Singer who found fame in the '70s folk scene never stopped inspiring
his fans and friends
By Josh Noel
Tribune staff reporter
April 20, 2006
He grew up with banker parents
in a Rogers Park apartment where little live music was played, but
somehow Tom Dundee heard the calling.
As a child, he listened to the Grand Ole Opry on a radio hidden beneath
his pillow. Then he taught himself to play the guitar his father bought
for him as a teen.
His music peaked in the 1970s, when Mr.
Dundee became a mainstay of the Chicago folk scene and penned a song
that still makes his fans' hearts flutter.
Even as folk music's
star fell by the end of that decade, Mr. Dundee pressed on, promoting
concerts and performing when he could, including a sold-out show this
year at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
A colorful and
eclectic showman, Mr. Dundee, 59, died Tuesday, April 18, in St.
Francis Hospital in Evanston, three days after a motorcycle accident
near his Rogers Park home. After what appeared to be successful
surgery, he may have suffered complications from a stroke, said his
girlfriend of eight years, Roni Perkins.
Hours before the
accident, from which he never regained consciousness, Mr. Dundee had
been--no surprise--listening to live music at a North Side cafe,
"He was a talkative guy. He was so sensitive, so
romantic and had a great sense of humor," she said. "Everyone said,
`Tom is my best friend.' At the hospital we realized that he made
everyone feel the same."
Born Tom Callinan, he graduated from St. George High School in Evanston
before attending DePaul University.
In an era when rock 'n' roll was king--Bob Dylan had long since plugged
in his guitar--Mr. Dundee turned to wanderlust and music.
By 1969, he had settled in Albuquerque, working in a pizza parlor, a
job he loathed, according to a 1974 Tribune profile.
When the restaurant's regular entertainer, a banjo player, didn't show,
the manager offered Mr. Dundee a shot at the stage. As he took his
place before the audience, the young guitar player kept to himself the
fact that he knew only three chords.
After working the next
summer at a girls camp in Wisconsin filled with "nasty children from
Chicago" and playing guitar at a weekly church mass, he moved home and
took his talent to open mike nights at renowned folk clubs like the
Earl of Old Town and Orphans. By then he was using his new surname,
which he chose while driving down Dundee Road, his girlfriend said.
Impressed by his song writing and style, the owner of Orphans offered
Mr. Dundee a weekend performance slot, which he used to cement his
place in the nation's most thriving folk scene, led at the time by John
Prine and Steve Goodman. Before long he was opening for such stars and
sometimes sharing the stage with them.
Most fans agree that Mr.
Dundee's finest three minutes is "A Delicate Balance," a gentle plea
for inner peace and living in the moment, which counsels, "To worry
does nothing, but steals from the loving and robs from the pleasure
Among the song's biggest fans is his girlfriend.
"Everywhere we went, there were so many people that came up to him who
said it helped them through such a crisis in their life," she said.
"It's helped me in my life as well, and it's helping me now."
His girlfriend said a memorial tribute concert is planned for 5 p.m.
May 14 in the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave.