by Tony Barnes
I got started in music when I was 14. My late first cousin, Matt Houston Barnes, started playing about six months before me and he inspired me to learn so we could jam together. I remember how cool I thought he was when he showed me Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” and Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.” The first song he taught me was Lynyrd Skynyrds’ “All I Can Do is Write it in a Song” and i was hooked. I took lessons for three years with Ken “Scruffy” Marsh, from Pinedene Jazz Center in Southern Pines, where SoPies Pizza is now.
I play and write many styles of music, but I love music with a 60s and 70s feel with a lot of guitar, great lyrics and vocal melodies. I’m heavily influenced by the Southern sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers, and the blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan, which manifest mostly in the guitar licks and bends that I use. I have a loop pedal for solo gigs, so I can record live rhythms and play lead guitar over it with the added help of a light distortion pedal.
My favorite regular gig these days would absolutely be The Oceanic Restaurant & Pier in Wrightsville Beach. I play on the pier over The Atlantic Ocean to a typical dinner crowd of around 200 people; there’s nothing like making music with the waves crashing in the background and the sun setting over the water.
I typically play around 200 shows a year so I guess the goal I most strive for, but sometimes fall short, would be to remember to just have fun. Sometimes the pressure of performing for a living can be a struggle mentally for various reasons, but when I see people from all walks of life having a collective moment of joy singing along or dancing, it really feels special for me.
I know a lot of people struggle with jobs they may not like or that are very physically and mentally demanding, and I’m just very fortunate to be able to play guitar and sing as my business. The biggest surprise in my life is that I have been able to successfully earn a living for almost nine years solely as a musician; especially when I look back on myself as a boy just learning guitar and scared to sing in front of people. That transformation has sure surprised my parents, and anyone who knew me when I was younger!