Tony Grey is a busy guy. His fourth solo album is due out in October, he runs an educational website, he’s constantly in demand as a sideman… add his dedicated practice routine and there’s not much room left in the schedule. Still, the bass extraordinaire was incredibly generous and made time to discuss his life, his music, and to share some advice for younger musicians.
You began playing the bass under rather unique circumstances. What exactly happened?
I was in the Army back in England when I was involved in a terrible car accident that left me with a broken back. When I was at home recovering, my stepfather brought me home a bass guitar to help me pass the time. He could see I was bored and depressed, and he thought playing music would be fun.
It was strange why he chose bass above any other instrument. I don’t recall ever showing an interest in playing the bass, but I felt an immediate connection with this instrument. It was easy for me to get lost in this new world to take away some of the pain and trauma I was going through.
How has that experience (the wreck, subsequent surgeries, etc.) shaped who you are today?
Music was and still is an obsession of mine. But in those first 6 months, I was completely lost inside myself. I practiced from the second I woke up until I fell asleep. It was a great escape from reality.
The Army really taught me how to respect myself and how to work really hard. The accident taught me that life is fragile and that I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to chase my dreams. When I fell in love with music, I was just so determined to give it my best, try to be open to any criticism, and just keep growing and learning.
Also, I have some tendonitis issues which I think stem from the metal plates in my back, so I have to be very mindful of my body and try not to get too tense when I play.
Was there a specific moment when you knew you had to be a musician?
It all happened so quickly for me. I had no ambitions to learn bass at all; I’d never dreamed of becoming a musician. When I started playing bass, it was like medicine and therapy.
My father suggested that I send a tape of me playing to my uncle John McLaughlin, who I knew was a famous guitarist. At the time I really had no idea what Jazz music was, but when I heard it, something spoke to me. I felt like I needed to get into this type of music and learn how to express myself through my instrument.
The second I picked up the bass, it became a way of life for me. It was never a choice or a dream.
What do you take away from your time with the pop group Bliss?
Bliss was an amazing experience for me. When I started playing bass, I was always fascinated by melody. The bass was simply the instrument given to me. So as an untrained musician, I didn’t really understand the space and roles of each instrument.
I auditioned for Bliss with drummer Alan Brown, my good friend. Somehow I got the gig. It was the first time I had to fill the specific role of a bass player, and I had to learn restraint and groove. Being a bass player in a pop band requires a lot of focus and a great ego check. It got me on the path of trying to play only what the music asked for, which is a challenge for anyone.
We played for enormous crowds in many different countries. We did lots of interviews and TV appearances. I also had to sing background vocals, which was really tough at first. This experience was invaluable, and it was a great insight of the music business and the pressures of being a musician.
You’ve collaborated with an incredible list of musicians… Hiromi, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Mike Stern, and John McLaughlin, to name a few. What kinds of preparations do you make before engagements/tours with other artists?
I feel so lucky to have performed with some of my favorite musicians.
I have a strong practice routine that will bring me closer to being the musician I want to be. I am constantly trying to improve and grow so that I can handle any situation I find myself in. Of course, I prepare myself and try to learn and memorize the material as best as possible. I try not to overthink anything and trust that I’m in that position for a reason.
From your tours, do you have a favorite place to travel?
I love touring and simply traveling in general. I learn so much from the different cultures I encounter. I feel a strong connection with places like Japan, Barcelona, and India. Having said that, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed everywhere I have been. It’s really what you make of it.
You also have 3 solo albums and a 4th on the way, correct? What can you tell us about the new album?
The 4th album is a tribute to all the great guitarists I have been lucky enough to play with and who have inspired me so much.
The CD features John McLaughlin. John has been an unbelievable mentor to me throughout my life. He sent me to Berklee and he introduced me to an amazing world I didn’t know existed. When he asked me to feature on his CD, it was really a dream come true. So, having him on my new CD is the biggest honor of my life. Mike Stern is another guitarist who I have learned so much from. His enthusiasm for music still, after achieving so much, is very inspiring to me. David Fiuczynski has been a huge inspiration to me also. He gave me my first real gig as a Jazz musician. His belief in me was a huge part of my development. He would always record and listen to a show we played and constructively critique; he encourages melody, individuality, and less ego. He is definitely one of the most creative people I have ever met. Hotei Tomoyasu is a legendaryJapanese rock star who wrote the soundtrack for the movie “Kill Bill”. I was so lucky to meet him in Japan while I was on tour with Hiromi. Hotei is an amazing musician with a strong and amazing tone. He is such a humble and beautiful musician. He sat in with my trio in Japan and blew me away. Reb Beach is another legendary rock star I have been blessed to tour with. He is the guitarist for the bands Whitesnake and Winger. Reb is amazing—he is so humble, but as soon as he hits the stage, he turns into a wild animal. Nir Felder is a good friend of mine from our Berklee days. Nir has such a unique voice, being a guitarist. He is great fun to play with because his solos are like stories. He shapes them so beautifully; you have to really focus to help the flow and energy. Fabrizio Sotti is a great Jazz guitarist from Italy. I was really touched that he asked me to be a part of his project “Right Now” featuring many artists (Ice T, Shaggy, and Mino Cinelu, to name a few). I was blown away by his ability to be so versatile. Not only is he a great Jazz guitarist, but he is also an amazing Hip-Hop producer. The drummer on this project is my good friend David Throckmorton. To me, he is so easy to play with. He is so supportive and right in the music for every song. There are two other guest performers on this CD: the great Romain Collin on keys and the great Mino Cinelu as a percussionist. Romain is my long time buddy and roommate from Berklee. He is a great musician. For years and years, he has been my second opinion guy on anything I write. I trust his ears and honesty so much. Mino Cinelu also guests on my CD. Playing music, hanging out, or simply just talking with Mino is a great experience. He is not only one of the greatest percussionists of all time, but he is a beautiful open human being from whom I learn so much.
Fodera recently introduced the Tony Grey Signature Model bass. You’re well known for playing six string basses… why the switch to four strings on your signature model?
Fodera is the best. They are like family to me, and they have supported and encouraged me for many years. I own five Fodera basses, and I love each and every one of them. I love the six string bass because it allows me to explore my love of melody and harmony a lot more clearly than on a four string. But saying that, I have gone back to the four string for a few reasons. For one, I find it helps me edit myself and become a better supportive bassist. I also get more inside the pocket on a four string, and it’s a great instrument for me to teach on. I talked to Fodera about this idea and they were completely supportive and excited about it. It’s an amazing bass with a great sound.
Here is a link to me playing the four string bass:
Tell us more about the Tony Grey Bass Academy. How did it get started? What types of lessons do you offer? How can people sign up?
Since I started practicing and learning bass, I have always kept a document of the music I practice. I try to find the keys to practicing efficiently.
I feel I understand how to practice the right way and how to overcome some of the fears related to practicing.
In the Academy, the lessons are broken up in to categories (Technique, Ear Training, Melodic Development, Soloing, BeBop, Walking Bass, etc). In each chapter, there is a series of lessons. There are over 20 chapters with over 200 video lessons. Each lesson can stand alone, or be a part of the whole course. Each lesson contains a downloadable lesson plan and a play along track.
I am so proud of this. It took almost two years to build, and now it’s getting very popular with some great, serious students.
Here is a link for some free Bass Lessons:
What is your personal approach to practicing?
I am a big fan of practicing and trying to come up with the most effective way of learning and developing as a musician. My goal is to be limited only by my imagination. I think practicing and learning music should be a fun and creative experience. I think we just have to remember that we sound like how we practice. So never just go through the motions of practicing. Practice when you are hungry and focused.
Is it ever difficult to balance your musical goals (writing, recording, growth on the instrument, etc.) with the business of being a musician?
It does get difficult to balance everything. I try to map my days out so that I can fit in my practice session and still leave myself enough time to work on other peoples’ projects, write, work on my Academy, and hang out with my friends and family. There are not enough hours in the day, so it’s really important for me to stay as organized as possible.
What goals do you have for the future?
My goals for the future are to continue doing what I’m doing now. I want to work hard with my Academy and help as many students grow as possible. I also want to start touring more with my own project.
I teach private lessons and come into contact with a lot of young people. What advice would you give the next generation of musicians?
I’m a practice nut and feel guilty every day I spend away from my instrument. But the truth of the matter is we all need space and time away to absorb all the things we are learning. I try to remind myself of this when I can’t find the time.
To survive in the music business we need to learn patience, take criticism the right and constructive way, learn how to get focused and organized, be skilled in several genres, create goals for ourselves, be supportive of others, and have an open mind. Most of the time, bandleaders, labels, and managers are investing in us as humans, not necessarily on how good we are or how good we think we are. Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams, stay humble, and stay inspired is my best advice.
For more on Tony and the Tony Grey Bass Academy, check out http://tonygrey.com/ and http://tonygreybassacademy.com/.
All the best, Tony! Thanks!