West Coast multi-instrumentalist and confirmed road warrior Tony Furtado is a restless obsessive. It's not enough for him to be merely intrigued. His appetite for accomplishments is too voracious for that.
It all began with a sixth-grade report on the banjo. Not only did the budding musician research its history, he also constructed his own crude version of the instrument, and then taught himself how to play it. Years later, while studying music and fine arts at Cal State-Hayward, he went to Kansas on a whim to enter the Grand National Banjo Championships and won. (Four years later, he'd win again.)
By the early '90s, Furtado had become fascinated with the slide guitar and lap steel, teaching himself those instruments as well.
"It was in my head already, it was just a matter of transferring it to my hands," explains Furtado. "I think that's one problem people have when they're trying to move over to slide guitar: If you don't hear it, you're going to have a hard time at first."
A tremendously skilled musician, Furtado has a dozen albums under his belt. His most recent releases are the 2011 solo album Golden — the first album he produced on his own — and the Tony Furtado Band's Live at Mississippi Studios, a 2012 album released primarily to fulfill his label obligation.
Furtado's recordings have always showcased his technical facility, melodic invention and a wide stylistic range, from jazzy folk to rollicking blues-rock, with guest artists ranging from Alison Krauss to Buckethead. And with 2004's These Chains, the musician's musician added a new title to his resume: singer-songwriter.
Adding his lean, dusty tenor vocals to the mix gave Furtado's music a newfound accessibility, although he's reined in any impulses to make his music more overtly commercial.
"There are a few albums out there that I do not love," he admits, "because I feel like I was doing it for others or because I was trying to keep my career alive. I was being told to do these things for the wrong reasons, and that's something I am not going to do."
While Furtado would typically have followed up with another studio album by this point, he's managed to slow the frenetic place after becoming a father 15 months ago.
"They're so needy," jokes Furtado, whose current goal is to release a new album by summer's end. As might be expected, he'll be throwing some new musical elements into the mix.
"I recently acquired a cello banjo — basically a banjo that's an octave lower — and I'm wanting to pan my regular banjo on one side and the cello banjo on the other, creating kind of stereo parts that are doing the same thing but an octave apart. I also have a new steel body guitar I'm messing with. I just want to experiment with different sounds backing the voice."
In the meantime, there's the occasional sideman gig, including an unlikely recording session with "Achy Breaky Heart" hitmaker Billy Ray Cyrus. Furtado, who played fiddle on the record, was subsequently invited to perform with Cyrus on the Tonight Show.
"I never in a thousand years would've thought that I'd play the Tonight Show with Billy Ray Cyrus," he says, "but I thought, 'Why the fuck not?'"