(WSYR-TV) — Think about voiceover artists supreme Tom Kenny and you probably hear the voice of a yellow sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea.
But there’s another side to the voice of “SpongeBob SquarePants” that you might not have heard.
It’s a rocking, hopping burst of energy, on stage with his 12 piece band… singing tributes to heroes like Muddy Waters and Pinetop Perkins.
“Tom Kenny as a musician is one of the greatest rock and roll performers I’ve ever been on stage with, and that’s no lie,” says SAMMY Award Hall of Fame singer/songwriter Gary Frenay. “I’ve played gigs with him at Shifty’s over the years and he’ll be like crawling on the bar… He loved Rock and Roll. As a musician, it’s such a great experience, to have someone like that sit in with you.”
Tom Kenny is a Bishop Grimes grad who’s in town to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Syracuse Area Music Awards. He once fronted the legendary local band, The Tearjerkers… a gig Gary Frenay recommended him for. He currently plays with his own 12-piece band, Tom Kenny and the Hi-Seas, in Los Angeles. They came along from Los Angeles to play the SAMMY Awards ceremony Friday and another gig on Saturday night at the King of Clubs in Armory Square.
Kenny’s best friend since grade school, the comedian and filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait, also came home for the big occasion.
“I like to say it’s like watching if a rooster and Little Richard had a baby,” Goldthwait jokes. “That’s what it’s like watching Tom Kenny sing.”
The pair hosted the SAMMY ceremonies in 1996 at the Landmark Theatre. Since then, Kenny’s career as an animation voiceover artist has exploded, with over 500 roles, including some 23 years as “SpongeBob.” The show has been in continuous production since 1999, and the character is bigger today than ever with sequels and streaming shows and a new theatrical film just announced last month.
Tom’s also written some of SpongeBob’s biggest hits, including the iconic “Best Day Ever.”
“Tom has so much empathy and such a big heart,” says Bobcat. “And I think that comes through when he creates the voices. And I feel that that’s why his characters are so popular and that’s why we think of his characters as our friends.”
It’s much the same when you meet Tom in person. You can tell this is a guy who’s in the right line of business.
“Make a living doing something I enjoyed and maybe I can monetize being creative?,” he says. “And maybe marginally entertaining? Is there a way to monetize and make a living at it? Is that a job a grown-up can have?”
Kenny says he’s not usually much of an awards guy. But to be honored by the hometown crowd?
“This is way better than an Emmy,” he says with a broad smile. “It’s a SAMMY! Come on!”
Find out more about the SAMMY Awards, and check out the live-stream recording of Tom’s Lifetime Achievement acceptance speech at SyracuseAreaMusic.com. You can also see pictures of Tom and Bobcat hosting the SAMMYs in the photo gallery for the 1996 Awards.