Neo-soul group Tone 7 has conjured their debut album Tonality, infusing a line-up of seasoned musicians, resulting in an ultimate mix of musical styles from what music critics are calling “musicians’ musicians.”
Lead guitarist Bobby Cobb was chosen as the opening act, not once, but twice, for Bob Marley and The Wailers. After having been approached by the late reggae legend and his wife, and spending time conversing with Marley, Cobb says that he ultimately became speechless. “I remember it distinctly,” he recalls. “I was on the far side of stage right, and Marley came up to me, and started talking to me. When it got to the point when he said, ‘I really like your band, I really like your playing,’ I was so blown away, I forgot my guitar stand, and I just left it there on stage.” Listening to Cobb’s guitar work on Tonality, it is easy to see why Marley was impressed.
The 7’s lead vocalist, Tony “The Tone” Jackson, is no stranger to the spotlight. A longtime performer, at age nine, he appeared in guest roles on television shows, including The Brady Bunch and The Mod Squad. Even before hip hop became a mainstream commodity, used to promote corporate products, Jackson and hip hop icon Afrika Bambaata joined forces to appear in a Nescafe commercial together, possibly the first television commercial to feature such artists. Profoundly influenced by Michael Jackson, Tone went on to pursue his musical destination that became Tonality.
Armed with yet a second lead and rhythm guitarist, Neil Stallings, it again becomes clear this band is comprised of studio quality musicians. Stallings’ rich blues history includes having shared the stage with artists like B. B. King, Freddy King, Albert Collins, Big Mama Thornton and other legends. Stallings has served as the opening act for countless artists, including B.B. King, Freddy King, Johnny Winter, and The Chambers Brothers. He has also played on stage with the likes of Sly Stone. Yet all of these artists are only a partial list.
Most recently, drummer Thomas “Thunderfoot” Mason has played for headlining artists in the Las Vegas area, at venues including the Flamingo and John Ascuaga’s Nugget, and a bevy of other notable venues throughout the western half of the United States.
Keyboardist Will Hammond started his career when he was very young, as a staffer at Fantasy Records (John Fogerty, Credence Clearwater Revival). His uncle is jazz legend Eddie Hammond, who played at the Champagne Supper Club in the Fillmore District during its heyday, where artists including Billie Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, John Coltraine, and others dropped in for jam sessions. Hammond’s uncle is pictured in Harlem Of The West, a book about the musically historic club. Will, himself, has opened up for artists including Jeffrey Osborne.
Together, with much-sought after bassist, Stephen Smith, the band has created Tonality, neo-soul, interlaced with a rich variety of styles, ranging from soul, rock, jazz to R&B.
Formed in the Bay Area, the band’s lyrics reflect depth, insight and hope. It would be impossible for the album not to. Between gigs, Tone works as a professor of psychology, using his PHD in the treatment of anger management and depression. His insight gained through his experience of treating both inpatient and outpatient drug abusers, coupled with his involvement in social activism, makes him a true Renaissance man, and this resonates through his music throughout the album.
Cobb says of Tone’s vocals, “He never wastes a note. I have never seen him sing a note just to put it out there.”
Black rock and roll is alive and well, as evidenced by the album’s track “Revolutionary Eyes,” which combines heavy metal with soul. When it comes to a song about seeing the world with eyes that question authority, what better mix of genres? The late Marvin Gaye’s social commentary through soul music opened up the country’s eyes by opening up the people’s ears. Heavy metal shouts just as loudly. Together, they unite to incite.
Such musical expressionism translates messages throughout the album. The opening track, “Chicago Streets,” could have been written about any city. Despite his present success musically and otherwise, Tone grew up in gang-ridden O.G. Crip territory, in the area of 89th and Vermont in South Central Los Angeles, home of the Bounty Hunters. Tony was surrounded by the first generation of Crips, before there were even Bloods. Even Stanley “Tookey” Williams was a part of Tone’s neighborhood. Williams was executed by the State of California in 2005, a fate that was protested by a large number of people including Snoop Dogg. A biographical TV-movie entitled Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story was made in 2004, featuring Jamie Foxx as Williams. The night of his execution, Tone and folk musician Joan Baez spoke there in protest.
Despite his surroundings, Tone made a decision to not get caught up in the mayhem surrounding him. John Singleton’s Academy Award winning film “Boys In The Hood was our story,” explains Tone. “I was supposed to be with my buddy Mike, but I had to play a basketball game that night. My brother Zeke was going to go with me. I went to school right in the heart of Hoover Crips, Mt. Carmel High School, which is now defunct, at 70th and Hoover. At the game, I was on the bench. I heard sirens and ambulances, and little did I know, that ambulance was responding to a gunshot victim who had died, and the victim was Mike, one of my best friends. It was a difficult time for us; we wanted revenge, and everything else.” Ironically, Tone’s brother, Ezekiel X Jackson, was chosen by Singleton to do security on the set of the film. His brother Zeke now manages Tone 7.
With album highlights including “Maybe I,” “Tell Me,” and the thoughtful track “Ballot Or The Gun,” Tone 7 hits the perfect note. A heartfelt album, with the music to back it up, Tonality will have Tone 7’s fans listening to its songs, over and over.