By Brian T. Atkinson, March 2006
hances are, you've heard Tony Gilkyson's guitar work, whether or not you know it. Gilkyson most notably spent 10 years as lead guitarist in the legendary Los Angeles punk band X until 1996, but he's also recorded with such weighty artists as Bob Dylan, Dave Alvin, Lone Justice, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Peter Rowan.
Not to mention his work on the recent "Walk the Line" movie soundtrack: Gilkyson provided the majority of the nifty Sun-era boom-chucka guitar work heard in the film.
He got involved in that project through his longtime friendship with producer T-Bone Burnett. "Working with T-Bone has always been a lot of fun because it's never a super high-pressured gig where you feel like you're walking on glass," Gilkyson says. "He has a great sense of humor. He also lets you explore and likes when you make mistakes. T-Bone's not your typical producer."
During a career spanning more than 30 years, Gilkyson has worked with his share of producers and musicians. He's lived the tough road of being a sideman for most of that time and certainly could be forgiven the desire to rest on his laurels and hang it up.
Not so fast.
Instead, he's stepping into the spotlight. The title of his second solo CD, "Goodbye Guitar," is deceptive.
"Some people read more into that title than is really there," Gilkyson says. "'Goodbye Guitar' was written after contemplating the amount of money I've put into things guitar related and how that's such a crapshoot. It just morphed into a song. It's expensive, the guitar. I'd say 90 percent of the time when you work on things guitar related, things don't work out."
About an equal split between originals and covers, the 11 tracks are mostly centered in the tradition of old time country music. That, of course, means lots of broken hearts, whiskey and hopeful daydreams that come to life after the 5 o'clock bell rings. The album opens with "Mojave High," a slide-guitar driven scorcher that practically has asphalt between the strings and frets.
"I wrote that driving on Route 95, which parallels the Colorado River," Gilkyson explains. "I was going from Kingman (Arizona) to Barstow (California), and that's the slow road. The landscape there is positively lunar. I drove by a high school in that area, it looked like just mountains and moon. I wondered what it'd be like to be a teenage kid growing up in a place that's so off the beaten track."
As a teenager himself, Gilkyson grew up in Hollywood surrounded by the music industry. His father, Terry, was a composer at Walt Disney and a folk singer on his own time. (Tony's sister, Eliza, is a well-respected singer-songwriter in her own right, and the two often collaborate on each other's albums.) Gilkyson pays tribute to his father on the new album's third track, Terry's "Man About Town."
The slow strut is at once filled with bravado and lonely as an empty bottle of gin: "Man about town/Little black book filled with numbers/Each night a new love/Never a true love/I'm just a man about town/No time for fears/No time for regrets/No time for dreams that linger yet/No time for love/Too hard to forget/Too late to be sorry now."
"I've heard that song as long as I can remember, and I love playing the guitar on it," Gilkyson says. "I do the song live now, and it has morphed into an even more dissonant and bizarre sounding ballad. Also, I love the sentiment behind it. I never talked to my dad about that song, but it could have been his state of mind in 1948."
Probably the most accomplished song on the album, Gilkyson wrote "Gypsies in My Backyard" for Roy Nichols, who played guitar for Merle Haggard. "I'd read somewhere that he'd grown up in the '20s and '30s near a migrant camp," he says. "He'd listen to the gypsies playing music in his backyard. Nichols' playing style seemed to be influenced by that. The mood he evoked - sometimes very dark or mysterious - was different than lots of country players."
In "Old Cracked Looking Glass," Woody Guthrie provided another story - likely a true one - that intrigued Gilkyson. His Bakersfield roadhouse reading of the song gives tangible life to Guthrie's lonesome characters.
"When I heard that song, I envisioned Woody going through that story, probably going through it a number of times," Gilkyson says. "You're in a bar or club out in the middle of nowhere, and you're lonely, and there's a beautiful woman there. But there's a certain look in her eyes that gives you the red flag. I love that story and how he decides that it's just not worth it, and he decides to go home a thousand miles away."
Loneliness on the road is just one of the many perils of being a musician, but Gilkyson says his father didn't offer too many cautionary tales when he expressed interest in following his footsteps.
"My dad was sort of ambivalent about me getting into music," he says. "He knew the music business is sort of cutthroat, and I don't think he wished that his kids would have to face that. He was encouraging, but I think he was also worried about his kids."
No need for concern. "Goodbye Guitar" is another clear indication that Gilkyson chose the right path.