March 30, 2008

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Tom Austin–Part Two!

March 30th, 2008

We are thrilled to present Part Two of the JBB Exclusive Interview with Tom Austin! In Part Two, Tom reflects on his post-Royal Teens life, his career and passion as an artist, his inspiration for his incredible “Short Shorts Season” painting, and his thoughts on the Jersey Boys experience!

JBB: What career path did you decide to follow after music?

TA: Well, I had to get a job. All I ever studied was music. A friend of mine managed a hotel chain and since I had always been able to draw very well, he helped me become a draftsman. I could do rendering, but I never took any higher math classes, so I didn’t always know if the buildings I was drawing would stand up or fall down. Wouldn’t you know, I ended up dating and marrying a math teacher?! (laughs)

After marrying Lorraine, she told me I could do anything, so life turned around and I sold real estate and became an appraiser for 38 years and became very successful. I took every course in the world and eventually became the state director of real estate education.

JBB: What inspired you to become an artist? Had you been painting since childhood or did you discover your artistic talents later in life?

TA: Ever since I was a child, I loved to draw pictures. I can actually remember being in first grade and learning how to draw the front of a simple house. Art was always something that fascinated me. I was always very lucky when it came to my art teachers; they always encouraged me to have a career as an artist. After the Royal Teens, I studied art with Paul Ortlip who told me that I had my own style and I should stick to it. I took his advice and like in music, I had to be original. Maybe that is something Bobby taught me. He would always say, “Never copy someone else’s work.”

JBB: Your “Short Shorts Season” painting is phenomenal! It’s incredible to see such a beautiful interpretation of 52nd Street! What inspired you?

TA: You know, Bobby and I had always kept in contact, but we hadn’t seen each other in 35 years! I was invited to Jersey Boys’ Opening Night. My wife and I had a wonderful time in the city. We were sitting with Charlie Calello and Bob Crewe. At the party following the show, Bobby looked over at me. I knew it was him—everyone was interviewing him. He stared at me and looked back—it had been 35 years since we had seen each other—so we had both really changed! Then, we gave each other a big hug. It was very emotional; I really loved him all these years.

Seeing the show and seeing Bobby, I was so moved. I was trying to think of anything I could do to memorialize the experience. I went back to work, sold houses, but I kept thinking about what I could do to capture the experience. So I went back to New York to take a picture of 52nd Street—the theatre, the restaurants, and the buildings that were on the street. So, I did the painting and presented one to Bobby and one for Frankie Valli. While painting it, I knew that I wanted to link The Four Seasons’ past to the present and the future and felt it was like having a hit record in a picture. If you look at the painting, you’ll notice that I positioned the cars not in the limelight, but they were in the background. I also included a green canopy that says “Romans” on it, along with the Jersey Boys’ theatre. If you look closely, you’ll see that I included Lindsay Lohan, who was on a billboard on the street the day I took the picture.

JBB: What was your first reaction to seeing Jersey Boys?

TA: My first reaction was to tear up a bit as I sat in the August Wilson with my wife as I stared at the two ticket stubs that Bobby sent me for the premier. He didn’t forget me, I thought, even though it had been over thirty years since I saw him, he didn’t forget me. He wanted me to be there on this night to see that one of the original Royals had made it all the way to Broadway. The funny part is that back in the day, we used to rehearse at the CBS Studio rehearsal hall only two doors away from the August Wilson Theatre. Who would have guessed back then that the day would come when Bobby’s life story would open on Broadway?

Before the show started, Frankie Avalon came walking down the aisle with his wife Kay and when he saw me he began climbing over people to shake my hand and give me a hug. At that moment my thoughts went immediately back to those old buses and road tours when he would climb into the luggage rack to sleep. I looked at the couple seated next to us and it was Bob Crewe along with a beautiful young woman. Wow! I thought, Bobby arranged to have us sit with his song writing associates. I think I popped a button on my tux with pride. I glanced behind us and there was Charlie Calello and his wife. Yes indeed, my wife and I were sitting among greatness on this night. I was so moved by all of this I knew I needed to memorialize all of this in a painting.

JBB: Your painting has really touched an emotional chord with Jersey Boys’ fans!

TA: Thanks–I was talking with an art expert a while ago who said that beautiful paintings, such as, let’s say, a picture of a beautiful bowl of flowers is commercial art—while fine art has a story and emits an emotion.

JBB: Besides “Short Shorts Season,” your other artwork featured at your show at Fieldstone Fine Art Gallery is spectacular! What inspired you to create some of those pieces?

TA: Well, when I was a kid, my Dad worked at Bill Millers Riviera. He worked back stage as year round security. In fact, he was the only guy in the whole place that took care of any problems that needed attention. He was on assignment from the Fort Lee Police Department, but would be paid by the owner, Bill Miller. The Riviera was where Sinatra and Sammy Davis with the Will Masten Trio played. Only the best played at the Riviera. I met my first drum teacher there. Anyway, there were no photo remembrances of this great night club, so I needed to remember it through a painting. That is why painting is so interesting to me. The artist can research the era and reconstruct everything as if it were still alive. That is what separates fine art from a photograph. A photo can only capture what the lens sees. In fine art, the artist can capture what his mind sees. Therefore, the artist can insert into his paintings events and things that are long gone from view. That is why I did a painting of the Riviera.

I did the same thing in a painting called “Gasoline Alley,” which depicts the site where NASCAR in the east probably began back in the 1930’s. That was on E-29th Street in Paterson, NJ.

I am so lucky that Rick Laurenzo and Mariana Maldonado of the Fieldstone Gallery in Ramsey, New Jersey gave me the opportunity to have a one man show featuring 16 of my paintings in their gallery.

I’m also especially excited that I am a resident artist in the Salmagundi Art Club, that’s in Greenwich Village and I have won four awards from the U.S. Coast Guard “Ships in Action” art program.

JBB: Do you still perform and play gigs?

TA: Yes, we still play gigs around because we love to do it. The band has some great players in it like Joe Donato on guitar and Pete Larosa on keyboards and sax great Charlie Frommer on sax. Over the years the sax players have made their indelible marks on the Royal Teens, sax men like Larry Qualiano, Frankie Coppola, Frankie Natalie and now Charlie Frommer. Maybe the time has come to try and get some more gigs.

JBB: Although it’s been 50 years since “Short Shorts” was on the charts, there seems to be an incredible loyalty and appreciation between you and Bobby, along with the other performers that were on the concert tours back in the late ‘50s.

TA: I like that you said ‘loyalty.’ Yes, there is definitely a sense of loyalty, respect, and a true brotherhood from those days that we all shared.

Interviewing Tom Austin was truly an extraordinary experience and privilege! I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to Tom for sharing his amazing memories and reflections from his early days as a musician; his incredible experiences in the late 1950s as a member of The Royal Teens; and his thoughts on Jersey Boys! Also a special thank you to Tom for sharing his thoughts, inspirations, and samples of his magnificent artistic talent!

Tom Austin Art Print


  1. Thanks for this wonderful interview, and Tom I’ve said this once before. I Love Your Paintings!!
    Of course 52nd Street is my favorite one! :)

    Comment by Jody Cardillo — March 31, 2008 @ 11:20 am

  2. Tom’s paintings are just beautiful and his reflections on the Royal Teens, Jersey Boys, his artwork and his friendship with Bob Gaudio, as they say in a famous commercial, were all “priceless.” Thanks for this fabulous interview!

    Comment by Len Gersten — March 31, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

  3. Tom Austin has created a new genre with his fabulous art. The painting, Short Shorts Season’, reminds us of the best time in music, Love it!

    Comment by Barbara — March 31, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

  4. Tom, your memorializing your “Jersey Boys” experience for posterity in your artwork is absolutely awesome.

    In his last published novel, famed author Thomas Wolfe tells us “you can’t go home again”. Thank you, Tom Austin, for showing us this is not always true. And from your describing the generosity and affection shown you by Mr. Gaudio, it doesn’t seem he believes it either!

    Some fifty years later, you and “Bobby” are once again the “big men in town”. Who says you can’t go home again?

    Comment by Howard Tucker — March 31, 2008 @ 9:11 pm

  5. What a great two-part interview. Mr. Austin recounts experiences like they just happened. I enjoyed every question asked and every answer given. As Gyp would say… Tom, thank you for sharing!

    Comment by Audrey — April 1, 2008 @ 12:16 am

  6. Having worked with you for over 30 years, believing that one day, all your genuis in music, book writing. and art would someday be recognized, I say- “Grab the brass ring- you have arrived!” Your poignant story is only the beginning of your budding career…I believe there is more to follow! Doris

    Comment by Doris — April 2, 2008 @ 10:32 am

  7. What a wonderful pleasure, and thrilling experience to meet Lorraine and you in New York. This is a two -part summer harmony that certainily wakes up the senses that surround your love of painting, and music.
    My sincere gratitude expands for your lovely poem “Wildflowers” which completes my symbolic First Bloom painting that represents cancer survivors, and families that we so love around the world!
    Your talent is moving, charming, and the “BEAT GOES ON” Your thoughts are filled with creative expression for all to enjoy!
    Looking forward to work with the talented voice of Peggy Santiglia, and the gifted Tom Austin.
    Spend a wonderful summer with joyous days! Joni

    Comment by joni relyea — June 26, 2009 @ 7:25 am

  8. Tom,
    I finally got around to viewing your website. It certainly brought back memories of us growing up together. The story of your friendships with your many band members is very touching. We should hear more of such relationships. Your artwork is very good. Keep doing it.

    Comment by Jim (Bim) Koehler — June 5, 2011 @ 10:10 am

  9. Tommy r u on facebook. Let’s hook up. Lee

    Comment by Lee Lev — August 7, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

  10. Great to read abt you. Lee

    Comment by Lee Lev — August 7, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

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