There have been talks of a Tony! reunion for years. What made you say now’s the time?
Timing is everything. Everything happens at the right time. We have experienced a lot. We have grown a lot. We have had experiences and successes with our other passions such as scoring, producing, and developing young emerging artists. We feel like it is time for the industry to revisit and experience live music from our era and the past before it becomes another lost art form. This is for the next generation. It’s a much-needed necessity.
What’s it like to be performing as a group again after 25 years? Is the chemistry the same or what’s different this time around?
The chemistry is definitely the same, it’s more comfortable because we genuinely know who we are, and it’s 100 percent driven by passion. So as I said before, being on stage with Raphael and Tim, it’s like sitting in the living room off E 14th and 76th in Oakland.
What’s it like touring again as a group? Are there any pain points with being on the road at this juncture in life?
For me personally, I am in a heavenly space. For the past 25 years, I have been developing artists through the lens of Tony! Toni! Toné!. Though touring is my passion and I enjoy it, it’s a lot of work and right now, not having to worry about staff salaries, overhead, flight, hotel, and all the other things that go with leading a production, it feels like me and my guitar on the road with my family. This opportunity to be on stage with my family, the core unit, it’s like heaven. It’s like home, nothing but comfort. When I look over my shoulder and I see Raphael and Tim, it’s the root. I can’t explain the feeling. When I’m on stage, it’s not a concert. It’s a reunion. It’s not fans, it’s family for real. They know us and the music is just a score to our lives.
Being from Oakland, how does it feel to come back here to perform on back-to-back nights at the Paramount?
I am a big fan of Frankie Beverly, Earth Wind and Fire, Sly and the Family Stone, Graham Central Station, Pointer Sisters, the Escovedo family, the Black Resurgents, the Bay Area Blues Society and so many more. I am a child of the Black Panther era, the East Bay Dragons, and last but not least, Castlemont High School from Defermery Park, Sobrante Park to Arroyo Park.
Coming back to Oakland is a homecoming, it’s deeply rooted and deeply personal. I was born and raised in Oakland. I honed my craft at a time when it was a community that supported each other like a tribe. My father is from Texas. My mother is from Arkansas. They migrated from the South to Oakland. Everyone was from the South and we believed in ourselves and looked out for each other. That is what Tony! Toni! Toné! comes from. Oakland has always been a revolutionary trendsetter worldwide and I would call it its own country.
In many ways, that’s what I learned from all my travels. And that’s what I have shared with all other artists I have produced and developed, there’s a whole other world out there outside of Oakland, and you can take Oakland with you worldwide. It’s not all bad in Oakland with all the negative narratives, they can never overshadow the beauty and positivity happening in Oakland and what Oakland has delivered to the world. Our Oakland folks need this, they need this energy, they need to know we are winners. They need to see, through it all, the adversities, the negativity, and the propaganda, that Oakland is resilient and united.
What were those early Oakland shows like?
The early Oakland shows remind me of those times when all you wanted to do was lift spirits and make people feel good. The early Oakland shows were old-school talent shows. There’s not one venue, one park, one community center, or one neighborhood, that I didn’t step my foot in. I’ve touched every club. Since I was 13 years old, I’ve been hitting the stage and having jam sessions. If you are from my era and you don’t have a Lucky Lion story, I may have some questions about your authenticity to the game. I was making my own lunch money while going to Frick Junior High as a working guitarist.
When was the last time you guys played here?
The last time we played together in Oakland was an impromptu moment on the historical Yoshi’s stage at our annual Tony! Toni! Toné! holiday residency. Yoshi’s is an Oakland gem, I’ve been coming through Yoshi’s since they were on Claremont. That moment when Raphael showed up and joined us. My sons Dylan and Jaden were on the stage with me and Tim. That was a magical moment. My sons were teenagers so for them to experience jamming with all three of us together, I believe exposure is key. The next generation has to see how we control our destiny together in solidarity — that night represented that.
Now the official last time we performed together was at the Oakland Coliseum. I love large arenas but our real passion is an intimate room where people get to see, feel, and experience the energy of what’s real. That’s why the paramount is so special. It’s true Oakland history. Following the blueprint of the great Frank Beverly, I watched him every year since 1983 at the Paramount in Oakland. He brought a feeling to Oakland. I always vowed to follow in his footsteps to take it to the people so I was overjoyed when Raphael chose this venue for the Oakland homecoming.
Is there anything you want to tell Oakland fans in anticipation of the big shows?
Oakland, it’s up. Let’s get down.
Tony! Toni! Toné plays the Paramount Theater in Oakland Nov. 14-15 and the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco Nov. 17