He was a good boy in 1997, so his parents purchased him a Christmas present. Little did Tim Ullom’s mother and father realize at the time how the gift would alter the course of their son’s life.
Wrapped with a bow and placed under the tree was a Pro Player guitar, a six-string acoustic that was affordably priced. It had to be for the parents of three, especially since they believed Tim would fuddle with it for a month or two before his attention would be drawn to some other dream.
But he sang in the shower, and he was the class cantor in grade school at St. Michael’s in Wheeling. And he thought he sounded pretty good, too.
“That’s what I wanted because I was always singing some song in my head for whatever reasons,” Ullom recalled. “My father has always been a huge fan of all kinds of music, and he’s always had a great record collection, so I grew up with every kind of music you can imagine. And my mother’s side of the family is very musical.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. I don’t think I ever thought I would sing in public or anything, but I knew I wanted to learn how to play the songs I was singing all of the time,” he said. “My family members were making fun of me at the time because they were telling me I didn’t have the finger dexterity to play the guitar, and now they still can’t believe I learned how to play it. I guess my motor skills, in their eyes, weren’t the greatest.”
Ullom surprised his family to the point he annoyed them.
“After I was familiar with the guitar and knew how to play a little, I took some lessons for a couple of months and took it from there,” he said. “My mom and dad have told me that they were amazed that I learned how to play the way I did because they really thought I would mess with it for a couple of months and then forget about it, toss it in a corner, and let it collect dust.
“But I kept going to the point that my brother and sister started yelling at me,” Ullom continued. “They’d say, ‘Quit playing the same song over and over,’ but that’s what you do when you are learning.”
That first tune? Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.”
“I’m pretty sure I made everyone in our house hate that song. They probably still hate it,” Ullom said with a laugh. “Not only did I really like that song at the time, but it was easy, and I thought it would be best if I started out with an easy one before I tried to tackle something else.
“Once I got that one down, I moved on to other songs – not much more Metallic though, because I did have the voice for most of their songs,” he said. “I don’t remember the order now, but I’m sure I was playing what everyone else was paying attention to.”
But not country, the genre for which Ullom is now known.
“Back then I was the guy who always said he’d never go to Jamboree in the Hills,” he admitted. “And then all of a sudden I realized that country music speaks to my life more than anything else has. I was made for country music.
“I didn’t grow up with a lot of country music. I lived in a rock n’ roll house. It was ZZ Top and Aerosmith and that kind of stuff, and in high school I got into the Doors and Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd,” Ullom continued. “But I came to love the stories and the messages that are in country songs. That made a big difference to me from the start.”
Ullom graduated from Wheeling Central Catholic High School in 1998 and immediately enrolled at West Liberty University. His father was a certified public accountant, but Ullom knew not what career he wished to chase.
But then he and that guitar got a gig.
“The first time I played in front of an audience was during my freshman year at West Liberty. There was a little bar in North Wheeling that used to be called the Sundown. I didn’t have PA equipment, they didn’t pay me, and I plugged into their karaoke machine.”
And then Ullom got another gig.
“My first paid show was at Tisters on Wheeling Island – that’s now the Island Grille,” Ullom continued. “I was friends with the owner’s son, and he paid me $50 to play during their grand opening. It was like a million dollars to me because I was getting paid to play music.”
Paid to Drink Beer?
Not only did Ullom begin faithfully attending Jamboree in the Hills, the annual four-day country music festival near Morristown, Ohio, but he also performed across the street inside the Valley View Campground.
“It’s crazy the way that started,” Ullom recalled. “The guys that I camped with knew the owner of the campground, and they’re the ones who got me to be part of the show they had in this little barn up by the entrance, and the first year it was two little speakers and a very low-budget thing. That continued for a couple of years, and then they quit doing it.
“But then the owner took it over at his campsite, and they ran the whole show off of generators. In a year or two it turned into this huge event, and that’s when the owners of Valley View took it back and moved it to where it is now,” he said. “Now they have professional PA, and they have bands every night, and they are really great to me. They have told me that Wednesday night is mine until I don’t want it anymore.”
Ullom received a similar offer from the former owner of the 19th Hole Bar in Wheeling. His “kind-of-a-big-deal” reputation was growing within the Upper Ohio Valley, but real-life bills provoked him to find regular employment that threatened his performance schedule.
“When I first started playing at the 19th Hole, it was always Sunday nights, but then I got a job, and I had to work Monday mornings,” Ullom said. “So I talked to the owner at the time, Allan Kage, and he asked me, ‘What if I add Thursday nights? You could make more money in eight hours here than you can make working 40 hours at that job.’ And he was right.
“It was a good idea so I quit that job and started playing at the 19th Hole two nights a week, and then Thursday nights exploded. The new owner, Angie, is still rolling with the Thursday nights because we built up that regular crowd.”
At first, Ullom knew most in attendance because the crowd was dominated by family and friends. Soon, though, he was playing to hundreds of anonymous faces, one of which ultimately would lead to the end of his successful run at the Friendly City tavern.
“It’s actually the 19th Hole’s fault because that’s where I met Kayla,” he said with a laugh. “I was playing one night, and she was there for one of her friend’s birthday, and she came up to me and said, ‘I like you. You seem nice.’ I asked her, ‘Really? You can tell that by just listening to me sing songs?’ And the whole time her friends were giving me dirty looks.
“After that she started coming to a lot of my shows, and what really set it off was one time she told me that her favorite song was Tim McGraw’s ‘Everywhere.’ At the time she was a massage therapist, and she told me that if I learned that song she would give me a free massage. Well, who doesn’t like to get a free massage?
“And then one night she came back to the 19th Hole when I was playing, and without saying anything to her I broke into that song. And two notes in I saw her shoulders drop, and she turned around to look at me,” he fondly remembered. “That’s when I knew, and from there I thought I started out in control, but somewhere down the line I lost it. I completely lost it, and I’m pretty damn happy about that today.”
“A Couple of Kids and the Kind of Life You Want to Lead”
Tim and Kayla were soon involved in a full-blown romance, and everyone knew it. It was obvious, and they didn’t care. He found himself shopping for an engagement ring, but then arrived the news.
Kayla was pregnant, and T.J. was welcomed to the world on Nov. 3, 2010.
“I was going to propose to her, but then she got pregnant, and I didn’t want to do it then because I was afraid she would have thought that was the only reason I was asking her to marry me,” Ullom explained. “But then on her birthday on Nov. 29 after T.J. was born, we drove through the Festival of Lights and pulled over where there are all the blue lights by the Par 3.
“I was going to do something corny like hiding the ring in T.J.’s diaper, but I really didn’t want him pooping on it, so I just asked her,” he said. “She looked at me and said, ‘Are you sure?’ I told her I was absolutely sure, and we still go through the Lights on her birthday every year.”
The couple was married on Sept. 17, 2011, and Ullom continued to perform when the child-raising scheduled permitted him to do so. T.J. was a healthy child, but Mom and Dad noticed the young boy’s negative reactions to certain situations.
They called their pediatrician and made an appointment.
“After T.J.’s third birthday, he was diagnosed to be on the spectrum of Autism, and he’s been going to Augusta Levy since,” he said. “He’s been doing fantastic there thanks to the wonderful people who work there.
“When we first found out, we were very upset. Anyone would be. But then we educated ourselves, and his main issue is sensory. They also told us he has some issues with compliance, and I think he may have gotten that from me because I can be a stubborn asshole,” joked Ullom. “All kidding aside, he’s made a lot of progress already, and we’re going to continue doing everything we can for him. We have a lot of people to thank at Augusta Levy because of all of the success he’s had.”
Tim and Kayla then welcomed their second son, Luke, on Dec. 12, 2013.
“Luke is my grandfather reincarnated because he looks exactly like my grandpap,” he said. “He’s funnier than Hell, though, because his big brother pushes him over all of the time, but he just gets back up and goes back for me.
“He’s starting to talk now, and he’s walking around and getting used to shoes, and we’re staring at him pretty hard because of experiences with T.J. If there is something, we want to catch it as soon as possible,” Ullom continued. “He seems to be on the right path because we’ve not noticed anything like we did with T.J.”
Ullom’s opportunities to sing his songs dwindled even more, but he refuses to complain about that because of the example set by his own parents.
“My family will always come first. That’s the way I was raised and that’s how Kayla and I are raising our children,” Ullom said. “My father could have been a partner is some huge firm by now, but he and my mother made the decision they believed was in the best interests of their kids, and that’s why they decided to raise me, my brother, and my sister in Wheeling.
“That’s the way it should be, and I think that’s something missed by a lot of people these days. They don’t seem to understand that if you have a child, it’s not about you anymore, it’s about them,” he said. “We still like to sneak out every once in a while. You have to or you’ll go crazy. And that’s what grandparents are for, right?”
The Family Man.
He’s written original songs. Some about heartbreak, some about taking life too seriously, and yes, a few about beer-drinking and song-singing parties out in a campground.
And Ullom, who has worked with his father at his CPA firm in Wheeling since 2006, continues to partner with friend and fellow musician Jason Treuman to perform duo shows, and on occasion the Tim Ullom Band reunites for full-band shows at events like the annual Centre Market Wing Festival. Granted, his music career is not how he once dreamed it would be when finger-figuring that first guitar, but that’s on him; he knows it, and he’s fine with it.
“I guess my dream was to try to do something musically, but I never really put myself out there. That’s why I blame myself because some things have happened for others, but only because they put themselves out there,” Ullom explained. “But I’m fine with it. Those people put the work in to do what they have done, like playing the main stage at Jamboree in the Hills.
“It’s one thing to say that I’ve paid my dues, and I have. But what have I really done? I went out and drank beer and played music, and I am very happy with where I am at. I’m a lucky man to have what I have, if you really think about it. I have a wonderful wife and a great family, and now I am living the everyday American dream.”
He continues to write originals, but the tunes do not flow, he admitted, as they do for some others. When words and the melodies come to mind, Ullom pays attention, depending on whether or not there’s a diaper to change or other dad-duties to perform.
“Music is a hobby for me now. If I get to perform, I perform, and I still love it,” he said. “But if I only had the chance to play at home, I’d be fine with that, too. I might miss it, but it’s not who I am. I’m not the starving artist who bleeds my work. That’s not me.
“I like to make people happy and if me playing music does that, great – even if it’s a cover song. I’ll admit that when the crowd seems to enjoy one of my original songs, it’s a better feeling because those songs come from within me,” Ullom said. “Music is a weird thing. I think people try to judge music too much. It’s an art form and everyone is different.
“Music used to be competition for me, and if someone didn’t enjoy my music it used to bother me. But I finally learned that all I can do is perform, and if people like it, they like it. If they don’t, then they don’t. It’s the growing pains. You learn.”
Ullom no longer owns that first guitar he received for Christmas nearly 20 years ago. He gave it to a cousin who wanted to learn how to play because that’s what his parents did for him. These days when he performs he’s holding one of two Takamine acoustics.
“But that first guitar changed the course of my life,” Ullom admitted. “If I wouldn’t have received that guitar I would have never met my wife or had my kids. I may not even have some of the best friends anyone would want in their lives.
“That guitar symbolizes a lot of things. It kind of made me who I am today, and I’m pretty damn happy with who I am today,” he added. “And I’m not done with music in the least. I told Kayla just the other day that I think writing songs for others to sing would be a pretty cool job to have some day because then I could wear my sweatpants all day. She just sort of stared at me.”
And then this content man smiled once again.