Rockford Rocked: A chat with local musician Tony Walker

By Todd Houston
Exclusive to TRRT

When did you become interested in playing or even listening to music?

My father was a musician. He played guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. I remember having his mandolin in my crib, being fascinated by the tail piece cover and the mounting bracket for the pick guard. I liked the way it sounded above the nut, close to the tuning gears… “baby sounds”.

What music are you currently grooving to?

In my CD player? Well, after moving my music studio into the basement, it took me about two months to hook my CD player up. I wanted to hear how the PA sounded, so I put in an old favorite, “Sailin’ Shoes” by Little Feat; it sounded so good! I hadn’t heard it for a while and I rarely listen to the radio anymore. My brother Tim and I make our own music, and it seems that’s all I need for the last couple of years. I have old favorites that I’ll pull up on YouTube once in a while and share on Facebook. Things I’m afraid people don’t listen to anymore.

Who were some of you influences musically growing up?

I think Keith Richards was the first guitar player that made me want to play lead. I put “Oh Carol!” on, and tried to play along with it. I found a few notes, then a few more. “I can do this!”

Later influences were Jeff Beck in the Yardbirds, and of course Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. I couldn’t figure out what Hendrix was doing though and I didn’t have a whammy bar. Later I learned to finger pick by trying to play Earl Scruggs banjo licks on my guitar.

My father was an influence early on and through him Hank Williams, The Carter Family, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.  I remember seeing Little Richard on American Bandstand…. He knocked me out.

Do you recall the first album you bought and where you bought it?

It was probably a Ventures album, unless you want to count “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” a few years earlier! I talked my mom into buying that one for me. I bought my first records at Schultz Bros, Five & Dime in Belvidere. They always had a good selection. I also got a bunch from the Columbia Record Club, in their “Bunch of records for a dollar” deal, and then failed to honor my commitment to buy more. They are probably still looking for me on that! (Laughs)

What was the best concert you ever attended?

If I have to decide, then I will say Neil Young with Crazy Horse. No, The Rolling Stones… No, Floggin’ Molly…. No, Bob Dylan… No, Ry Cooder. I can’t decide. (Laughs)

What bands were you involved with here in the Rockford area back in the day?

The first band I was in was The Continentals, The Incidents. Other bands that followed were The Talisman, Weeds, The Double Decker Bus, Uncle Roscoe’s Instant Fred, The Bozo Sweat Band (previously The Missing Links), The Only Human Band, Grey Sky Blues Band, Mount Roscoe, Red Bud Thunder. I hope I haven’t forgot any.

Your band Red Bud Thunder were sometimes known for playing at some shady tavern’s and bars across the Midwest. Any Blues Brother’s type stories to share? Chicken wire?

We were probably as shady as any of the taverns we played in. I do remember a bar in Janesville, WI, located near the GM plant. Fights were common there, and one night a brawl broke out. We kept playing, and I was ready to use my solid body Les Paul to defend my self if need be. Women were under the tables, bottles were flying, and when anyone tried to leave three big guys at the door kept shoving them back into the chaos! Another night, playing for a biker club in Rock Falls, it was getting late and they kept passing the hat… “More! More!!” By 3:00 o’clock, I felt ill so I stepped to the side of the stage,I ended up breaking all of the strings on my guitar and finally the rest of the band knew it was over for the night. I better not tell you about the pig roasts!

Favorite Sunday morning record?

The Allman Brothers “Live at the Fillmore East” never fails to bring the sun up.

You have some pretty cool guitars in your collection; tell us about the 1950’s Gibson Les Paul Special that got away.

My parents bought me a 1956 Gibson Les Paul Special when I began taking lessons at Guzzardo’s. I sold it when I got married the first time. Dad told me not to sell it, but I was not listening too much to what he had to say back then. I got $75 cash and a bad check for it! I never got over that loss.. Dad was right. I had to sell my 1963 Fender Jaguar to save my house before I divorced my second wife. I miss it only because I had it for such a long time but I never thought it was much of a guitar. It looked pretty but played bad just like the second wife.

My remorse from losing the 1956 Special was greatly lessened when I walked into Guzzardo’s on Charles Street in 1978 and found my Les Paul Pro Deluxe. I didn’t even know they still made P-90s! It’s a better guitar than the 56’ was and it has a much nicer neck! I played the heck out of it in Red Bud Thunder. It’s kind of heavy now with only one arm so my main axe now is a Gibson SG Junior with one P-90.

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