Tony Grey – Hopeful and Open, November 2014 Issue
This month I am excited since I am interviewing Tony Grey!
An unbelievable bass player who happens to be a dear friend of mine.Tony Grey was born in Newcastle, England, where music was just another family member. At the age of 18 Tony broke his back in a car accident. It was during his recovery that he started playing the bass, and under the watchful eye of legendary guitarist John McLaughlin, Tony successfully auditioned for a scholarship to the world-renowned Berklee College Of Music in Boston.
While at Berklee, Tony took time out to join the newly formed pop band Bliss. The group had signed a major record deal with the legendary record producer Terry Ellis, who in the past discovered artist such as Billy Idol, Jethro Tull, Blondie, Huey Lewis & The News, and Pat Benitar, to name a few.
Tony spent the next 18 months touring with the group throughout Asia. They appeared on several TV shows, recorded three hit singles, filmed music videos, which were featured on MTV, and achieved a Top 10 CD.
Tony then left the group in order to return to the United States to complete his studies at Berklee. During his time at Berklee, he studied with some of their greatest teachers: Kenwood Dennard, Bruce Gertz, and Bass Chair Rich Appleman. During his remaining four semesters, Tony won the prestigious Outstanding Performer Award.
He graduated from Berklee with high honours in May 2001. Since graduating he has gone on to perform and record with some of the worlds greatest musicians, such as: John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Gavin DeGraw, Dennis Chambers, Zakier Hussain, Gary Husband, Brian Blade, Mike Stern, Wayne Krantz, Steve Lukather (Toto) Branford Marsalis, Hiromi, Toby Lightman, Simon Philips (Toto), Dave Holland, Kenwood Dennard (Sting, Miles Davis), Russell Ferante (The Yellow Jackets), David Fiuczynski (Screaming Headless Torsos, Meshell NdegeOcello), Larry Watson, Ava Rovatti, Jetro Da Silva (Whitney Houston, Patti Austin), David Garfield, Frank McComb, David Nichtern, Gene Lake (David Sanborn), Dave DiCenso, Oliver Rockberger, Falguni, Deantoni Parks and Lionel Loueke (Wayne Shorter, Charlie Haden).
How did you come to play bass guitar?
I started playing bass at the age of 19. My story of how I started playing music is a very interesting one. I was in the Army back in England training to be a Royal Engineer. I was involved in a horrific car accident that left me with a broken back resulting in a medical discharge.
The Bass Guitar was a random gift given to me by my step-father as an attempt to stop me feeling sorry for myself during my long and painful recovery.
Playing the bass quickly became an escape for me and was very much my substitute for medicine. I fell in love and started practicing obsessively. It was when I became more serious that I asked my mentor and great legendary guitarist John McLaughlin if it was too late for me to be serious about a career in music. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “There is still time… music is in us and an instrument is only a physical tool to express what we learn and feel.” These words changed my perspective on music and learning music.
What recordings represent your best works as a bass player?
That’s a tough question for a couple of reasons. I would have to say my CD’s because that’s my opportunity to really say who I am as a musician/story teller and as a bass player. But I also has the luxury of redoing things I don’t like which can be a good or a bad thing. Sometimes in the studio when you only get one shot thats where you have to trust all the hard work you did prior.
For my own music I’m very proud of all my CD’s they really show a time line of where I was at to where I am now. As a Side man I really Love Hiromi’s CD Spiral.
Who would you consider a mentor?
I’m so lucky that on my musical journey I have had some really great mentors and friends to guide me. I feel a true mentor is someone who can not only pick you up and inspire when you are down and needing a lift. Someone who is not afraid to tell you or critique you when they see it. Someone who is not afraid of telling you the truth even if they know it will hurt you. John McLaughlin has been my greatest mentor. I love him and respect him so much, his help and guidance over the years has been truly magical. Other great mentors I have had are the great drummer Kenwood Dennard, Percussionist Mino Cinelu and the great vocalist and Berklee Professor Larry Watson. Without these guys I would be lost.
What gear do you use in the studio and on Tour? Tell me about your signature bass.
I truly think the gear you use is so important. It really is an extension of yourself and who you are as a musician. It’s your voice. In the Studio I like to keep in as simple as possible. I’m never without my Fodera Basses. I usually take my 4, 5 and 6 string basses to any session and let the producer decide the sound they are going for.
For my Amps I always use Aguilar. I understand the sound and can really get straight in the zone with dynamics etc. Depending on the track I may have my delay pedal and octave pedal. But generally I like to be as minimal as possible.
What are you main effects?
Effects are so important. I think it’s really easy to over do it but so important to first have the sound you are going for in your head before you start just piling up the effects.
My main effects are. TC Electronics, Ditto, Flashback Delay, Hal Of Fame Reverb, Pog, Boss Oc-3 and a Volume Pedal.
I know you record a lot. Any studio or recording advice?
I just wrote a Blog about this same question I think there are many do’s and don’t of the studio world.
I think most musicians who are just starting out in there professional career have similar tendencies and insecurities.
Here Are 5 Musician Bad Habits That Could Cost You Your Gig
Playing and noodling around in sessions, rehearsals and gigs
Playing and noodling during a gig, rehearsal or recording session is a very common bad habit musicians tend to have. Most of us musicians are insecure whether or not they know it and have the instinctive tendency to show off during breaks to just let the others present what they are made of.
This actually can have the opposite effect of what you are trying to achieve. It really shows a level of insecurity and ego and is an immediate red flag. It tells others that you are more interested in what they think of you than you are about why you are there which is to serve the music.
What I have learned over the years of experience in many different situations and genres and with musicians of all levels is that the ones that are quiet are the ones who are the best and the most focussed with nothing to prove and they keep getting called for job after job.
We have to trust we are in this position for a reason or we wouldn’t be there. Obviously whoever hired us believes we are the right person for the job so trust yourself and go and do the job and your reputation will get stronger and you will find more work.
Being Easy To Get Along With
I honestly believe after a certain point talent is a given and expected. If you weren’t talented you would never find yourself with an opportunity in the first place. I strongly believe that it’s more important to the person hiring you that you are easy to get along with and make other band members feel comfortable and that you can support them musically without having to steal the show.
I think we always get out chance to shine and if we are more giving then others are more willing and inspired to give us more in return.
There is nothing worse than a musician trying to impose themselves on you and the music.
It’s better to remain humble and open but confident at the same time to have strong opinions but be willing to let them go. Again it’s all about your reputation and the music industry is small and reputations spread quickly.
It sounds obvious but you would be surprised how many sessions and rehearsals I have been too where there is always one person who isn’t prepared at all. It really slows things down for the others that have spent time preparing. It not only kills the vibe and enthusiasm but can waste money for whoever is paying for things.
Even if you think something is easy you can never be prepared enough as anything can happen especially in the studio where equipment can break down and take up the time you have to record. When the green light is on you have to be ready to shine and lay it down.
Make your own Charts if you have the music in advance.
Even if you have a chart try to memorize the music.
Put the music on your iPod or phone and listen to it regularly. This will help if there is a sudden key change at the session. You will know the and will have internalized the tune and form.
Be On Time
Being onetime seems so obvious but it’s really taken for granted and can be very irritating to the leader and the other band members. It give off the impression that you think yourself more important that everyone else and you follow your own rules.
You also never know who is there watching. It’s important too realize and be aware that if you are doing a recording session, gig or rehearsal that involves a record label they will also be noticing how you conduct yourself. This could have an impact on other gig opportunities or indeed opportunities for your own projects down this line. People don’t forget.
But seriously beyond not being late for the sake of others and how you look. You should have respect for yourself and really treat others the way you would like to be treated.
Always give yourself more time than you think you will need.
Figure out where you are going the day before.
Having good equipment is essential. It’s the best investment you could ever make as a musician. There is nothing worse than a loose cable or a scratchy volume pot on your amp or bass. It can really destroy a recording session. Also it’s good to check your effect pedals to see if they are noisy when you engage the switch. I have been in sessions where the band has had to do retakes because of noise in the live room. It’s easy to take this stuff for granted but again people remember these things and the only thing we really have at the end of it all is our reputation. This business is all about word of mouth and referrals.
Clean your gear.
Wrap your cables properly and put them away so they are not just bunched up in your case.
Change your strings.
Make sure you have everything you need. Strap, Spare Strings, Pick etc…(you never know).
Highlight of your career thus far?
I have had some unbelievable experiences so far in my career. I really don’t take any gig or opportunity that comes my way for granted. My first real gig wis actually with a boy band. We got to travel the world. It was so valuable to me looking back because it really helped me come out of my shell on stage and in front of cameras. I learned how to perform, how to talk in interviews, how to tour and be professional and how to play the bass. With Hiromi I got too play some serious music in all the great Jazz clubs and festivals all over the world. Every night was really special where we were all pushing each other to find new ways of improvising and learning the importance of trusting each other.
I got to play and record with my hero and mentor John McLaughlin with his music and mine. I got to share the stage with the great Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Record with Ice T and tour with Japanese legendary rock star Tomoyasu Hotei. It’s been a blast and I can’t wait for more 🙂
What should we expect from Tony in the future?
I really hope I can be lucky enough to keep following my dream. The music industry is getting harder and harder but fingers crossed I can keep going. I’m now getting in to production for other artists, I’m working very hard on my Tony Grey Bass Academy and really enjoying the interaction between all the students and members in there. I’m continuing to search for new collaborations with other like minded artists around the world. I love composing so I’ll continue making records and new sounds.
New album, tour etc?
I have been composing a lot in the last year and have enough material finished and recorded for 2 new CD’s. The concept for each CD is very different. One is more of a band project in the same light as “Unknown Angel” The band features some of my great friends and collaborators over the years. Romain Collin on Keys and Piano, John Shannon on Guitar, Gregoire Maret on Harmonica, Mark Guiliana on Drums, Mino Cinelu on Percussion and Mike Stern on Guitar.
The 2nd CD is more of an Electronica solo project with me programming and playing.
I’m really excited about both projects
How do you achieve your sound?
I think it’s so important to strive for a personal sound. Only you can really express your self the way you think. Wayne Krantz once said something in an interview that stuck with me. We are all adults and have our own point of view.
Another thing that had a huge impact on my sound and the way I approach music is something my mother said to me years ago…
For the first few years of me playing bass I was full of fear that I needed to practice as many hours as I could like up to 12 hours and beyond each day. It was really unhealthy and I was really neglecting my family, friends, my health and ultimately myself. She told me something that I will never forget and forever changed the way I view music.
“Music is about expressing life and emotions. If you spend all day practicing and indulging in your self being selfish how do you expect your music to sound?”
This taught me that the balance between hard work and living is so important. I really believe in a structured and organized practice schedule. I like to understand what my goals are clearly so I can give myself the most efficient practice schedule. I also think it’s crucial to make your practice sessions as creative as possible.
I think a lot of us misunderstand what practice actually is. When you really break it down, how you practice is actually how you are going to sound. If you practice meaning less patterns and scales with no purpose you will never be able to use or draw from them in a creative way especially when on the spot improvising.
I have created a creative learning system so whatever I practice I can find ways of using it in a musical creative way immediately. Practicing this way really helps me refine and find my own voice as a musician.
I’ve been a friend as well as a longtime fan of your bass style as well as your compositional style. How’s the composition process for your personal albums?
First of all thank you so much for your friendship for all of these years and I’m so happy you are so active within the bass community. I love composing and really think it’s such a great and vital part of really finding your voice and style as a musician.
We all love music and know what we like so as scary as it seems to compose we have to trust our tastes that when we let go of all the fear we can and will actually compose something we actually like. We are in control in this process but it’s so important not to force things. Let things happen organically and honestly.
My method of composing is varied depending on what the seed of the idea is. For example.
Starting my idea from a beat
If my idea starts with a drum groove in my mind I try to replicate that on a drum machine so I can loop in and start improvising what naturally comes out. It’s always a good idea if possible to record some of your natural improvisations so you can listen back find something you like and then start editing and refining.
Starting my Idea from a Bass Line
Starting from a Bass Line is a similar process from starting from a beat. I like to record the line I hear in my mind or at least the basic concept so I can edit and refine. From there I will maybe start improvising a solo the the concept of space and melody in my mind. Again I can record my self so I can identify some melodic seed to work from.
Starting my idea from a Chord Progression
Sometimes when I’m messing around with my instrument or my keyboard or guitar I search for Chords and Voicing’s that move me. I love harmony and the sound of beautiful rich chords. When I find ones I like I collect them then when I’m struggling for ideas or transitions in the piece I’m working on I can file through them to see it sparks an idea. Once I have progressions I like then I can start experimenting with the rhythmical placement of them. From there it’s a question of finding the right melodic ideas and constant tweaking and refining.
Starting my ideas from a Melody
Sometimes if I’m practicing or just sitting around a melodic idea will just jump out at me. I try to sequence it and see if I can and develop the ideas. Maybe just creating seeds and phrases I can later piece together like a jigsaw or puzzle.
For me it’s a lot of fun experimenting with different chords or Roots/Bass Lines over the same melody. It’s a great way to let the music develop and blossom with out loosing the original idea but remain interest and surprise.
Some final thoughts about composing…
Just remember to stay patient with your ideas and thoughts.
You don’t have to feel pressure to finish everything in one go.
Stick with your ideas and see them through, things can completely change and become soothing else. But quitting can become a bad habit.
Trust your taste.
Send your ideas to friends, mentors and people you trust for feedback. An outside perspective can be very helpful. You don’t have to agree with everything people say but another point of view can be crucial. Don’t let too many people influence you. Just 1 or 2 close and trusted ones.
It’s important for you to stand by your work and have faith in your ability. It’s easy for someone to put someone else down. It’s harder to just do it. So just go for it and don’t be scared of being judged.
Here is a video of me demonstrating my compositional process for one of my tracks.
What do you love about teaching and what do you love about practicing?
Ever since I picked up the Bass Guitar I was lost in the magic in the endless possibilities and permutations. I fell so in love with music and in particular the Bass Guitar. I always felt there is so much I want to be able to express but such a little amount of time to be able to do my love and passion for music justice.
Practicing in a focused and disciplined way is like meditation to me. It’s my chance to really learn and refine my art and give myself that chance of expressing myself and being fully understood in my journey through life. Sometimes words are not enough but everything can be so clear through music.
Teaching is something I’m so passionate about. Like in my own journey I have had to overcome some real obstacles like starting late, not having a teacher, injuries, fear and insecurity too name a few. Learning music and becoming the musician you want to become can be such a lonely fearful place. It has been and remains to be the most important thing to me to find the path that will fulfill my dreams and goals.
Teaching and passing on my experiences have really helped me understand and own things so much clearer. To teach and explain something you really have to own that knowledge. I never want to pass on anything I don’t really and truly understand so creating the Tony Grey Bass Academy has really helped me fully understand and realize the importance of the fundamentals and finding ways to practice creatively and honestly.
Lastly, what can you tell me about your future academy plans?I still follow and practice everything you are mentioning in Tony Grey bass academy.
For the last 12 months I have been collecting all the comments and feedback good and bad from the students who have joined the Bass Academy.
I have refined all of the content and lay out of the lesson material to really make it a better experience for students of all levels.
There are now 11 Study Chapters instead of the 23 that was originally there.
The material is set up to be drip fed over a 24 month period in a very systemized order.
Each of the lessons stand alone or part of the 2 year complete creative learning system.
The ultimate goal for this bass course is to give you the freedom to create your own voice as a musician. I am there with you throughout the journey within the forum and in the monthly question and answer webinars.
I want you to be restricted only by your imagination.
The Study Chapters we will be focusing on are as follows:
01. Optimizing Your Practice Schedule
02. Understanding The Pentatonic Scales
03. Understanding Harmony
04. Academy Technique
05. Bass Lines
06. Fingerboard Study
07. Melodic Development
08. Linear Solo Concepts
09. Academy Ear Training
10. BeBop Study
11. Applying Melodic Content Over Jazz Standards
Here are a few videos to get an idea of what is being covered.
Thank you Tony.
For more information please check: