Tony Saunders is a two-time Emmy winning bassist! His world famous keyboardist father, Merl Saunders, got him started in the music industry at an early age with Herbie Hancock and Sly Stalone.
Tony received one of his first piano lessons from Herbie Hancock. He received an Emmy at 14 years old with his father for the children’s special Soul Is, a PBS documentary featuring Black poetry accompanied by Tony on the bass.
At age 17 he began playing with his father and Jerry Garcia, and was a featured musician in Merl Saunders & Aunt Monk. Later Tony played in the original Rainforest Band, and recorded on all other projects of his father’s. Legendary bassists Chuck Rainey, Jack Casady and John Kahn all took interest in Saunders’s ability.
Saunders has scored movies, corporate videos, TV shows and commercials, and produced many CDs, primarily out of his own studio, Studio 1281. Tony has produced over 400 tracks with his core musicians Dante Taz Roberson on Drums, Bill Hampton on Guitar, and Sylvester Burks on Keyboards.
Tony’s first solo CD “Bigger than Outside” was released in October 2011. It remained on the charts for 70 weeks.
I had a chance to sit with Tony and chat a bit about his music.
Do you remember the first time you heard your music on television or film?
I heard my bass playing on a PBS special Soul IS, which was recorded in 1969; that show won an Emmy.
Tell me about your Emmy Awards…
The first was for a PBS Special titled Soul IS when I was 14, which I won with My Dad. This was I playing bass playing along with Black children saying poetry.
The second was for the Sun Microsytem sponsored series Digital Journey. I wrote the music for this entire series and one of the episodes won and Emmy. The episode featured me writing Chinese Music.
Who are your heroes?
Willie Mays, Michael Jordan, and my Dad, Merl Saunders; they all had a desire to do great things and were great at their craft.
What do you like best about your profession?
I love that I get to do what I really love in life. I love all aspects of making music. The production, the recording, working with great musicians and singers all make me smile. The reaction of people hearing the music touches my soul deeply. I work long hours, up at 6 am most days and put in 12 to 15 hours a day on my craft. I truly Romance the Bass as I Romance life.
What would you do differently in your career?
I would have concentrated on my music more and waited to have a family until in my 30’s.
How has the industry’s technology changed in your thirty-year music career?
It has changed so much. I remember lights being on the wall to designate every 30 seconds at the old Fantasy Records Studio. I remember learning as a teen how to cut tape to do edits. Now everything is computerized and we are able to record globally with people we never see. Technology has improved everything but the sound of tape and the sonic sound of an album. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that a good song is a good song. And a great musician or singer is still the best thing you will ever hear.
Watch “My First Love” with Tony Saunders and Howard Hewett:
You can find Tony at: