As musician in residence for the United Mine Workers of America, Tom’s songs were instrumental in winning back the pensions and health benefits of 18,000 retired coal miners in 2013. Tom crafted songs that reflected the struggles of these retirees and traveled and performed for tens of thousands across the U.S. at their Fairness at Patriot rallies. The UMWA continues to rely on Breiding to deliver poignant and topical compositions today, and so do others from the AFL-CIO to grass roots organizers like Karen Gorrell, his home state’s modern day Mother Jones.
Tom’s work with the Appalachian Institute in his hometown of Wheeling, has led him, guitar in tow, into the coal towns and backroads of “West by God Virginia.” His songs echo the stories of men and women whom he has known. They tell the stories that history has all but forgotten — stories that sink so deep into a person’s psyche that they have to be told again; in Tom’s case, through song. They are the often forgotten tales from the coal camps of Colorado, the mountains and hollows of West Virginia and the abandoned, decaying city streets of Ohio River steel towns.
Tom’s music reflects his admiration of his home state, his respect for the triumphs, hardships and dedication of the labor movement, and for the lives of those whose work produces the energy that has powered this nation’s progress and expansion for over two centuries. His songs reflect the tension, apprehension and joy of a region where hard work, family and honest living are the markers of a life well lived. Where others glorify the honest, hard-working man with ballads of beer and heartache, Tom’s music makes apparent a distinction between the distant idealization of the working man and the real life of the working man; the distinction between country — and coal country.