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Cottage Grove man finds making music rewarding

The secret to Tom Erickson's musical success might be that he makes it look easy. Also, the songs he sings and plays on his trumpet are standards that people can sing and dance to.

Erickson, a Cottage Grove resident who performs as Eric Thomas, is a regular at Senior Jam sessions at the South Washington Senior Center on Thursday afternoons.

Musicians from the metropolitan area come together informally and play during one of the most popular senior center activities. Seniors from Hastings, and from other independent living centers, also attend.

Erickson, 72, who was born and raised in a small town in northwestern Minnesota, grew up in a musical family. His father played violin and his mother also played a saw on occasion.

Playing music was their entertainment, he said. They would drive to a friend's house to play music and dance all night.

Erickson, who's always had a good singing voice, wanted to play the trumpet and joined band at school.

In the 50s, he said, there were many bands that played in and around the communities where they lived at barn dances and weddings. When they needed a trumpet player, they asked him to play.

At first, they told Erickson, who was in seventh-grade, to play and just try to catch on with the others.

"I learned to play by reading notes on sheet music," he said in an interview. "They all played by ear, so I also learned to play by ear in addition to reading music."

Erickson played sports and, after learning to drive, rushed out of basketball games to drive miles away to play with a band. On one occasion, several of his coaches, and their wives, were surprised to see him.

But his musical career stopped after he moved to the Twin Cities, with his wife, LeAnne, and took a job with Cenex.

"I had a wife and family and set it all aside," he said. "For 32 years, I never touched the trumpet. After I retired, I was wondering what I should do so I blew the dust off it and started again."

There's so few places that offer live music anymore, Erickson said, and play standards from the 1930s to the '70s.

Currently appearing at the North St. Paul American Legion on Friday nights, Erickson performs with keyboard artist Janet Fosse. He's also played with Don Kaste, guitar player, from Cottage Grove.

He plays more than 400 songs from a variety of genres ranging from country to Latin.

Hard-pressed to name a favorite musical performer, he enjoys singing music sung by Dean Martin.

"I'm doing what I like and people are willing to pay me for it," he said. "It's a mini job."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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