Q&A with Nashville-based guitarist Tony Sarno, recorded numerous critically-acclaimed Rock and Blues albums

"In a perfect world, it would be more equitable, but that’s a pipe dream. Like all things in the entertainment world, it’s a “pyramid”; the few at the top make all of the money, and those at the bottom make crumbs. I realize that the ones at the top are generating most of the money, and therefore reap the most benefits. I am grateful for the living I am able to sustain, whether from music, or any of the numerous odd jobs that I’ve done."

Tony Sarno: Music City's Blues Thing

Tony Sarno is an American singer, guitarist, songwriter, and recording artist who has recorded numerous critically-acclaimed Rock and Blues albums. Tony has toured the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Argentina, and Mexico with his band as well as artists Felix Cavaliere, David Clayton Thomas, Hollander, Dee Archer, and Peter Tork. He has dozens of published songs and pieces written for TV, Film, and Radio. Tony produced international releases “The Thunderhawks”, “Tony Sarno (Tony Sarno)”, “Silent night (Tony Sarno)”, Sooner or later (Dee Archer) and Tony Sarno & the Screamin’ Blue Demons’ “It’s a blues thing”. He produces music for CBS Sports and Big Fish Audio. He shared numerous concert bills with B.B. King, as well as bills with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hall & Oates, Johnny Winter, and Little Feat. Tony has recorded for CBS/Holland, Icehouse/Priority, Marconi, and Bandwidth Records. He was a Resident Artist at The Bose Corporation, aiding in the development of the L1 sound system.         (Photo: Tony Sarno)

"It’s a blues thing Too (Muscle Shoals Edition)" (2021) was Tony’s latest album, recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in December 2020. Featuring the legendary rhythm section of Clayton Ivey on Keys, David Hood on bass, and Ed Greene on drums, with The Harris Brothers Horn Section, Vicki Hampton and Holly Steele on Background vocals, and Deric Dyer’s rocking sax solos. Produced by Mark Maynard, and mixed by Jason Hall, soulful, rocking blues from Muscle Shoals. On Marconi Records.

Interview by Michael Limnios                  Tony Sarno, 2014 Interview @ blues.gr

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I now realize that it’s the journey, not the destination. I have really come to appreciate my journey, with its pitfalls, as well as its joys. When you first start out, you yearn for the road, the tour bus, and the airplane rides, but you find out that it’s really hard work, and you have to really love the music to stick with it (the tour bus and airplane rides are not as plentiful as the rides in old cars and broken-down trucks!). You strive to be rich and famous,  but come to realize that that’s not what’s its all about. I finally settled-down and have a young family now, so my world-view is through a new window. While playing music around the world is great, (and an incredible privilege) I’d just as soon be around the campfire with my son and his fellow Scouts, playing campfire songs! I still love the road, and certainly still travel, but it’s better now in smaller doses.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

I have a lot more to say now, both lyrically and musically. I also now know that the space between the notes is where the beauty of music lies; what you don’t say (play) is as important as what you do say (play). 

What has remained the same about your music-making process? Where does your creative drive come from?

I do the demos at the house and then go into the big studio to cut the masters. The creative drive comes from my love of the music and my sensitivity to my environment and circumstances around me.

"I have a lot more to say now, both lyrically and musically. I also now know that the space between the notes is where the beauty of music lies; what you don’t say (play) is as important as what you do say (play)." (Photo: Tony Sarno's album "It’s a blues thing Too (Muscle Shoals Edition)", recorded in Muscle Shoals Alabama, with some of the original "Swampers", Ed Greene, David Hood, Clayton Ivey, and other great musicians. Features rockin' sax by former Tina Turner sideman, Deric Dyer)

Do you have any stories about the making of the new album It's a Blues Thing Too (Muscle Shoals Edition)?

I got to Muscle Shoals on Friday night, and the musicians had been set up and recording in the studio for two days previous. This was good, because it meant that we didn’t have to spend time getting drum sounds and tweaking the headphone mix etc. The drummer, the great Ed Greene, was the only one beside me that had to travel down from Nashville, and he had stayed in one of the two bedrooms there on the studio premises. The room that he got had a big screen TV, and all the comforts of home, whereas mine was used for storing amps, and anything else that might need to be stored! Of course, I was so thrilled to have Ed playing drums that I didn’t mind a bit. Ed played on some of my favorite records, including “Sara Smile” by Hall & Oates, “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell, and all of the Barry White records!  

What touched you from Muscle Shoals sound?

The vibe in Muscle Shoals is unmistakable, and playing with such amazing musicians was a real honor for me. I never realized that some of my favorite records were cut there, and my new record is reminiscent of those great records because of those musicians, the engineers, the studio, and the area. Something you may not know, is that Helen Keller is from Muscle Shoals; it’s a magical place. 

Are there any memories from B.B King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Johnny Winter, which you’d like to share with us?

B.B. King was always such a gracious gentleman when we opened his shows; he would always introduce me along with his band. Stevie Ray came into our dressing room to say hello, and was just the nicest guy. There was a bar next door to the venue (The Capitol Theater in Passaic New Jersey), and I went over there after the gig, and the people were just great and so happy to see me. It’s not easy being the opening act for amazing talents like Stevie, B.B., and Johnny. I didn’t get to say hello to Johnny, but I knew his bass player, Jon Paris from the old Kenny’s Castaways days, and then more recently I toured with his drummer Tommy Curiale. Tommy and I did Felix Cavaliere’s Christmas tour in 2015. 

"My job is to entertain people. Everyone has their problems, and my hope is to let them forget about them for a few hours. We are all members of the human race, and there are only two kinds of music; good music and bad music; if you like it’s good, if you don’t like it’s bad. I want to affect people in a positive way; that’s my job." (Tony Sarno, 2020)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

In a perfect world, it would be more equitable, but that’s a pipe dream. Like all things in the entertainment world, it’s a “pyramid”; the few at the top make all of the money, and those at the bottom make crumbs. I realize that the ones at the top are generating most of the money, and therefore reap the most benefits. I am grateful for the living I am able to sustain, whether from music, or any of the numerous odd jobs that I’ve done.    

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

There are so many lessons learned, so I’ll only mention one. It took me the longest time, but THE most important lesson that I have learned is, that it isn’t about us, the musicians. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to play music for people, and it’s not about “hey, look at me; look at how fast I can play, or how high I can sing”. It’s “Hey, let’s help you forget about whatever it is you’re worried about; let’s entertain you, let’s make you dance, laugh, or cry”. My ultimate goal as a musician is that I bring some joy to the audience, whether live or on recordings.    

What is the impact of music on the racial and socio-cultural implications? How do you want to affect people?

My job is to entertain people. Everyone has their problems, and my hope is to let them forget about them for a few hours. We are all members of the human race, and there are only two kinds of music; good music and bad music; if you like it’s good, if you don’t like it’s bad. I want to affect people in a positive way; that’s my job.

"The vibe in Muscle Shoals is unmistakable, and playing with such amazing musicians was a real honor for me. I never realized that some of my favorite records were cut there, and my new record is reminiscent of those great records because of those musicians, the engineers, the studio, and the area. Something you may not know, is that Helen Keller is from Muscle Shoals; it’s a magical place." 

(Tony Sarno, 2016 / Photo by Thomas Claxton)

What would you say characterizes Nashville and its music scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

Musicians come to Nashville to be with kindred spirits, and I think that because Nashville is so much smaller than the other two major music hubs; New York and Los Angeles, that it’s not as daunting for musicians. There are great musicians everywhere, but Nashville has a high concentration of them in a very livable city. Also, what I tell young people about coming to Nashville, is “The opportunities will present themselves here, but you must be ready for them.”

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