Tony Suraci got his first guitar when he was six years old. It was plastic, a toy basically, but he fell in love with it. His stepbrother knew how to play Smoke on The Water on one string and Tony soon learned how to play it, too. He had a crush on a Brownie Scout whose group met across the street from his house every Tuesday. He stood in front of the door, playing it over and over until their counselor came out and told him “We’re trying to have a meeting here.”
Demoralized, he didn’t play again until he was 12 or 13 years old. His stepbrother sold him a “$50 Japanese cheapy” electric guitar, which he learned to play. At 21, he had moved back home. In an effort to get him out of the house, his mom encouraged him to try out for a singing job at Texas Lil’s in Old Town Temecula. When then told him he had the job, he panicked. He had a few original songs and knew a couple of Eagles song, but the gig was four and a half hours.
He called his girlfriend’s mom, who happened to be Willie Nelson’s ex-wife. She went through a piano book with him, “101 Country Hits” and she told him which ones he should learn. There were two or three Willie Nelson songs in there and when he learned then he “fell hard” in love with his honesty, genuineness and truthfulness. He started listening to nothing but that kind of music and soon discovered Kris Kristofferson. A friend from Texas urged him to learn some Waylon Jennings songs.
Ten years ago, at Pala Casino, he started The Highwayman Show, a tribute to Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. He learned their different voices and says it’s easy for him because he’s an actor, not a singer. The ten-piece band features bass, drums and Tony on rhythm guitar and vocals plus Jim Soldi on lead guitar, who used to play with Johnny Cash, a female singer, two trumpet players (dressed as railroad conductors), pedal steel guitar, harmonica and piano. Tony plays a guitar he stole from Willie Nelson. Ask him to tell you the story.
He just finished recording an album outside of Nashville at “Cash Cabin”, where Johnny Cash spent his final years. He’s in the process now of doing all the vocals over because he wasn’t pleased with how they sounded. Expect the album to be released sometime next year.
Tony plays frequently around Temecula, both as a solo artist and with The Highwayman Show. For a schedule of performances, sign up for his newsletter at www.tinyletter.com/tonysuraci