Tom Cawcutt wants America to know he’s ‘Got Talent’Cloquet's Tom Cawcutt Sr., who has worked at the city's paper mill for more than 35 years, recently auditioned for "America's Got Talent" in Chicago.
By: Matt Perrine, Budgeteer News, Pine Journal
Representing the Northland at the “America’s Got Talent” auditions in Chicago was … Bill Isles? Charlie Parr? Sara Thomsen?
Nope. It was Cloquet’s best-kept secret, Tom Cawcutt Sr., a man who has been down to the “Paradise City” and lived to tell about it. That’s right; back when he was in his late teens, his variety band, TSR (or Teacher-Student Relationship), played at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wis.
“That was probably the most elegant place we played,” Cawcutt said of the iconic destination — long rumored to be the inspiration for that legendary Guns N’ Roses cut.
But that was then and, to be honest, this classically trained pianist probably doesn’t care much for Axl Rose and his merry band of pranksters. No, Cawcutt prefers music that hits closer to the heart.
“I’m a romantic,” he said. “My favorite songs are contemporary ballads. It’s what I grew up with.”
Speaking of his upbringing, it’s hard to imagine music not being a huge part of this jovial singer’s life.
“There was always music in the house, so I was always picking out something,” said Cawcutt, who started playing piano at the age of 3. “I was really gifted with an ear, because if I heard a song I liked, I’d be able to play it. I’m not trying to sound egotistical, but it was actually playing it; it wasn’t just [doing a couple notes].”
He was pushed to take lessons at such an early age because his great aunt Dorothy witnessed him tinkering around and saw potential in him. As touching as that story may be, Cawcutt never did seem to catch a break from that booster.
“Every other year she would come up from Troy, Ohio, and visit for Christmas,” he recalled with a smile. “It was kind of funny because I’d always play my best when Aunt Dorothy was there. Because, when I’d make a mistake, whether she was reading the paper or just sitting there listening, she’d kind of look up and let me know she caught it ... especially on classical — whether it was some Beethoven or Chopin, she knew it.”
Also supportive was Cawcutt’s grandmother, who offered to pay his way through the prestigious Juilliard performing arts conservatory in New York City. This gracious offer was turned down, however.
“I was stupid and young and playing in a band, so I passed on that,” he said. “I was making a lot of money every week — and I was meeting girls and just having fun. Juilliard was going to mean I would have to simmer down and put my nose to the grindstone.
“And I love music, don’t get me wrong, but at that time I didn’t want it to become my life.”
Cawcutt actually never made music his life. He took a job at the paper mill in Cloquet in 1974 and has been working there ever since.
“You gotta pay the bills,” said the husband and father.
Make no mistake, though: Music is much more than a glorified hobby to Cawcutt, who is about to release his fourth album, “You Don’t Know Me.”
“Everything you hear on there is me and my keyboard — all nine fingers,” the musician joked. (Let’s just say there was a run-in with a tablesaw in ’84….)
The album follows a Christmas record, the all-originals “Imagination” and “By Request,” which, Cawcutt joked, has everything from “The Lord’s Prayer” to Journey’s “Open Arms.” As you can tell, despite being a millwright/maintenance tech for more than 35 years, Cawcutt has always made time for the music that exists within him.
“Songwriting comes and goes in streaks,” he said. “And that’s why I need to put a disk in my keyboard and record [the new creations]. If I’m up in the living room playing my grand and come up with something, it’s gone. Once in a while I can remember it, but to remember it in its entirety is pretty hard to do. So, a lot of times when I’m just fooling around on my keyboard, I’ll just throw a disk in just in case.”
Luckily for Cawcutt, his memory didn’t fail him last month in the Windy City when he auditioned for NBC’s reality series “America’s Got Talent.”
“The keyboard they had wasn’t the best — it had more of an organ touch rather than a piano’s weighted-key feel — [but] I didn’t make any mistakes and I remembered all the words to the part of the song I sang,” he said of the experience. “They give you 90 seconds for the audition to show them your stuff — a minute and a half to give them my best shot.”
After the audition, which was taped, Cawcutt was informed that he’d hear the results in the spring.
“… All the tapes are brought back to California for review, so I have to wait until probably March or April to find out whether or not I’ll make it on the show,” he said. “They told us on Saturday afternoon by the time the auditions end on Sunday, they will probably audition around 7,000 people. And that’s just Chicago.
“Whether I make it or not, I have no regrets. It was a great experience.”
NEWS TO USE
Copies of Tom Cawcutt’s new album, “You Don’t Know Me,” will be available at his annual Christmas show, to be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 11 at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 615 12th St. in Cloquet. Cost is $8 for adults and $5 for students (children 12 and younger are admitted for free). Cawcutt will also perform at 6 p.m. Thursday at the free-to-attend “A Christmas by the Lake III” CD release party at Greysolon Plaza.