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Tom Hanson lands tunes on network TV shows
The secret songwriter
Hanson likes songwriting better than performing.
Hanson likes songwriting better than performing.
Credit:Melody Hanson

Tom Hanson still remembers one of the first Gomers shows he ever played. The year was 1987. He was the drummer. The venue was Headliners on University Avenue.

"Biff [Blumfumgagnge] made a gigantic yellow happy face and hung it in front of the drums," recalls Hanson. "We were all wrapped in Saran Wrap and could hardly move. We were standing behind the smiley face playing 'Pterodactyl Twist.' Then we started busting through the smiley face with our drumsticks and guitars."

Hanson didn't follow the musical path that would eventually lead to Rock Star Gomeroke. Outside the spotlight of Madison clubs, he's privately attended to the craft of writing dark and dreamy folk-rock songs in the tradition of Nick Drake.

During the past year, Hanson has sold two of those songs to the network TV shows One Tree Hill and Ghost Whisperer. Now collaborating with New Zealand's John White, of Mestar, Hanson remains one of the best-kept secrets of the Madison music scene.

Born in Beloit, Hanson grew up in Middleton. Even as a kid he was drawn to songwriting. "My mom would be vacuuming, and I would hear the pitch of the vacuum and write a song in my head to it," he says.

Hanson enrolled at UW-Madison to study literature in the fall of 1980. At the end of his sophomore year, he dropped out "because I wanted to do rock 'n' roll so bad." He encountered a future luminary. "I was always the drummer, and I was sort of a Butch Vig drummer," Hanson says. "At one point I met Butch and started working at Smart Studios."

In 1986, Hanson spent three to four months in training to join Vig and Steve Marker at Smart. "I had been there doing a couple of albums for my band, and I just got along really well with Butch and Steve," says Hanson. "They finally sat me down and said, 'We'd like to take you on and train you and have you be an engineer here. But we can't pay you. All we can do is offer you free studio time.'"

Hanson was busy drumming in two local bands, Emerald Choir and Plaza 9. The bands included Blumfumgagnge, Mark Hervey and Gordon Ranney, now of the Gomers. "When practice would end, we would stick around and play comedy songs, and that's how the Gomers were born," says Hanson.

Hanson returned to UW, where he earned a bachelor's and a master's. He enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Chicago and quit when his first marriage ended in divorce. In a time of personal crisis, Hanson said his songwriting finally started to take off.

In 2000 he released Wake of the Moon. His 2007 album is called Everything Takes Forever.

In November 2007, Hanson got an email from the editors of the online music site CD Baby. "They said they liked my album enough to feature it in their top five picks on their main page," he says. That development earned Hanson the attention of Aperture Music, which specializes in scoring TV dramas and movies. So far, they've placed "My Love in Blue" on CW's One Tree Hill and "Even So" on CBS's Ghost Whisperer.

Hanson recently played a show with New Zealand songwriter John White at Mother Fool's (he met White through an online music friend), but his stage appearances are sparse. Hanson says he likes songwriting better than performing and plays best when he has just composed.

"You never play a part better than when you first wrote it," says Hanson. "You haven't thought about it yet. You just love it."

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