Tom Leu on Rockford College Radio

Tom Leu

I’m interviewed on the Rockford College Radio show Rockford Originals by Vince Chiarelli from June 2012. Tom talks about his music (bands and books), the Ground Level TV show, and his speaking business among other things.


Vince:   Hello, and thank you for listening to Rockford College Radio. My name is Vince Chiarelli, and this is Rockford Originals. So like I was telling you before we started, I basically start out just with the inception of your music career and Tom Leu, as we know him now. So why don’t we get started way back when you started playing music?

Tom:   Yeah, you know, these kinds of beginning points are always interesting. It’s like, where do you begin? But like a lot of people that I’ve heard you interview on this show and other shows I’ve listened to, I think for me it all started with just a love of music and just being intrigued by it as a kid and listening to the radio all the time. And I’m of the age where I go back to the days of AM radio, specifically, WROK here in Rockford.

Vince:   Oh, okay.

Tom:   Listening to AM radio and listening to all the bands and the artists of the day back then, and just being fascinated by that and thinking how cool it all is and, “I want to do that,” that’s what really got me started. I was intrigued originally by drummers. I loved drummers. I always listened to the drums, starting with the Beatles and Ringo Starr, and all that kind of stuff. I was just fascinated with that and became very focused on that. And then when I got older, I kind of graduated into that part when you’re like: “Well, what am I going to play?” I wanted to get into a band, and that sort of thing. And for me it was a pretty quick and easy decision that I wanted to get into a band and be the drummer… and that’s exactly what I did.

Vince:   Now you’re talking about AM radio, it’s interesting because where we’re at here, WRCR, and there’s a sign behind me up there. It was 640 AM. Ironically, WROK gave the equipment and everything to the college here. They had their old stuff. So here’s all the reel-to-reel players, etc.

Tom:   That’s cool.

Vince:   That’s how they started out here.

Tom:   Kind of started off with some hand-me-downs from WROK and that was the beginning of it?

Vince:   Yeah, that was the beginning of it.

Tom:   And here we are now using none of that stuff, broadcasting over the Internet.

Vince:   Exactly. So your main instrument then was drums?

Tom:   Yes, I started playing drums when I was a teenager in high school, and I got into some bands with guys from the area here. I went to Harlem High, got into a band, started playing drums. And like a lot of bands starting out, we got together and we were having a good time and fun. And we were emulating the bands of the day, and playing covers of their songs. This is back in the early ’80s and mid-’80s and whatnot. So I was playing drums in these bands, playing mostly hard rock and rock music, and that sort of thing. That’s what I always was into and stuff at the time. You know, the long hair and all of that…

Vince:   Oh, you were in that phase and stuff?

Tom:   Sure. Absolutely. The long hair. And the metal bands, and the rock bands, and the hair bands, and the glam bands, and all those kind of bands. That’s what I was into as a kid.

Vince:   All right.

Tom:   Yeah. Not your style, right?

Vince:   Yeah, no. I mean, I went through that phase too when I was a kid because of my dad’s old LP’s that I found. I started with Def Leppard and Poison, and all that kind of stuff. And I’ve seen all those guys too.

Tom:   But the Poisons and Motleys and stuff, they’re big business these days… And they have been for a long time. There’s all these tours out there with a lot of these bands from those days. It’s nostalgia at this point. And the promoters and the bands all know there’s fans, guys like me and other people in this age demographic, we’ll go to that stuff. We still like that music. We grew up with it. And it’s nostalgia, and these guys are making a living doing that. Some of them big time.

Vince:   Oh yeah, exactly. Did you see Cheap Trick recently when they were here?

Tom:   I missed that show, but I’ve seen Cheap Trick several times over the years.

Vince:   Oh, yeah. Like everybody in Rockford, we’ve seen them.

Tom:   Yeah, everybody’s seen them. And I know you’ve had Bun E. on here, and I got to interview Bun E. several years ago on a show that I used to do that I’ll talk about. Love Cheap Trick!

Vince:   You have to [love Cheap Trick] if you’re in this town.

Tom:   Well, you want to know what, though, Vince? I mean, that’s true and we talk a lot about Cheap Trick in this town, but the bottom line is Cheap Trick’s a great band.

Vince:   Oh, yeah.

Tom:   They’ve written great songs, they’re great players, and whether you’re from Rockford or not…

Vince:   Oh, exactly. I think they’re underrated too.

Tom:   Absolutely. Agreed. A hundred percent. And that’s amazing to think about. But yeah, no, those guys are awesome. I remember seeing them at one of the earliest shows at the Metro Center back in the ’80s when they were on the All Shook Up tour.

Vince:   Oh, wow.

Tom:   Some of my earliest concert memories, not the big concerts or whatever, but guys around my age, the early 40s-ish at this point, remember the days up in Beloit, Wisconsin, and up at clubs up there when the regional bands would come through the Pier and Captain’s Pub and places like that. Any of the guys around my era would remember those clubs up there, and going and seeing a lot of the bands up there. And I know Todd Houston and Rockford Rocked has a lot of that stuff on there, bands that came through, Moxy Rocks, Armed Vision, and Raven Bitch. I can say that right?

Vince:   Oh, yeah.

Tom:   All these bands. It was a really cool time, going up there and seeing those guys and those bands. At the time, those stages seemed like they were enormous and seemed so big. But in fact they were small. Now, we know better, but it was really neat then. Those were the early days when I got started. I was just intrigued with that stuff. That’s how I was inspired to start playing.

Vince:   Okay, well, your drum set, let’s talk about that because drummers like to talk about their drum sets. What was your first drum set? Because I’m a drummer too, so I’m interested.

Tom:   I’ve used Ludwig kits all along. Back in the day I used to have the big double-kick drum thing kit with multiple pieces and all that. And I started off using that and everything. But time’s gone on,  I’ve gotten away from that. I use a single-kick drum kit these days, five pieces. And I like Sabian cymbals.

Vince:   Sabian? Oh, okay. Cool.

Tom:   I just enjoy the sounds of those. I’ve tried them all, and that’s what I use these days. And it works for me. But you know what’s really interesting? One of my favorite things to do, when you’re playing in bands over the years and you’re gigging all the time, sometimes you have these gigs where you have to share kits with other drummers, based on the lineups and stuff. And a lot of guys don’t like that, but I love that.

Vince:   Really?

Tom:   I love using other drum kits because I get exposed to these different setups, the different sounds, these different styles of drums if you will, and all that. So I really love doing that. It’s more interesting to me than playing my own kit sometimes.

Vince:   Oh, yeah. I like that too.

Tom:   Do you?

Vince:   I’ve had to share before, and it’s interesting because you get to hear the different snare’s…

Tom:   Snare’s are different. The sound of the toms, the different head choices, all that.

Vince:   Oh, yeah. Sure.

Tom:   So you’re a drummer too?

Vince:   Mm-hmm.

Tom:   I thought you were a singer/guitarist.

Vince:   I am. But my first instrument was drums. At two years old I got started on drums. Fibes. Old clear Fibes set from the ’70s. That was my dad’s.  My dad was a drummer. And that’s how I started out.

Tom:   Very good.

Vince:   Now let’s get into this, you said you started in high school. What was the first real band that you really started that was actual going around, playing gigs and stuff?

Tom:   Well, oh, man. That’s a good question. I had a band. It’s an interesting story. At least it is to me. The first band I was ever in and I formed was called Wickid Romance. It consisted of a few guys from town here. It was a band that only played a couple of gigs in downtown Rockford on 7th Street. A couple of those clubs that were supposed to be under 21 clubs back then. But it was real short-lived. And then we were on our way to go do other gigs and then all that just kind of blew up. Some big barn party and all that. All these people were coming and we were on our way there. And we pulled up, and the cops are already there. The whole thing is busted before it’s even started. So it was the great gig that never was. The band never really went anywhere after that and we kind of fizzled out.

Vince:   That’s funny.

Tom:   For me then, the way my story goes, I ended up going to college shortly thereafter. I went to Illinois State University down in Normal. I was in bands down there, and that’s when I really got active in bands. A couple of different bands I was in down in IllinoisState in the late ’80s were very active. I played down there for several years. Gigged all around Bloomington/Normal area, and down in Peoria and Champaign, and all those kinds of places. So I spent a good deal of my early cover band days, if you will, not actually in Rockford. It was mostly down in Central, IL when I was in college.

Vince:   So you were born and raised in Rockford then?

Tom:   Born and raised.

Vince:   And then you went away, you just said Bloomington for college?

Tom:   Normal. Yeah.

Vince:   And what happened after college? What did you major in, first of all. Not music, correct?

Tom:   No, I didn’t major in music, no. I got a liberal arts degree in Sociology, and then later I got a Masters degree in Psychology, so that’s my background. That’s what I do today. I use that stuff for the other work that I do.

But yeah, after college I came back to Rockford and there were a few years where I wasn’t playing in any bands. I don’t know why that stuff happens, by the way. You come back and, I don’t know, you get married and you have some kids and all that kind of thing. It just wasn’t planned.

And it wasn’t until maybe around 1997 or so, a friend of mine from college, Mitch Brechon, I knew him down in ISU, he calls me up. A band that he had been playing in was sort of dissolving, and he wanted to know if I wanted to get together to jam and play. And so that’s the beginning of the band Suite Oblivion.

Vince:   Suite Oblivion? Okay.

Tom:   I was in Suite O’ for many years. That was the genesis of that. When we actually started off, it was called Patron Smith. It was Mitch and I, and couple other guys from town, Chris White and Jim Montana. So we were Patron Smith for a couple of years. We then decided to change the name and started to gig around town here pretty heavily.

Vince:   Wow. Interesting. Now has all your time been spent in Illinois or have you traveled to other states and lived in other states or anything?

Tom:   I’ve lived out of town. I lived in Denver for a while. I had a band there for a short period of time. But mostly I’ve lived in Rockford. But when Suite O was going at full force, full throttle or whatever, we played around. We played in Iowa. We played in Wisconsin of course. We played in Indiana. We played all around. Kind of just regionally. We didn’t tour the country or anything like that, but we certainly made our rounds in this two-, three-state area.

Vince:   Cool. Well, let’s take a commercial break real quick and play a song by Suite O, Suite Oblivion, off the album “Shine.” Let’s just play the title track, “Shine.”

Vince:   And we’re back here on Rockford College Radio. My name is Vince Chiarelli. If you’re just tuning in, this is Rockford Originals. My guest today is Tom Leu, musician, psychologist. Everything I guess.

Tom:   I do a lot of things.

Vince:   Yeah, we’ll get into it all now. But what you just heard was Suite Oblivion with the song “Shine” off the album Shine. Is that still for sale anywhere?

Tom:   Oh, yeah. That record is on and iTunes and all that kind of stuff. It’s still out there. We still sell a few copies here and there, and I still enjoy listening to it. It was a lot of fun to do. We did it at the Noise Chamber, like a lot of bands from Rockford. The famous Jimmy Johnson produced it. And it was interesting too because we were in the studio recording that, and at the time, the guy who was working with Jimmy in the studio, Ed Dulian, the studio engineer at the Noise Chamber, Ed went on and he was in a band called The Snaggs with Holland Zander and all them.

Vince:   Exactly. Sure.

Tom:   Ed’s a super great guy. Ed actually played all the lead guitar parts on that record. Not a lot of people know that. We were sort of in transition at the time, and so it was just the three of us. So Ed not only engineered it and did a great job, but played all the lead guitar parts on our Shine record. It was really cool. So we’re always forever indebted to Ed. I haven’t seen him in a long time. He was awesome.

Vince:   So how long was Suite Oblivion’s reign in Rockford? Or whatever you want to say?

Tom:   I don’t know if it was a “reign.” It rained on some things, some times. We put the band together in late 1997, and then I was in the band from about 1997 until 2003, so it was a good six years. We had our lineup of the band and we recorded the record. We went out and we played all around. Like I said, mostly regionally. We did really very well and we had a lot of fun. We built up a pretty good following here in Rockford. Really enjoyed the whole experience.

In 2003 myself and the bassist at the time, Chris White, decided to do some different things, and so we left the group. And Mitch and our guitar player, Jay Mock, decided to carry on and they kept Suite O’ going for another two years or three years, with Joel Rostamo on bass and Kevin Hutchins came in on drums. And there was also a stint also when a guy named Drew Corirossi from the band called Poor Man’s Fortune was in the band playing keys.

And so there was kind of a second version of Suite O’ that was around for a couple, three years after that. They went to, like, I don’t know, 2006. So it was a good nine or ten years that Suite O’ was actually around Rockford in a real regular way, playing and gigging all the time. So quite a while. Sometimes I tell people that. They’re surprised. They don’t realize it was that long.

Vince:   Yeah, it’s a long time.

Tom:   It was a long time to be in a band, a local band, and the same band. And as anybody who listens to this show, or that are in bands know, one of the hardest parts about being in a band is staying in the band.

Vince:   Oh, sure.

Tom:   And keeping all the personalities together and making that work. It’s so much more than just playing the music. If that’s all it was, everybody might be in a band, but it’s a lot more than that. And that was actually the foundation of a lot of stuff that I went on and did after Suite O’.

Vince:   Now, Suite O’ this was a strictly original band, right? Or did you guys do covers?

Tom:   We did a handful of covers, but Suite Oblivion was primarily an original band. We wrote all of our own songs. We did a few covers. In fact, we did one cover on our CD, an old Doors tune called “Five to One”.

Vince:   Oh, wow.

Tom:   It was the last song on the CD. We did a handful of covers, but I would say 80% or more of our material was original stuff.

Vince:   Now how did the name Suite Oblivion come about? Were you involved in that process?

Tom:   Yeah. It was kind of a collection of things. As I told you originally, the early version of the band, the band was called Patron Smith. It was based on another band that our singer had. We decided we wanted to change the name. And like a lot of bands do, we were writing down things, and putting pieces of paper in a hat and drawing them out, and trying all these random things to come up with some really cool name or some clever name that nobody had.

And somebody, I don’t remember who, somebody said the name Sweet Oblivion. And sweet like S-W-E-E-T. I liked the word Oblivion right off the bat, but I didn’t want the word “sweet” like that because it sounded too ’80s hair band to me at the time. So I suggested how about suite like the room, S-U-I-T-E. That sort of stuck and that’s what we went with, and so the band name came from that. People used to say, “Well, what does that mean? What does that band name mean?” I don’t really know, exactly. A Suite Oblivion is like a place you would go to escape, to escape and go somewhere else for a little while. Like the Hotel California in a sense.

Vince:   Well, there you go.

Tom:   So that’s why we called it Suite Oblivion, like the room.

Vince:   Okay. Now a lot of musicians don’t like talking about this aspect of the music business, but we’ll get into your other projects that you’re doing now, which kind of focuses on the business side of things. But when you’re in a band, how was it, especially you were in it for a long time, with the whole division of monies and keeping it strictly business?

Tom:   That’s a great question. Well, let me go on record by saying first of all, there was never a lot of “monies.” There was never a lot of monies to worry about. However, of course we played a lot and for a long time, and we made money gigging. And we started selling CDs and we had merchandise, T-shirts and all that kind of stuff. So there was some. More of the money went out than came in of course.

I don’t know how other bands do it, but we were just really open about it right from the start. We always treated the band like a business. That was kind of one of the biggest things that we wanted to do. We put a lot of time and energy into it. And we were all fairly smart guys, we thought, and we wanted to do it right and we wanted to be fair.

So we talked about songwriting. We talked about how that was going to work if and when it ever became a big deal. And when we were recording the record and all that, we talked about that, and publishing. It was pretty much an even split all the way around. We agreed on that.

At one point we had a lawyer, and we had some paperwork put together. The band was like a company, and we had trademarks and all those kinds of things. And then, you know, of course with the Internet in the late ’90s/early 2000’s, we got domain names, and the website, and artwork. All that stuff. We just talked about it.

Vince:   You did it the smart way.

Tom:   Well, we tried. And we talked about it, we were honest about it. Fortunately we had a good group of guys that were reasonable, and we went about it that way.

Vince:   That’s good.

Tom:   We invested, like a lot of bands, any money that we made, we put it all back into the band and used it to help promote the band more.

Vince:   Exactly. Well, that’s smart. A lot of bands don’t do that and end up collapsing.

Tom:   Which is why a lot of great bands break up, over money.

Vince:   Over money. But it’s an important thing to talk about. Because, I mean, if you’re really into music and that’s what you want as a career, I mean, you can’t live on the streets. Unless you really want to.

Tom:   No. Definitely not. The thing is, all those years in Suite O’ and my other bands, we did a lot of things wrong. We did things, we misunderstood things, and we made mistakes, like a lot of young people in bands do. But we did a lot of things right too.

I started writing down all the things that were happening to us because I started to meet other people, other musicians in bands and stuff, and they would ask me questions. Kind of like the one you just asked about money, and what about this, and what about that, etc. After a while I started realizing, we’ve learned a few things along the way. Even though the bands I was in never “made it,” we didn’t make it big, we didn’t sell platinum records or anything like that, but we were fairly successful in this area. We learned some things about what to do and what not to do. I started writing all that down and that turned into a whole other area.

Vince:   We’ll get into that gradually. So Suite Oblivion, you said around 2003 is when you left?

Tom:   Yeah. I left the band in 2003. And a couple of years before that, while the band was still going, in ’01 or whatever, I started doing a newspaper column for the Rock River Times.

Vince:   Oh. Interesting.

Tom:   I called it “The Musician’s Corner®”, and it ran in the Rock River Times for, I don’t know, a couple of years. They were just short little articles, tips, strategies, promotion ideas and things for bands. Younger bands, more specifically, is what I was targeting. Not necessarily younger in age, but earlier on in their experience. Bands that were just starting out that didn’t really know the business part of it, or hadn’t booked a lot of shows or played a lot. So I started writing down some of these tips and strategies. I was just basically pulling most of it from my own experience in my bands and talking to all my friends that were in other bands and all these kinds of things. And that ran for a couple of years.

And that turned into 60-second radio spots that aired on WXRX back in 2002, 2003, Stone and Double T helped get that thing set up. Had those in there. And then that became syndicated and those ended up getting on a whole bunch of other radio stations around the country. And then on Internet stations and stuff.

And so it was really cool. It was just a neat little entity I guess. I ended up trademarking the name and whatnot. I took the articles, and the columns, and the radio spots, and I turned them into a couple of books.

Vince:   Cool.

Tom:   I self-published the Musician’s Corner® books that are still out there too. I started speaking at music conferences and things. And again, my whole angle was I’m a guy from a local area, local band, local regional thing, and these are some of the things that I didn’t know when I was starting out that I wish that I would have known because it would have helped lessen the learning curve for me. I put that out there. It was a lot of fun, and I got a lot of great feedback on it, and I still do. I still do it to this day to a certain extent.

Vince:   Now did you ever expect it to get to that point? Were you writing an article just for fun? Or did you have ideas of it becoming a radio spot and things like that?

Tom:   No. I didn’t have any ideas of it becoming a radio thing. I didn’t have any ideas of it at all. I just started writing down some things. I forget how it went, but I knew somebody over at Rock River Times that said, “Hey, why don’t you contribute a column or something?” I can remember the story, and it’s kind of interesting. I had a meeting set-up. It was with Lisa Palomino actually.

Vince:   Oh, sure. She’s doing another newspaper, the “Market Street Press” or something like that, I think.

Tom:   Yeah. Yeah. Well, Lisa became a good friend. She was working at the Times then. I had a meeting with her to pitch her these ideas. I had about a half a dozen of these articles in mind. I was going to meet with her. I remember I was driving there the day for my meeting with her, and I didn’t even have a name for the column. I just had these loose ideas about what it was going to be about, a few topics. So I made it up in the car on the way there. I said, “How about Musician’s Corner?” “Okay, sure.” LOL

Vince:   That’s funny.

Tom:   That’s the most thought that went into it. The columns, people read them. I started getting emails and stuff. People liked them and appreciated them. That fueled more of them. And that turned into the radio thing, and then the books, and then speaking things and all that.

Vince:   Interesting.

Tom:   Yeah. It kind of came out of the blue a little bit.

Vince:   That’s cool. All good things happen that way, when you don’t expect it.

Tom:   Right.

Vince:   Now I want to talk about a little bit about Rockford’s music scene too before we go any further. You started in the mid-’90s then, basically in Rockford as a traveling around band. But back in the late ’80s, early ’90s, it was pretty strong here in Rockford.

Tom:   Right.

Vince:   Rockford’s got these hills and valleys with the music scene. What did you think about the music scene during the years you were in it here in Rockford, and how it’s really progressed to today? I mean, like, LT’s is gone. That was a huge place.

Tom:   Yes, that was a main staple back when I was playing with Suite O’ and stuff. The scene here in Rockford, back when I was in college in the ’80s and early ’90s, like you said, was very strong. And the bands that were from Rockford and playing back then were awesome. So many of them were doing really cool things. Bands like Sarcoma, Essie Ecks,  Midnite Angel and all those guys, and For Christ’s Sake, ICU… all these guys were doing really cool stuff.

And unfortunately for me I didn’t get to see a lot of it firsthand at the time because I wasn’t here. But mid/late ’90s, early 2000’s, when I was in town again and really active in my bands, it was a great scene then as well. Just some amazing bands, to this day I still listen to on my iPod. I’m talking about bands like Agent Zero, 420, 11th Hour Reprieve, the Snaggs, and Harmony Riley of course, with the Nielson guys. And many others.

We were all playing. We were all running around. The scene was strong. We all played at Kryptonite. Of course Kryptonite is still kicking. We played at LT’s. Elixur was a club that was really happening back then as well. A lot of bands played there. That place was really happening back then. The local music scene during those years was really strong. Most all the bands then, like my band and other bands at the time, were mostly original bands. There were cover bands, but they were not as prevalent, or at least it didn’t seem like they were as prevalent. The all-original bands were much more prevalent, and people were going out and seeing them, often.

I’ve got to tip the hat to the guys over at 104.9 The X back then especially. They really helped promote that stuff. They had things, Bandemonium contests where the local bands competed. They did that for two, maybe three years. We all were involved in that. We got a lot of radio play. We went on Steve Shannon’s show on WZOK. We were on there several times. Just a lot of the local radio really helped us, and it was a great time for local Rockford bands.

Vince:   Are you a member of ASCAP or BMI?

Tom:   BMI.

Vince:   What are your thoughts on the publishing realm of the music industry? This is a big switch.

Tom:   That is.

Vince:   That’s how my mind works.

Tom:   My thoughts are if you’re an original musician, and if you write music at all, whatever way, shape, or form… keep your publishing. Don’t give it away. Don’t sign it away. We’ve all heard those stories about bands when they’re young and they sign away all their publishing.

I mean, it’s a different landscape today. It’s a totally different landscape with the Internet, with downloading MP3’s, filesharing, and all that kind of stuff. Talking about that Musician’s Corner® stuff that I originally wrote in the early 2000’s, I’m in the process now of updating and revising the second edition of that to update the content. Again, I wrote this stuff originally in the early 2000’s, the Internet was in existence, but it was still young. It wasn’t like it is today.

Music publishing and how money’s distributed, and how you make money, and selling records is very different today than it used to be. I mean, even when I say the word “record,” guys my age and older get that, but I say “record” to my son and he’s like, “What are you talking about?” You know what I mean? It’s a foreign concept. So publishing’s a big deal. It all comes down to the ownership of the intellectual property.

Vince:   The copyright.

Tom:   Copyrights, yes. Now I sound like a lawyer. But that’s the deal. In any way possible, musicians should own their own stuff and keep rights to it, whatever it is.

Vince: I need to play another commercial anyway. So we’ll play a quick commercial and another song by Suite O’, and then we’ll be back with Tom Leu here on Rockford Originals

Vince:   Moving from his beginning music career and into Suite Oblivion, which we just played. And now moving into a different realm which is kind of more music business-y, sort of playing more on the music business side of things. You had Musician’s Corner® which turned into a journalistic kind of thing, and to then radio, and now let’s talk about the TV series that you had.

Tom:   Yeah. Well, it wasn’t a series.

Vince:   Ok, a local TV program that you had here.

Tom:   Because of the notoriety that the Musician’s Corner® around town got back in those days, early/mid-2000’s, some folks over at Rock Valley College called me up. They were going to be producing a TV show out there. They had a brand new mass communications department out there in 2002. And they were going to be shooting a half-hour TV show every week for the students in that program, to get them experience producing a live-to-tape television show. That was the genesis of it, and they needed a host for it.

I knew one of the people out there who knew me and knew of the Musician’s Corner® stuff. I had just put my book out and that kind of thing. So he called me up and asked me if I’d be interested in hosting this TV show. I said, “Uh, sure.” I’d never hosted a TV show before but how many times do you get a call like that? So I said yes, of course. They specifically wanted me to be the host, but I also said I’d like to feature a section of this show called “The Musician’s Corner®” to promote not only my stuff, but I wanted to have local music acts onto this TV show every week, bands that were playing in the area, singer/songwriters, whatever, so they could get some exposure.

This was before Facebook. This was before YouTube. This was before any of that. Coming onto even a local TV access cable show that was on cable every week was a big deal, so I said, yeah, I’ll do the show. It was a half-hour show. We had business guests on. We had people from the college. We had people from the community, people from all kinds of different industries and organizations in the stateline area.

And every week there was the Musician’s Corner® segment where I did a five-minute interview with somebody who was in the music industry in and around Rockford, whether they were in a band or the music business in some capacity: radio people, artists, photographers, managers, booking agents, club owners, whatever. Tons of the people that you’ve either had on this channel, on this radio station today, or guests that you’ve feature, or bands that you play on here, were all guests on “The Ground Level” back then. That’s what the show was called: “The Ground Level” TV Show.

It was shot in the basement of the Rock Valley College. We did that show for five and a half years from 2002 to 2007. And we did 100 half-hour episodes, and I hosted all 100 of those. I did over 300 interviews on-camera, and we had tons and tons of bands and groups perform on that show. I’m really proud of that. I’m not going to lie to you. From a production standpoint, it had its moments where it wasn’t so great, but they were students learning how to do it. That was the whole point.

I’m really proud of the fact that over all those years, those 100 shows, I had just tons of bands and musicians that are still gigging today, still playing today. Some of them I’m hoping are listening right now like, “Yeah, I remember that show with him,” because there were so many. I’ve got audios and videos of all that stuff. I’m putting it all together. It’s another project of mine. I’m putting it all together and going to figure out something to do with it. It was a good time.

Vince:   What was your most favorite interview?

Tom:   Oh, wow. Favorite?

Vince:   Memorable or something.

Tom:   You know, it’s hard to say. There’s two answers to that. The first one was, and this might sound predictable, but Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick was nice enough to come on the show. I knew Bun E. through some other friends. Bun E. did some voice over stuff for me that I used for the radio spots for my Musician’s Corner® radio stuff to say: “Hey, check out the Musician’s Corner®. It’s cool.” That was really cool of him to do. And because of that I asked him to come on the Ground Level Show. This was back in 2004. He came on and we did an interview. That was very memorable. That was really cool for me. It was fun to have him on. He was great.

And then another memorable interview was a guy who was a clown. It wasn’t just a music show. This guy was a clown. He had a business in the area being a clown. Like, literally a clown.

Vince:   Oh, wow.

Tom:   He came in in full clown gear. Now this is TV, right? So you could see him. He had his little props, his little gag gifts, and all this goofy stuff. I don’t even remember his real name or his clown name. He came on and it was kind of funny, and it was kind of goofy.

Vince:   So you had the Ground Level TV show and that went on for five and a half years you said?

Tom:   Yeah. Five and a half years, until 2007.

Vince:   Now would you ever do a TV show again?

Tom:   Yeah. Absolutely. I loved it. It was a great experience. I met so many people, and so many people that I know today, the contacts that I made were good. From a friendship standpoint, and also from a business standpoint. Those contacts were invaluable. I met so many people from the area.

It was tough at first, the first season or two, because I was figuring out how to do it. It was kind of one of those things.  People were surprised on that show. They thought it was kind of, when we said you’re going to come on this college TV show, they thought it was gonna be like a Wayne’s World type of thing where it was milk crates and cinder blocks. But it was a high-tech, state-of-the-art TV studio down there. I learned a lot. I’d like to think that after a few seasons of that show, I kind of got good at it. It was a lot of fun and I would love to do it again.

I would love to have another kind of Musician’s Corner® show again, and having bands on and artists on from today, as well as some of the guys that are still playing today that are in different bands. Like I said, literally, I had almost everybody on the that show, past and present, guys that are still playing today in bands. It was a lot of fun and I would love to do it again, either a TV show of it, or a radio version of it or something.

Vince:   Well, maybe we’ll have to work something out.

Tom:   Maybe.

Vince:   Let’s finish off the show with just you plugging whatever you want to plug with either the music side of things, or you also do speaking. I don’t know if you have anything else coming up that you want to tell people about. Because we’re going to just  play another commercial and a song before the FCC gets on my back.

Tom:   Sure. I hear you. Well, first of all, thanks for having me on. I appreciate it, it’s been nice kind of going through and being able to talk about all this stuff.

Yeah, I do a lot of professional speaking today. My background is in psychology, and I go out and talk about that. For lack of a better phrase, I’m a motivational speaker. I go out and I talk about principles of success and communications, and things like that. I was able to go from the the Ground Level Show to emceeing the RAMI Awards here in town for four years. I really enjoyed doing that. And then I got busy speaking and going out and doing those kinds of things.

I also work at a college here in town. I’m a teacher and administrator. I’ve got a blog and a website, and a photography site that I do spend a lot of time on today. I use many of my pictures as part of my speaking engagements and things like that.

Vince:   Interesting. So people can check out your websites?

Tom:   Yeah. Website’s are: and my photography website is I do a lot of concert photography, among other things today. I love it.

Vince:   All right. Well, I really appreciate you coming in. This was a fun show.

Tom:   I appreciate you having me.

Vince:   We’ll post it on podcast and people can listen to it any time.

Tom:   Well, you know. If anyone’s interested, anybody that’s listening, if they remember being on the Ground Level Show with me at any point back in the day, send me an email. Get a hold of me. I possibly unearth video and/or audio copies of your segment and I’d be glad to get that to you.

Vince:   That would be cool.

Tom:   People can get my email and contact information on my websites.

Vince:   Cool. And you’re on Facebook too, so people can find you on there.

Tom:   Facebook, Twitter, all of it’s at Tom Leu, that’s @T-O-M L-E-U. Thanks for having me on, Vince. It was a lot of fun. I appreciate it.

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