Tony’s earliest exposures to live music were via his parents who, being immigrants from mountain villages in Europe, sang a capella songs in multi-part harmonies (on account of there being no musical instruments available back home) along with friends at house parties that were usually complemented by adequate amounts of wine and other spirits (in order to loosen up the vocal cords, as it were).
In terms of recorded music, Tony became (along with many in town) a regular listener throughout the 1970s to CKOC AM 1150, the leading radio station in Hamilton, Ontario, the city in which he lived. The station’s motto was, “Where the Hits Just Keep on Comin’” and that’s just what it provided. Over the years, the station had the dubious honor of giving large amounts of airplay to such questionable musical works as Disco Duck, The Streak, Shaddup You Face and other “songs” best left forgotten.
On the other hand, the station also exposed Tony to some music that had artistic merit and it was at the age of 8 that he heard the first pop song he ever liked – Jodie, by Winnipeg musician Joey Gregorash. Continuing his listening over the years, he eventually came to consider The Beatles to be his first favorite band and went through an aborted attempt to pick up the acoustic guitar by Grade 7.
A Turning Point
Although enjoying The Beatles and other popular acts of the era (including the first two albums he ever purchased – Frampton Comes Alive and Cheap Trick at Budokan) nothing in the popular music world for the longest time captured his imagination enough to prompt him to pick up an instrument in a serious way. But his musical life, and life in general, changed one day in September 1979 during a game of street hockey, when his friend Ron put stereo speakers into the windows of his home on Glennie Avenue (also known as Pat Quinn Way) in the east end of Hamilton and proceeded to play music out onto the street.
At some point, Ron put the record player’s needle on the Chicago XI album (this was still the day of vinyl records) by the band Chicago, a collection that was released two years previously in 1977. Out came the sounds of “Mississippi Delta City Blues,” the first song on the record. Tony was distracted from the street hockey by the amazing sounds filling the street – multi-layered guitars, funky bass and remarkable drumming topped off by powerful, three-part brass arrangements and the incomparable vocal work of a singer he would later learn was named Terry Kath. He had never heard anything quite like it before.
Other impacting songs followed – Till the End of Time, Take Me Back to Chicago, Takin’ It Uptown, This Time, Little One and more. After finishing the hockey game, Tony went inside and investigated the story behind the music. It turned out Ron also had Chicago IX – Greatest Hits and Tony borrowed both albums to consume and study what made the music so good. The rest, as they say, is history.
The impact of the music, especially the unique and tasteful drumming of Chicago’s Danny Seraphine (whom he counts as his major musical inspiration to this day), prompted Tony to purchase his first instrument from a friend a few months later – a used, beginner Olympic drum set for $100. His early attempts to duplicate Seraphine’s sophisticated work were modest, to be sure, but the spirit was there. Along with high school friends, he soon formed bands including Trespass and Running Waters in the early 1980s.
Around 1983, he had another music revelation while tuned in to a television special called, A Concert for the Americas, featuring Heart and Santana in a concert inaugurating a new music performance facility at Altos de Chavón in the Dominican Republic. Tony was enthralled by the musicality and energy of the Santana band, in particular leader Carlos Santana, drummer Graham Lear and lead singer Alex Ligertwood, as the group played on as far as they could through a raging Caribbean storm until the concert was called off a few numbers into their set.
In subsequent years, Tony also became a big fan and student of legendary Canadian artists Gordon Lightfoot and Lighthouse. With Chicago and Santana, he considers them to be the major influences on his playing and development as a musician.
Becoming a Musician
Inspired by Terry Kath’s vocal and guitar prowess, Tony expanded beyond guitar by both joining the men’s choral group at his church in 1984 and, shortly after, purchasing a used El Degas acoustic guitar for around $125. To develop and improve in both areas, he became a member of The Harmoknights, a local charitable music group that performed songs for shut-ins and seniors throughout the Hamilton area. In 1986, he purchased his first electric guitar, a Tokai brand Telecaster imitation, from the now-defunct Pongetti’s music store.
Seeing the need to improve his formal musical knowledge and training, Tony took lessons and classes on guitar, voice and drums and went on to study for and receive a certificate in music theory from the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1987, as well as a certificate in music (with honors) from Mohawk College in 1996. He then bought a bass guitar and keyboard and began to learn both. He also vastly expanded his range of musical experiences, performing at weddings, memorial services and other special events, as well as in churches, schools, nursing homes, bars and restaurants. He also went on to play in several southern Ontario bands over the coming years, including:
- Gospel Jungle – Background vocals, rhythm guitar, percussion
- Priority One – Lead and background vocals, rhythm guitar
- The Allegiance – Lead and background vocals, rhythm guitar
- Time Out – Drums
- Smooth – Lead and background vocals, percussion
- The Classics – Lead and background vocals, rhythm guitar
- Vision of Love – Lead and background vocals, bass, drums
In 1991, while visiting New Jersey, Tony had the thrill of being asked to join a choir onstage in front of a crowd of thousands at the Garden State Arts Centre (now known as the PNC Bank Arts Centre) in Holmdel to vocally back up legendary singer Paul Anka on his closing number, Freedom for the World.
In 1995, Tony was asked by the pastor of the Our Lady of the Assumption church in Elfrida to take over leadership of one of the church’s musical ensembles and, in 1997, was asked to take on a similar role at St. Francis Xavier church in Stoney Creek. He continues to fill both roles to this day.
Moving into the area of teaching, Tony teamed with a singer in 1998 to begin participating in the Artist in the Classroom program of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, and they have since then led music for events, instructed students in music and prepared them for rites of passage such as first communion, confirmation and graduation.
In 2013, Tony auditioned before a panel of judges and was chosen as an anthem singer for the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs (who are now in the Ontario Hockey League) at the FirstOntario Centre (formerly Copps Coliseum) and has so far sung O Canada and/or the Star Spangled Banner before a total of more than 32,000 people.
Tony has also volunteered his time to bring cheer to staff and patients of the St. Joseph’s Healthcare system in Hamilton, donating more than 350 hours of time over the past three years to perform in hospital lobbies and for special events, including the announcement of the Teresa Cascioli Foundation’s $2 million donation to the healthcare system.
Other notables include performing twice at the annual St. Anthony Festival at Ivor Wynne Stadium (now Tim Hortons Field) and at Gage Park in Hamilton and with bands at the renowned Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto and the International Festival of Religious Song in Mississauga. At the latter event, he and the Vision of Love band captured second place in the group category in 2006.
In making his music part of the Words and Sounds business, Tony continues to look forward with plans to get into composing, record a CD, form an innovative and creative band and play his music anywhere he can. He is also in discussions with other music producers and visual artists about creating a theatrical-style work that will combine music and visuals.
In the meantime, whether in a church or bar, at a festival or cafe, or playing for the young, old or middle-aged, Tony’s aim is always to provide the best in music in a professional manner with top side musicians and to move his audiences’ hearts and souls while doing so.