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Realtor and musician Rob Thorworth returns to Birmingham

Photos and story by Brent Thompson

Sing me Back Home

Anyone familiar with the 1990s Birmingham music scene will immediately recognize the names Rob Thorworth and Gravy. Guitarist/vocalist Thorworth – now a residential real estate agent with ARC Realty – formed the blues-based trio Gravy out of necessity when a gig opportunity arose on Florida’s Emerald Coast.

“La Paz was opening in Destin and they asked us to play the grand opening,” Thorworth recalls. “I wanted to take [bassist] Jay [Johnson] and [drummer] John [Scalici] down there with me, but they couldn’t go, so I took Mark Lanter and Milton Davis from The Cast. We played and people asked the restaurant, ‘Is this going to be your house band?’ Every place has a house band during the summer, so that’s where Gravy started. I came back and got Jay and John and they gave us the gig. We played five nights a week and they put the band up in a nice condominium. We spent the whole summer playing blues.”

That summer on the coast set things in motion for the trio and success soon followed. However, some pitfalls – common to the music industry – were around the corner.  “Gravy did well,” Thorworth says. “We had a record deal, we had a management company and we were running all over the country. Things fell apart when we found out that somebody else had the name ‘Gravy’ service marked. I could have kept going as Gravy, but my lawyer said, ‘If you get as big as you want to be, this guy can come in and take all of your merchandise money,’ so I changed the name to the Rob Thorworth Trio. I went from filling up Five Points Music Hall to barely filling up Flamingo’s. I did that for a couple of years and [Thorworth’s wife] Katie and I looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s make a change.”

 So they packed up and moved to Baltimore, a city near Katie’s family and a place that Thorworth had previously enjoyed success while on tour. “I found that when the band was traveling up that way, the music was well-received,” he recalls. “I figured I could hit D.C., Philly and New York and I’d be a smaller fish in a bigger pond, but I’d have more opportunity.”

But the music business isn’t easy in any city. While he continued to record and perform in Baltimore, Thorworth began to seek other opportunities. “I started recording and producing out of my house and I’d play on weekends,” he says. “Baltimore is a big alternative music scene, but the crowd is indifferent to swampy blues music. I was sitting with a musician – discussing the usual musician woes [laughs] – and he said, ‘I’ve started doing appraisals. Go get a license and I’ll teach you what you need to know.’ I started doing appraisals on the side and I was supplementing my income. The housing crash happened and my boss said, ‘I don’t have enough work to keep you on.’ I was teaching guitar lessons at the time and one of my students said, ‘I just quit my job and I’m going to sell real estate.’ A couple of years went by and I ran into him again and he said, ‘I’m starting a team’ and I ended up getting a real estate license and signing with Long & Foster, which is a Berkshire Hathaway company.”

With his career firmly in place – and the addition of two children – Thorworth decided it was time to return to Alabama. “I just never felt at home in Baltimore,” he admits. “My wife’s family is up there and I love them, but Baltimore is a rough place. We lived right in the city and for the first few years I thought it was awesome. Then I just got beat up by the news and the murder rate was awful. My son, ironically enough, was the one that wanted to move down here more than anybody. He started listening to country music and pictured himself hunting and fishing like Luke Bryan [laughs]. Baltimore just wore me down – I got tired of that tension and always being on guard.”

The Thorworths sold their house in March of this year and the family was living in Birmingham by April. Upon his return, Thorwoth reconnected with Dale McIntyre – an old friend and musician, and principal at ARC Realty. “We had lunch,” Thorworth recalls. “He said, ‘why don’t you come by the office?’ I went to ARC and I fell in love with it. I said, ‘This is where I need to be. I’m going through their mentor program because contracts are different down here.”

But while he is glad to be back in Birmingham and excited about his business opportunity, Thorworth still has an itch for music that needs to be scratched. “I know I’m going to play music, but I need to get my real estate business off the ground,” he offers. “Musically, I’ve been talking to [longtime friend and musician] J. Willoughby about what the scene looks like. I’m really excited about doing my solo acoustic thing.”

 And are his children following in his musical footsteps? “My son’s been playing some guitar and my daughter’s a great singer,” he says. “ButI don’t want them to struggle like I did. I spent my life trying to be a rock star. I did well, but I made some sacrifices to do what I did.”

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