In 2007 and 2008, Nashville singer and songwriter Tom Mason was out on the road with the touring version of the Broadway musical about Johnny Cash, Ring of Fire. Late nights with the cast and crew would often turn into song swaps, during which Mason would often break out a pirate song he had written on a previous trip to the Caribbean.
“All of the people in the cast would say, ‘You have to write a pirate musical,’ ” recalls Mason. “So that’s how I got into it. I started researching pirates and writing songs and I was honing it to be a stage production. When I got to 12 songs I put together a CD, and then when I put out the CD in 2011 I realized there were all these opportunities.”
Those opportunities have allowed Mason to build a unique career as the leader of a pirate band that has toured around the United States and abroad. When we caught up with him via phone from his East Nashville home, he had just wrapped up two days on the Little Pilgrim’s Family Stage at the Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival, and was gearing up to head to Panama City, Florida for the Pirates of the High Seas Festival.
“I’m surprised at how widespread it is,” Mason says. “I knew there were some pirate bands and festivals, but I didn’t know how much interest there was.”
Since that first CD, Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers have played maritime and tall ships festivals in England, Norway and Australia, to name a few countries, in addition to dozens of coastal cities in the States. They often share the bill with other pirate bands, all of them completely different. Some are heavy metal bands, while others lean toward the bawdy side of the ship, a direction Mason says they’ve never gone. “We’re mostly historical or fun, geared toward both adults or kids,” he adds.
Mason, who grew up in Minnesota, got his chops playing in the Twin Cities music scene, and moved to Nashville in the early 90s, stands tall among other pirates in another way, as well. He has the Nashville singer-songwriter card in his back pocket. His first two albums, The Blue Buccaneers-Songs Inspired by the Golden Age of Pirates,” and The World is Ablaze featured all original music.
“As singer-songwriters, I think some of the stuff that comes easily to us is when we are trying to get our angst out,” he says. “That stuff really hasn’t changed that much in the last 400 years, so I could apply it to someone out at sea missing their lover, for instance, just like someone out in a van in Topeka, Kansas missing their lover back in Nashville.”
The ability to adjust shows for adults and children has also been a boon for Mason. In addition to performing both years at Pilgrimage, Mason has performed at libraries and numerous family festivals, and is scheduled to play at Nashville/Rutherford Parent Magazine’s 10th Annual Fall Fest at The Avenue Murfreesboro on October 29.
“I didn’t even approach the family aspect when I started,” Mason says. “It was more adult and getting adults to act like kids. But kids always loved it because we’re pirates. So I started working out ways to gear the shows more toward kids with a little more movement and a little more education in there. So we’ve gotten to do some festivals here and in England where we perform both on the kids stage and the adult stage.
“At Pilgrimage there were five stages going on so people were always wandering back and forth. It was great for us, because adults would stop and listen with their kids.”
Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers’ latest CD, Pirate Party, is its first to include some classic and traditional pirate songs. Like “Bully in the Alley,” “Blow the Man Down” and “Haul Away Joe.” The band will celebrate its release with a special show on October 28 at the revived Radio Cafe at 4150 Gallatin Pike. The original Radio Cafe occupied the building where Mad Donna’s is now.
“When we started playing these maritime festivals,” Mason says, “I knew there was a rich tradition of sea shanties that I had never heard. I played some tall ships festivals where there were these a cappella groups that sang these shanties and I’ve gotten these groups to get up and sing with us. Last year we went to a festival in Bay City, Michigan and there were sea shanty groups from all over. Just hearing those old songs, I thought, ‘Let’s do our own take on them.’ Here were all these songs that were always a capella, but we’re musicians so we can pick any groove we want.”
The new record also includes a few original songs for good measure. “Pirate Polka,” “In the Drink” and “Talk Like a Pirate” fit in just fine with the classics, Mason says, because “as songwriters, we want to write songs that sound like they’ve been around for centuries.”
“I’ve been promoting the new ones as pirate classics,” he says. “I’ve been stretching the truth a bit.”
Just like a pirate might.
Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers celebrate the release of Pirate Party on October 28 at the Radio Cafe at 8:00 p.m. They also perform the next day, October 29 at the 10th Annual Fall Fest, presented by Nashville and Rutherford Parent Magazine at the Avenue Murfreesboro. The family friendly event runs from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. A Christmas show, “A Pirate’s Christmas,” is scheduled for December 10th as part of the Bluegrass Underground series in the extraordinary confines of Cumberland Caverns.
Learn more about Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers at tommason.net.