spread throughout our community and beyond. As this writer was interviewing a variety of people who knew him over the years, there was a common thread that ran though their recollections, thoughts and stories: everyone loved Tommy, and that he was taken from us way too early. It was through these conversations that the Tommy VanWormer story unfolded and revealed what an integral role he has played in the Sacramento music community, laying down the foundation and building upon it through his tireless and selfless efforts.

Tommy moved out to California in 1973 from his birthplace of Lake Ronkonkoma, on Long Island, New York, with his brother Bill, armed with his love of Roxy Music, Bowie, the Velvet Underground and the more esoteric sounds of the day. He soon fell in with the local underground art and music scene and it was here he thrived, befitting someone who actually knew who the Ramones were back in the day when punk was still in its gestation period. It wasn’t long after that he found a kindred spirit in Bill Fuller from the great Sacto proto-punk band, Ozzie, that they hosted a show together called Crib Death on the seminal radio station, KZAP, from 1975-76 and was the first in town to play what would eventually be known as “punk rock.”  From there, Tommy, a self-taught drummer, found himself holding down the beat for early punk bands such as 1-2-X-U, Private Toy, Sans Figures and most famously, Hunting Game, whose EP Rules was and is still a profound influence on Sacramento musicians.

Hunting Game, 1983

After Hunting Game, Tommy put the sticks away and put his energies into DJing – he was the house DJ at Club Can’t Tell and he also spun at Galatica 2000 and Old Ironsides, he was the Cattle Club’s first DJ and most recently he was seen behind the tables at his friend Ross Hammond’s ‘Nebraska Monday’s’ held at Luna’s. He was also heard on-air on KDVS and KYDS for several years.  Tommy came to find himself as a scene archivist, taking photographs of any and every band that came into town and many of these pictures can be found on Tommy’s Facebook page that has been left up for friends to leave their recollections on and to get a small peek at the full and incredible life that he’d led.
Ask any musician in town and they will tell you that Tommy was an inspiration, whether he was seeing his old buddies playing somewhere or checking out the newest and hottest – he was always there, ready to take a snapshot or to offer some words of encouragement. Always positive, always ready to talk knowledgeably about any subject under the sun, Tommy had friends in every corner of this town (and many others).

But, as much as he loved music, he had one greater love – his sons, Adam and Ian and his wife Caryn. He was so proud of his boys and this writer’s last memory of Tommy will be him introducing me to his son, Adam, and seeing the genuinely deep and profound love that they shared for each other.

Adam and Ian, it is important that you know that your father was a truly incredible person who touched so many lives in so many positive ways. Because of your father’s love, not just of music and art, but more importantly, of people and especially the both of you, there will be thousands of us making sure that he is never forgotten and to be there when you need to know how much your father loved the both of you and your mother. Just ask and we will tell you. Always.

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  1. 11 Responses to “Remembering Tommy VanWormer”

  2. avatar

    By Bella Q on Jul 1, 2010 | Reply

    Tear-jerker. I am personally saddened by the fact I will no longer have the chance to meet Tommy. We were pals on facebook, and unfortunately he passed before we were to meet for the 1st time, at the Passerel’s.

    There will be a large void in the Sacramento music scene, in Sacramento in general actually, at the untimely loss of this great heart & good soul.

    Tommy: you are deeply missed. My condolences to his family & loved ones.

  3. avatar

    By Bill VanWormer on Jul 1, 2010 | Reply

    thanks, Dennis, very nice. Tommy had a strong sense of history music-wise, be it the Beatles, Tom Waits or the local scene. Tommy came to Saramento to stay in 1976. I always told him what was going on there and knew it was a place to nurture creativity on its own level. Long Island was suburbia, nuff said, as they say. I did write a mini bio on facebook, kind of a ‘Tommy the early years or how he got to know all that stuff’. But I left Sacramento in 1983 to return to LI and am glad you finished what I had written on FC. Brother Bob and I will be attending a service and a celebration in Sacramento with a bevy of friends and what I’ve read and those I’ve spoken have the same feelings I have. Accidents happen, but this one cut me back to my partner in crime from my childhood. Thanks again. Bill.

  4. avatar

    By John Milne on Jul 1, 2010 | Reply

    Thanks Dennis – beautifully written, as always. Tommy was totally one-of-a-kind and I’m honored to have known him. He was an amazing guy and your article really captures how encouraging, knowledgeable and well-loved he was.

  5. avatar

    By Rick on Jul 1, 2010 | Reply

    I first met him as a vendor at a KDVS record swap and really enjoyed his stories about live music in Sacramento in the late-70s/early-80s…many of which were the only first-hand accounts I’ve heard about stories which had been past down year-by-year for almost three decades by that time. It was great to have him involved there. I wish I could have spent more time with him listening to him tell the history.

  6. avatar

    By Dennis Yudt on Jul 1, 2010 | Reply

    Bill: Thank you and your words mean a lot to me. I am sorry for your loss – he was such an exceptional person and I’m sure a great brother. I look forward to meeting you at the celebration.

    John: Thank you for your kind words. Perhaps I’ll see you at the celebration.

  7. avatar

    By Jackson Griffith on Jul 2, 2010 | Reply

    Well, that’s just fucking brilliant, Dennis. Thanks. It’s hard to put into words what Tommy meant to me, and others, but I think you came pretty close. I’m just gonna miss that guy. He was a true fan, and smarter than me, too, so I always learned.

    See you Wednesday, if not before.

  8. avatar

    By Charlie on Jul 2, 2010 | Reply

    Wow, what a huge loss. He was so alive and so refreshing. It makes no sense. Dennis, we’ve lost a lot of beautiful and talented friends in this old town. The list is long and tragic. Tommy is part of this town’s deep musical heritage, and will not be forgotten. Thanks for your kind words.

  9. avatar

    By Dennis Yudt on Jul 4, 2010 | Reply

    Rick, Jackson & Charlie,

    He was one of the greats, for sure. Thanks for the kudos. Hardest piece I ever had to write.


  10. avatar

    By Carol Gale on Jul 7, 2010 | Reply

    I met Tommy back in the late 70s and he has a DJ at our productions at Galactica 2000 and at our Club Can’t Tell. But Tommy was more than a DJ … he was a life force who loved music, had an encyclopedic knowledge and freely shared his expertise and passion with all music lovers. He lived the music. His end is such a shock. He was part of our Sacramento music family and he is greatly missed.

  11. avatar

    By Kim Scott on Jul 7, 2010 | Reply

    Heres a photo from 1978…

  12. avatar

    By Dave Lynch on Mar 20, 2012 | Reply

    Wow, what a tragic loss! He was too young. My regards to the family and friends. We never met, but as a musician myself we crossed gigs around town. I had seen Tommy play with Hunting Game as Kele Duncan was in a class I was taking at the time. Very very cool band. He and I both lived on Long Island and i never knew – I got here three years later. He was one of the founders of the Sacramento scene and sound that will be greatly missed.

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