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Tommy Newsom: 1929 - 2007
Talk show's 'Mr. Excitement'
Award-winning backup bandleader for 'Tonight Show,' known for dull suits and duller personality, enjoyed being monologue fodder for Johnny Carson
May 1, 2007
PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- Tommy Newsom, the former backup bandleader on "The Tonight Show" whose "Mr. Excitement" nickname was a running joke for Johnny Carson, has died. He was 78.
Mr. Newsom died of cancer Saturday at his home in Portsmouth, the city of his birth, according to his nephew, Jim Newsom.
The saxophonist joined "The Tonight Show" in 1962 and rose from band member to assistant music director. He retired along with Carson in 1992.
Mr. Newsom won music direction Emmys for "Night of 100 Stars" in 1982 and "The 40th Annual Tony Awards Show" in 1986. "The Tonight Show" received five Emmy awards during Mr. Newsom's years on it.
"I hope he will be remembered as a gifted musician," Jim Newsom said Monday in a telephone interview. "I'm sure he will be remembered for his wit and deadpan humor on 'The Tonight Show.' And to some of us a certain age, he will always be remembered as Mr. Excitement."
That was the name Carson gave Mr. Newsom to make light of his low-key personality and drab brown and blue suits -- a sharp contrast to the flashy style of bandleader Doc Severinsen.
"He became a running character in Carson's monologue," Jim Newsom said. "Tommy enjoyed that."
Not long after the Carson era ended in 1992, Mr. Newsom remarked that his image as an ordinary guy was "fairly accurate -- compared to Rambo."
"I realize things have to end sometime," Mr. Newsom said at the time. "I felt regrets at it ending and there was a sense of relief in a way."
Along with his work on "The Tonight Show," Mr. Newsom arranged and composed music for Skitch Henderson, Woody Herman, Kenny Rogers, John Denver and other performers.
He also released several albums as a bandleader, including "Live From Beautiful Downtown Burbank" in 1978 and "I Remember You, Johnny" in 1996.
Before landing his "Tonight" gig, he toured the Soviet Union and South America with Benny Goodman and played in "The Merv Griffin Show" orchestra.
Copyright (c) 2007, Chicago Tribune