Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1988, Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers released their major label debut, Rumble. Local heroes on the Philadelphia rock scene, Conwell and his cohorts were so popular that a 1987 contest pitched at high schools with a free concert as grand prize resulted in a flood of over eleven million postcard entries. With that sort of grassroots support, the band inevitably found themselves in a bidding war between music biz titans, eventually signing on with Columbia Records, which had recently stirred up surprisingly success with the relatively straightforward blues rock stylings of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. With a little blues, a little rockabilly, and a whole lot of brash young rocker attitude.
“I’m Not Your Man,” the single that introduced Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers to a national audience, was an ideal encapsulation of the band’s sound. After a hearty tumble of an opening guitar riff, Conwell gives it his best ragged snarl as his rebuffs a romantic interest who evidently wants a little more commitment than a vagabond guitar player is likely to give. Indeed, Conwell insists he’s not prepared to settle down until a he spies “a monkey chase a lion up a coconut tree,” an unlikely occurrence, I’m sure you’ll agree.
“I’m Not Your Man” was a healthy hit on album rock radio, topping the relevant Billboard chart for one week before U2 rattled and hummed their way to dominance with a pair of singles that accounted for eleven of the next fifteen weeks in the peak position. For the follow-up single, the label opted for “If We Never Meet Again,” a Jules Shears-penned ballad that was confusingly also an emphasis track for the Shears’s band Reckless Sleepers at precisely the same time. It made the Top 10 on the album rock chart, came reasonably close to the Top 40, and helped land the band on Late Night with David Letterman, where Conwell generously insisted that the proper nomenclature was Tommy Conwell and the Rest of the Young Rumblers.
There was only one more album on Columbia Records before the label lost interest. The band basically shut down, with members going on to other endeavors, including gig for the frontman as a third-grade teacher and a radio DJ. But Philly rock ‘n’ roll fame never quite dies. Earlier this summer, Conwell and his fellow Young Rumblers took the stage at the HoagieNation Festival, an event presented under the aegis of fellow Philadelphians Daryl Hall and John Oates.
Listen or download —> Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers, “I’m Not Your Man”
(Disclaimer: I believe the Young Rumbler records are out of print, at least as physical items than can be purchased in such a way that will provide compensation to both the original artist and the proprietor of your favorite local, independently owned record store. Conwell does have a load of other material available on his personal website, so go get some of that. Want an “I’m Not Your Man” ringtone? It’s only ninety-nine cents, bucko! There’s no reason to delay. And then go to the record store and buy something there, too. They need your support. Although I believe sharing this song in this space in this way constitutes fair use, I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world is asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)