If not for some bad luck on the football field, Tim Malchak might have found glory in the National Football League. Instead, he spends his life on the road, following the folk music circuit, gradually becoming more successful.
Originally from New York, the burly, red-haired, 33-year-old "acoustic musician," as he prefers to be called, is the featured guest at 9 p.m.
tomorrow at Mack Bailey's Folk Jam, located, like every Thursday night, at the Maryland Inn's King of France Tavern.
"A lot of my music is rooted in folk," said Malchak, "I cut my teeth on people like (the late) Jim Croce, probably one of my greatest music influences of all time. There's definitely some country, but I don't have a lot of traditional country in my background."
Other influences include "the singer-songwriters of the late 1960s, early 1970s, James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, Gordon Lightfoot, and then later on, the Eagles and Crosby Stills & Nash. Those were the kind of people that really affected me."
A musician since the age of 9, Malchak described his musical development as a series of "garage bands." It wasn't until his graduation from high school in 1975 that "I made the decision that music was what I wanted to do, because football up until then had been my thing. I was going to go on and play some college ball and possibly the pros, but I did some nerve damage to a shoulder, so music was my next choice."
After a brief college career, Malchak decided that he'd had his fill of books. So "I grabbed my guitar and a backpack and headed west."
For the past 15 years, Malchak has traveled the country. There was a disastrous initial foray to Nashville in 1976, the recording center for country music.
He recalled his time there as "a pretty devastating and frightening experience. I was very green and wasn't really prepared at the time musically.
"I spent a few months there," Malchak said, "and realized the time wasn't right, so I kind of took off and lived all over the country. I moved to Austin, Texas, and lived there for a while."
Eventually, Malchak reached California in 1978, supporting himself with a variety of jobs as he went along.
"It was just the kind of thing that when I needed a job real bad I'd tell someone 'Yeah, I've done that before,' " he laughed. "I could pretty much fake my way through it to hold a job for as long as I needed it, and then I would move on to the next town. I kind of prided myself on my ability to B.S. my way into just about any kind of job," he said.
For example, "I did computer work when I knew absolutely nothing about computers, everything from building them to some programming -- but not a lot."
It wasn't until he reached California that Malchak finally started to get the breaks, both as a songwriter and as an opening act for performers such as "Spyro Gyra" and "Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen."
Malchak remembered his experiences with these groups as "pretty bizarre," but "that was the time. There was a lot of excess, and it was a pretty crazy time. And I was young then, going through my experimental stage in a lot of things, so it was a good learning experience for me."
He returned to New York in 1981 and finally went back to Nashville to give music one more try in 1983. "At that point, I'd been through what I considered to be my own personal hell, chasing the music thing for that long. But as luck would have it, things started picking up from there."
Signed to an independent record label in 1983, Malchak started releasing a number of records which moved onto the top-20 and top-30 charts. At that time, a number of artistic and industry awards also started to come his way.
Billboard magazine listed him as "one of the most successful independent acts of the decade." His records also were given a lot of air time, as the radio stations considered him to be a sort of plucky underdog, taking on the major labels.
But most importantly, "I think we were giving them a lot of consistency as far as quality goes. I think they saw that, and gave me a shot, and played my records."
In 1988, Malchak went to a big label, MCA Universal, for about a year.
Unfortunately, his recordings didn't do as well, so "I got out of that contract at the end of the year, and took the winter off. Basically, I just spent as much time as I could writing new music, and looking for my roots."
After working things out, Malchak returned to the road.
"I've always been attracted to very melodic stuff," Malchak said, "a lot of harmonies, and that's what I try to do with my music. It's folk-rooted acoustic music. But I think what I'm doing now crossed a lot of boundaries.
It can go pop and it can go country, and that's where I want to be."