Tommy Shannon grew up in Dumas, Texas. He played guitar in local cover bands during his high school years, and upon graduating, moved to Dallas and joined a local soul band on bass. At 20, Shannon met Johnny Winter, joined his band and moved to Houston. It took a while to get rolling, but eventually gigs picked up and the band performed at the historic Woodstock festival in 1969. During his tenure with Winter, Shannon also had the chance to perform with legendary blues man Muddy Waters.
Shortly after Woodstock, Johnny Winter joined a band with Rick Derringer and another rhythm section—leaving Tommy without a gig. So Tommy joined Uncle John Turner and Bruce Bowland in San Francisco that summer to form the band Krackerjack, which would later become a Texas legend featuring an aspiring young guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan, whom Tommy had first seen at The Fog in Dallas mere months earlier.
But Tommy’s work with Stevie was still many miles down the highway. Another detour for a long cycle of drug abuse, jail, rehab, and probation almost took Tommy off the road permanently. He went from laying down bass riffs to laying bricks for a living when the terms of one probation prohibited his involvement in the drug-riddled atmosphere of the local music scene. But by the late ’70s, with his legal obligations finally fulfilled, he again resumed his music career. While living in Houston, he read that Stevie Ray Vaughan, that “real awkward looking, scrawny 14-year-old kid” he remembered from years ago at The Fog, was playing at Rockefeller’s and decided to go check him out. “I remember I walked in and it was like a revelation. Something just hit me right between the eyes, and I knew that’s where I belonged.” He told Stevie, “I belong in this band with you.” And Stevie, who had long idolized the bass player who had befriended him back in his early teens, agreed; two weeks later Tommy was half of the Double Trouble rhythm section.
The story of Tommy’s time with Stevie is well known: the musical highs of sold-out concerts all over the world (including that magical Carnegie Hall gig), the multiple Grammys, the gold and platinum records … and then the personal lows of drug and alcohol addiction, which eventually led the two best friends to enter rehab facilities on the same day in October, 1986. Emerging clean, sober, and profoundly thankful for a second chance, the brother-in-arms picked up their axes and began making some of the best music of their careers. Vaughan’s unthinkable passing in a tragic helicopter crash in 1990 was a devastating personal and professional loss to Tommy, in one horrific event robbing him of both his closest friend and his desire to make music.
In the months that followed, while Tommy struggled to reconnect with the music that now “made about as much sense to [him] as a chainsaw,” his Double Trouble partner, Chris Layton, and Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton, who had both enjoyed Stevie’s babysitting services as children, also mourned their fallen friend, each pursuing his own project at the Austin Rehearsal Complex (ARC). Commiserating over their common loss, they reached out to Tommy and formed the Arc Angels as a side project intended as a distraction and for live jams only. But when the foursome began attracting a serious following at their impromptu appearances, the project took on a life of its own. Heralded as a Texas super-group, the band recorded one highly successful, critically acclaimed album before living up to its name and crashing to earth almost as quickly as it had arisen.
In the midst of the fallout from the Arc Angels’ demise, Tommy was asked to audition for Bill Wyman’s spot in the Rolling Stones. Although he left the two-hour New York audition feeling that he had gotten the gig, it was not to be, and the blues highway carried him home once more, this time to yet another date with destiny. In Austin Tommy and Chris joined celebrated soul singer Malford Milligan, along with David Grissom and David Holt, to found Storyville, touted as the consummate Austin super-group. The band released its first album in 1994, winning nine Austin Music Awards. Storyville went on to record two albums for Atlantic Records before breaking up in 1998.
In his post-Storyville years, Tommy returned to the songwriting he’d left behind in his teens. “That period when I started writing again was the happiest time of my life,” he says. “It was like being reborn.” Armed with new material, he and Chris at last focused on a recording project of their own. Released in 2001, Been a Long Time featured Double Trouble and a stellar list of guest artists, including Willie Nelson, Dr. John, Jimmie Vaughan, Eric Johnson, Susan Tedeschi, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Reese Wynans, and members of the Arc Angels and Storyville. An Austin City Limits taping and accompanying Austin Music Hall all-star extravaganza billed as “Double Trouble and Friends” introduced the recording to an enthusiastic and welcoming fanbase.
Tommy has also played with other notable musicians including Eric Clapton, Little Richard, Hubert Sumlin, Mike McCready, Buddy Guy, David Grissom, Mato Nanji, Jeff Beck, Lou Gramm and John Mayer.
Tommy says: “Markbass gives me that big, full sound that I’m used to, with the portability that I need.”