By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
The final straw wasn't just that his longtime guitarist had to quit. The fact is, Tommy Gallagher, who worked for years for his big break, had finally had enough.
Gallagher started his eponymous band in 2004, when the Texas country scene was really starting to boil. In 2009, he quit his job at Pantex, urged his bandmates to leave their full-time jobs as well, and tried his damnedest to make a go of it as a full-time musician.
He never quite broke through, though. Gallagher and his band traveled all over the Lone Star State and beyond — "don't get me wrong, I'm no Randy Rogers and been to all 50 states, but I've been to a lot of them," Gallagher said. That includes a few stops in Nashville, where he played on the Hard Rock Cafe stage at CMA Fest a couple of times, one of dozens and dozens of band playing and hoping for a break.
After a while, Gallagher realized that it wasn't going to happen, and he found day jobs again, like selling used cars and, a year ago, getting his old security job back at Pantex.
And when guitarist Justin Proffitt came to him in July with news that a promotion at his job came with a move to Houston, Gallagher knew it was time to call it quits.
"I could get me a new player and could keep things going, but, to me, it's not the same," Gallagher said. "Justin was the last original TGB guy — from when we were on the road full-time, which is the way I look at it. ... He always told me he'd play as long as I'd keep singing, but I said, if you're gonna move, let's call these the last shows."
It's not the end of Gallagher's musical aspirations, though they've significantly lowered.
"I need a break," Gallagher said last week over beers at MJ's Saloon & Grill. "I'm not saying I'm done forever, but TGB is done forever. If anything, I'll do some acoustic shows or play with a little band, but call it something else.
"I don't see myself never playing again, but not as TGB."
Gallagher, 49, played in some rock cover bands in his 20s, but nothing too serious. After starting to work at Pantex in 2002, he connected with Steven Lewis of the old Eli Boomhauer Band.
"He'd heard me singing — I don't know, in the shower or somewhere — and asked me to try out for them," Gallagher said. "I played with them for a year or so and had fun, but I knew in my heart that I wanted to do my own songs."
That feeling was, in part, inspired by his grandfather and namesake, Tommy Allen, whose band Tommy Allen & The Bootleggers performed all around South Texas.
"Back in the day, they played with Lefty Frizzell," Gallagher said.
"I never really pictured myself doing it," Gallagher said. "I'm not that great of a singer. I don't think you have to be, but I know I'm not. But in my late teens and early 20s, I started playing guitar, strumming around with my cousin. We'd go into bars in Bandera and act like we knew what we were doing, and people liked it. I'm sure it sounded auful, but they were drunk enough to enjoy it."
But, a decade or so later, playing with Lewis rekindled that desire, so they left Boomhauer and started TGB. Six months later, they played their first gig at Golden Light, and soon, they were playing anywhere in town that would hire them.
"The thing I always remember about (Tommy is) his humility," said Arcadio Rivera, who has booked bands for Golden Light Cantina for 20 years. "When he first approached me about playing at the GLC, I was happy to do it because many bands have gotten their start there.
"But then, he became a huge draw, and I still think it was because of that same humility — not to mention his music. (And then) I booked him for Homer's Backyard Ball because he had a great following that followed him everywhere he played," Rivera continued. "I'm gonna miss him on the scene!"
Eventually, Gallagher started thinking it was time to try for the next level. Bands all over the state had done the same, including several he had opened for, like Eli Young Band.
"Everybody told me I was crazy," Gallagher said.
That's what they said when he quit Pantex to chase his musical dreams, but "if I'd stayed much longer, I would have never gone for it," Gallagher said.
He still doesn't regret that.
"I wouldn't change a thing, except I would have gone back a little quicker if I'd realized how this thing was dying off," Gallagher said. "I don't regret it a bit, not at all, and I would do it again. ... We loved being on the road, taking trips up north and going to Nashville, seeing new towns and new states that I never would have."
But life on the road was "tough," he said.
"We didn't make hardly any money — hopefully enough to make it to the next show and have a little to eat," he said. "When you're nobody — which we were — a lot of times you have to get your own hotel, your own drinks, your own food. It's tough when that's all you're doing — the McDonald's dollar menu and cheap hotels.
"It takes a lot of sacrifice, and I don't know if I did enough and that's why we didn't make it," Gallagher said. "My age and theirs, too, was a bit of a factor, too. The older I get, the more I'm running out of time to do this. Do I want to sick with this and try to get a break? Some people do, but a lot of people don't."
Gallagher has read all the stories of how his musical idols persevered until their lucky break.
"They deserve to be there after going through that," Gallagher said. "I think in our case, we were just running out of time. If I was in my 20s again, maybe so. But I'll be 50 in a few months."
And, perhaps, some of the decision was out of his hands.
"The crowds weren't there," Gallagher said. "The music scene in Amarillo is alive and well, but for some bands, it's not. When we first started out, we'd have some shows sell out, but then (in later years) we'd get to the show and there were only 10 or 15 people would show up. What happened? Well, a lot of our crowd grew up and don't come out.
"(And) I think the Texas country scene is not as good as it used to be in Amarillo," he continued. "People change. People want to hear something different."
"Maybe that's why I didn't make it," he said. "I didn't get pissed when people didn't come."
He's philosophical about the whole thing, though.
"I think I had a good run," Gallagher said. "I didn't get famous, but I had fun."