If you’ve ever made the First or Third Friday rounds along Grand Avenue, you’ve likely spotted a musician named Tom. He often sat atop a stool in front of a simple mic stand, strumming his guitar, dressed in dark clothing and boots.
Tom died in mid-July, and plenty of regulars along the city’s diagonal strip already are missing his presence.
“I was really sad to hear about Tom,” says Ashley Hoekstra, who owns Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge. “We’ll really miss him being a part of the community.”
Tom often played in front of Abe Zucca Gallery, one of several creative spaces located inside the historic Bragg’s Pie Factory building. He’d sit just outside the door, performing under trees where local creatives have devised a hanging garden with dolls and toys suspended from branches.
To his left, Tom kept an open guitar case on the ground, where people could set tip money and his little Chihuahua would curl up and watch the world go by.
"To me he was what Jim Morrison was referencing when he said 'lizard king,' the Southwest troubadour that traded songs of content for songs of loss," Zucca told Phoenix New Times in a recent email. "I'll miss Tom," he wrote, "and I regret I never fully appreciated him when he was alive."
El Charro Hipster Bar & Café posted about Tom’s death on its Facebook page on July 17. Tom often played inside the cozy café, a family business owned by Francisco and Azul Peralta.
“We received very sad news,” they wrote. “Tom, a talented homeless [musician] passed away yesterday.” At times, Tom talked about having heart troubles. But his Grand Avenue family doesn’t have many details about his death.
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Azul worried about Tom’s little dog, whose fur looks like a warm chocolate chip cookie that’s been dipped in milk, after getting the news. “We don’t know where his faithful little dog is,” she wrote on their Facebook page.
But Beatrice Moore, a Grand Avenue artist and preservation activist, knew where to find Pearl. Azul helped Pearl find a new home and hears she’s already settling into a new favorite spot – curled up on an old man’s lap.
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“Tom lived in the neighborhood probably at least seven years,” Moore recalls. “He lived on the streets on and off.” Over time, she says, things have gotten more expensive and it’s become harder to find smaller apartments.
Still, the people who passed by as Tom performed on First and Third Fridays had no way of knowing he was struggling. To many, he might have seemed like just another musician out to make a few extra bucks entertaining the art walk crowd.
For those who frequent this little strip of Grand Avenue during First Fridays, Tom’s presence will be sorely missed. “Tom in Peace and light rests,” Azul wrote on Facebook. “Thank you very much for the good times.”
“Tom” art show and memorial. Abe Zucca Gallery, 1301 Grand Avenue. Friday, August 3, 7 p.m. Free.