For the Record with Tony Cappella

Krista Connor

“For the Record” is a periodic feature in which musicians discuss powerful influences and what they’ve been listening to lately.

Talk to Tony Cappella about playing bass, and one word will keep coming up: melody. It’s an unconventional focal point for a bassist, who shoulders a band’s rhythm, but then again, there are few things conventional about Cappella.

Bassist for local mainstay Montana Wildaxe for nearly 31 years, Cappella beats most artists when it comes to the number of projects he’s a part of. He performs with a handful of local outfits like the Stone Shakers, Vinyl Shockley, WTF (aka What the Funk), the Sin City Band and occasionally, Special Delivery. He’s a longtime staple at tribute shows like the annual Shine a Light on The Queen.   

Tuning into and contributing to melodic elements keeps him rooted, regardless of who he performs with.

“Melody is very important,” says Cappella. “It’s important for me as a bass player to listen to everything that’s going on around me. If there’s an opportunity to be melodic underneath, then I take that opportunity.”

He calls the Stone Shakers his “main squeeze these days.” The band, made up of cajón player (and lifelong friend to Cappella) Ritchie Rubini, guitarist Kevin Walsh (who plays in three other ensembles with Cappella) and harmonica player Pete Cogan, revived itself recently with the addition of vocalist Samantha Poole.

“She’s young, in her early 30s, but she’s got an older spirit when it comes to playing,” says Cappella. “She knows all this old school rock and roll. She nails the stuff. She’s got a great stage presence and people really love her.”

With Poole at the helm, the Stone Shakers are finishing up an EP mid-to-late August. Untitled as of press time, it’s 99 percent original music, produced by Walsh’s son Ian, who has worked with big-name bands like the Chain Smokers.

“It’s happiness,” says Cappella. “The EP makes you feel happy. Lyrically, music-wise. Both.” See the Stone Shakers at Trailfest on Sept. 22 at the DuPont Environmental Education Center.

Meanwhile, psychedelic rock cover band Montana Wildaxe, channeling the sounds of Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band, typically only plays twice a year. But the group is adding a few performances to their 2018 roster. They’ll play at Blue Earl Brewing Co. in Smyrna on Saturday, Aug. 4, Kelly’s Logan House in Wilmington on Thursday, Aug. 23, and on Saturday, Sept. 29, they’ll jam at Fortify Music Fest at Fort DuPont. Fortify features area tribute bands like Kashmir reimagining the sounds of Led Zeppelin, Joey DiTullio and more. And last comes Montana Wildaxe’s annual holiday show on Friday, Dec. 21, at The Queen.

“In February 2019 the band will be 31,” says Cappella. “When we hit the stage, it’s magic. There’s never been bad blood or anything, but 30 years creates a lot of history—when we hit the first note, everything goes away. The fans have been so incredibly loyal over the years. We’ve gotten to a point where our original fans’ grandchildren are coming to shows. It’s heart-warming, it really is.”

O&A caught up with Cappella by phone to get a take on his favorite albums and how they’ve influenced his bass playing over the decades. 

The Beatles — Rubber Soul

Just hearing the vocal harmonies and simplicity of the songs blew me away. Paul McCartney’s bass work on that was amazing to me. He managed to be melodic underneath of a lot of other melodic stuff going over it. He created his own great melodies. And he still continues to do that in everything he does. He’s always had that knack.

I’d say it has influenced my playing. Of course, I’m not where Paul McCartney is, that son of a bitch.

The Allman Brothers Band — At Fillmore East

Berry Oakley was the bass player on that record. He drove that band, he did it in a way that was a pioneer to that kind of music. He was another guy that had very melodic bass lines weaving in and out of the guitar parts that Dickey Betts and Duane Allman would lay down. He kind of set the pace for any jam band bass player that’s out there today. Some people would argue that it was Phil Lesh from the Grateful Dead, but Phil is not a rhythmic player as much as Berry Oakley was.

Todd Rundgren — Todd

Amazing songwriting. Chord changes that blow my mind. Sounds that he got in the studio that nobody else was doing. He was doing all kinds of stuff in the studio with synthesizers and manipulating the tape to make things go backwards and all kinds of panning back and forth, utilizing a stereo effect. Back in the days where I would get stoned, that was some profound shit to listen to.

To this day, he’s just an amazing songwriter. I guess when I sit down and write, I usually write at the piano, and his chord changes always influenced me. It’s almost like my go-to. Of course, I am certainly not comparing myself to him. I wish I could write as well as he could, but he influences the way I think of chord structure. I’d say his chord changes are not intuitive. They don’t follow mainstream changes like typical rock and roll changes; they’re usually layered in a way that can take something raw and make it sound beautiful.

Utopia — Todd Rundgren’s Utopia

I know we talked about Todd Rundgren as a solo artist. This is with his band Utopia that stretched the reaches of music in a very deep, intricate, complicated way. The songs and the arrangements are more like anthems than just songs. Incredible players. And that album had a lot of influence on my bass playing as well. Just moving through the chord changes the way the bass player in that band did. He was another melodic bass player locked in with the rhythm.

Stanley Clarke — Stanley Clarke

Another pioneer in bass playing, Stanley Clarke was one of the first guys to really put a bass out as a solo instrument. Very funky, slap-style bass playing. Definitely in the ‘70s it was a bit [unique]. Stanley Clarke really rose to reach a level of stardom by doing it. His speed and precision in playing was something that I never really heard before out of a bass.

He’s a huge dude, man. He’s probably 6’4”, 6’5”, and no matter what bass he’s playing, it looks like a ukulele.

Steely Dan — The Royal Scam

That’s an iconic-bass, iconic-everything record. I can never remember the guy’s name who played bass on that but it’s mind-blowing. Just his approach. Funk, melodic, creative, oh my God, it’s just everything rolled up in one. And obscure, too. He approached songs in a very obscure way by creating—just as McCartney does—a whole other song underneath the song in his bass playing.

For more about Cappella, visit Montana Wildaxe’s Facebook group or the Stone Shakers’ page.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.