(Cushing, Okla.) The Red Dirt music world is mourning the loss of of one of its most beloved family members, Tom Skinner, who passed on from this life to the next, Sunday evening, July 12, 2015. The well-respected singer/songwriter had struggled with health issues for some time before losing his battle with heart disease.
Tom Skinner, a Bristow native and one of the pioneers of Red Dirt, was not only known for his own songs such as, “Skyline Radio” or “Water Your Own Yard” but for making any song he sang sound like his own. One of his favorites, a Randy Pease song, “I Love This Game,” talks about Skinner’s first “love” – baseball.
“I foolishly thought, until I was 18 or 19, I was going to play baseball for a livin’,” Skinner admitted during an interview on KUSH radio, June 18, 2015. “I didn’t even think about anything else. I didn’t know how it was going to happen… I figured someone would just call me up and say, ‘Are you ready?"”
Although the song is about an aging minor league baseball player who never makes it to the big league, Skinner viewed it as a great analogy of his own life. “It’s kinda like being an old, broke-down folk singer,” he laughed.
In spite of his notariety in the world of Red Dirt, Skinner remained humble, even when talking about his recent induction into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. “It was quite an honor. An honor I had no idea what it would be like until I went through it. There were a lot of people that deserved to be in it ahead of me. But I was honored… and I had the time of my life.”
Skinner, always a mentor, gave this tongue-in-cheek advice to others in the business, “If you can keep your nose clean and work hard, you can make hundreds of dollars a year,” he laughed.
His Red Dirt family meant a lot to him, and he wasn’t hesitant in saying so.
“I’m lucky – the friends I’ve gotten – the whole Red Dirt community – it’s just unbelievable that I fell into that family,” Skinner said.
He also tipped his hat to the younger generation of musicians saying, “Why we can still do this today is because of the younger generation. They treat us so good – and they don’t have to. It’s real easy to be irrelevant when you get like we are. But they don’t treat us that way, they don’t make us feel that way. That makes you feel valued still.”
He also expressed his gratitude for the support he’d received from the Red Dirt Relief Fund during his illness.
“John Cooper, Greg Johnson and all the folks with the Red Dirt Relief Fund have come to my rescue a couple of times,” Skinner said, choking up. “I can never pay ’em back.”
Throughout his final hospital stay, the tight-knit group of Red Dirt musicians continued to be at his side including showing their love and support by changing their Facebook profile photos to pictures of Skinner. Others shared videos and stories expressing their deep admiration for their friend and mentor.
Near the end of his final interview on KUSH, I asked Skinner how he wanted to be remembered. His first response was to laugh and say, “I guess for just not screwin’ up too bad!”
Reflecting briefly, he quietly answered, “One thing I always wanted, when I think about it…I wanted other musicians to kinda respect me.”
Love. Admiration. Respect.
It was all there Sunday evening as his Red Dirt family held vigil while Tom Skinner quietly slipped away.
“My playin’ days are numbered…and I can’t control the curve ball…But I love this game…man, I love this game…its’a hard thing to admit, but it might be time to quit…but god I love this game…”
“I Love This Game” by Randy Pease
And we here at KUSH will never quit lovin’ Tom Skinner…
RIP Tom Skinner