Crossing career paths with longtime musician friends


By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor

Hudson/Stow – Singer-guitarist Tom Yates of Stow has been performing professionally since attending Hudson High School, where he graduated in 1970.

A then-teenage Yates debuted with his Sunny Down Snuff bandmates: drummer Glenn Evans, bass guitarist Ralph Lanigan and guitarist Dave Pontbriand. Gigs included a weekly booking at The Wreck Lounge in Marlborough (now Bolton Street Tavern). They also performed for several summers at the tennis court dances that were held from the late-1960s to mid-70s at Riverside Park in Hudson. Weekly attendance was typically about 250 young dancers.

“It wasn’t intimidating playing for so many people because we had already been performing at school dances and clubs,” Yates said. “It was a good way for us to get experience every week in the summers.”

After graduating from high school, the self-taught guitarist studied briefly at the Berklee College of Music. Then he decided to pursue his musical education with on-the-job training.

“I got a gig with a band playing at hotels six nights a week and made pretty good money for somebody just out of high school,” he relayed. “When you play that frequently, you learn a lot and get better really quickly. I’m better at learning by doing than I am by studying.”

From 1973 to 1976, he toured throughout New England with the Estes Boys. His former Sunny Down Snuff bandmate Glenn Davis also played with them for a while. A steady gig nearby for them was The Poor Farm, a long-defunct Hudson nightclub.

“We were one of the few country-rock bands in the area,” Yates noted. “We kept really busy, performing and recording all the time.”

He began in 1977 as one of the rock trio Fair, Yates & Betschart, the weekends’ house band at Timothy’s Spirits Company in Framingham through 1982. They continued performing periodically up to 2016 with a final show at The Center for the Arts in Natick.

Playing for several years beginning in 2002 with the classic pop rock band The Paisley Project, a highlight was opening for Three Dog Night, Tommy James and the Shondells, and War at Boston’s Hatch Shell.

Yates and his Sunny Down Snuff bandmates had performed together in various combinations since the circa-‘60s-‘70s tennis court dances. From 1995 to 2014, they evoked memories of yesteryear by entertaining together again at the tennis court dance reunions at the Hudson-Concord Elks Lodge 959, down the street from the original location.

“Lots of people came and relived their youth,” he said. “We played the same songs we played in high school. People love to reminisce about the old days.”

Yates returned to his Hudson stomping grounds again last summer. He performed with the rock-blues Workingman’s Band at Wood Park, and his solo act at the town’s farmers’ market. His most recent musical venture is the jazz-blues group Zen Cowboy.

“As we get older we don’t have as much time to hang out with friends, so getting together to play music is always really enjoyable,” he said. “There’s nothing better than that.”

Photo caption: Singer-guitarist Tom Yates