TOM AUSTIN ARTIST
Since the first grade in elementary school PS # 3 in Coytesville, NJ, which is now the north end of Fort Lee, Tom has been fascinated with drawing and color. He clearly recalls how excited he would get on rainy days when the kids would not be allowed to go to the playground during lunch time but instead, due to the rain, would be issued some thick drawing paper with a brown tint to it and were allowed to stay indoors and draw anything they wanted.
Tom’s family on his mothers side excelled in music, his grandmother was a concert pianist, his uncle George was a drummer and his Mother was an excellent singer from the Big Band era.
Tom’s Dad worked for the Fort Lee Police Department on permanent assignment at the famed night club called Bill Miller’s Riviera, The Riviera was situated about 150 yards north of the George Washington bridge perched on the edge of the Palisades.
His Dad would often take Tom down to the Riviera on Tuesday nights (the slow night) and allow him to sit in the spotlight booth and watch the shows. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. with the Will Masten trio, Jimmy Durante and the list goes on and on.
When the Fort Lee Police athletic league decided to start a talent show, ten-year-old Tom took his Uncle George’s drums from his mothers closet and joined the band. Of course he did not know how to play the drums, but that was just an incidental obstacle to overcome.
It was through the Riviera connection that Tom received his first drum lessons. The drummer at the Riviera quickly observed that Tom had been playing the drums backwards. His hands moved like a right handed person, but his feet played the bass and high hat like a left handed person. Obviously a bad habit picked up by a kid teaching himself how to play without lessons. Nevertheless, Russ Russo, the Riviera drummer agreed to teach tom from that point forward.
By the time was in Fort Lee High School, music and art were coming together. He started his own band called the Continentals and managed to recruit the best young musicians in the area to join it. The band was booked just about every weekend throughout the school year. By the time Tom was 14 he was playing for shows in a hotel out in the western part of New Jersey.
Art teachers at Fort Lee High School like John Marty and Mrs Glasscock recognized Tom’s ability and encouraged him to pursue a career in art. That direction never really happened as his music ambitions increased when Tom met Bob Gaudio and the two of them formed a band they called the Royal Teens that took the country by storm with hit records like “Short Shorts” and “Believe Me.” Tom and Bob wrote and recorded many songs together.
In 1960 Tom was called up for active duty in the Army Reserve, and it was at that point that Bob Gaudio teamed up with Joe Pesci and started another band. Joe Pesci introduced Bobby to Frankie Valli and it was at that point that the Four Seasons were born and the rest is history.
After the service Tom decided to attend Fairleigh Dickenson University. It was there that he met the famed artist Paul Ortlip. Paul encouraged Tom to continue with his art endeavors and entered Tom’s first serious painting in shows at the college.
Tom Became a Realtor and Appraiser and has owned his own business for the past 38 years in Ramsey, New Jersey
Tom Austin has enjoyed a multifaceted artistic career since the 1950’s. Starting out in his youth as an accomplished drummer he was co-founder of the band “The Royal Teens” which propelled him to the top of the record charts in the late 1950’s with the original composition called “Short Shorts”. Following his international success with that song he penned with his co-writer Bob Gaudio the Royal Teens recorded approximately 30 more songs which included major Capital Label hit called “Believe Me”. As a Royal Teen Austin toured and performed on the bill with Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Bill Haley and the Comets, Sam Cook, Jackie Wilson, Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, Bo Diddley and a host of others. The Royal Teens were frequently used as the musical background for Chuck Berry, Dion and Belmonts and scores of others.
TV commercials always seemed to favor the works of the Royal Teens and their hit songs. The bathroom product Nair has used the song “Short Shorts”, Tom’s song for decades in their award-winning TV commercial. Dick Clark’s National TV show had Beechnut Gum as his sponsor and the Royal Teens handled the music for that. Visually speaking, the youthful good looks of the Royal Teens allowed them to become McGregor Clothes models and appear on TV wearing their clothes. Their favorable image also allowed them to appear in the Columbia motion picture “Lets Rock”.
Austin has won awards given by Broadcast Music Inc. both in the “Popular Music” category and in the “Rhythm and Blues” category.
The smash hit Broadway show Jersey Boys includes the images and music of Tom Austin and The Royal Teens in the show once again taking Tom out of shadow of a bygone era and placing him back in the limelight.
Details of the illustrious musical career of Tom Austin and the Royal Teens have been archived in the new “Jersey Boys” book released in 2007 and the Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll.
Tom’s personal memorabilia and clothes he wore on stage have been placed on permanent display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio.
Throughout his musical life, he always seemed to find time to draw and paint as well as own and operate a successful Real Estate and Appraisal business in Ramsey with his wife Lorraine. Tom has two sons, Tom Jr who owns and operates a trucking company and Michael who is an Attorney at Law.
Tom’s fine art endeavors were discovered in 1997 by noted artist William Sturm of Budd Lake New Jersey. Bill became Tom’s mentor and directed his career out of obscurity and into the light of National recognition. In the late 1990’s Tom was accepted into the company of highly regarded US Coast Guard Artists through a program known as COGAP.
To date, Tom has four of his original oil paintings depicting the mission of the Coast Guard placed on permanent display in the Coast Guard collection in Washington DC. In addition, Tom has paintings on display in the Paterson Museum in Paterson New Jersey and the Fort Lee Historical Museum.
Literary achievement has always been on the horizon for Tom but of late is also moving swiftly to the forefront along with his art. Having majored in British Literature at Fairleigh Dickenson University Tom became fascinated with the written word. To date he has co-written three screen plays, The Five Keys, The Rock Garden and Cool as well as a full length novel called the Leukocyte Factor. All of which are lying dormant waiting for the chance to be discovered just like his art work.