As a lad, Tom Swatzell was exposed early on to characters rich and colorful as the red clay soil of his Decatur, Alabama hometown. His childhood might have been the envy of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, passing hot summer days by hopping a slow-moving freight train for a ride to the hobo jungle or setting out in some leaky old row boat to uncover the secrets of a "mysterious" river island.

Still, there were other distractions for a boy with Tom's disposition.

"Out in the night, the long, lonesome wail of an ol' Southern Rail echos the yodel of Jimmie Rodgers and in deep, flat notes might a river tug boast of a voice like A.P. Carter's." -Whether the music originated from a grand ballroom, festive luau or country barn dance, with an ear pressed close to the family Zenith, young Tom could hear sounds in his life blending with those from many a distant and exotic locale. Steeped in the influence of Sol Hoopi, Clell Summay and "Bashful Bother Oswald", Tom would eventually invest this rich, harmonious mix into the music of his own "Fancy, Electric Hawaiian Guitar".

Tearin 'em Up! -the Early Days

His professional career began with performances at radio stations WMSL and WHOS. He soon joined CURLEY HUNTLEY and The DIXIE DRIFTERS, a C&W band which was to become one the most popular in the region, playing schools, theatres and square dances. The Drifters quickly earned a reputation as the "terror" of radio talent shows, causing some acts to fold their kits before ever taking the stage. The band was really smoking when "name artists" of the Grand Ol Opry began recruiting various Drifter members. GORDON TERRY, then billed as "The South's Youngest Fiddler", left the group to become one of BILL MONROE's Blue Grass Boys while Tom was invited to tour with HANK SNOW as part of his Rainbow Ranch outfit.

Tearing around neighboring counties and performing shows out of the trunk of his '42 Desoto was one thing, traveling cross-country with a tour band for weeks on end however, represented an entirely different situation. Having just been blessed with a beautiful baby daughter, Tom declined the offer from Hank Snow and chose instead to pursue a career close to home. He eventually established studios in three cities and offered music instruction for more than 27 years. While a number of his students have gone on to become professional entertainers, Tom took great pride in having helped hundreds of children and adults attain a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment through their ability to express themselves with music.

The Dobro® Connection

In 1970 Tom Swatzell met Emil (Ed) Dopyera, one of the Dobro® originators, who with his brothers were then manufacturing resophonic instruments as the Original Musical Instruments company under the Hound Dog and Dopyera Original tradenames. At that time the Dopyeras were engaged in a desperate battle with the courts not only reacquire their rights to Dobro® following the bankruptcy of Mosrite, but also to save the famous trademark from being declared as legally "abandoned".

Always appreciative of the sweet tone and bell-like qualities inherent to the original Dobro®, Tom found no satisfaction in the feeble output of newer Mosrites or any of the old Regals which came his way. Unaware of the Dopyera brother's efforts to reestablish their marque, he had all but given up hope of locating a prewar instrument which would satisfy his discriminating ear. Now, these new guitars were delivering a message Tom heard loud and clear: the resophonics of OMI rang true.

Tom and Ed hit it off immediately. They became fast friends and companions over the next few years, spending several vacations together and travelling around the country attending trade shows. Tom was the official "Ambassador of the Dobro® guitar", promoting it's unique character -and doing so in his own inimitable style, casually demonstrating slants, pull-offs and palm harmonics for anyone who expressed an interest.

With his children grown, Tom retired from teaching in 1980 and began to revive a performing career. He toured for a time with Wally Fowler and the Nashville Sounds and later made frequent appearances with Patsy Montana until her death in 1997. Twice nominated for CMA's Musician of the Year, he was considered a "Master of the Dobro®", and gained a world wide following through his DOBRO® instruction books, distributed internationally by Mel Bay Publications, as well as his appearances on television, stage and screen.

Gibson Musical Instruments and their OAI division, the makers of DOBRO® resonator guitars, have chosen to honor Tom by producing the "Tom Swatzell" model Dobro® guitar. First introduced in 1996, they are offered in two versions: the Artist series, constructed to Tom's own specifications and the Limited Edition, Signature series, which are personally autographed and limited to fewer than 200 instruments.

Tom Swatzell is also honored in the ALABAMA MUSIC HALL of FAME at Tuscumbia with a display of memorabilia and most recently, a star the "Walk of Fame". It is a fitting tribute that his star should be placed deep in the Heart of Dixie, at a spot the Drifters so often passed (at speeds so often exceeding the limit) tearing across neighboring counties in that 1942 Desoto.

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