For the last several years, Tom Zutaut has sought to live in relative seclusion in the Chattanooga area. Instead of talking up his successes as a former music industry executive, he's been quietly selling cars to keep himself occupied.
Now, the A&R manager who discovered Guns N' Roses, Tesla and Mötley Crüe is ready to tell his stories.
Zutaut, 63, will kick things off Friday at Songbirds Foundation on Station Street when he and radio guy Scott Chase host KZ106 Presents: Capturing Lightning in a Bottle With Tom Zutaut. It will be an evening of legendary music and industry-related stories of Zutaut's interactions with Crüe, GnR, Def Leppard, Tesla and other bands he signed. Chase, who'll also be celebrating his birthday a day early at the event, will share his experiences of doing radio and promoting shows in the area for almost four decades.
"Tom is the real deal, man," Chase said. "He has a lot of stories and a great vinyl collection. He is part of rock 'n' roll history, and a lot of the bands he interacted with were bands that came through here, so we'll have lots to talk about.
"And he's another example of a cool person who has found out about how cool Chattanooga is."
The Zutaut show is the kickoff event for what will be a weekly radio show hosted by Zutaut and Chase on WSKZ-FM 106.5. Chase said he and Zutaut are still figuring out details, such as whether it will be recorded live or taped or both, and when it will air. They also plan to have special guests, including some of Zutaut's industry friends.
They plan to announce those at the Songbirds event, which starts at 7 p.m. Zutaut said half of the $20 ticket price will go to the Songbirds Foundation's Guitars for Kids program.
"We'll play songs and talk about them and tell stories," he explained during a recent lunch at his favorite barbecue place on Gunbarrel Road. "We'll also take questions."
When Zutaut's mother became terminally ill seven years ago, he left Los Angeles where he'd lived and worked in the music industry since he was 18 and just out of high school. Doctors thought his mother might have three months to live, but she survived another 18 months.
If you go
— What: KZ106 Presents: Lightning in a Bottle With Tom Zutaut
— When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5
— Where: Songbirds Foundation, 35 Station St.
— Admission: $20
— Online: songbirdsfoundation.org
It gave Zutaut a good amount of time with her and helped him realize that he wanted, or needed, a break from taking care of the hard-partying people around him who had grown accustomed to having things done for them.
"I wanted to be a regular person and not worry about getting a call at 4 a.m. because somebody's coffee maker wasn't working," he said.
Shortly after his mother died, he was living in the Blue Ridge Mountains in East Tennessee when his father, who lives in nearby Fayetteville, Tennessee, convinced him that Chattanooga, with its high-speed internet, laid-back lifestyle and beautiful scenery, was where he should live, so he moved here in September of 2019.
Even after "The Dirt," a film version of Neil Strauss' 2001 biography on Mötley Crüe, hit Netflix, and Zutaut's phone was blowing up with reporters and industry people wanting to talk about his career and what it was like having Pete Davidson portray him in the movie, Zutaut was still able to live in relative peace and quiet.
So much so, he decided he wanted to sell cars, which he'd never done before, because it offered him the chance to talk to regular, non-music-industry types.
"I like it, and I'm good at it because I'm honest with people," he said.
Occasionally a car buyer would recognize his unusual name and make the connection, and Zutaut said he is always nice and often offers to pose for a selfie so the buyer can prove to his friends that the salesman was indeed "that Tom Zutaut."
While caring for his mother, in addition to discovering that he craved the anonymity, he also rekindled his desire to write. He said he wrote music reviews and stories while in high school in Illinois and got a scholarship to Northwestern, where he was going to study journalism.
"But, at 18 and a half, I got a job in LA as an A&R guy with Elektra (handling artists and repertoire), and six months later I signed Mötley Crüe," he said.
During his time here, he has worked on a screenplay loosely based on his life. Out of the blue, he got a call from director Ash Avildsen, who wanted to talk about Zutaut consulting on a show he was creating. After the two talked, they decided to work together.
"He had a bunch of ideas and I had ideas, and we sort of merged our ideas together," Zutaut said.
That led to "Paradise City," an Amazon Prime eight-episode series. Suddenly, Zutaut found himself commuting back and forth to Los Angeles, "the place I thought I'd never go back to."
The show, which stars Andy Biersack, Bella Thorne and Ryan Hurst, with vocals by Remington Lieth, is about a hard-rock act who goes back on the road after a lengthy break. The storyline explores the behind-the-scenes dramas and battles that go on with bands and record labels.
Zutaut has a cameo in the second episode, and former Alice Cooper guitarist Nita Strauss has a part as well.
Zutaut said he has fallen in love not only with Chattanooga, but a Chattanooga native he plans to marry in the fall. He's making arrangements for some of the high-profile musicians he has worked with in the past to make it to the wedding.
"I love it here. The people are genuinely nice and open and friendly," he said.
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.
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