Richard Holland writes:
Back in the early days of my exposure to Bluegrass I borrowed a tent and went to The IronBridge festival and there I came across a band – Sugarbeat …….. when the banjo player wore his cap backwards you knew something special was going to happen! My first introduction to Tony Furtado. – Sugarbeat was pushing the boundaries then – with a great ‘musical drive’ and a number of songs written by the band. Notable tracks for me from their recordings were ‘Drive South’, ‘Only for a Little While’ and ‘By the Time it Gets Dark’ – and then the outrageous ‘Fry The Trout’. These tracks can be found on the album ‘Sugarbeat’ recorded in 1993 . Tony’s playing, and the band left a lasting impression creating both a drive and a groove that was new to me. Sugarbeat also introduced me to `Matt Flinner (mandolin), Sally Truitt (bass) and Ben Demerath (guitar)
Tony was born in Pleasanton, California, and got interested in music and the Banjo at an early age. He went to College at California State, Hayward as a Fine Arts Major, and whilst there he won the Grand National Banjo Championship in Kansas. He was to win the Winfield competition twice in 1987 and later in 1991. Tony’s debut album was released in 1989 (Swamped / Rounder records) — and he toured with Laurie Lewis and The Grant Street String Band – including Tom Rozum (mandolin), Scott Nygaard (guitar) and Tammy Fassaert (bass). Tony got to play with a number of the greats of Bluegrass including Tim O’Brien , Jerry Douglas and Alison Krauss among others. The Alison Krauss track ‘I Will’ has Tony playing the Banjo introduction – the track can also be found on Tony’s album Within Reach.
Tony has recorded 16 Albums for various labels, but his latest recordings – ‘The Bell’ and Cider House Sessions are out on his own label and he describes “The Bell” as his most personal of his career. A project that he retained complete artistic control.
As a Banjo player his roots are set in Scruggs, but were quickly influenced by bands like the Eagles and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Watching the development of Bela Fleck helped Tony realise the potential of his playing and expand his own ideas. His technique encompasses Scruggs, Melodic and Single String playing to make him a complete master of the instrument.
Eventually Tony was drawn into playing Slide Guitar and that now plays a big part in his one man concerts, and his various musical collaborations. Writing songs and tunes came from his interest in literature and poetry – and there are many examples in both his recordings and live shows.
From Tony about his other life as a sculptor – “ I’m a musician and sculptor based in Portland, Oregon. For most of my life I’ve been balancing my passions between making folk music and creating ceramic sculpture. When I’m not on tour playing music in theaters and folk clubs around the world, I can be found in my sculpture studio with my hands in wet clay making things I’ve been seeing or dreaming about while on the road.
The number one inspiration for my art is the natural world and finding expressive and engaging ways to portray what I see and feel. Whether it’s an accurate biological rendering or a stylised and surreal statement, my process almost always begins with me imagining a creature, person, or structure (sometimes all three at once) somehow differently. I try to capture the duality of what is fierce and fragile in the form – the tension between survival and surrender, something we all endure as part of this wildly changing planet.”
‘Bill the Otter’
Married to Portland Singer / Songwriter Stephanie Schneiderman Tony is a real family man, and never out of contact with his son Liam in spite of the amount of travelling involved in his career. Stephanie is also a professional musician – so you can imagine, there is some careful juggling goes on to ensure all the diary dates work out.
We have been lucky in the UK to have Tony visit on a number of occasions – the last visit involved gigs with Ron Block – for me, two of my favourite Banjo players…..a real treat! Tony has also worked on the Sorefingers Staff so will be a familiar name to a large number of British Fans. Tony is also happy to answer any questions we might like to ask! Questions should be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org