By Steve Newton
Thirty years ago today–on May 17, 1984–Tony Carey called me up from Tulsa, Oklahoma to chat about his new album, Some Tough City. You may remember that album from such hits as “A Fine, Fine Day” and “The First Day of Summer”.
I sure do.
Here’s the story that ran in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight newspaper in the June 1, 1984 issue, under the headline TONY CAREY FINDS GOLD AT THE END OF HIS RAINBOW.
It’s the first time the interview has ever appeared on the Internet–unless some other poor sap got sucked into retyping it before me.
The memories of his days in Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow are not joyous ones for Tony Carey. The singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist was a member of the band for three years, and performed on the Rainbow Rising and Live on Stage albums before leaving in disgust in 1978. His reasons?
“There were a number of them,” recalls the bitter-sounding Carey on the line from Tulsa, Oklahoma, “the most important being that heavy metal has no attraction to me at all. The lyrics, and the crowd it attracts, the people in the group–none of that was any fun for me.
“I was 21 when I joined the group, and the next youngest member was 31. And it was almost a generation gap between myself and the singer (Ronnie James Dio).
“The reason I was in the group in the first place was because I thought it would be a good career move for me, just to break into the music business. But in a lot of metal bands–no, let me narrow that down–in Rainbow people tend to get hurt, either physically or emotionally. They’re a weird operation. The people in the organization are ice-cold, and they have no compunction about rolling right over anybody that gets in their way.”
“I take a slightly more humanitarian view of the world.”
On his recently released album Some Tough City, Tony Carey uses that view to good effect, capturing the fading hopes of modern life in tales from the outer limits of personal optimism. The title track tells of a struggling existence in the barrio of East L.A., while “Tinseltown” was written after Carey read about the fall of one of California’s biggest rock stars. (He wouldn’t say which one, only that he was the one that got busted for cocaine in Texas.)
Wild eyes starin’ out from a wasted face/Like a cry for help just a little too late/You saw the writing on the wall/You can’t believe how far you fall/in Tinseltown
The sharks just loved you when you hit the scene/You were a walkin’ talkin’ hustler’s dream/Nothin’ changes but the names/One more ace shot down in flames/in Tinseltown
“I try to present my characters the way John Steinbeck presented his,” says Carey, who also counts Sinclair Lewis, Hemingway, and James Jones among his literary influences.
“He depicts losers in a compassionate, non-judgemental type of fashion. Like in Cannery Row, where Doc is the biggest loser you’ve ever seen in your life. But losers in the sense that they’re non-achievers, or under-achievers, and they’re happy about it. It’s no sin to them; it’s no crime. There’s nobody tapping them on the shoulder.”
Although his inspiration for many of the songs on Some Tough City came from a one-month visit to Los Angeles, the album was actually recorded in Frankfurt, West Germany, where Carey has lived for the past six years.
So how did the California-born musician end up in Frankfurt?
“I had just left Rainbow, and my first marriage was falling apart, and it was a confused, where-am-I-going-now time in my life. I was 23 and I felt 53, and I was just too worn out from the whole Los Angeles music business scene. I figured, ‘Let’s get out of town for a while’, and the only place I could think of where I could still get along and relate to the city–western fashion–looked to be Europe.”
Since settling in Germany, Carey has written over 300 songs, recorded three albums of electronic music, and had a European hit with the self-described “samarai disco” of Yellow Power. North American audiences are aware of Tony via his solo hit “I Won’t Be Home Tonight” and Planet P’s “Why Me”, the video of which is an MTV staple.
He also met his current wife in Germany, and his producer for Some Tough City, Peter Pauke. WIth the albums holding its own in the Billboard Top 100–due largely to the success of the first single “A Fine, Fine Day”–the move to Germany seems to have been a good one for Carey’s personal and professional life as well. He’s just made a video for the next single from Some Tough City, “The First Day of Summer”. As Carey points out, the song takes a more optimistic view than a lot of the songs on the record.
“The gist of the song isn’t necessarily about the first day of summer–it’s about when something goes well in your life, for a change. How nice it feels. When you win 5,000 dollars in a lottery, or [and here he chuckles joyously] when your wife gets pregnant! “The whole world knows your name and nothing feels the same.”