Hailing from Bethesda, Maryland, guitarist and singer/songwriter Tommy Keene played and wrote melodic guitar-based pop/rock.
As a child, Keene played classical piano before picking up guitar and drums. He spent his teenage years drumming in a rock trio called Blue Steel, whose original guitar player, Mike Lofgren, was the younger brother of Nils Lofgren. Consequently, Keene's first notable gig was when Blue Steel opened for Lofgren's band Grin. In 1977, while attending the University of Maryland, Keene switched to guitar and formed the short-lived band the Rage with songwriter Richard X. Heyman. During this period, Keene left the Rage to join popular Washington, D.C. rock band the Razz, who opened for such notable acts as the Ramones, Devo, and Patti Smith. It was in the Razz that Keene met bass player Ted Nicely, who would work with him throughout the '80s.
After the Razz, Keene embarked on a European tour as a sideman for new wave singer Suzanne Fellini before co-founding the band Pieces in New York. Unhappy with the music, Keene decided to form his own group with Nicely and drummer Doug Tull (also from the Razz), plus guitarist Michael Colburn, who was soon replaced by Billy Connelly. Using Keene's name, they released Strange Alliance on their own Avenue label in 1982, before being picked up by North Carolina label Dolphin. Keene recorded two EPs there before signing to Geffen, which released two albums, Songs from the Film and Based on Happy Times, as well as Run Now, a six-song EP of previously recorded material, before dropping Keene from its roster.
With a new backup band that included bassist/vocalist Brad Quinn and drummer John Richardson, Keene inked a deal with Matador in the early '90s, recording the EP Sleeping on a Roller Coaster and a full-length album entitled Ten Years After in 1996. In 1993, Alias released The Real Underground, a retrospective of Keene's career that included a wealth of unreleased tracks and out of print material from the '80s. In addition to recording and touring behind his records, Keene spent some of the '90s as a guitarist for hire, on the road with both Velvet Crush and Paul Westerberg. In 1998, he released a new studio album, Isolation Party. Four years later, he hooked up with his longtime rhythm section of John Richardson and Brad Quinn, Wilco's Jay Bennett, singer/songwriter Adam Schmitt, and ex-Gin Blossoms frontman Robin Wilson to issue The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down.
In 2004, he switched lineups and released Drowning, and two years later, his tenth solo record, Crashing the Ether, came out on Eleven Thirty Records. In the Late Bright followed in 2009 on Second Motion. The following year saw the release of the double-disc career-spanning compilation Tommy Keene You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983-2009. In 2011, Keene returned with the studio album Behind the Parade. Two years later, he released a collection of covers called Excitement at Your Feet, which he then followed in 2015 with the all-original Laugh in the Dark. Sadly, Tommy Keene died unexpectedly of natural causes in his sleep in November of 2017; he was 59 years old. ~ Jack Leaver, Rovi