Tommy Baldwin Reflects on a Life Full of Music

Writer / Seth Johnson
Photography Provided

Whether he’s playing one of Indy’s local clubs or up on stage in Los Angeles with some of rock and roll’s best, Indianapolis musician Tommy Baldwin never takes a gig for granted.Tommy Baldwin

“No matter how big or small the gig is, always cherish it,” says the 27-year-old guitar phenom. “Always cherish the journey. Never take any experience for granted.”

At a young age, Baldwin was baptized into the world of music.

“My mom was a full-time singer for a band called Double Exposure back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and they were the premier wedding band in Indianapolis,” Baldwin says. “My dad was a singer-songwriter as well, so I was just surrounded by it all the time.”

Despite growing up in this environment, however, Baldwin wasn’t really drawn to the guitar until the age of 8.

“I went to a buddy of mine’s house, and his brother-in-law had this guitar in the closet that he smashed because he had seen somebody somewhere do it as a rock star or whatever,” Baldwin says. “It only had three strings on it, and it was just destroyed. I picked it up and started messing with it. They were playing Xbox and all of this stuff, but for some reason I just couldn’t let go of this guitar.”

Thus, Baldwin’s lifelong guitar obsession began. Later that year he would receive a guitar for Christmas, and it was game over from that point on.

“I played by ear, so I’d watch YouTube and look at people’s hands,” Baldwin says. “At that time I really got into Green Day, Fall Out Boy and all that stuff. I’d just watch their hands, and I figured out how to play barre chords and power chords.”

Tommy BaldwinAs he continued to hone his craft, Baldwin’s parents would regularly take him to Guitar Center to fuel his passion. In November 2006 they bought him an Epiphone SG like the one Angus Young of AC/DC played. One month later, though, Baldwin’s father unexpectedly passed away, leading him down the path he’s been on ever since.

“After he passed away I just remember holding that guitar and saying, ‘I am going to do this for you. I’m never going to stop playing. I’m just going to put my heart and soul into this,’” Baldwin says.

In the years that followed, Baldwin would grow out of his pop-punk phase, instead embracing the blues rock sound of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

“When I found Stevie Ray Vaughan, that changed my whole life,” he says. “I watched him play ‘Voodoo Child’ live at El Mocambo over and over again. I was like, ‘That’s exactly how I want to play guitar.’”

In particular, he recalls a man by the name of Sir James Simmons as the individual who helped lead him down the blues-centric path that he’s still on today.

“From ages 13 to 18, Sir James Simmons would come over every single Wednesday and we’d have guitar lessons,” Baldwin says. “He taught me guitar stylization. It was all about, ‘It’s not what you play, it’s how you play it.’ Without him, I wouldn’t have my sound.”

Throughout high school Baldwin headed up a trio, getting regular gigs at venues like Kingston’s Music Showcase and the Slippery Noodle. After graduating from North Central High School, he eventually took a trip out to Los Angeles to attend the National Association of Music Merchants show, where he met a man by the name of Doug Pinnick. Best known for his work in the band King’s X, Pinnick took a liking to Baldwin and his playing style – so much so that he offered Baldwin an opportunity to play on a project honoring the great Jimi Hendrix.

“He was like, ‘I have something in the works right now that I’d love for you to be a part of. It’s actually a Jimi Hendrix tribute record that’s approved by the Hendrix estate, and I’d love for you to be the guitar player for it,’” Baldwin says.

In the years that have followed, Pinnick has continued to serve as a best friend and mentor to Baldwin, inviting him to jamTommy Baldwin sessions in Los Angeles with music legends like Jonathan Moffett (drummer for Michael Jackson), Kenny Aronoff (drummer for John Mellencamp and John Fogerty) and more. To bring it all full-circle, Pinnick also produced and played bass on Baldwin’s debut album, “Phases.”

Now married with three children, Baldwin is stationed back in Indianapolis, where he regularly plays around town once again. While he’s certainly lived an eventful life at just 27 years of age, Baldwin remains modest while keeping it all in perspective.

“I don’t have a number-one record or anything,” he says. “I’ve just gotten to be part of some really amazing things,” he says. “You’ve got to remain humble, keep your head on straight and work towards the next opportunity.”

Comments 1

  1. Jim Harris says:

    Watching you play right now at Parks Place Pub. Reading your story on line. God Bless You. You have so much talent and I know you have worked so hard. Please keep going. Your Father is proud of you. Sure glad you picked up that guitar with a couple of strings missing years ago.

    Your Pops is smiling down on you. Thank you.


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