Jensen has been playing guitar since age 9 - The Superior Express

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Jensen has been playing guitar since age 9

The music man


Tom Jensen cradles his ukulele, one of several instruments he plays. Jensen has performed for area audiences for more than 50 years, from his start as a high school rock and roller to the present day.

Tom Jensen acquired an abiding love of music as a young child growing up in Oak and Nelson. He was raised in a home which was filled with music. His mother was an accomplished pianist with a liking for country music.

Jensen was nine years old when he acquired his first guitar, an acoustic flat-top Sears Silvertone guitar. Jensen trained himself to play. One of his first discoveries was that a knife is not the best guitar pick to utilize. He realized that practice and self-discipline were the keys to becoming an accomplished musician. He dutifully continued to learn and progress in his abilities.

During his junior year in high school he formed a band, the Midnight Suns, whose genre was rock and roll. Jensen continued with the group as he made his way through college. The original group featured Jensen on rhythm guitar and vocals, his brother Terry playing drums and handling the lead vocals, his cousin, Curt Jensen, handled the bass and contributed vocals with Ivan Miller playing lead guitar and handling vocals. The band played at area dances and entertainment venues. The band morphed into the Blue River Band which played for several more years.

When Jensen's interest in the band waned, Miller insisted they keep the group intact. They added Clark Kennison to the group and continued to play until 1990.

Jensen became involved with a group of Nelson residents who wanted to stage a comedy Branson type show featuring local talent. The show ran for five years in its first incarnation.

In 1997 David and Janice Hill joined with Jensen to create a musical portion for the show. And that is when 'Free Beer and Chicken" was created. The influence of Mississippi Delta musicians such as John Lee Hooker was evident in their play list. Jensen was joined by Stephanie Thayer, Ivan Miller Alicia Ferguson, David and Janice Hill as well as Bob Ginther.

Terry Jensen channelled Elvis Presley. The show proved to be a popular success. Jensen and company took the variety show on the road for corporate events as well as presentations in venues such as the Minden Opera House. The players incorporated new material in every show to keep the acts fresh.

"Free Beer and Chicken" featured a changing cast of players over the years. Jensen and Thayer remained the original members. They were joined by Doug Hyler, a Hastings saxophone player as well as other musicians.

As the makeup of local music venues changed so did the audience for the group. Gone were the days when each community had an establishment which featured live music and dancing. The band began to play more street dances.

As the entertainment climate changed so did the band. Jensen and Thayer put together an acoustic duo they named 'Chicken Parts.' The smaller size fitted some venues better than the large group.

Jensen confesses to owning eight guitars as well as two mandolins.

He has the 1975 Fender Stratocaster his father purchased for him new. He owns a Paul Reed electric acoustic. He owns two electric guitars which sound acoustic. He prefers the acoustic sound but admits it is a good feeling to rock out at times.

The band has not performed in public for more than 13 months because of restrictions imposed because off the COVID-19 pandemic. As the wave of illness appears to be subsiding, Jensen and his musical mates are looking forward to performing again for their local audiences.

Jensen is also an avid basketball fan and coach. He was the head boys basketball coach for several years at Lawrence-Nelson High School. He served a one year stint at Red Cloud. He has been assisting the Giltner High School program for the past five years.

If the days of steak houses and dance floors return, 'Free Beer and Chicken" will be ready to entertain. Meanwhile, look for the group at local bandstands and community events. Making music is more than just sound, it's an intregal part of his lifestyle.


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