‘Tomcat’ – OB Blues Musician From the Seventies – Dies of COVID

by on January 13, 2021 · 3 comments

in Health, Ocean Beach

This will hit die-hard OB blues fans hard. One of OB’s favorite blues musicians from the 1970’s, Tom “Tomcat” Courtney, has just passed after a battle with COVID-19. He was 91.

Here’s the report from NBC7:

Friends, loved ones and local music fans are mourning the death of Tom “Tomcat” Courtney, a Texas transplant and San Diego Music Award winner who was the longtime anchor of San Diego’s blues scene.

Courtney, who died Monday afternoon, was 91. He is survived by his longtime partner, Jojo Riegel, and a large extended family. Riegel told NBC 7 that his death followed a battle with the coronavirus that began in December.

“It’s a shock for me,” Riegel said. “I can’t stop crying. Since before Christmas, he’s been in and out of the hospital.”

Courtney was the holder of a pair of San Diego Music Awards, including Best Blues in 2010 and a lifetime achievement award presented in 2014. Chances are, if you ever saw a blues artist performing at one of San Diego’s street fairs, it was Tomcat Courtney.

Courtney grew up in Waco, Texas, with his piano-playing father before making his way to San Diego in the early ’70s, friend and local blues musician Scottie Blinn told NBC 7. Before long, Tomcat & the Bluesdusters were playing weekly at the Texas Teahouse in Ocean Beach, a residency that lasted nearly two decades.

“We met at one of the restaurants downtown that he played in on Fourth Avenue,” Riegel said. “Tom played there almost every day. We started hanging around, and I was a cook there, and every time he played, I made sure he got his favorite food. We just started to … I guess, for me, it was love at first sight.”

Those were just the first of thousands and thousands of shows Riegel saw Courtney peform — in fact, she ended up joining his band as a keyboardist and was his longtime booker as well.

The bluesman’s bout with COVID-19 was preceded by a less-serious but, for Courtney, what was a very real burden posed by then pandemic: the inability to perform after a lifetime of weekly, sometimes daily, appearances.

“[It was hard] for him not being able to play — he was playing three or four nights a week [right up until the pandemic hit ] — that was really hard for him,” Blinn said. “He was still relevant and revered. It was beautiful for him at his age.

For more from this article, please go here.

(hat tip to Deb Greene)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie January 14, 2021 at 7:58 am

“One of His gigs was at the cozy Texas Teahouse in Ocean Beach from 1972 through 1992. The bar would push its pool table to the wall, pile speakers and amplifiers on it, and the band would stand shoulder-to-shoulder on a makeshift bandstand in the corner. The audience would sit cross-legged on the ground in front of him.” SDU-T 1/14/21


Peter from South O January 14, 2021 at 1:06 pm

I spent many a night sitting on my cushion blissing out to Tomcat. RIP!


Ron from OB January 15, 2021 at 4:42 pm

Tomcat played the Teahouse for quite a while back then, every Thursday night. Later in the evening it was always totally packed and everyone danced the night away. It was a small, rustic dive bar, but so much fun and good vibes when Tomcat played there. Mighty Joe Longo played the keyboard. And Henry was the Owner / Bartender. RIP Tom, “right on with your right on’s”!


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