Writing about the Seattle music scene was Tom Phalen's livelihood, but it was also his passion, a place where he was so plugged in he was...
Writing about the Seattle music scene was Tom Phalen’s livelihood, but it was also his passion, a place where he was so plugged in he was often the first to get wind of exclusive events, up-and-coming artists and the latest club gossip.
A former reviewer for The Seattle Times, Mr. Phalen wrote nearly 2,000 articles for the newspaper during the 1990s, as well as freelance stories for Rolling Stone, Seattle Weekly and other publications.
Mr. Phalen, a fixture in the local club scene for more than 35 years, died Monday at his home in Kent of apparent heart failure. He was 58.
“He always knew about the secret show, the invitation-only and the grand opening of this or that,” said Mary Truscott, a longtime friend and colleague. “People would seek him out and tell him stuff they wouldn’t tell anyone else. He didn’t just get the scoop — he got it on a silver platter.”
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Mr. Phalen was born in Los Angeles and raised in Whittier, Calif., graduating in 1966 from Monte Vista High School. He started playing guitar at about age 15, and after graduation, he began a career as a professional musician and songwriter. He toured as part of a backup band with actress/dancer Juliet Prowse.
Mr. Phalen moved to Seattle in the early 1970s, playing guitar in local clubs both as a solo act and as part of a number of bands, including a group called Wallflower and another called Slo and Easy, both with his younger brother, Jamie. In 1979, Mr. Phalen decided to stop playing music and start writing about it.
“He had the big rock ‘n’ roll dream in the ’60s of the limos and big stages and women screaming after him,” Jamie Phalen said. “But it happened for him with the writing. … His best attribute was his pen — he was a good writer.”
He worked for the former Bellevue Journal-American before starting a prolific freelance career with The Seattle Times, including a weekly Times column called “Ace of Clubs.”
“He listened to all the demos people sent, read all the bios” and tried to honor requests by bands for a mention in his column when he could, said Lora Gastineau, his former girlfriend.
His reviews remain archived on Web sites of bands ranging from the Beastie Boys and Blue Man Group to Weezer and Sting.
Mr. Phalen also chronicled the rise of the grunge music scene. “He got the exclusive on Kurt Cobain’s domestic-violence arrest, and he also wrote the bio on [New Age acoustic duo] Tingstad and Rumbel. And a restaurant review in the middle of it,” Truscott said. “That was Tom — the hardest-working man in show biz.”
Mr. Phalen had struggled with substance abuse for much of his adult life, Jamie Phalen said. “He was charming, good-looking, witty, a wonderful soul for the most part, with the devil on his sleeve.”
He had recently moved to Kent and had worked as a host at McCormick & Schmick’s in Bellevue while writing occasional music reviews.
Mr. Phalen is survived by his three brothers: Jamie of Shoreline; John of Huntington Beach, Calif.; and Michael of the City of Orange, Calif. He was preceded in death by his wife, Dana Phalen.
A memorial service is planned. Details are pending.
Jolayne Houtz: 206-464-3122