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Feel-good music: Michael Tomlinson sings his heart out this weekend | Kitsap Week
Early in his career, singer-songwriter Michael Tomlinson thought his music resonated with a narrow slice of the population.
Now he says, “My music is for everybody...and I sing for everyone.”
Why the change?
In the early 1990s, Tomlinson was asked to play at “Heal LA”, an event in Los Angeles that was part job and health fair and part family entertainment.The organizers were familiar with Tomlinson’s music, and felt like his song “Angelinos” could have been the event’s theme song.
“Heal LA” was held at a park in a sketchy part of town, Tomlinson said. He recalled seeing a lot of gang activity and burned-out buildings on his way to the venue. When he arrived, he saw thousands of people filled the park.
As Tomlinson watched the performances before him, he realized he was the only non-rap, non-Hispanic performer of the day.
“I began sweating because I was going to perform two folk songs,” Tomlinson said.
When his turn finally arrived, he walked on stage and sang “Angelenos.” And the crowd roared. Roared in a good way.
“All these tough street kids would raise their fist in the air and cheer,” he said.
After Tomlinson finished his set, 300 teenagers ran back stage to greet him.
Since that day, he no longer pegs his music to fit one style or listener.
“Whenever I sing, I put my heart in it. I know on some level it affects everyone,” he said.
Tomlinson grew up in Texas and started plucking a guitar when he was in his early 20s.
After visiting Seattle, he wrote “The Climb,” a song about a man who climbed Mount Rainier. Unbeknownst to Tomlinson, his song got into the hands of a Seattle radio station (KEZX). Tomlinson said “The Climb” became the No. 1 most requested song in the former station’s history.
“In Austin, I was playing my music in little clubs,” Tomlinson said. “In Seattle, I started out playing paid concerts.” He credits the difference to the on-air radio time he received in Seattle.
KEZX asked Tomlinson for another song. This time, he sent them “Yellow Windows.” It was another hit.
After the second hit, Tomlinson left the heat of Texas for the rain of Washington.
In 1985, Tomlinson created his own record label, aptly named it “Desert Rain Records,” and produced his first album titled “Run This Way Forever.”
He sold 15,000 albums in Seattle and 100,000 around the country.
A radio consultant visiting Seattle heard one of Tomlinson’s songs on the radio and asked Tomlinson to send his album to seven stations across the country.
The radio stations were in a wide-range of locations such as Baltimore, Orlando and Fairbanks.
“I was a little scared,” Tomlinson said. “Was I just a Northwest fluke?”
To Tomlinson’s “unbelievable delight and shock,” his album was well received at every one of the stations.
Tomlinson admits his music is not easy to define. He is invited to play at both jazz and folk festivals.
“I’ve never tried to be one thing or another,” he said. “I just allow elements of what matter to me to flow into my music.” His songs touch on nature and seasons as well as human experiences such as love and loss.
Tomlinson’s songwriting has evolved over the years. “There is a depth of my music that I hit more often now,” he said. “There are some songs in my earlier days that I will never write better than, but now I write more of them.”
As an example, he said his song, “One Breath,” is written and performed in such a way that even if you don’t understand the words, you can listen to the song and get the essence of it.
“I want the song to be so beautiful that even if you didn’t understand the story, you still get it. It’s universal,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson believes in the healing aspect of music. Over the years he has heard from countless fans who credit his music with helping them through rough patches in their lives.
Tomlinson has found another purpose in his music. Using the Internet, Tomlinson sends songs and personal messages to people going through difficult times, which he learns about from his fans. He hopes by sharing his music he makes the listeners feel supported.
“When you are heartbroken, and have lost someone you love, and you don’t know if you can go on...and every human being has been there. You might not eat, you might not sleep, you might just want to hole-up,” Tomlinson said.
“If a little bit of music can get through, a little bit of music can work in ways that you don’t even know was working. It can get your feelings flowing and cause you to be unstuck.”