'Senator' Tom Pappas looks back over two decades in rock

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It seemed like 2012 was a good year for Tom Pappas and 2013 could be the year when he celebrates a lifetime in music. Pappas is releasing "20 Years of the Senator: The Tom Pappas Collection 1992-2012," which features tracks from Pappas' entire career, this month.

"I just wanted to revisit everything," says Pappas. "Some of these tracks have never even been heard at all."

In most circles, Pappas is best known for his role as bass player in the band Superdrag, which became a national act in 1996 with the college rock hit "Sucked Out." However, Pappas kept separate projects before, during and after Superdrag. "The Senator" is a nickname Pappas earned from a friend years ago as a joke.

Pappas grew up in Pittsburgh and moved to Knoxville in 1989 after visiting a friend who was attending the University of Tennessee. Pappas moved to the Knoxville "under the guise of going to school," but his real plan was to start a rock band.

"I was praying I'd find a lead singer — I wanted it to be like Hanoi Rocks," says Pappas.

After playing in some cover groups he decided to start his own group and be the singer. He formed the band The Used (not the band that went on to national fame), which included local whiz kid John Davis on drums.

"It was kind of funny — as soon as I decided to sing, we got a great singer."

Pappas says he first met Davis in the summer of 1992 when Pappas and future members of The Used and Superdrag were playing at Gryphon's — the notorious laundry mat/bar in the Fort Sanders neighborhood.

The first track on Pappas' new collection is "Every Stinkin' Thing," a song recorded by The Used in 1992 and was originally released on cassette called "Shameless Self Promotion."

It turned out that Davis was a guitarist, a singer and a songwriter and the band Superdrag (which shared members with The Used) formed around Davis. Pappas joined that group originally on guitar, but quickly switched to bass.

Superdrag took off, but Pappas says he had mixed feeling about calling the end to The Used in 1994.

"I kind of broke down and cried when I really called it quits with that," says Pappas. "But at the same time, the stuff that John and all of us (in Superdrag) was doing was really great, so I was also really happy."

For a short period of time Pappas stopped writing.

"John was never into me writing songs for Superdrag, but he was super-supportive when I wanted to do it with a different band."

In 1994, he wrote a song called "Perfect State of Grace" that was the catalyst for starting the band Flesh Vehicle.

"It was a lot less punk rock and more along the lines of Superdrag," says Pappas. "It could've been on a Superdrag record, basically."

In 1999, Pappas quit Superdrag and moved to Nashville to be with his future (now ex-) wife. He started his own construction company, but kept the music going. Flesh Vehicle remained active with various members. The Used (renamed The Used to Be to avoid confusion with another group) reformed to do proper recordings of the band's old material.

In 2005, Flesh Vehicle fizzled. After performing some shows solo, Pappas formed Whip!, but just as Whip! was getting going in 2007, the original members of Superdrag decided to regroup in their original configuration.

"That reunion thing was almost a miracle," says Pappas.

The group had one of its most successful tours and recorded the album "Industry Giants," which did include two Pappas originals.

Afterward, Pappas released a Flesh Vehicle album called "Racket," which he had shelved held back because it reminded him of the nervous breakdown he was suffering from when it was created. Flesh Vehicle reconvened to tour on that release, but the group was eventually ended when Pappas formed Rock City Birdhouse with members of the Shazam.

Looking back over his career Pappas says things always seem to happen at the same time.

"As always happens in life, when it rains it pours."

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Tom Pappas Collection

With: Birdwings

When: 10 p.m. Friday

Where: Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria, 200 E. Jackson Ave.

Admission: Free

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