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Tim Hockenberry

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Tim Hockenberry from 2016

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music?

I started messing around with an old trombone of my father’s when I was eleven.  That horn stayed in my mouth for the next ten years, finding me in my third year of music school at the University Of Minnesota sometime in the early 80s. After many disappointing auditions for major orchestras, I decided to go into jazz.  I toured with the great Clark Terry for a while and was due to tour with his big band in Europe for an entire year.  But as luck would have it, the tour was suddenly cancelled due to Clark’s failing back and I was left holding my trombone on the street corner, somewhere in Minneapolis.  Feeling the need to actually eat some food, I began my career as a waiter in the world of fine dining.  After ten years of that I found myself in Napa, California feeling that I should give piano and singing a try.  I locked myself up in a small room with a keyboard, a microphone, and a boom box that had a cassette recorded on it.  When a song I liked came on the oldies station i would hit “record” and then begin the painful process of trying to come up with my own arrangement.  It took about six months to get three sets of music together, and then I went out and started playing live - mostly in wineries and restaurants in Napa and Sonoma. I then hooked up with an amazing guitarist, Keith Allen (RIP), and we started playing more major clubs in the San Francisco area.  I had many different bands throughout the 90s but nothing really clicked the way I thought it might. 

Fast forward to 2007 and I get a call from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to sing a song on their newest CD, Night Castle.  Later they asked me to go out on tour with them which I did for the next four years. After that ended, I remained in the bay area (having three kids) and continued playing.  Then I hooked up with Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead) and Dave Skools (Widespread Panic) and we toured around the country for eight months playing songs from the record of Mickey’s entitled “Mysterium Tremendum.”  When that came to an end I got on the TV show, “America’s Got Talent” and made it to the semi-finals in 2012.  Then for the next couple years I floundered in the Bay Area until I met the amazing Natasha Miller.  She and I and her brother, Justin, teamed up to make this record.  Now I am living and playing five nights a week in the heart of Charleston, SC at a very swanky steak house.

What was involved your departure from TSO?
TSO is a huge organization that originally promised me that they would promote me and the supposedly “hit” song (“Believe”) I sang on the album. I told them I wasn’t interested in touring if I was just going to be another invisible singer on the smokey dark arena stages of North America.  They promised me a whole bunch of radio promotion and that they would do for me what they never do for their performers.  It was all a ruse and I ended up leaving after four tours.
What were your most treasured memories of that gig?
Sleeping with the girls in the band.
MSJ: What does performing solo bring that you couldn’t get as part of a band?
Solo is just easier and more contained.  That is not to say I don’t love playing with my brothers, but I seem to always be working solo.  It also pays better.
MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
I would definitely be in the fine dining world.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Marvin Gaye, Bach, Elvis Costello, Joe Cocker, Otis Redding, Preservation Hall Jazz Band…
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Promotion of the record and hopefully more great tours.
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
My original stuff is pretty different from song to song….but if I had to put it in a record bin I guess I would put it somewhere between Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and The Shins
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
That’s a tough one……not really sure.  My favorite musicians are the ones who are passionate and completely in the moment.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
It has literally destroyed the music world.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
The horse is out of the barn.  It doesn’t matter how I feel really.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Kenny G or Jason Mraz……..nuff said…….
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
The Shins, Elvis Costello, Band of Horses, Tom Waits, and Blondie.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
I almost only listen to classical recordings.  The six Bach cello suites are in heavy rotation…….
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Gone Girl
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Haven’t had time and honestly I don’t enjoy seeing live music because i get anxious about not be able to perform…...
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Playing with TSO……it was frankly a little embarrassing….not to take anything away from them as they are quite popular…..but so is Kenny G.
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Winston Churchill, Joe Cocker, and John Lennon.
What would be on the menu?
French bistro food.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Buy my CD, don’t steal it…….win valuable prizes!
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2016  Volume 3 at
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