Drivin' blues 

On the road with Tom "Stickey Nickel" Feldman

One-man blues explosion Tom Feldmann knows a thing or two about life on the road. The Minneapolis native is always on tour. Or at least it seems that way.

“That’s not exactly true,” protests Feldmann, speaking from his apartment, where he says he’s enjoying the sunshine and trying to figure out what to do with the holiday. “A lot of people say that, but I feel like I’m at home all the time. I usually go out by myself for a few weeks, and after about two weeks of being by myself I’m about ready to, uh, to kill myself. So it’s nice coming home. I’m usually here for a week or two at a time. Which might not seem like much to a lot of people, but after the first day I’m ready to go out again. So to me, anyway, it feels like I’m home a lot.”

Feldmann has crisscrossed the country several times in the past few years, either touring on his own or with one of his many different past projects. He’s played in duos, as well as three- and four-piece ensembles, and says that, generally speaking, the smaller odd numbers are better for fellowship on the road.

“A trio I think is the best,” he ventures. “Any time you travel with a band, it’s funny to watch the divisions take place—and the more people you have, the easier it is to divide. When you have a bunch of guys, they’re going to make fun of each other and pick on each other. That’s just how it is. With three people, it’s always two on one, but who the two and the one are is always switching.”

Flying solo also has a lot to recommend it, says the gravel-gulleted Feldmann, who is currently touring a one-man-band setup that—like his other projects—combines elements of Delta blues, gospel and folk into one punch to the (lead)belly. You meet more people when you don’t travel with your own built-in chat group.

“I enjoy doing my solo thing because people are more likely to come up and talk to me. When I’m with a big group of guys, people are less likely to come up than when it’s just me. I don’t even like green rooms. I like sitting around and talking with people—that’s what I’m there for. It’s not like, ‘Hi, I’m a rock star, don’t talk to me.’”

Traveling solo makes financial sense, too. It’s more affordable for one person, says Feldmann, and splitting up nothing one way is less depressing than divvying it up three ways.

“If it’s a bad night and there isn’t much money,” he explains, “I don’t feel so bad if I’m by myself. As long as I have gas money, I can survive. When you have a bunch of other people, it’s tougher.”

Still, Feldmann hopes to have another working three-piece up and running in six months to a year. His last trio, formed while he was living in Florida, went on hiatus because two of its members were still in college and couldn’t commit to touring. There wasn’t enough going on down there, he says, to justify his sticking around, so he moved back to Minneapolis. The bass player from that trio is now in his last semester of study, though, and Feldmann is hoping to pool their knee-cymbal talents to create a double one-man band.

In the meantime, he’s up to his usual solo high-jinks, this time with a change of name from just plain Tom Feldmann. The Stickey Nickel handle was a parting gift of sorts from the guys in Florida—who weren’t exactly ape on the name Feldmann wanted to give them.

“I liked it and nobody else did,” Feldmann laughs, “so when I ended up by myself, I said I’m gonna be Stickey Nickel, darn it. For some reason, it’s also easier to promote shows with a different name than just my own. Plus it’s kind of fun to have an entity besides just being yourself. It adds a little something. It gives you more leeway to goof around.”

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