Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tony Furtado is an Americana chameleon. In the four decades that he’s has been recording and performing, Furtado has effortlessly shifted between blues, bluegrass, folk, old time, and rock sounds. It’s a fascinating career arc that was succinctly captured in his most recent release, a live album called Cider House Sessions recorded in Portland at Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider last year.
On a recent icy afternoon, Furtado and fiddler Luke Price joined us in the Oregon Public Broadcasting studios to perform selections featured on the live album. Watch video of the performance via our partner at VuHaus and listen to and download songs from the performance below. You can also listen to our interview with Furtado in its entirety and read excerpts below.
Jerad Walker: The live album is an eclectic recording that touches on a ton of different traditional music styles. There’s folk, old time, Celtic, jazz, bluegrass and I guess is kind of a mirror for your career. You’ve touched so many bases during your music career, which spans about four decades now. I’m curious though, where did you start in music?
Tony Furtado: Oh boy. That brings me back to when I was 11 years old in the San Francisco Bay area growing up. I heard whatever was on the unformatted FM radio at the time. All kinds of stuff. I remember hearing “Dueling Banjos” on the radio as well as blues and slide guitar as well as “Tie A Yellow Ribbon.” All kinds of things. When I first started playing banjo my first teacher had to introduce me to what bluegrass was, but he at the same time had me listening to The Eagles that had banjo and to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
JW: There was a lot of country rock in California during that era.
TF: Yeah, exactly. It was a fair mix. So early on I got bluegrass as well as open-minded folksters.
JW: You shot to prominence as a bluegrass musicians in the late 80s. You’re also part of a group of musicians like Bela Fleck and Tony Trischka who are constantly pushing the envelope and redefining what roots music is supposed to sound like. How do you balance that, playing in a style of music that’s deeply rooted in very stark tradition but pushing it forward?
TF: It sounds so trite but I just kind of follow my ear, follow my muse. What I’m into at that particular time influences what I write and what I record. In fact, I can give an example. When I was writing and recording and album called Golden back in 2009, 2010 I was listening every day to a band called Sigur Ros. They are not…
JW: A fantastic ethereal indie rock band from Iceland.
TF: Exactly! And I was listening to that. I can cite which song, it’s the title song on the album “Golden” that was influenced melodically and harmonically by that band. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it unless I told you.