New Jersey Stage
New Jersey Stage on social media

This article is from our magazine. To view it in its original format, click here

Tom Richards Fights On

By Gary Wien

originally published: 02/26/2018

Tom Richards Fights On

You won’t find Tom Richards’ name in many history books.  His bands from The Slices to The Baby Seal Club never had a Top Ten record.  He describes himself as a musician’s musician - a guy who has been a professional for decades and one working on his first ever solo album.  It’s more than just something he hopes to put out into the world.  This is more than just a statement from an artist.  This is his chance to leave something for the world to remember.

Tom is dying of cancer.

A few of his trusted friends know, but many will probably be learning this for the first time.  He was originally given just four months to live, but after responding well to chemotherapy they gave him another year.  Tom’s doctor now puts him in the 2-5 year category, “but probably closer to 2-3.”

It all started when Tom and his wife, Suzanne, moved to Tennessee.  He was taking a physical as a new patient with a doctor there, feeling and looking completely healthy.  A few days later the doctor asked him to do an ultrasound just to follow up on something that he said was probably nothing.  But three days later he had a localized CAT Scan and then was asked to do a full CAT Scan of his upper and lower regions.

And then came the news.

The article continues after this ad


“The doctor said, ‘You have cancer and it’s spread everywhere,’” recalled Richards.  “I was in complete and utter shock.  I felt numb.  Here I was: I didn’t feel bad, I didn’t look bad, and I hadn’t had any health issues.  At first I didn’t believe it, saying it’s got to be something else.  But they showed me the scans and it was like ‘woh!’ I literally have a massive spread from my lungs, my liver, the area right outside the intestinal and abdominal area, and lymph nodes. You look at the scans and the doctors are staring at me like, ‘Why don’t you have any blood coming out of any orifices? Why aren’t you on oxygen?”

Suzanne was stunned, but immediately started looking for an answer.  She led the way into 3rd, 4th, and 5th opinions. Tom had consultations from six separate oncologists and every one of them gave virtually the same diagnosis.

“I would say honestly, she probably took it worse than I did,” recalled Richards.  “Which I would expect because the very first two doctors we saw said that he needs to start chemo right away and if it stays the way it is he might live four months.  Tell that to your relatively new wife (at that point, they were married five years) who was planning on spending the next 30-40 years with her husband in a nice place, building a life again… and now someone just told you that in four months it could be all over.”

Tom Richards Fights On

They moved down south for a variety of reasons.  Tom was offered a position that would take advantage of his engineering degree; it was a chance to live in an area where the cost of living is much better; and he would be closer to Nashville - a far better location for older musicians.  And since he is turning 56 this year, retirement and the ability to keep performing/recording was extremely attractive.

Richards has been part of the Nashville Musician’s Union for nearly a decade.  When Garry Tallent recommended it to him, he switched from the Asbury Park Musician’s Union to Nashville.  Even living in New Jersey, the Nashville union found work for him.

“It was a natural move because I knew people in the union,” explained Richards.  “Musically, it made sense to start transitioning to a different location where an older musician can still have a relatively active career and still get opportunities that you’re not going to get in the Jersey Shore scene.  Unless you’re already famous, the old guys aren’t gigging out much.”

Tom Richards Fights OnRichards may have grown up and lived along the Jersey Shore, but his first bands came up at a time in which there were few places to play original music in New Jersey.  So they played all over New York City.  His first band was known as The Slices and they played punk music.  Some thought the name was punk inspired, but it was named after pizza.  The band was formed at Martell’s on the boardwalk in Point Pleasant.

He still remembers the ideas they had for the band.  “We had the concept all planned out.  Every album would be like a pizza box.  It would have stuff like, ‘You’ve tried all the rest, now try the best’ on it.  When you pulled out the dust jacket, one side would be a full pizza; the other would be a pizza with slices missing and our faces and who we are there instead.  We had great marketing stuff set up, but that band never hit it.”

Richards describes The Slices as falling somewhere between The Clash and Joe Jackson.  His influences at the time ran from UK bands like The Jam and The Stranglers to CBGB bands like The Cramps.  He says they weren’t “ahead of our time or behind the time, we were just in it.  The names have faded into history and nobody even remembers or cares.”

When the band fizzled out, he tried putting something together called “Tom Richards’ Rockets” which didn’t do much.  But then came his best chance at something big - The Baby Seal Club.

The Baby Seal Club was actually Dan Webster’s band, but it was struggling until Richards and two fellow members of The Slices came on board.  From then on, things started happening for the band.  They became a big part of the scene at The Brighton Bar in Long Branch.  Richards says they were slightly ahead of several bands to be signed at that time. The names include bands like Eve’s Plum, The Churchills, and Monster Magnet.  The Baby Seal Club signed with Relativity Records - a label that launched in the 80s. 

Tom Richards Fights On

“The original music scene was starting and it was cool,” recalled Richards.  “There were a limited number of venues, but I think that’s part of the reason a lot of us got more attention from labels, promoters, and publicists.  It was a rather contained, small scene but one that brought in known or rising acts that people could follow.”

Since his early days, Richards always wrote songs.  Even long after having a steady original band, he kept writing.  

“I’ve got hard drives full of things I’ve never released or are in early demo form,” said Richards.  “I’ve always written.  I’ve actually been more of a lyricist first with the music second.  Words in my life have always flown - they just flow out of me.  But then trying to tie the musical ideas together has always been hard. A lot harder.  I think most songwriters would probably agree with me when you say it’s somewhat of a cathartic thing.  It’s something you do; you’re drawn to it; and you get a good feeling when you complete a song and you like it.”

I mention to him that we’ve had a rather strange period in music with albums by David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon, and Gregg Allman serving as final statements by the artist.  Each had releases either shortly before they died or afterwards.  I wondered if he felt that same sort of commitment.

“After I finally came to grips about my diagnosis and the fact that I have an expiration date, I thought back immediately to the old Sounds of Asbury Park and one of its founders, John Luraschi,” said Richards.  “When John realized his time was becoming short, he recorded and put out that final album.  That was John’s statement.  He wanted to put something out and leave a legacy and get it out there because Johnny himself had never put anything out.”

“My first thought was I want to leave a legacy,” continued Richards.  “For me, it’s been almost 20 years since there’s been anything distributed on a cassette or vinyl.  I immediately said I want to leave something so people understand who I was, what music meant to me, and to leave something for people to remember and possibly remember me by.”

Richards says he hasn’t become more creative since the diagnosis, but he has become more focused.  He’s more determined than ever to put out a finished product.  Ever the working musician, he does not want any charity from fellow musicians - he wants them to be paid.  He has been recruiting some of Nashville’s finest for the record.  The biggest problem is a combination of finances and time itself.

“Unfortunately, one of the things with my particular diagnosis is that I’m on what they call life extension chemotherapy,” said Richards.  “So, I’m getting it regularly every other week.  You get your infusion, you fight through all of the after effects for 3-6 days and then, for me, that leaves only about another 5-7 days to do everything I’ve got to do.  On top of that there’s the phrase ‘chemo brain.’  What I find now is that it’s almost like I’ve got a scratch in my mental record.  There are times when I get on to something and I just cannot get past that line or phrase or anything.  I struggle and I fight and I’m determined as hell to hopefully have an album available by the end of 2018 for release or download… God, I would love to have it on vinyl if I could.”

Richards is currently writing and recording demo versions of the songs.  He has a small home studio in his new home where he records his songs and ideas onto a 16-track Zoom digital recorder.  If they start morphing into more of a song, he drops them onto his Apple Logic Studio and starts adding instruments that he doesn’t play to the mix.

One of the benefits of where he lives is being 48 minutes from Muscle Shoals and one hour from Nashville.  Most people know Nashville and its history, but Muscle Shoals has tremendous history of its own. Artists like The Rolling Stones, Lynryd Skynrd, The Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, and Rod Stewart recorded classic songs there.

“There’s a feel and a vibe in that room that’s just incomparable,” said Richards.  

Between the costs of hiring top-notch performers and finding the time to record while having good days and a lot of bad days, creating this album is quite a challenge. But it’s something he not only wants to do, he feels he has to do.  When word gets out about a musician having cancer, people change around him.  It’s only natural.  They generally don’t know what to say or how to act, but they’re worried about hiring him for gigs they can’t be sure he will be able to perform.  Isolation becomes the norm.

“I don’t blame people for it, but the first thing people think if you’re being treated for cancer is you’re sick, you might not be reliable, and you probably can’t do this or do that,” continued Richards.  “Even if you see them twice a week every week while doing something active, they’re looking at you as a patient.  It’s one of those things.  I’m hoping, in a way, that people who read this understand that those of us who get these diagnoses know it’s going to get us.  But, my gosh, do not forget that we’re still vibrant and viable musicians until that day comes.  We still have plenty to offer.”

He adds, “When you get a diagnosis, suddenly you become isolated through no fault of your own.  We’ve noticed people don’t stay in touch as much.  It’s more, ‘How are you doing? Hope you’re feeling good” instead of “Hey, how are you doing? Let’s go get a drink.”  It’s such an isolating diagnosis - even though you’re still basically the same person for a long, long time.  And when they see you out and about - for many moments they don’t even realize that you’re sick.  But the minute you leave their sightline, suddenly you’re that person.”

“So you’ve got to tell people because you don’t want to lose the closeness with them and you want some interaction before you go,” said Richards.  “People with this diagnosis live in a constant state of fear.  It’s the combination of isolation, fear people will go away and disappear, fear they will treat you differently, and fear that everything you knew and loved will suddenly dry up.  I really struggle with that.  I came to grips with it pretty early on, but you’re never content because there are always days where it’s like maybe they’ll find a cure for it tomorrow.  Or maybe tomorrow they’ll find something that won’t cure me, but will give me another ten years.”

Richards ponders what he’s just said.  It’s almost as if he’s hearing himself say these words for the first time - words and thoughts that have undoubtedly rattled inside his brain for months.  Somehow hearing them out loud makes them more real.

“I want to be here to write and finish this album,” he continues.  “I want to be here to stay active in the music business.  I want to be here for my lovely wife Suzanne as long as I can.  The only way to honestly do that is to come to grips with it and not forget about it.  I don’t pretend it doesn’t exist, but I’m not going to live in it every day.  I got dealt a hand of cards I never would have expected.  I can’t win with the deck of cards I’ve got, but I’ve still got to play them.”

For more by this author, click here

Light of Day's Main Event To Be Broadcast Live at McLoone's Supper Club
(ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- If you couldn't get tickets for the fabled "main event" of the 2019 Light of Day Winterfest, you have another chance see the show.  For the first time in the 19-year history of the festival, the "main event", the star-studded “Bob’s Birthday Bash” on January 19th (a show that has long sold out), will be broadcast live via fiber optic cable at McLoone's Supper Club in Asbury Park.
Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts To Hold Winter Open House On January 27
(BERKELEY HEIGHTS) -- Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts (WIPA) will host a Winter Open House on Sunday, January 27 from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. The free event is open to the public and will be held at the Performing Arts School (PAS) located at 60 Locust Avenue in Berkeley Heights.
Billy Idol and Steve Stevens To Perform At Count Basie Center For The Arts
(RED BANK, NJ) -- Billy Idol and Steve Stevens, one of rock’s most iconic and enduring duos, will hit the road this March for their first ever tour performing as a duo: Turned On, Tuned In and Unplugged. The Billy Idol/Steve Stevens tour comes to The Count Basie Center for the Arts on Thursday, April 4th.
McDonald's Gospelfest To Celebrate The Life of Aretha Franklin With Return to Prudential Center
(NEWARK, NJ) -- The 37th Annual McDonald’s Gospelfest returns to the Prudential Center on Saturday, May 11 for the gospel event of the year. This year's event will honor and celebrate the life and legacy of the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin with an All-Star cast. The 5:00pm to 7:00pm portion of the evening will feature a rising stars competition for all ages and cultures in categories including Soloists, Choirs, Praise Dancers, Singing Groups, Gospel Comedians, Gospel Poets and Gospel Rappers. The gospel concert, beginning at 7:00pm, will feature some of the most renowned gospel artists in music history with the goal of spreading love, peace and joy to all races, nationalities and beliefs.
Bickford Theatre Presents Herb Gardner's Groundhog Jam
(MORRISTOWN, NJ) -- The great Groundhog Jam has a long history of prying jazz fans out of their warm burrows and into the chill of February weather in order to welcome the advent of spring.  The Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum continues a tradition of hosting this event on Monday, February 4 at 7:30pm. Herb Gardner, who plays both trombone and piano, is assembling a stellar group of musicians from the New York, New Jersey, and New England areas including: Fred Vigorito on cornet, Joe Licari on clarinet, James Chirilloon guitar, Mike Weatherly on bass and Robbie Scott on drums.  Daughters Abbie and Sarah Gardner will be handling the vocals and guitar.

Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes At Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme
This coming Sunday, January 20, Scott Wolfson and his band will be serving up their unique blend of Americana at the Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme series at Investors Bank Theater in Succasunna, New Jersey. The band – Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes – formed in Jersey City in 2011, and, even though the members have migrated in various directions since then, they still consider themselves to be a Jersey City band.
"He Totally Wowed Us!" John Oates LIVE! at SOPAC
It’s brisk for an evening walk on South Orange Ave. in South Orange, NJ, this Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 evening, but it’s a good road to follow as it leads us directly to the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) for a special performance by singer, songwriter, and guitarist John Oates and his backup group, The Good Road Band.
“Tons of Fun!” The Glenn Miller Orchestra LIVE! at the Grunin Center
Although Friday, December 21, 2018 is the shortest day of the year, the audience of big band music lovers here at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts is hoping for a long evening of classic swing and holiday tunes performed by the incomparable Glenn Miller Orchestra!
Mike Davis and The New Wonders
Mike Davis traces his love for the trumpet back to a Disney movie. He grew up in a musical family, with both his parents playing strings in the Seattle Symphony. But Davis wanted an instrument of his own. Then, at age 9, he saw “The Aristocats,” the animated film about a bunch of French felines — including a group of jazz-playing alley cats.
Ana Gasteyer's "Holiday Tipple" LIVE! at the Grunin Center
The Grunin Center stage in Toms River, NJ is set this Saturday, December 15, 2018 with drums, a grand piano, a guitar, an acoustic bass, and various microphones for vocals. A stool and several microphone stands are bedazzled with colorful garlands of shiny red, gold, and green, and wrapped gifts are strewn on stage among the instruments. Projected white snowflakes adorn the walls, and Christmas music plays as patrons enter the theater to put everyone in the mood for tonight’s holiday show — Ana Gastayer’s Holiday Tipple!

Event calendar
Thursday, Jan 17, 2019


Open Mic Night! @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 7:30pm


"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm


AMERICAN GIRL LIVE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 7:00pm

View all events


For more on our awards, click here

New Jersey Stage © 2019 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 (732) 280-7625 |

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.