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"People tell us during our shows we sell very little in the way of hot dogs." — Edge

Terryworld's Other Worlds

Meet Terry Lawless

Bono calls him Terryworld. He earned that nickname by spending the last 18 years in the Underworld, that shadowy nether land between U2 and the audience. He’s performed in the largest stadiums on the planet, yet most fans don’t ever know he’s there. But music isn’t his only passion. His love for family, community and humanity are equally bold. All of this comes together on June 2 when Terry Lawless (his real name) heads up a musical fundraiser on behalf of the American Cancer Society. By contributing, you could win two tickets to see U2, anywhere on the current Experience + Innocence tour!

Terry defines his role with U2 as “keyboardist and programmer.” And with a humility that is clearly genuine, he adds, “I’m just a little cog in a big production.” His tools of the trade include a keyboard, computer and Hammond organ. When on the road, Terry works in hiding under the stage, rubbing shoulders in cramped quarters with Dallas Shoo (Edge’s guitar tech), Stuart Morgan (Adam’s bass guitar tech) and Sam O’Sullivan (Larry’s drum tech). This is the dream team that supports the band directly, making sure that U2’s performances are excellent every night.

He took the job of U2’s traveling keyboardist just before the start of the Elevation tour. “A friend of mine had the job and rehearsed with the band awhile,” he said. “Another big commitment of his popped up and he had to step aside. Then he called me.” That began his six-tour romp around the world with the Irish quartet, continuing today with Experience + Innocence.

I sat with Terry outside at a downtown café in San Jose having coffee, soaking in the California sun, while a violinist busked on a nearby sidewalk. He’s an unassuming man, a fatherly figure who exudes warmth and listens with care. Terry’s passion for raising cancer awareness is immediately evident. He was eager to talk about his upcoming event.

Terry and his wife, both cancer survivors, are teaming with the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life through their local chapter, the Santa Maria Pink Panthers. “This is a fundraiser that brings the community together," he said, "and you never see the community come together as they do in these kinds of situations — a cause, music, great food, and kid-friendly.” Being a part of events that foster community is a top priority for him.

On June 2, Terry will play an eight-hour marathon gig at Rancho Nipomo BBQ & Deli, in Nipomo, California. The event will include a raffle with some impressive items. Among them, Terry and his wife are donating the grand prize: two top-tier tickets for any show on the Experience + Innocence tour, anywhere in the world (winners must provide their own lodging and transportation), along with a backstage tour and other amenities. You can purchase as many $5 raffle tickets as you’d like, up to June 1, and the winner need not be present (details below).

Though many U2 fans don’t know who Terry is, the local music scene on the Central Coast of California certainly does. While he’s thrilled to be touring with one of the biggest bands in the world, he’s equally committed to performing in small festivals and venues at home — bars, wineries, fundraisers, even a lighthouse — it doesn’t matter.

He especially enjoys the intimacy of solo shows. “I’m different than every other act on the Central Coast,” he said. “I sing and play a lot of tunes that you don’t get to hear often enough, but you absolutely love.” With over 2,000 songs in his repertoire (a lot of rock, R&B, classic rock, pop and jazz), it’s hard for someone making a request to stump him. In mid-summer, while on a break from performing with U2, Terry will be playing 22 local shows in just the month of July. (See his calendar for more info.)

“I’m a musicologist,” Terry said. Sometimes he’ll have as many instruments sitting on the stage as there are people in the room — saxophones (his main instrument of choice), keyboards, flutes, electronic wind instruments, and even an accordion. But Terry also stays current on music industry trends. After our coffee, he shows me a new state-of-the-art digital keyboard that looks more like a solid black rubber place mat than a piano. He’ll be debuting that one at his fundraiser on June 2.

In addition to cancer awareness, Terry is also passionate about mentoring youth and supporting education, often speaking to budding musicians and groups of schoolchildren. He recalls a time when alcohol and other traps of the ’70s held a grip on him and so many other musicians. “I always try to mentor younger people, telling them how I enjoy my life much more now that I control it rather than having something else control me,” he said.

Terry’s attitude about music is inextricably linked to his philosophy of life. He advises his students to, “Play like it’s the last time you’re ever going to stand on stage.” He continued, “I’m not afraid of death, I’m afraid of playing that last gig. Everybody wants to just finish his last note on stage. Every musician feels that way.” He thought for a moment and added, “The saxophone is the only instrument that you wrap your arms around and breathe life into. And that’s how I feel every time I pick it up, that we’re just old lovers or something.” (For more of Terry’s four-point philosophy of music, see my blog post.)

When Terry performs locally, he believes he is participating in a uniquely creative act. “Music is creation,” he said. “It’s completely about creating something that wasn’t there.” His description of the difference between local music and a U2 concert is succinct:

When I’m on the road with U2, they find the best way to present their songs and that’s the way it’s going to be every day. They have the cage [screen] that they built for themselves. The lighting, the video, even the choreography has to be exactly the same every day. It’s very precise. But when I’m home playing with a small band, it’s about creation. When I’m on the road with U2, it’s about re-creation. There really isn’t anything wrong with either approach.

In addition to U2, Terry has traveled with other rock royalty. Who are his favorites? “First and foremost, is Bowie, my son’s honorary godfather,” he said. Bowie’s death hit him especially hard. He also highlights his work with Bruce Springsteen and P!nk, whom he calls “the greatest voice out there right now.” Others acts include The Doobie Brothers, Don Henley, Barry Manilow, Al Jarreau, Paula Abdul, Bonnie Raitt, Prince, Boston, Phil Collins, the Backstreet Boys and many, many more. Check out his full resume.

Terryworld is certainly more than a keyboard player for U2. He lives and works in many other worlds too. The most successful band in the history of rock ’n’ roll seems but a small part of a much larger existence. Music, community, family — these are the markers of humanity to which Terry speaks.

Please consider helping the Lawlesses as they raise funds for the American Cancer Society. You can attend the event in person (I’ll be there), buy some raffle tickets online, or simply give a donation in his wife’s name. Here are all the details you need:

Sweet T’s One Man Music Marathon

June 2, 2018
Rancho Nipomo BBQ & Deli
108 Cuyama Lane
Nipomo, California 93444

To purchase raffle tickets and a chance to win two U2 concert tickets valued at $650: Click here and select the $5 option; enter as many times as you’d like.

Make a donation: Use the above link to donate any amount.

All donations are tax deductible

For further information, see Terry Lawless Music Page on Facebook or Terry’s website.

(Photo by Tim Neufeld)

©@U2/Neufeld, 2018