Seattle singer-songwriter Michael Tomlinson’s 3-decade career began with ‘The Climb’ on KEZX radio

Seattle singer-songwriter Michael Tomlinson’s 3-decade career began with ‘The Climb’ on KEZX radio

Contributing writerJanuary 3, 2014 

Michael Tomlinson plays Saturday at Traditions Cafe and World Folk Art in Olympia.

COURTESY PHOTO

Many musicians lament the popularity of online music, saying it’s much more difficult for them to make a living.

Seattle singer-songwriter Michael Tomlinson is no exception. And yet, Tomlinson, who’ll perform Saturday in Olympia, has found an upside.

“It became almost universal that people all had a music program on their computers, so you could email a song,” he said. “I started posting a notice. I would word it like this: ‘If you have a friend or loved one going through a difficult time of loss or illness — yourself included — please allow me to email a hopeful song and a kind note.’

“I understand that it’s a very small gesture for someone who may have lost so much or who is facing so much,” he said. “But maybe in one of your most dejected moments, someone places a hand on your shoulder, and that one gesture is what causes you to realize that there is hope, and you’re less lost.”

Offering inspiration to others has inspired him.

“It really brought it to a new place,” he said. “It didn’t enhance my career. It didn’t cause me to make more money or necessarily get more concerts, but it brought into focus that this music is for opening hearts.

“This music is to help people have a better life, to cause their emotions to move when they are feeling stuck.”

In this, as in his approach to music, Tomlinson does things his own way. He produces his own albums and some of his own shows. While he did work with a studio for a time, he now owns all of the 13 albums he’s created in a three-decade-long career.

“The music business was constricting,” he said. “It squeezed the life out of loving the music. I found a way to get out and own all my records. To this day, I’m probably the only artist you’ll find who has had a career over a few decades, and I own every single record.”

These days, his career is more like a cottage industry. “It’s me filling the orders,” he said. “It’s me producing the records, producing many of the concerts, sending out e-letters and all those things.”

The start of his career was just as original. A homemade cassette of his song “The Climb” made its way to the station manager of Seattle radio station KEZX, and the song soon became the most requested in the station.

For Tomlinson, then living in Austin, Texas, and working in a bicycle repair shop, the success was stunning.

“I came up to do a show, and there were hundreds of people turned away,” he said. “It was an astonishing thing for a kid working at a bike shop and playing pass-the-hat clubs.”

The station paid for him to record another song, and again, requests for it just kept coming. That’s when Tomlinson decided to move to Seattle, where he’s remained for 30 years, doing things his way.

“To look back now and think that I’ve made my living with music for 30 years, it’s kind of astonishing,” he said.

Michael Tomlinson

What: Seattle singer-songwriter Michael Tomlinson aims to lift people’s spirits with his music, which ranges from upbeat and jazzy pieces to gentle ballads.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Traditions Cafe & World Folk Art, 300 Fifth Ave. SW, Olympia

Tickets: $22 general admission, $15 for students and those with low income

More information: 360-705-2819 or traditionsfairtrade.com or michaeltomlinson.com

Listen: Hear Tomlinson’s new song “Christmas Ride” at youtube.com/watch?v=LnAhkM7NXs0.

Get a free song: On his website and via Twitter, Tomlinson offers to share a song with anyone who needs a lift. He asks you to send the person’s name, city and email address. Contact him at mt@michaeltomlinson.com or through his website at michaeltomlinson.com/song_for_friend2.htm.

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