Nobody who loves music hereabouts wanted to believe that bassist and producer Tony Markellis has passed. Sadly, devastatingly true; among the most terrible news of a wretched time. How unfair that he moves on just as the world begins to recover.
Tony was my second favorite musician after my brother Jim. A player of subtle supportive listening on ballads or mighty muscular force in any groove, Tony made every song he played on better, every band he played in both more poetic and more powerful.
A round guy whose email address proclaimed him the meat man, Tony had an easy calm way about him. He’d been everywhere, but still loved to move along. He’d played everything but still loved to lay it down.
When I talked once with Trey Anastasio, who had the exquisite taste to bring Tony into the Trey Anastasio Band, he said it was fine with him “to just watch and listen to Tony, all night.” Trey did so, himself; and I did that whenever I heard him play, starting from an early-70s David Bromberg Band gig in Binghamton. The sound system died, but not the music. As Bromberg led his strings and horn players to the lip of the stage, Tony turned down his amp and laid down the groove so everybody could hear everything.
He loved playing with thoughtful singer-songwriters, especially Michael Jerling, as much as with rocking bands. And he always swung, always.
However, some of my favorite times with Tony were when he didn’t play.
Many a night when I climbed the steep stairs at Caffe Lena, there was Tony at the top, listening, and knowing everything about the music and musicians. I could have written my Gazette reviews just by jotting down what Tony said.
When Davell Crawford, the “Piano Prince of New Orleans,” played the Cock ’N’ Bull in Galway, Tony joined the two of us in the bar after the show. Davell was born into the New Orleans tradition, the grandson of James “Sugarboy” Crawford and godson of Carol Fran, though Roberta Flack took over that job when Fran passed. But for Tony, New Orleans was just one of the many streams he navigated with unerring taste on his bass. And, believe me, Tony had better New Orleans musician stories than Davell.
The many musicians he played with here and everywhere will be telling Tony stories in every green room, every tour-stop bar and every recording studio here for years.
If you’re ever lucky enough to be back there, listen up, and raise a glass to our own thunder sage, our groove giant, our boss of the beat.
To Tony Markellis.