When punk artist and No Use for a Name frontman Tony Sly passed away seven years ago, the impact was felt across the music scene. But few could have predicted the legacy Sly’s life and music would leave for the younger set. Colorado author C. Fulsty brought that about with his kids'-book tribute to Sly, Tony’s Butterflies. Tony’s brother Jon Sly leads the Tony Sly Music Foundation for Kids. And now, Lakewood's Old 121 Brewhouse is joining in the act, honoring the seventh anniversary of Sly's passing with a “Remembering Tony Sly” kid-friendly night with local punk artists singing Sly covers. It’s the punk community coming together to honor the past and support the future at the same time.
We sat down with Tony’s Butterflies author Fulsty, along with Jon Sly and Brett Zarhte of Old 121 Brewhouse to talk about the upcoming tribute, the details of the children’s book, and the Colorado charities that will benefit.
Westword: Tell us a little about what fans can expect at the Remembering Tony Sly tribute.
Brett Zahrte: Fans can expect a fun family-friendly night of great music and people. A handful of local musicians will be performing some singer-songwriter acoustic songs that are close to their hearts, and a full-instrument cover band will perform a set of No Use for a Name covers to complete the night. We will have a raffle of some beer items, books, artwork and other memorabilia. The brewery will be donating $1 for every pint of housemade craft beer, soda and teas sold — as well as all tips and proceeds from the raffle — to the Tony Sly Music Foundation for Kids.
Let’s talk about the book for a moment, since it’s what inspired the event. How did you come to write Tony’s Butterflies?
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C. Fulsty: I never officially met Tony Sly. He came to Colorado a few times with his band No Use for a Name, but I was a broke high school student and kept saying, “I’ll see them next year when I have money.” One big regret I will always have. I only knew Tony through his music. I connected so much with the lyrics that I felt like I knew him. I thought that it would be awesome to connect with the Tony Sly Music Foundation, and if there was any way I could create a book and give the rights and profits to the foundation, that would be a great way to give something to Tony’s memory. I contacted the foundation and spoke to Jon, Tony’s brother, and Brigitte, Tony’s wife, and we came up with doing a song based around two of Tony’s songs, “Keira” and “For Fiona,” and include things Tony loved to do with his family. I wanted to make a book about losing a loved one and make it child-friendly, and that is how Tony’s Butterflies was born.
How did Old 121 get involved in the project?
Fulsty: Old 121 had the idea for this event long before their doors opened this spring. Their team had a deep connection to the music and thought this would be a great way to engage their community in an exciting way. Brett [Zahrte] had bought a copy of Tony’s Butterflies and read it to his daughter many times. Since we only lived a short drive away from each other, I drove over to Old 121 to meet Brett and his family, and we discussed Tony, his music, the book and the event.
For the uninitiated, remind us a little about Tony Sly himself, as an artist.
Jon Sly: Tony was involved in bands from an early age. At fifteen, he was lead guitar and occasional singer for Anxiety, which also featured neighborhood friend Jeff Maser. Anxiety played shows all over the Bay Area, including the world-famous Gilman Street Project in Berkeley. While Tony was in the band, Anxiety had one full-length release, Instruments of the Passion.
In 1987, at the age of seventeen, Tony joined No Use for a Name. He immediately proved to be an essential part of the band because of his songwriting skills. He helped the band release its full-length debut, Incognito, from 1990. No Use for a Name went on to sign with Fat Wreck Chords for their third album, The Daily Grind, in 1993. The band’s popularity rose with the release of Leche Con Carne in 1995. This album featured the song “Soulmate,” which was the first Fat Wreck Chords single to ever get played on MTV. Tony recorded nine studio and live albums with No Use for a Name, and spent 23 years extensively touring the world, including five Warped Tour stints and countless music festivals throughout America, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and South America.
In 2008, Tony started recording demos for what he announced would be a solo acoustic project. He’d say, “The first record you ever hear sticks with you for life, and for me that was Rubber Soul.” The Beatles got him into playing guitar, and Tony wanted to go back to his “real roots,” before he got into punk. The 2010 release of Tony's solo debut, 12 Song Program, was said to transcend genres and classifications; it proved to many that Tony was a rock-and-roll Renaissance artist.
In 2011 Tony followed up 12 Song Program with the aptly named Sad Bear. This melancholy record highlighted Tony's depth as a songwriter as he tackled adulthood, friendship, family, parenthood, sadness, introspection, doubt, love, loss and seemingly all of life's trials and tribulations. That same year, Tony collaborated with Lagwagon frontman Joey Cape and fellow buddies Jon Snodgrass of Drag the River and Brian Wahlstrom to form the acoustic quartet Scorpios. Scorpios put out an eponymous record that year and toured extensively in the U.S., Europe and Australia, to great critical review.
The last Tony Sly release was in the summer of 2012, released just before he passed: Acoustic Volume 2.
Tell us what the Tony Sly Music Foundation for Kids has done. How was it formed, and what are its goals?
Sly: Tony left an impression on everyone he met with his unique brand of kindness and humility. Our family was overwhelmed by the response of grief people felt over his passing. He was a talented person, but there was much more than that. He reached people in a very special way. As a family, we wanted to create something that would honor his legacy while also bringing good to the world. Tony had a natural gift for interacting with children. With this in mind, we thought Tony would have loved the idea of an organization that promotes music learning in a fun and inspiring way.
So we started the Tony Sly Music Foundation for Kids in 2014 as a registered 501(c) organization that helps to support music education. To date we have donated about $25,000 to music-related kids' charities all over the world: organizations in Germany, Australia, Mexico, Canada, and here in the USA, with Children's Music Fund, Guitars in the Classroom, Bay Area Girls Rock Camp and Youth on Record. All of the funds have come from projects/shows/artwork dedicated in Tony's honor.
What does it say about Colorado and its music scene that this show can actually happen and be supported by fans? What makes Denver the right choice for this show?
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Zahrte: I think it speaks to the tight-knit community in the punk scene — not just here in Denver, but abroad. When members of the community are in need or are rallying together for a good cause, people circle the wagons and come together. Some of these guys have known, or known of each other, for twenty years or more. They grew up on this music, and some have had closer connections to No Use and Tony. The Foundation gave us their blessing early on to hold this event here in Denver, and we believe it is because of the way we explained our connection to Tony, the music, and support for the foundation.
Fulsty: I think Denver is the perfect place for this show because there is such a wide variety of people here. I believe we have a good punk scene that lots of people come out of the woodwork for. We have lots of people moving in from other cities that love the city and want to try new things, plus the Colorado community is tight-knit and caring as well, so I feel like people will want to join in on the event just to give back and drink some good beer. Who doesn’t love good beer, good live music, and an atmosphere where everyone feels like a friend?
Do you think there was anything in Sly's body of work that suggested that a touching and heartfelt children's book would be one of his legacies? It's an interesting pairing, isn't it?
Fulsty: It is. When I first contacted the Tony Sly Music Foundation, I wondered if I was wasting my time, because punk music and children’s books don’t have a lot in common. After contacting them and learning more about Tony from his brother Jon and wife Brigitte, I realized that Tony loved kids and was a very dedicated and loving family man. He did everything for his girls. The more I learned, the more it sounded like a children’s book would be perfect for showing who Tony was as a person. I just hope now that people can get a new perspective on Tony and hopefully feel a different connection to who he was — and never forget him.
Remembering Tony Sly will take place at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, at Old 121 Brewhouse, 1057 South Wadsworth Boulevard.