Tours and albums. A performance at Expo ‘86. Winning the CMAC’s ‘Most Promising Artist’ award in 1993, then winning CMAC’s Band of the Year in 1994. Tom Cole may have started in Rose Prairie, but nothing could stop this local celebrity from taking his music career to the next level.
Tom was born and raised in Rose Prairie, dabbling in rodeos during the summer and playing music with one of his many bands, and spending his weekends in Fort St. John performing as a guitarist and singer. Tom has carried around a guitar almost his entire life — he got his first when he was just five years old.
In 1988, Tom decided to move to Calgary, his dad’s hometown, to pursue his music career. At the time, he was the frontman of a band called Cole Cole Heart. He spoke highly of his band’s years of experience and talent. He jokes they worked for him but Tom did everything they told him to. A couple of years later, Tom won Most Promising Artist through the CMAC. The next year, he and his band took home Band of the Year.
Everyone starts somewhere though. The band played a lot of nightclubs in the earlier days, which led to a few concerned supporters. One of these people was Tom’s dad. Tom guesses his father didn’t like him performing in a drinking environment, worried it would have a negative influence on him. Recognizing that drinking could affect the band, Tom set a strict no drinking rule. The nightclub shows only lasted for a year before the band started playing more rodeos, fairs, festivals, and corporate gigs. Tom notes he “always had a direction and the nightclubs were just a stepping stone.”
Music always has a message. Tom’s message is one of goodness and kindness. He likes to incorporate hope, even if it’s a sad song. Tom appreciates the history in music and would rather write about that than write a love song. He prides himself on his ability to stay true to his musical direction, even if it’s meant walking away from some things. Being able to play music his way was one of his biggest achievements, Tom says. That’s a pretty amazing example of embracing yourself and not changing to fit other people’s ideals.
When I had the pleasure of meeting Tom at the North Peace Cultural Centre’s Art Stars event, he brought a little bit of history with him. He walked us through decades of music recording and storing equipment: vinyls, CDs, cassettes, radio discs, and more. Tom also shared some of his experiences with recording music and working in the industry. When asked what his advice is for people trying to break into the business, he said to surround yourself with good people and listen to the story your creative self is telling.
Tom’s an inspiration to anyone trying to accomplish something that’s been called impossible because you live in a small town or the wrong place. His story shows that perseverance will always beat hard circumstances.
Gracie English is a 14-year-old student, born and raised in the Montney/Fort St. John area.