Tommy Strowd: “Enjoy the time you have”

Life has taught me a great deal, and we are all still learning every day as we face new challenges, hardships, and successes. The key is to use all experiences — good or bad — as an opportunity to learn and grow. As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tommy […]

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Life has taught me a great deal, and we are all still learning every day as we face new challenges, hardships, and successes. The key is to use all experiences — good or bad — as an opportunity to learn and grow.

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tommy Strowd.

Based in South Florida, Tommy Strowd is an environmental engineer by trade, however he enjoys a decades-long career as a musician having performed classic rock, pop, country, and blues across the southeast for nearly 50 years. Strowd moved to South Florida in 1972 and since then, has spent the last 40 years playing the area’s top local venues alongside many of the region’s leading musicians. Today, he is the guitarist for four bands — Brothers Again: A Celebration of The Allman Brothers; South City Brothers: A Doobie Brothers Celebration; Do It Again: The Music of Steely Dan; and The FLOYD Experience. All four bands are part of Endless River Productions, a company he co-founded in 2016 with wife, Barbara-Bobbie Strowd.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born and raised in the rural Mississippi Delta — the home of traditional Blues music — during the 1950’s and 60’s. I was fortunate that my parents were supportive of my interests in art, music and science. My father was a farmer and my mother, a teacher, and because we lived in a relatively isolated part of the country, they let me pretty much follow my imagination. Music became an important part of my adolescent years. I soon picked up the guitar, took lessons and ended up forming various bands with a few of my musician friends, playing and performing popular music across the Delta during the 1960’s. In 1972, I moved to Florida to attend college and focus on a professional career in the environmental sciences. But I continued to pursue my love of popular music and have been involved in musical projects in one form or another my entire life. There, I met and married my partner of 46 years, Bobbie, President and co-Founder of Endless River Productions (ERP), who started the business from nothing with a vision to present high-quality, live music performances with musicians and creatives from among the most talented and respected artists in the industry.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had been involved in various South Florida projects throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, and as my professional career in environmental engineering evolved, there seemed to be less and less time to enjoy and foster my passion for music. Eventually, as a creative outlet for me, my wife intervened and began setting-up weekly ‘jam nights’ at a local rehearsal studio, inviting musicians that I knew or that she had met through her professional photography interests, to come together and just play music. Inevitably, it evolved to a point where the idea of forming a ‘band’ began to emerge. That set into motion a series of events that led to the concept of forming bands that feature the music of iconic groups and performers in a way that was authentic — for the sake of the fans — in both the musical and on-stage production quality. From those discussions came our first project, The FLOYD Experience. Our goal was to bring Pink Floyd fans a true Pink Floyd show, complete with high resolution digital video wall, an extensive moving-head and laser light show, and most importantly, a musical performance as close to the original band as we could create. One thing led to another, and before we knew it, we had started a production company with five different bands, and more than 30 of South Florida’s top musicians.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

COVID, no doubt. Probably the most life-changing period of my career has been associated with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. To-date, the social-distancing requirements necessary to limit transmission of the disease have reduced venue capacities to the point that most entertainment establishments can no longer profitably function. As a result, it has devastated the entertainment industry, and left many excellent musicians, entertainers, sound and lighting technicians and many other professionals without the ability to earn a living. Like many other live event and entertainment-based companies, Endless River Productions — which was poised to have its best year to date in 2020 with the premiere of two new bands — was faced with the challenge of how to pivot during this national crisis. We felt that we owed it to our partners, followers, and the bands, to keep sharing the music, while entertaining our loyal and new fans via reasonable performance alternatives.

First, we turned our socially distant, at-home virtual rehearsals between band members into a series of ‘Quarantine Music Video’ Facebook premieres with two of our bands. For one series, while the goal was to create a way to premiere our Steely Dan band, Do It Again, we looked for a way to also do some good. And so, we decided to team with national music charities and use the videos to raise money and awareness on their behalf. The response was so positive! We raised some much-needed funds for our charity partners, attracted hundreds of new fans, and our musicians were really jazzed at the opportunity to both perform — albeit virtually — and support such worthwhile organizations as MusiCares, Musicians On Call, and Little Kids Rock. And because Covid continues to influence how venues are able to present live performances, we are currently exploring a series of socially distant, outdoor, live music events for early 2021 under the headline banner of ‘Park & Rock’. Attendees will have health screenings in advance, and the events will follow all CDC recommended health protocols. Hopefully more to come on that! In the meantime, we continue to rehearse as live performances remain on-hold, at least for now, while looking into alternative ways to keep live music…alive!…for the sake of our bands and the fans.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In 1976, I was attending college in South Florida and working in a local five-piece rock combo. We had a manager that was pressing us to run the circuit of clubs across the state, which meant I would have to drop out of school. I was discussing the opportunity with our bass player — and his girlfriend at the time — during a rehearsal. He and I were all-in, but she thought it was a terrible idea, and proceeded to give me a tremendous amount of grief for even considering it! I was pretty annoyed that she was involving herself in the decision, and after a tough call home to my mother to talk about the situation with her, I had a chance to think it through and eventually decided against the move. Naturally, I blamed the bass player’s girlfriend for the whole thing — and we argued about it for weeks afterwards! Well, one thing led to another, and now we have been married for almost 45 years, and she is not only my wife, but the manager of my current bands! I shouldn’t call it a mistake by any means — though she likely saved me from making a mistake! It was more like fate — and it showed me that no matter how well you plan things, you never really know how they will turn out.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Other than being part of the overall management of Endless River Productions, I’m personally involved in four of the five bands that we manage — Brothers Again: A Celebration of The Allman Brothers; Do It Again: The Music of Steely Dan; The FLOYD Experience and South City Brothers: A Doobie Brothers Celebration. I play guitar in each of them, and it has become one of the most interesting and personally enriching endeavors that I have ever taken on. Each band is unique in their approach to both the music itself and the live concert experience, with the goal of staying as ‘true’ as possible to the original recordings and on-stage performances. That really challenges you to dig-deep and try to understand what the original band members were thinking at the time and place where they created the music, what was the inspiration, and how they approached their art.

For instance, how did The Allman Brothers come to develop their unique approach to intricate, ‘guitar-heavy’ electric blues, which came to define what we now call ‘Southern Rock’? Or how did Donald Fagen and Walter Becker manage to pack Steely Dan’s ever-popular hits with such incredibly deep Jazz arrangements? Or how did Pink Floyd evolve their unique sound over time from the band’s beginnings in the underground world of British psychedelic performance art, to becoming one of the most successful, world-renowned rock bands in history. It is extremely rewarding and exciting as a musician to be able to interpret and replicate such great music from these truly iconic artists from a time when popular music was undergoing such dramatic and creative change!

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in music, film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

When looking at the music we perform through ERP, we are proud of the range of diverse influences, artists and genres we present, along with the diversity that we enjoy among the musicians we have the pleasure to work with. But this is true for music in general. You really can’t talk about music without discussing the importance of diversity. For starters, music challenges us to understand the unique perspective of the individual artist, musician, singer, or songwriter. Not only from the words and their literal interpretations, but more importantly, how it expresses their personal experiences and invites the listener in to ‘feel’ their emotion; their pain, happiness, fear… love. Their expression through music allows for the ultimate form of communication of different ideas and feelings as to who they really are, deep down. And so, the wide diversity of music in our world is reflective of the individual human experience and the cultural diversity of our planet.

Secondly, our society is inextricably tied to the value that diversity brings — celebrated and brought to life via the arts, including music, television and film, each of which provides a brief glimpse of different cultures and experiences beyond our own. Through music, we can foster a greater understanding of one another, which is so important. Society is complex, and so celebrating and embracing the similarities and differences among us is critical to the health and well-being of our society at large, by teaching us understanding and ultimately, tolerance and appreciation for people as they are, not how we perceive them to be based on what preconceived notions we may have.

One last point, I remember as I was growing up, my father used to tell me that ‘you can’t really know someone unless you’ve walked in their shoes.’ I learned later in life that music was a way to gain that understanding of others on an intimate level, because of the way music can touch us personally, and serve as a means of expression. Even if you don’t understand the language, music is one of the few ways people of diverse walks, cultures and backgrounds can identify with one another and find common ground by enjoying a shared experience that breaks down walls and transcends all boundaries. Music, as they say, is the universal language!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Life has taught me a great deal, and we are all still learning every day as we face new challenges, hardships, and successes. The key is to use all experiences — good or bad — as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Given the chance, I would tell my younger self to first “focus on the things that you can control or influence.” When I look back, it’s surprising to see how much time, energy, and stress is wasted trying to deal with problems that you have no reasonable chance to change, much as you’d like to. Certainly, we all have to learn to deal with things that are outside of our control, but don’t fall into the trap of allowing them to overwhelm you to the degree that they start to impact your ability to address the things that you do have control over.

Also, it sounds simple enough, but it is so important sometimes to just “take a deep breath.” Pursuing any creative project or business opportunity requires a lot of effort. And the stress that ultimately develops can, at times, be overwhelming. So, it is imperative that you make time to back away from the situation at hand and try to release some of the stress that comes with the job or project. It does wonders to clear your mind and revive your spirit to be able to go back and tackle whatever is needed.

Too many times, we think the spoils are attainable to others, and out of reach for ourselves, but “don’t ever be intimidated.” My wife and I would never have had the nerve to initiate a venture like ERP 20 years ago. Being completely stunned and in awe of the talent and experience of the musicians, performers, technicians, and agents in the industry, we could never even have considered jumping into the music production business. Now, at our age, we don’t worry as much. Instead, we follow our dreams, passions, desires, and instincts, and rely on the lessons and experiences we have gained throughout life to lead us through.

No matter what you do in life, always remember that “integrity comes first.” This one is so important to us that we made it ERP’s motto — ‘Integrity Thru Music’. It means that we put honesty and respect above all else, including profit. We passionately believe that this approach puts others who work with us in a similar frame of mind, and that it ultimately results in the best possible outcome.

Lastly, its hugely important to remember to “enjoy the time you have.” All too often we allow ourselves to focus on what’s right in front of us, the obligations, the work, the deadlines, the to-do list, and we deny ourselves the opportunity to enjoy life. We put off the things that we genuinely enjoy thinking that we have all the time in the world. But as you get older, you realize that time is fleeting and that nothing lasts forever, so appreciate every aspect of what you are doing and who you’re doing it with, and take the time to relish the good times.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

As a musician and environmental engineer, the number one tip to avoid burn-out that I would recommend to anyone, regardless of the business you’re in, is to focus on the things that are within your ability to control, and tackle those to the best of your ability. It can be exhausting and depleting to our energy and spirit to try to influence or change the course of things driven by outside forces that we are in no position to control. Not to say that we should not use our abilities to right a wrong, or try to make things better, but knowing what we can influence and what we can’t, and directing our energies accordingly is so important. We need to remember, that our overall success is determined first and foremost by choosing the right mountain to climb, and then applying ourselves fully to climbing that mountain with focused attention and resolve. I’m sure that any one of us can look back at battles or mountains we tried to overcome throughout our life, where we invested a significant amount of ourselves, our time and our energies, only to realize that it was not meant to be, at least not for us. As much as we want to control and influence the world around us, we have to resist the temptation of diverting our attention away from the things that matter most and towards those things that we actually have an opportunity to make better.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to see a movement around the idea that “we are one” — one country, one society, one community, one people. Now, more than ever, America is a divided country. We find divisions between various groups of people in virtually every aspect of our lives. But at the same time, we know that we have more in common with one another than we have differences separating us. Strengthening our connections with one another, and advocating a shared belief that “we are one” is critical and desperately needed because literally nothing of any real merit can be accomplished in our society until we address the ‘us’ and ‘them’ sensibilities that have overtaken us. As it has so many times in our history, I hope music can have a healing effect and help serve as a means to unify and bring that about once people can enjoy the shared experience of a live music event or concert once again.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I would not have been able accomplish anything of significance personally or professionally in my life without the energy, foresight, determination, dedication, and love of my wife. She is a true leader, as evidenced by the strength of her character and talents — both creatively and as a businesswoman. I admire how she has been able to create a real vision for ERP, bring so many talented musicians into the fold who share that vision, and work with partners who believe in what we are trying to do and are willing to follow her in pursuit of bringing quality live music experiences to so many fans. I think the biggest testament to that is how quickly she built ERP from one band to five in just four short years: and where we were headed in 2020 with a full schedule of concert dates, before the pandemic hit. Not only that, but based on the relationships she has established along the way, the trust she has built with both promoters, venues and our team of musicians has allowed us to begin safely booking shows as soon as January 2021, when no one else has.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My grandmother had a great saying: “When you think you’ve hit bottom — look down!” It was her way of letting us know that no matter how bad you feel, or how low you think you have fallen, there is likely someone else who is in a worse situation than you are. So, it was impressed upon me from a young age that regardless of how tough life gets, or how bad we think we have it, we need to always find a way to reach out and try to help others who may be struggling more than we are. It is about being there for one another, and always showing care and compassion to our neighbor, no matter what we might be going through ourselves.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love the chance to sit down with Bill Gates of Microsoft. He embodies all the attributes of the ultimate entrepreneur. Besides having built one of the world’s most iconic, enduring and world-changing businesses and brands that ever existed, he has now turned his attention to more altruistic causes, most recently, addressing the most critical and immediate threat to our human existence — global pandemics. His life-journey must be one of the most interesting narratives that I can ever imagine, and I would love to hear him tell his personal story first-hand, in his own words.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow me and our bands on Facebook at @BrothersAgain @DoItAgain.SteelyDan @SouthCityBrothers and @ERPBobbie

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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