Tom Ingram – Rockabilly King of Las Vegas
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Tom Ingram produces the world’s biggest rockabilly festival.
After staging top events & festivals in England, particularly London, Tom then took his knowledge and skills across the Atlantic producing the magic that is the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekender; next year being VIVA 21 – a rockabilly land phenomenon.
1) VLV literally draws people from all over the world. From how many countries do people attend the event?
I think it is now in excess of 20 countries. It amazes me how the number grows. We get many from all countries of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Japan etc. but we can add to that Eastern European countries, Israel, South Africa, Hong Kong, Indonesia. I am sure I am forgetting some.
2) Rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly have a cluster of sub-genres and, although they have core DNA, they all slowly evolve over time. Where do you see the rockin scene heading musically in the next few years?
This I am not sure of. We are very close to not being able to book the original acts due to their ages, so we need a whole new set of headliners. In recent years there has been a trend towards bands on the rockin scene playing music that is not within the genre. Some of these bands have been good but I think that trend will disappear. The countries with the strongest rockin scenes are the ones who have stayed true to the 50’s style, or a modern interpretation of it.
3) Of all the rockin strands of music what is your favourite sub-genre?
I love all sorts of rockin music but probably my favorites come from the Sun and Specialty labels.
4) VLV has boomed into a mega festival and each year there seem to be new and expanded activities added. It is amazing how you keep adding new exciting elements. How do you generate new ideas?
Most of our new ideas come from requests from the attendees. We get a ton of suggestions and sometimes one sounds great, especially if we had never even thought of it.
5) I loved the Burlesque show with Dita Von Teese this year – phenomenal. Burlesque is just one of the many elements I love about Viva, the programme is jam packed with activities: Burlesque competition, Pin-Up competition, Fashion show, Car show, Pool party, Jive classes, Makeup and hair tutorials, and the giant list of acts. I have to ask how long does it take to put it all together, and how many people are involved?
We work on VLV all year long. The moment we get back we are on the next one. 4 of us work full time and another 4 part-time. Then about another 100 at the event.
6) More than any other sub-culture the rockin scene is a lifelong commitment for many people and not something dipped into and left later. What are your thoughts on this phenomena?
It is an interesting phenomena. The extent that people are into it can vary quite a bit. I think of it as an unofficial club that enables you to travel the world, meet old and new friends by going to events and festivals in multiple countries. You can go anywhere and be offered a place to stay if you are visiting. I often travel alone so that I can get to meet and chat with as many people as possible. I think the scene is unique and am honored to have been part of it for so many years.
7) Each decade has its own vibe and, while staying true to its foundations, the rockin scene has broadly identifiable flavours for each decade E.G. the original pioneers of the 50’s, the rockers of the 60’s, the 70’s teds and the late 70’s rockabilly resurgence, 80’s neo-rockabilly and the emergence of new music such as psychobilly etc.
Of all slices of time, which period do you personally think was the best rockin time?
For me definitely late 70’s and 80’s. The scene in the UK was so strong. Multiple clubs every night. It was a time and place that will never be repeated and was unique to the UK.
8) Tricky question – If you had to dispose of your vast music collection and could only keep the recordings of one artiste, who would that be?
That is really hard. It would be between 3 people; Elvis, Larry Williams and Johnny Burnette.
9) You have met and worked with 1000s of performers. Do you have any interesting behind-the-scenes stories you can share to provide new insights into the personalities of these stars?
I could talk for ages about this. When I booked Ruth brown at VLV for the first time, before going on stage she was unsure if the audience would like her old songs and I had to really persuade her to do them. Right before going on stage she said ‘if they throw tomatoes at me, it’s your fault’. Afterwards she thanked me for making her do those songs.
Some I became good friends with and got to know them personally. Of the original acts, Dewey Terry (Don & Dewey), Herb Cox (Cleftones) and Lew Williams especially. Of the younger acts Big Sandy and Ruby Ann stand out. All are (or were) people who I got to know the real person.
10) VLV goes from strength to strength and gets bigger and better each year. Have you plans for further evolution that you can give us a hint of?
I do not have any plans for further evolution. I have never planned its future. I just let it do what it does. I often feel that I am not in control of the event and I am constantly running to keep up with it. It always has been a collection of ideas from myself, friends, staff and attendees. Everyone should take credit for what it has become and what it will become.