It all depends on how you listen to him, or how you ingest his art. Tommy Wales slings his guitar with the heaviest of music blasting out of its muzzle. Wales is a guitarist who celebrates his Christian faith loudly with a guitar—or a paint brush.
This 6-foot-4 gentle giant weighs in at 225 lbs and his music is even heavier. Music serves as his own personal therapy to combat the stresses and strains of his former straight gig.
Wales worked for more than 25 years as a senior psych tech at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s inpatient psych ward.
“I was with the mentally ill—chemically addicted clients,” he says. “Before that, five years at Hillside Children’s Center as an integrated mental health sociotherapist. Between both jobs, I’ve been punched, been given concussions, I’ve been stabbed, I’ve been horribly bitten, seen patients harm themselves and others. I’ve seen my coworkers get hurt to the point they can’t return to work.”
Though Wales and his colleagues tried to use non- physical intervention, on several occasions they were forced to resort to take-downs and restraints.
“That stuff haunts you,” Wales says. “I could pray, meditate, read my Bible, listen to metal all day, work on my coping. But at night, I would have nightmares that my patients were assaulting me, hitting me; I would fall out of bed, hit the wall, scream and throw my pillow. My psychiatrist put me on Prazosin. They give it to combat vets from Iraq. Now I dream I am Captain America slinging my shield.”
By the time Wales left the job, his doctor had diagnosed him with post traumatic stress disorder. His music, along with medication, helped soothe the savage beast that overtook his dreams at night. He was left creating his own salvation.
Up until 2019, Wales was grinding out music at a fevered pace. He also unloaded his fierce blues/metal in night clubs, churches, wherever he could. The lyrics were surprisingly Christian, couched in music that was couched in a more evil sounding tone. He released “50,000 Tears”—his 24th album—in April 2020 and the live recording of the blues heavy “Scratch That Dirty Neck.”
But he saw his audience wither up and die during the pandemic. The music that he had clung to had nowhere to go. He found himself slipping down an emotional slope of chaos and depression.
Enter Wales’ urge to keep going within the adversity, the urge to paint and interpret the stories behind his songs with paint on repurposed pieces of wood he found curbside or in the trash.
Painting. Music. Wales doesn’t really differentiate between the two. But if you look at his art you can’t help but get wrapped up in his energy and volume. There is a childlike nature to his technique that shows the artist’s undeniable strength and vulnerability. Whether it’s an angel, demon or a mermaid, it’s a perfect blend of good and evil, of heaven and hell.
“Painting is my form of therapy,” Wales says. “I am self-taught. No formal art training. It makes my brain feel at peace. I’ve struggled my entire life, with anxiety and depression. It calms my mind. Plus, I can bless others with it.”
When church friends lost a dog, Wales painted an angel with their pet, along with the Latin phrase “Exaudi Deus” meaning “Hear My Cry, O God.”
“They were greatly moved and touched,” he says. “You couldn’t pay me a zillion dollars, to bless an aching heart, like that.”
Some friends at church had to send their dog over the Rainbow Bridge. I painted an angel with their dog, with the Latin phrase ‘Exaudi Deus’ meaning ‘Hear My Cry.’ They were greatly moved and touched. You couldn’t pay me a zillion dollars, to bless an aching heart, like that.
“Blessed God lets me follow his calling and my dream,” Wales adds. “All I ever wanted to do, since I was 16 and saw the Christian blues/rock band Resurrection live, in Elmira, New York, was to make music. I am living my destiny.”
You can find Wales Road’s music at all platforms and at Walesroad.com
Here’s a comprehensive list of live shows in and around Rochester: Get Your Gig On
Frank De Blase is Rochester Beacon music writer.