My catching up with Mitch Easter has caught the attention of one of the Athens, Georgia old guard (or maybe it was all the emails bugging my friends to read me). For whatever reason I might owe the pleasure, I heard today from William Tonks, otherwise known as the "dobro player to the stars."
Tonks is sure to blush at that one, or grimace. Or maybe he'll succumb to a combination of the two: a blimace; a grush.
But he really has played, and played well, with everybody out of Athens (his brother in law Jack Logan, for one). Every so often there will be some earthshaking local show at the 40 Watt and I'll see online a picture of Tonks onstage, with a guitar hanging around his neck, next to Mike Mills of R.E.M., with a bass guitar hanging around his neck (and Mike Mantione of Five Eight jumping up and down somewhere in between them).
Tonks is among the best sidemen in the business, but I have always had a sweet spot for his songwriting, dating back to the mid-nineties, when I spent a year or so trying to move to Augusta, Georgia, to honor a marital commitment. I never could get further southeast than a farmhouse outside of Athens, where I camped out on the old red Cherokee dirt and reeled at all of the amazing new musicians I was meeting.
Back in the day, Tonks made me a mix tape of the songs he had cooked up in his basement studio with Logan, Ben Reynolds (formerly of Chickasaw Mud Puppies) and whoever else happened by his house that day. Remember, this is the South, where people really do somehow, even in this crazy 21st century, seem to have a little more time just to visit. And William Tonks is the nicest, most humble man you'll meet in your whole damn life.
I wore out that mix tape. I played it for many, many friends. Many friends loved the music. I badgered Tonks for digital copies of the tracks. Tonks coughed them up. I played the homeburned CDs for many, many friends. Many friends loved this stuff. I badgered Tonks to let me release a solo CD for him - William Tonks, Beside Myself, get it? - the ultimate sideman finally accompanies himself.
Time has shown that a good way to release your own record is for me to badger you to let me release it. Then you will assemble the material and develop a thirst for a little attention from the world, while I dabble in twenty other projects and fail to hold onto enough money to do your record properly, until you finally give up on me and do it for yourself. Failure, or catalyst? I'm going to call myself a catalyst. After all, I'm stuck with myself, that bastard; I might as well look on his bright side.
All of that, and what I really wanted to tell you was what Tonks told me today:
"Been gigging with my pals Bloodkin a good bit lately - they're playing really, really well these days, and I'm happy to pull a WWJPD? (What Would Jimmy Page Do? Well, probably hold an aqua-satanic ceremony, defile a nubile teen and add another guitar at the chorus, but that's beside the point. Well, at least I can add another guitar at the chorus. Gotta start somewhere.) Dave Barbe calls them his favorite American band of all time, bar none. That, and I'm wishing I still had a telecaster. WWJPD?"
The photo is of Tonks onstage with Bloodkin from Tonks' MySpace page. Like most genuine creators, Tonks sucks at self-promotion; but if you get at him through MySpace he may be able to tell you where to buy some of his wonderful music. The selection of songs on his MySpace page and the page for Workhorses of the Entertainment Industry are very good, as I post this. The unreleased rocker by his band Barbara Cue on Tonks' page will no doubt send one in search of more Barbara Cue.