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Tony Franklin


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by Christopher Buttner

"There are a lot more strings to my bow than a lot of people know"

                                  ~~Tony Franklin

The bane of any journalist in preparing for an interview is finding that the bio for an artist is so well done and covers so many points that you realize you might be hard-pressed just to find even 5 new questions to ask the person.  Such was the case with Tony Franklin. 

With a career spanning decades of playing with some of today's finest and heaviest musicians, however, I hoped there might be a few stones left unturned. This is a man who has played with and for rock luminaries we all recognize. The Firm (with Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers), Roy Harper, Kate Bush, Blue Murder (with Carmine Appice and John Sykes), Glenn Hughes, Gary Hoey, Tony McAlpine, Driver, a Jeff Beck Tribute album, a New Age duo called Celestial Winds, Donna Lewis, a Queen Tribute album, Pearl (again with Carmine Appice), Gary Wright, Robbie Krieger, David Coverdale and Derek Sherinian. What a list! Still heavily involved with Derek and other new projects, his first solo album was released in `99. Now the wheels are turning on a second solo album, so it seemed like a good time to speak to Tony. What other rabbits could this man of many talents pull from his musical hat...and where would he find the time? 

Being somewhat of a Gear Head, one of the first places I visited after reading his bio was the Equipment Page. A bit disappointed to find it 'Under Construction', I ask our guest what was up with that?!

Tony:  I know! (Starts laughing uncontrollably) I've actually had a few emails about that and I need to get on that. So, I'll take that as a prompting! It's been almost a full time job maintaining the website.

Global:   Sometimes artists just have someone do it for them, a SuperFan, a dedicated person from the Tony Franklin fan club perhaps.

Tony:    Sure. I do love doing it, `cos I love doing it myself. This gives me a lot of interaction with the fans and it allows me to keep it up to date. People like the updates as well. But that hasn't been happening. I've just been soooo busy. 

Global:  It makes them feel like they could almost just phone you up and talk music. That really helps in an artists profile and often translates into sales of the artists music. 

Tony:  People also feel that if you keep them informed and up to date, it's your career and they're involved in it. It's important.

Global:  Are you getting much e-mail from fans?

Tony:  Yeah, it's pretty consistent. I try my best to get back to all of them. There' s a fair bit of mail. 

Global:  Looking at some of the pictures from the `80's, you can't help but think, "holy crap, big hair!!". I've  noticed on your most recent album, Brave New Tomorrow, you've opted to move away from that!


Tony: Yeah, well the hair spray bill was just getting to be too much! There weren't a lot of hair spray endorsements going around then!

Global:  Well, they missed an opportunity. I am surprised nobody actually did approach bands about that. There was money to be made!

Tony:  Especially in those days, in the Eighties it was all about the hair.



Global: So are you still endorsing Fender?

Tony:   Yup, I've been using Fender and have done so since I was 12 years old. I had two basses, one since I was twelve and one since I was 18 or so. They're still my two main basses. I didn't think of getting an endorsement because I thought, "Why?  I have the basses I need". I'm not a big collector of instruments. I have what is useful and what I need.

But saying that, I had the one fretless and NO back up for it. It thought, "Wow, it's kinda important that I have a backup". Also with fretless as well, the fingerboard is very important of course. With the previous one it was a rosewood fingerboard, so it tends to wear a little bit more. It started to get a little thin, so I thought it was time to get another bass. 

So I approached Fender and we basically made a carbon copy of my main fretless. Except we put an ebony fingerboard on it, which produces a slightly different tone, but it's a lot more durable. I use wirewound strings so they tend to be a little harsh on the fingerboard. But when it came out the box this thing was perfect. I've now made it my main bass. 

Global:  Having been influenced to some degree, as most were and still are, by Jaco, did you dope the neck up nice and thick with a lacquer when you had the custom model built?

Tony:  The previous one I did, I had what was known as a Diamond finish. It actually took about a week to apply. That was because of the rosewood. But the ebony is hard enough to do without it. I don't actually like the tone so much of a lacquered finish. I've always preferred just the bare wood, but the strings do take their toll. 

Global: On the new bass, were the pickups wound differently?

Tony: It's just a stock P-Bass pickup and then I have a DiMarzio Jazz pickup in there. The story behind that was, way way back I saw on the back of  a Kiss album that they used DiMarzio pickups. So I thought, "Man, those things must be loud! I want one of those!" So I went to my music store in Derby, England, and I told them I wanted a DiMarzio pickup in my bass. So they said, Okay, which one?" 

"I don't know, just give me the loudest!!!" 

Global: Do you have an endorsement deal regarding strings?

Tony:   I do, I endorse DR Strings. Probably for about 5 or 6 years now. They just do it for me. Their strings are hand made so they last quite a while. It means they wind them a little more slowly than some of the other mass produced strings. The materials are a little better. The mass produced manufacturer has to compromise on the materials in the string to allow it to be wound at high speed.

It blows me away that DR actually has someone winding these by hand! I've had these strings on there for 7 months at a time. Now I haven't topped Duck Dunn's 22 years yet!  (Laughs)

Global:  He wouldn't be too too concerned about the top end by now, I imagine! You had a solo album out in late `99 called Brave New Tomorrows. Now you are involved with Derek Sherinian on his newest album, called inertia. On it you are covering four tracks. Aside from this do you have any new projects set up for the near future?

Tony: Yes, I do, in fact I am just beginning to work on one right now.

Global:  Do you have a working title yet?

Tony:  There isn't one yet. "The Second Album?". "Tony Franklin Two?" I am literally just starting. I'm going to be doing a lot of it myself. There's also a Top Secret Project that I am working on. It is so cool, but I can't tell anybody about it.

Global:   When do you see this 'Top Secret Project' being completed and out?

Tony: That'll be out probably the beginning of next year. I am the Musical Director of it and I'll be working with some great players including Simon Phillips. Some great drummers and just all round good players. I can't really say anything more.

Global:  On your own album, who do you plan upon using?

Tony:  I going to have a number of players. On the previous one I just used Greg Bissonette on drums and I pretty much did the rest all by myself.

Global:  Were you able to maintain all your chops from all the other instruments you've played and bring that into the present?

Tony:   Absolutely, but there was a little bit of a rebellion for myself that was going on, because one of the things that I got some feedback on  was that it's wasn't the album that Tony Franklin fans were expecting. I think the rebellion was that I wanted to show that I can write songs and produce and sing. So the emphasis is not so much on the bass. I am playing bass parts that I guess you would say were 'appropriate' for the songs. The song first. Consequently, it's a rock album but it's not a heavy rock album. I love it! 

Greg is very much of a 'song player'. I worked a lot with him on different projects. That was really one of the main reasons I wanted to get him in there. He's so good for one thing, but he's got that mindset towards songs and I love that. Drummers aren't always that way. A lot of the best ones are though. 

Anyway, so this next one is going to be heavier, more bass driven, probably gonna have a few more guests on it. Probably get Carmine (Appice) to do some. He is amazing. He's been doing this for a lot of years and he still has this incredible drive and momentum. It's amazing and inspiring.

Global:  When do you hope to have "The Next Album' done?

Tony:   Realistically, probably by the end of the year. The other project is going to also keep me busy pretty much till the end of the year until it comes out. It's so challenging to be able to do it all. You do need people around you to take care of areas that are not your strength.

I recognize that I could be more business minded. As far as promoting, getting out there and doing 'the push'. But it's not something that comes naturally to me at this point.

Global:  Do you have a bit of a problem letting go, letting someone else carry part of the load?

Tony: I probably do.

Global: Might it be because you have distinct goals as to where you want to go, therefore it sometimes is difficult to let go, to give the ship over to another navigator.

Tony: It really is difficult, but at the same time, I really believe that those kind of people are out there. You need someone who is almost  like at the grass roots level. At the same time someone who also has the contacts and the ability to check in with the right people at the right time.

Global: Perhaps one of your fans. Someone who writes you all the time, again that SuperFan kind of person, who does it just for the love of doing it and being part of your team. 

Tony:  (Regarding the album Brave New Tomorrow) I am doing the best I can right now to get it out there, but right now I don't have the 'machinery' to take care of that. I have a lot of friends in the industry, but this is like full time job in and of itself.

Global: From your years with The Firm and Blue Murder were you able to set aside a bit to invest in today's projects?

Tony: I had a great time but if there were any regrets...(musically and lifestyle, there were no regrets), but if I could do it again, I would be a lot more aware of that side of things (finances). There were no endorsements, other than Peavey, I don't think I did any interviews by myself at that time, there were probably many many opportunities I could have taken, but I just wasn't aware of... .

Global: Most people caught up in living the Rock and Roll dream never think of that kind of stuff.

Tony:  I was 22, I was over here for the first time. I was loving every minute of it. It was a wild ride.

Global:  So in the here and now, aside from all the recording projects, are you also working live?

Tony: Oh yeah, I'm still a working musician. I'm not sitting back on any great royalties or anything like that. I'm still working, but bringing that awareness into what I am doing now, especially with my own album, you have to think of these things.

There are a lot more strings to my bow than a lot of people actually know. Bass has been a lot of people's awareness of me. Understandably, because I am a bass player that played with these rock bands. I am known for that.

But there is a lot more to me than that. That was another thing I wanted to show, to demonstrate on my previous album. That I am also a guitarist, a keyboardist, a vocalist and a songwriter. I'm a producer, I can do a lot more. The Secret Project is actually allowing a lot of that to shine through. 

So, that's a very real issue, I want to set up the future now and not be having to look around for gigs later. I love working. I love music and that is something that has always been there. I was born into  a music family. I was playing music before I even knew I was a music player. It's such a big part of me. 

It was so natural to me, the whole family played. It was just there. I would play music day and night, then play gigs regularly in my parents band. By the time I was 14, I was playing 4 or 5 days a week and consistently as well. What an upbringing, what an experience I had from that!

Global: Can you describe your present day style of songwriting?

Tony: The music I am writing these days, I really want it to be timeless yet also appeal to those people who have enjoyed my music in the past. That is kind of a tall order. I just want to write good songs. I want to be able to get new fans who take me just for what this is and not because they were into Tony Franklin before. At the same time have those people (the original fans) enjoy it as well.

Global:  That's asking a lot of yourself. Is your record label supportive?

Tony:  I have a record deal with JVC, who have been really really great. When the first album came out, that kind of took them by surprise stylistically. So, it was more modern rock than they were expecting.

Global:  Were they okay with it?

Tony:   They were, but at the same time they didn't really know what to do with it. It was all about the songs  (that was the underlying theme of the album). I played all the keyboards, the upright bass, the clarinet on one song and the recorder. So it was quite diverse in it's musical tastes and arrangements. 

There's a definite thread to it. But that took them by surprise. So the reason I am saying that is that with this second album, they want to have more of a familiarity to it. More 'straight-ahead rock'. That is one of the reasons I am bringing in some well known guitar players as well. I'm really into that, the melody but putting it across in a heavier way.

Global: I know that Tony McAlpine has done this. You've work with Tony yourself, haven't you?

Tony:  Yeah, I actually did a couple of albums with him. He's also on Derek Sherinian's second album, UNIVERSE.

Global: Now here's one for you. Fretless bass is an exacting science. Why did a heavy rock bassist end up preferring fretless?

Tony:  The fretless is a very expressive instrument, one of the reasons it appeals to me so. You can just play just one note and with the little nuances that a fretless has you can say so much. A lot of Derek's stuff is musically involved. Especially on that first Planet X album, that really pushed me to some kinds of limits that I had not been to before, which is good!

Global:  Some of this music really moves! How do you pull off such detailed playing at such speed on a fretless? How do you keep control over your intonation?

Tony:  Oh, I still have to watch. That is challenging, especially if I am putting myself in the role of lead singer as well. I very much have to look at the fingerboard. At the same time, before I was only playing bass, so I was focused on that. So you adapt. I am learning to adapt to the song and what the performance needs to be.

Global:  Do you use fretted at all?

Tony:  I still do that, in fact The Secret Project has necessitated a lot of that. I enjoy the fretted bass. For live stuff, especially when I am singing, it really would free me up.

Global: You were involved in a book called Bass Secrets. This is mentioned on your site and that it will soon be available.

Tony:  It's actually a really good book. I was a column writer for what was GUITAR FOR THE PRACTICING MUSICIAN. I was writing the bass columns for about two and a bit years for that. They had some great players do columns for that over the years. So what a great idea. They put all the columns in one book. What I like about it is there are some straight ahead kinds of exercises. But there is also more of, shall we way, the substance that makes some bass players great. The philosophy, the mindset, it ends up showing more than just the exercises, it shows the bigger picture.

There is far more to be a good bass player than just knowing the right exercises. You have to be aware of other musicians. You have to be aware of the song, you have be aware of life. I actually play my best if I have been away from my bass for a while.

Get the experiences of life. That's where the greatest inspiration comes from. If somebody's just playing 8 hours a day they are just wearing little blinkers and experiencing nothing.


You can visit Tony at his website, found at:

Tons of great photos, links to sites you'll want to add to your bookmarks, some music files that'll stir your blood and soon some equipment photos as well! 

Brave New Tomorrow, his first solo album, is also available from his site, as will be his newest album, once released. You'll be able to keep track of the aforementioned Secret Project from this site, once it is released later this year.



Christopher's web page is: UNKNOWN (sorry)



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