Third generation scion of legendary family builds upon the music he was raised on
Tony T. Sales is the son of bass player Tony Sales and the nephew of drummer Hunt Sales. For many years in the 70s and 80s, his father and brother were everyone’s favorite rhythm section. They supported Todd Rundgren on Runt, backed up Iggy Pop on his best Bowie-produced album, Lust for Life, and joined Bowie in Tin Machine.
“People think my father and uncle inspired me, but they were never around that much,” Sales says from the home in Oakland, California he shares with his wife and children. “It was my dad’s job, so there wasn’t a lot of music playing around the house. I do remember being in the car with my father, driving around LA. He’d play the oldies radio stations. I couldn’t believe how many songs he knew. He could sing along with everything they played from the 60s and 70s – and he knew all the words.
“He got me a guitar when I was eight, but I wasn’t drawn to it. I do remember sitting behind my uncle’s drums. He had massive bass drums, almost bigger than me, and the feeling was overwhelming.
“I was always into writing songs, even before I could play. I got a Casio keyboard when I was a kid. It had samba, bossa nova and other beats on it. I liked messing with the different rhythms and rapping over the beats.”
Like many kids, Sales liked to sit on the kitchen floor, banging on pots and pans. “My uncle finally got me a drum kit on my 10th birthday. He showed me some stuff and I took lessons for about a month, but I mostly taught myself the old school way. I’d lock myself in my room, with the music blasting out, and spend hours playing along to records.”
Sales played in bands throughout high school and college. After graduation, he played for a country band that was going to move to Nashville, but he decided he’d rather play his own music. Instead, he moved to Oakland, in northern California.
“My sister came out here 13 years ago. I wanted to live someplace where I already knew somebody. I didn’t want to live in LA, but I’d been to the San Francisco Bay Area a few times and liked it. One fall, I drove out with my bike, drum set, some clothes and a computer. It was a nice trip.”
After settling in, Sales began freelancing with punk, country, blues and progressive rock bands. After he landed a steady job with San Francisco’s long running psychedelic favorites, The Flamin’ Groovies, he began to consider starting a band of his own. “I like 60s soul, R&B and rock, and I had a lot of songwriting ideas I wanted to realize. Being a sideman takes up a lot of energy. I figured if I’m gonna work that hard, I might as well put the effort into my own music.”
Sales started a band, The Ardent Sons, named after the music he loved, the hits that came out of Ardent Studios and Sun Records in Memphis. After a few years and various personnel shifts, the group settled down to a duo – Sales on drums, guitar and percussion and Dave Flores, who sings and plays guitar, bass, drums and keys. “I found him on Craig’s List and he happened to live two blocks away from me. We started jamming and hit it off.”
With the help of various friends, The Ardent Sons began working on their debut, No More Than This, a collection that drifts through funk, soul, rock, reggae, R&B, swing and more on its seven extended tracks. The album took three years to complete, with sessions sandwiched between Sales’ freelance gigs, his work with the Groovies and the time he spends teaching drums at the music school he runs with his wife. Sales produced the album himself and put hours into making sure that every note, and the space between those notes, came close to what he was hearing in his head.
“Editing your own work is hard,” he said. “You can’t be entirely objective and, when it comes to art, anything goes. A song is always done and it’s never done. I’m a singing drummer and I wanted to reproduce the sound I hear when sitting on stage, so the mix is drums up front. It’s not a guitar band. There’s organ clavinet, guitars and bass, but the backbone is drums, vocals and harmonies. I have so many lyrical and rhythmic ideas floating around in my head, it was hard to get them all down and turn them into something. Finally, I just put aside my preconceived notions and let the feeling of the music take over.”