Tony Monaco: Master Chops T
I wrote a tune “Ya Bay BEE” which, to me, sounds like something that should be on an Austin Powers movie. It’s kind of got that sidewinder, 60s-ish, trumpet solo, really cool kind of thing happening with it. “Acid Wash,” if you take a really good set of earphones and put them on so that you are totally into the sound, there are a lot of things happening in the background, in terms of new digital effects, that really open that up. “Acid Wash” is my version of Jimi Hendrix. There’s a lot of things happening with some digital effects in there that, unless you’re really listening close, you don’t pick them up. But once you start picking them up, you’ll hear so much more in that tune than you hear on your first glance. It’s a blast.
AAJ: Did you do a lot of writing before this CD?
Monaco: I’ve done writing in and out. I’d written some vocal tunes back in the 70s and 80s when I used to record some things with the family band. Writing is one of those things where some days you just wake up and you got it in your head when you’re not trying. They just come.
AAJ: Also on the CD there’s some crooning. I know most Italians like to sing.
Monaco: Sure, man. Losing my vocal chords seven years ago when that disease came back, they told me I would never sing again. And they gave me an operation, taking fat out of my stomach and putting it into my vocal chord. He said “you’ll talk again, but you’ll probably never sing. It took me six months after that to learn how to sing. I was trying to hit notes with two vocal chords with only one working. So I had to re-learn everything all over again. Left-hand bass lines and then also my singing. I just love to sing. It’s just something I love to do. Especially Frank Sinatra tunes.
AAJ: You got the disease again at the age of 35. Is that when it affected your vocal chords?
Monaco: Yes. That’s when it really affected me the worst. It got one of the nerves on my left vocal chord. I clear my throat a lot because it doesn’t work properly. It also affected a lot of nerves in my left forearm, which totally destroyed my ability to play left hand. So I to learn all over again how to use my left hand by substituting different muscles.
It’s not like tendonitis. When you get tendonitis it just hurts, but everything is still working. The body is amazing. What happened with me is when the nerve gets damaged, and in some cases it actually stops working, you’ve gotta train your mind, because your mind still thinks it works. When you go to pick up a glass it’s all automatic. You just do it, because everything’s working like it’s supposed to. When you get sick with this kind of a disease and it destroys the nerve, you think about picking up the glass, but your hand doesn’t do it. So what you have to do is retrain your mind by repetitive motion to learn a new way to pick up the glass. And that’s kind of what happened with me with my left-hand bass. I had to start with a metronome at a very slow speed and just try to play in time, very slow. Slowly, over about six or seven months, I was back at it 100 percent. But my positions, or the muscles I was using, are different ones. I figured out a way, I guess.
AAJ: It must have taken a lot of concentration.
Monaco: Well I am type-A. [laughter]. So I’m determined sometimes.
AAJ: That’s a lot to work through.
Monaco: It gave me a lot of gratitude, that’s what it did for me, is bring a lot of gratitude and a lot of thanks to God. Cause I’ve seen first hand twice, once when I was 16 and then 35, that everything that you have can be stripped away in the matter of a few hours. Sometimes in the matter of a moment.
My voice went instantaneous. I was talking and it was gone. That nerve stopped functioning and my left vocal chord just flailed off to the side, and there was only air coming out and I couldn’t speak anymore for six months.
AAJ: That must have been scary. But you sound good on the CD, so you’ve come a long way. You own a construction company and you’ve had other businesses, so you don’t rely solely on gigs. That must help. A lot of people say in the last few years or so gigs are hard to find, especially if you’re not one of the big names.