Tommy Byrne wakes up at 4:45 a.m. every day and is at work by six. Three times a week, 10-12 hours later, he heads straight to a practice. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he coaches his daughter's co-ed soccer team. And on Mondays, he heads to Mt. Pleasant from his Summerville home for band rehearsal with hard-rocking good-time boys the Average Savage.
Byrne, a former Marine and longtime Navy man, describes himself as "naturally hyper." His raspy voice picks up speed when he talks about singing with the band: "I'm everywhere," he grins. "On stage, on patrons' tables." Or how he used to pull the trigger on missiles as a fire controlman in the Navy: "Every time you hit that button you're spending $750,000 of taxpayers' money," he says. "So you better do it right." Or about his soccer coaching: "We've got this one kid ... he's going to be the next Landon Donovan."
When you first meet Byrne, it's hard to imagine him jumping around on stage or running around a soccer field because he walks with a serious limp, thanks to recent surgery on a foot that was shattered in an industrial accident three years ago. It's good timing because he'll need to be healthy when he heads to Abu Dhabi in October. He's planning to help build communication rooms for the U.S. Air Force for a couple months while working for Serco, a military contracting firm in Goose Creek.
Once you get to know him, it's easy to see him shaking off his bum foot and going crazy on stage — or on the field. "Last week at our soccer practice, I was still on crutches," he laughs. "And all the other coaches are running up and down the sideline and I'm crutching it along right with them!" His voice speeds up again as he mimics his goofy crutch run.
Byrne was born to an Irish-Catholic family in Rochester, N.Y., the youngest of six, always singing. "My father said it was a sin to root against Notre Dame football," he remembers. "And my mother said it was a sin to root against Boston College."
Of course, he liked lacrosse. And Rage Against the Machine (the Average Savage covers "Guerrilla Radio," "Killing in the Name," and "Bulls on Parade").
"No one wants to hear my 40-year-old angst," he says of the band. "I just do my best not to butcher the songs we play, but I wouldn't be able to make an ass of myself if it weren't for the talent behind me. And they've all become my best friends."
The talent is Ted Huge on guitar, Jeff Collier on bass, and namesake Henry Savage on drums, all of whom are longtime semi-professional musicians who own their own businesses. They like to play songs that "nobody else covers," gravitating toward the harder stuff. "We'll play Zeppelin and Pearl Jam, but we're not going to play 'Jessie's Girl,'" Byrne says.
Byrne has drifted in and out of different branches of the military since he was trying to make it big with a band called Wethead in the '90s. "I was a rifleman in the Marines," he says. "And it was hard to get a job because someone would ask me, 'What can you do?' 'Well, I can kill you from 500 yards!' After that, it's like 'The position's been filled.' "
Needing more skills to provide for his new wife and budding family, he looked again to the service, this time the Navy. "They needed fire controlmen, guys who control batteries on the missiles, so I was in the Navy from 1998 to 2007, stationed in Jacksonville, and then Charleston, going on little hops down to South America and the Middle East," says Byrne.
While enforcing the embargo on Iraq in 2002, he sang with a band on the ship and listened to music whenever he could to alleviate the boredom. "Without music, it would've been awful," he says. "When you're in a room that's eight feet across and 12 feet wide watching an endless loop of tape or a radar screen, you need something." When they weren't boarding boats to keep out contraband, guys would break out acoustics.
Byrne opted not to sign on for more time with the Navy a few years ago because he didn't want to miss his two daughters' growing up. And he wouldn't have been able to hobble around the soccer field or go wild on stage with a band. As for his upcoming deployment, he'll be back home in December to resume rocking and running. Christmas show, anyone?
The Average Savage performs at Jimbo's Rock Lounge on Thurs. Sept. 16. Visit myspace.com/theaveragesavage1 for more.