Remembering Tommy Smothers

Comedy and music have been so intertwined in my mind for so long that I’ve never really seen them as two separate art forms. Tommy Smothers was a big reason for that. While Tom Lehrer is the influence I wear on my sleeve most often, Tom Smothers was always right there on the other sleeve.

When I was a single-digit-year-old, old enough to use the family record player but not old enough to care about the 4-5 rock records in the family record collection, I checked out my dad’s collection of comedy records, almost entirely from the 1950s and 1960s. He had some classic standup albums from that era, and comedy music classics like The Best of Spike Jones, Victor Borge, Songs by Tom Lehrer, Portsmouth Sinfonia, a Stan Freberg compilation, some PDQ Bach, some Allan Sherman, and no fewer than 5 Smothers Brothers albums.

Is it any wonder I ended up writing the kind of music I write? I had entire songs from those albums memorized years before I ever picked up an acoustic guitar, and when I started writing my own songs, injecting humor wasn’t even a conscious decision.

The brothers Smothers intended to be a folk duo. Early on, though, Tom wasn’t confident he had the chops to go pro, but felt he was funny enough to do comedy, so it worked its way into their song intros, and quickly made its way into the songs too.

The genius of Tom and Dick’s onstage personas belied the genius of arranging and writing that material. The guy playing dumb onstage was a brilliant craftsman (his brother, one of the best straight men in any comedy duo, was no slouch either) – the jokes and songs hilarious, the musicianship incredible. They sat squarely between standup comedy and folk music, refusing to take either one entirely seriously, keeping audiences on their toes and defying expectations at every turn. From 1961 to 1967, they released 10 classic albums, most recorded live onstage, including a ‘greatest hits’ album made up of completely different recordings than the ones on those albums.

And when the audience grew to the point the Brothers had their own comedy-variety TV show, did they go mainstream and play to the middle? No. No they did not. The core satire became even more pointed, going after deserving targets like a corrupt US presidential administration, a misguided overseas war, and the show’s own network censors, never losing its genius comedic writing, timing, and performances.

After the show’s cancellation, Tom continued to speak up, fighting against censorship and pushing for peace, civil liberties, and freedom of speech, for the rest of his life. He often made the point that Freedom of Speech meant little without the freedom to hear that speech.

The duo retired from performing in 2010 after more than 50 years of touring, making occasional appearances from 2019 to 2022, and even planned a tour for 2023, but that had to be cancelled after Tom’s lung cancer diagnosis, and he passed away earlier this week at the age of 86.

Comedy has lost another icon, one who won’t easily be forgotten, and one whose influence can’t be overstated. It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite Smothers joke, bit, song, or even album, so I’ll close with a simple quote from Tom:

“Freedom of speech is not the problem. It’s freedom of hearing. You can say anything you want, but if there’s a consolidation of media, they don’t have a mike for you, or they don’t cover your protest or other things, it’s not heard.”

An Update

Attempt #4 at the elusive Middle Song In the Health Adventure Show is a blend of the best lyrics from Attempts 1 & 2, with all-new music I’m quite happy with so far. It even has my favorite chord in it.

Granted, Attempt #4 is only two hours old, so I need to sleep on it for a few days to make sure, but I think it’s going to stick better than those did.

Attempt #3, for the record, had a very short life. It was a similar blend, but I realized a few hours after I’d written the music that actually Stephen Lynch had written the music and I was just accidentally stealing it.

So here’s hoping #4 came from the “new stuff” part of my brain.

Johnny Fans

Cleveland Browns helmetI haven’t seen the Johnny Manziel doc yet, and I don’t know if I will, but I’m reminded of his short stint with the Browns.

During the first Manziel Browns season in 2014, our local Browns Backers had acquired a kind of obnoxious couple (I guess we drafted them too?) who drank a lot, yelled a lot – not really our club’s vibe – and chanted JOHN-NY after every single play by the starting QB (Brian Hoyer) that didn’t go perfectly.

Then one week, Manziel finally comes into a game, and this couple goes COMPLETELY bonkers. They’re finally getting the guy they want! As every Browns fan has known for decades, changing the quarterback ALWAYS and IMMEDIATELY solves ALL of our problems!

Their excitement took them all the way to… Johnny’s second snap. On which he got sacked in the end zone. The loud couple weren’t the only ones who got really quiet in the room, but they got the quietest.

Quiet enough for me to lean over and ask, “Whose name do we chant now?”

I don’t think they thought that was funny.

They stopped showing up before the end of the season anyway. I think we traded them to Oakland.

May 4

As a 52-year-old person who’s been a fan of Star Wars fan since I was in single digits and the first movie came out (I was 6 when it came out, 7 when I saw it), and also as someone who grew up in northeast Ohio and graduated from Kent State, I never know what to post on May 4, so I usually don’t post anything.

I was born a few months after the National Guard did at Kent State what then-Governor Rhodes had basically sent them there to do, and I probably found out about it around the same time Star Wars was coming out later that decade.

When I was in school at Kent, the school went out of its way to never call itself “Kent State” – it was, by policy, only to be referred to by staff or representatives as Kent State University or simply Kent, to avoid association with its past.

I watched the TV movie dramatization (it’s not great!) with a group from the honors college, and professor Jerry Lewis (not that one!), who was in the crowd that day, watched it with us and took questions afterward.

I was a student when the university built the first prominent memorial, the ‘slabs’ behind Taylor Hall. As a TV major, I had lots of classes in that building, and passed the memorial and the statue with the bullet hole almost daily for a few years. I got to meet Dean Kahler, a student in 1970 who had been paralyzed from the waist down since that day, when he came to speak to one of my classes.

I was a student during the 20th anniversary. I was in the crowd when then-Governor Celeste formally apologized to the victims and the families – the first time, I believe, any Ohio governor did that. It was cold, windy and rainy that day, which somehow felt appropriate. I have an audio cassette of his entire speech. I was a graduate by the time of the 25th anniversary, but happened to be in town that weekend too.

All of this happened during the late 80s and early 90s, when Star Wars was mostly… dormant. The original movies were long gone, as were the Droids and Ewoks TV series; the Kenner toy lines had ended; and the Shadows of the Empire toy relaunch, “Special editions” of the original trilogy, and prequel trilogy were all still more than half a decade away. My childhood toy collection was safely stored in my parents’ basement. (In multiple boxes.)

By the time the 35th anniversary of the events everyone just calls “Kent State” rolled around in 2005, the school had gone back to embracing its history and proudly calling itself Kent State again. This was especially noticeable when its men’s basketball team advanced, somewhat improbably, all the way to the Elite 8 in the 2003 NCAA tournament (EDIT: 2002, sorry). I was watching proudly from Tulsa. And Star Wars had had its own resurgence by then, with the arrival of everything I listed a paragraph ago, even if the prequel trilogy itself was maybe the least great of all those things. But hey, the Tartakovsky Clone Wars was great!

So, Star Wars day. Kent State day. Not exactly similar things to be remembering on this day. I don’t think there’s a real tight connection to be made between the two that doesn’t cheapen both, which is why I usually let both go unmentioned on my socials this day every year.

But if there’s one little thing I can maybe take from both, one thing that MAYBE connects the threads just a bit?

It’s a call to resist. To rebel against the forces of oppression.

Fight the power.

Defeat the fascists.

May the 4th be with all of us.

We Are Raccoons

Since AI lies at the core of my friend Jim Munroe‘s new novel, We Are Raccoons, he used Midjourney AI to generate 165 images for the first-edition release of 165 one-of-a-kind hardcovers.

Each recipient was encouraged to take a selfie with their copy for the Raccoons In The Wild selfie series. Since mine copy involved a bit of a feline pile-up, it seemed fitting to pay homage with a feline pile-up of my own for my contribution. (Peanut, in particular, really embraced the concept.)

We Are Raccoons selfie

20 Years!

News From Around the Bend album cover

It has come to my attention that my first proper album, NEWS FROM AROUND THE BEND, came out exactly 20 years ago today!

Yes, in a fit of pure, unbridled synergy, I named it after the zine I’d been making for 11 years at that point. ICYMI, I just published the 31st anniversary issue of NFATB last month.

It came out during the window of time where I was still insisting my stage name was just Ross, but everyone had started calling me Acoustic Ross, even putting it on flyers that way. So the first 100 physical copies have just ROSS on the spine – but within a week or two of the release, I decided ACOUSTIC ROSS was the better name, and made it official, so every subsequent printing of the disc has my ‘real’ stage name on the spine.

The release party on this night, 20 years ago, was at CD Warehouse in Brookside, early enough that folks (including me) could also make it downtown to see They Might Be Giants at the Sager Center. Those two venues are long gone, but TMBG and I are still around. And you can still get a digital copy of this little batch of ditties over on Bandcamp.

News From Around the Bend insert photo

News From Around the Bend release party photo

2020: Year in Review

2020 year in review

Can we just all be happy 2020 is over, and then never speak of it again?

Despite being… well, the WORST… I am somehow managing to end this year as alive as I started it, and despite being, again, the WORST, this year did bring something of a creative burst or two.

In the early days of the lockdown era, I played a living room concert broadcast on the fantastic It was so much fun that I later released two more living room shows of my own: Live at San Quarantine, Volumes 1 & 2.

You can stream, download, and purchase both volumes of Live at San Quarantine over at Bandcamp. New stuff – old favorites – new versions of old favorites, including a milestone update to “Pushin’ 40 Mid-Crisis-Life Blues” – and the Medley to boot. Will there be a Volume 3? Only 2021 can say. But frankly I don’t trust that guy just yet.

I also managed to find a little bit of time to knock out two new issues of the loooong-running zine News From Around the Bend, which you can go download and/or read for free at your leisure at (How long is “loooong,” you ask? Our 30th anniversary is coming up in February 2021.)

And finally, I also managed to finish writing all the songs for the long-awaited CARDIAC ADVENTURE piece. The last two songs’ lyrics were finished written on a plane the second week of March. Just under the proverbial wire. I also worked on writing the connective-tissue talking bits for that set, and the visuals, and I’m hoping to end the live-performance hiatus by debuting that show sometime in the coming year. (If the coming year decides to allow such things.) At the very least, the “album version” will be in the works VERY soon.

So that’s my year and a quick look at the coming one. If you’re still here, or even if you’re not but you were for a while – thanks for being here. Hang in there and maybe we can do this in person again soon.

Living Room Concert Tonight!

Living Room Concert April 3


Check out a live ACOUSTIC ROSS show without leaving the safety of your home!  The lovely folks at RSU Radio 91.3FM in Claremore, OK, invited me to kick off their stay-at-home concert series, and my set is running TONIGHT. Older songs! Newer songs! Mutated cover song! BRAND NEW SONG!!

Here’s a quick description and link from RSU Radio:

We miss concerts as much as you do. That’s why we’re putting together a series of performances from some great local and national musicians. Instead of seeing these musicians in person, you can listen to them from the comfort of your own home.

Acoustic Ross kicks it off with some hilarious and poignant anti-folk. Listen on 91.3 FM or at Note: When listening on our website, tune in from a browser other than Chrome. We’re still working on making Chrome work with our stream.

Facebook event here with details.

P.S. If you’re new here, welcome! Feel free to poke around, but if you’re looking for music, either click on the ‘Music & Pictures’ tab at the top, which will turn up some good stuff including a few otherwise-unreleased tracks, OR head straight over to Bandcamp to stream or collect my entire back catalog: Acoustic Ross on Bandcamp.

P.P.S. Someone had a question about live tipping tonight. While I think it’s awesome that you asked, if people feel compelled to drop a coin or two, I’d prefer they donate to one of their local food banks or another charity that’s helping people out. I’m lucky enough to have a day job keeping things afloat right now and there are so many others less fortunate that I’d rather pitch in to help out.