Tony Migliore began his musical studies as a child and enrolled at the prestigious Julliard School of Music, where he studied piano, theory and composition. He continued his music studies at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. Tony later worked as a pianist and arranger for the United States Military Academy Band at West Point. During this time, he also participated in several Broadway and Off Broadway appearances, including "Oh Calcutta" and "Promises, Promises". After completing his military service, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where his musical experience expanded significantly. As a pianist, Tony Migliore has starred in hundreds of record hits that earned him numerous accolades. In 1978, Tony began to work as a pianist after Randy Goodrum's departure for Chet Atkins. As Chet Atkins performed more symphony concerts, Tony began writing the Musical Arrangement for Chet. Over a period of 20 years, Tony wrote over 50 arrangements for Chet Atkins. From 1992, Tony became a pianist for pop / folk songwriter Don McLean ("American Pie," "Vincent," "Castles in the Air"). and many others) Tony lives in Nashville and continues to tour with Don McLean and record music in the Chelsea Music Group's studio in Brentwood, TN, and produces it in June 2008 after Don McLean's appearance at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach. VA, was sold out.
TR: When did you start working with Chet?
TM: The first time I worked with Chet was in 1978. I was his replacement pianist. Randy Goodrum played piano with him and Randy had a few other things going on at that time. Suddenly he had three hits at a time – huge, huge songs, and he started doing other things. So he asked me if I would choose Chet's band and I said, "Okay."
TR: Randy knew you, but Chet did not?
TM: Yes, Randy knew me. Chet knew who I was – I had played Boots Randolph once or twice at the Music Masters Festival and he knew who I was, but we never really spent time together. And when Randy asked me, he just sent me some ribbons. We did not rehearse, I just got the soundtracks and played a few things.
TR: You learned by listening to just the tapes?
TM: I listened to the tapes and made a few little chord charts with things I was not familiar with, and it was very laid back and so simple – not in terms of the music, but just in terms of Chet and the guys get along.
TR: Do you remember some of these early songs?
TM: Well, he did the things he was most familiar with, cuts like "Windy and Warm" and "Snowbird" – those things, and he did what he called "The Medley of My Hit," what was a bunch of stuff that he produced on other artists. One of them was Perry Como's version of Don McLean's song "And I Love You So". Don Gibson's "Oh, Lonesome Me". And "dream" of the Everly Brothers. I also remember that Jim Reeves "He will have to go". was in there too.
There were some classic songs. Everyone in Nashville knew Chet – if not personally, then by his reputation. He was higher on this high throne than any of us. Meet the man and he was the humblest, most self-deprecating person you have ever met.
He could not believe that people had actually paid to hear him play. He said, "I'm just a guitarist, I do not do anything – I do not sing, I do not jump around." So he was always humble.
He would take care of the people in a theater – just full of people – all enthusiastic fans. They were backstage looking for autographs and were everywhere.
To be honest, when I started playing with him, I did not know much about Chet. Of course I knew that he was one of the chief honchos at RCA, a well-known producer, and he was that famous guitarist. But as a keyboardist, I did not pay much attention to the guitars.
But if you move to Nashville, you can not pay attention to guitars.
Early on I tended to play a little busy. He said to me, "Play a bit, but do not get carried away, just relax." His former drummer was Randy Hauser, who had just replaced Larrie Londin. Randy and I became friends, and they played so simple and expressive – something we all learned when we moved to a place like Nashville, and I moved here to become a studio musician, and I've learned from a few best, including Chet, Pig Robbins, who could say more with three notes than most people can say with a hundred. So that was a good learning experience from a kid who had gone through some of the best music schools and at the time had all the technical facilities in the world. I realized that, like Van Cliburn, I did not have to run the keyboard up and down to make a statement.
TR: Van Cliburn, was he the pianist who also joked?
TM: That was Victor Borge, whom I absolutely loved.
TR: You used to tell me that you "lied" in some places.
TM: Yes, the saying was, "Know when to interpret." They sometimes say more musically when you interpret. You actually say more.
TR: I've always believed from my own experience that I feel something deeply when I enjoy music.
TM: If you do not feel it, you're dead. You do not really hear and experience the music.
In a case like Don McLean, when I started working with him, I noticed that his breathing became part of the song. It's not just a breath because you're out of breath, it's part of the song, and it places your breath in strategic places to make it effective.
That's a pretty clever thing, and sometimes it extends a note and then gets extra air, and if that sounds like it works.
I work with many singers in the studio and many of them do not really know how to do emotes (half of them do not know how to sing), but I have to teach them and I tell them that breathing is part of it of the song.
You should not be afraid to breathe and make audible. We all breathe, we all have to breathe. As a singer, it's okay to breathe and sigh while singing. And as I said, it can be an important part of the song.
Chet "breathed" his guitar music with his playing style. The playing, the pauses and the phrasing of the notes were beautiful.
We did a show in New York with Les Paul in #78 or ,79, which is half of the Chester and Lester albums that came out, and we went up there and got on The Bottom Line played. And here, Chet sat cross-legged on a stool and played quietly, and when it was Les Paul's turn, he turned each knob of the amp to 10, and then he jumped around doing all the stuff and the contrast – and I mean no disregard for Les Paul, because he was a genius for what he did. But the contrast between the two was incredible. Chet was like John Wayne in the movie "The Quiet Man".
TR: I noticed in Don McLean singing from Vincent that he sings and you think it's time to move on to the next movement, but he'll wait somehow.
TM: You can not rush it. Chet was also like that, when he's ready for the next set, he'll do it. Of course this was not the case with rhythmic things, but otherwise the tempo and the feeling can be varied to make the song more beautiful or better to work.
I remember the very first gig I played with Chet. He did the first half alone with acoustic guitar. He would play a few songs, then Paul Yandell would play with him for the remainder of the first half and shortly before the end of the first half he would play "Vincent". Later, I learned that Chet Don's songwriting always loved.
That was long before I knew Don McLean and thought about working with him and knowing him, and I thought, "What's that song? That's a beautiful song."
It took a moment and I said, "Oh, that's" Starry Starry Night & # 39; "and my ears got higher, and I listened attentively to how Chet played it, and reminded me that I thought," This guy is a player – this guy really plays. "
Who was me? I was 28 or 29 years old then. Who was I who questioned the genius of such a man? But I think if you come from the educational institutions that came out of me, you are a bit exhausted. They think, "A guitarist, what does he know?" But then, to hear him playing with the sensitivity of a real classic player, it was amazing.
TR: (laughs) Just listen to him playing "Blue Angel" or the Barrios song "Choro de Saudade".
TM: Yes, of course. Or "Recuerdos Del Alhambra".
And I was fortunate enough to come along at that time, because it did not take me a year to start working with him only as a pianist. He said to me, "You write arrangements, right?"
He said, "Can you write me an arrangement?" – I do not remember the melody. He said, "We will do it the next time we work with an orchestra." And I did that and it went very well.
And Steve Wariner was touring with us, asking me to make an arrangement for one of his songs that Chet put on the show, and it worked out wonderfully. Then Chet asked for another arrangement and another, and everyone worked well.
About a year later, Chet asked, "Can you conduct an orchestra?" He had commissioned Albert Coleman, who at the time was, I believe, the conductor of the Atlanta Pops, and also directed for the Masters festivals with Chet, Floyd Cramer and Boots Randolph. And we were both friends with Chet. But Albert was slowly slowing down and Chet just wanted to try something on me.
I remember the first show he asked me for direction, the Rochester Philharmonic. It was very intimidating for me because that's where I went to school, and there were a few of my teachers sitting in front of me.
I remember one of the buglers in the symphony came from my school days and looked down over his glasses and said, "I know you, I know you!"
But they were all very nice and kind. We had a fun show. And from then on, I became Chet's conductor as well as keyboardist and arranger – for his live stuff. I made an arrangement that we recorded and that was "Dance With Me". Chet received a Grammy for this song.
TR: And you played this cool piano solo –
TM: I also played the piano, right.
TR: What does an arranger do for the Chet fan who will read this for Chet Atkins? Does he just bring a song tune and say, "Do you select all the other parts?"
TM: Yeah, basically, and with Chet was probably the hardest part again – not writing something that was so busy that it stood in the way of what he did. It often had to be a very subdued background music, which was almost unnecessary because he only played these things with the band, and it was fine without an orchestra. He had the orchestra and hopefully it added another dimension and made it even more beautiful.
TR: Did you decide which instruments belong to the orchestra?
TM: Yes. I like to use things like oboes and cellos for certain types of songs. You want these colors and use the orchestra as a color rather than a sound, especially in Chet's playing style. You do not want the orchestra arrangement getting in the way, so do not write too bombastically unless it's something like "Stars and Stripes Forever" – just copy John Philip Sousa and forget it! For something sensitive you want to get out of the way and write only simple things – only more or less underlining what he does.
TR: It sounds like the relationship has grown from pianist to arranger.
TM: I became the official pianist, so to speak. Randy called me for the first show, he called me for the next show two weeks later, he called me a few weeks later for the next show and then he stopped calling me and I just went along.
TR: How did Chet hire people? How was that arranged?
TM: I do not remember Chet ever hired anyone in the band. Of course, Larrie Londin had previously played drums and Randy had taken over for Larrie. Randy was there before I was. Henry Strzelecki was still playing bass, and when Henry decided that he could no longer tour, they hired Steve Wariner. Actually, it was Paul Yandell who I think has hired the newer players.
Except when Johnny Johnson came with us. Johnny was Floyd Cramer's bass player and bassist when they played the Masters Festival – Floyd and Chet and Boots Randolph, so Chet was very familiar with Johnny's playing. Wonderful player, one of the most underrated bassists of all time. I think Chet brought Johnny into the group, but basically it was Paul who called.
TR: But is the label or someone else paying the bills? I mean, who pays for the musicians is my question.
TM: The labels would pay for record arrangements, but as for his orchestra arrangements, Chet would pay me off his company, I think it was Chet Atkins Enterprises before he later became CGP Enterprises.
TR: What was your style with Chet when you worked with him as a collaborator?
TM: I listened to him do the song and then I came up with something and we played it through.
If he did not like something, he would never insult you. He would be very subtle and say, "Can we omit this part?", And I would say, "Sure, no problem." We can not have big egos. Everyone has an ego, of course, but in our part of the business, you learn that you will work with some people who will say, "I do not like that, take it out!"
Chet was a gentleman much more than that – he would say, "Maybe we can not do this part here, wait for this part." That was his way of saying that he was not interested in that particular part, or perhaps saying, "Can we change that?"
So it was a simple relationship. He pretty much let me have my own thoughts about the arrangements. If he had something definite, he would say, "I want you to do something here with horns" or "Let's do something rhythmic here." But otherwise he let you go somehow. It was really nice and Don McLean is similar.
Sometimes, if Chet did not like something, he just would not play the song. He really knew what to do and when.
In the twenty or so years that I have worked with him, I have probably written 50 or 60 different arrangements for him. And he would go in shock. He would play some of them for a while and set them up and play some others instead. Then he returned to something and said, "We did not play that for a while, let's do that." It was always nice because I had the opportunity to improve my skills in this department, and working with Don McLean became an extension, because when I started working with Don, Chet started to slow down.
TR: What year is this?
TM: I started & # 39; with Don.
I still had a lot of dates with Chet and when Don asked me if I wanted to make some dates here and there, I might get half a dozen for the first year or so.
Don had a guitarist he used and he used it most of the time and then I came in and did some shows. I think in all the years I've been working with both of them, I've always had a conflict.
Sometime in the mid-80s came Darryl Dybka over. Chet was a good friend of Earl Klugh, and Earl recommended Darryl.
I was quite busy with the recordings and Chet said, "Would it be all right for you to take Darryl to the keyboard and you would be the conductor of the orchestra or make orchestra dates?" I said, "Sure, that's perfect."
Chet made about 40 dates a year and about half of them were with an orchestra and the other half were not. Darryl did the other dates and he even made some of the orchestra dates and I just went along as a conductor.
It was great because when I started working with Don I only had orchestra dates with Chet. So there were not as many conflicts as if I was playing all the dates. In the few years we've moved, there really was only one data conflict I can remember.
TR: Was it a big deal, how was it solved?
TM: Don said to me, he said, "Why do not you go with Chet?" Chet said to me, "No, you can go with Don, you can go on, I'll use the conductor they have there." It was very easy.
TR: But you were back until the next gig?
TM: Yeah, basically the other guy signed for me.
TR: You know, someone who has been working with someone for 20 years will learn a lot. What do you think are some of the things you learned from Chet?
TM: Chet was definitely the humblest person I knew in this business. I was a young, cocky upstart when I moved to Nashville and thought, "I can play this country stuff, it's nothing, I played Tchaikovsky – I can definitely play country music."
Chet just taught me who he was. He taught me you do not have to go overboard to sell something. You can sit back, you can restrain yourself, not show all your cards.
He was sometimes a bit reluctant to people. He was a bit shy but very, very intelligent and read the people very well. He did not always say much to them, because you learn much more by listening than by speaking.
He was great at reading people. He could read his audience and say if they liked what he was doing or if he should change direction. He was very good at that.
I learned about the production by listening to a few things he did and then saying, "Okay, why did not he add this?"
Musically, he was a master of understatement. There are so many artists today that I call "musical terrorists". They throw in the sink at every damned song they make, so you have that huge cacophony of sounds that happens all the time, if a simple solo line had been more effective. I'm trying to learn and apply this already when I'm in my 60s.
Every time I sit down and play with someone, like now with Don, I try to remember it.
A nice thing about Don McLean is that he lets you do your thing. He does not say "play the record."
He says, "Play the song the way you feel it, if you mess it up, you screw it up, so you'll do it differently tomorrow." Chet was like that. He never told you how to play the record. There are many, many artists who can not do that. You have to make it sound like a record because you're worried that your audience either does not recognize it or does not like it because it's not like the record.
Chet was too much of a musician to hinder you like that. It was a pleasure to play with him.
And I think I have learned humility. That's one of the great things I've learned from him. I try to use it – I'm far from perfect. Who we are I miss him very much, I miss him very much. I do not know if you know the name George Lunn.
TR: Chets Road Manager, right?
TM: George was a good friend for many years. I just found where he is now. George had a stroke a few years ago, so I'll visit him soon.
George liked to think of himself as an expert in handcrafts with card tricks and things like that. He stunned a few people backstage one night many, many years ago, and this Lew Potter fellow happened to be in the crowd saying, "Yeah, that's really good, I have an old trick I learned – Can I show it to you? " And he did a ridiculous trick and George says, "Okay, alright, alright – you had me, all right, who are you?" That's how they became friends and I became friends with them, and he and Steve Wariner were doing card tricks together. By the way, Lew was a big fan of Chet and also a really good guitarist
Steve started learning card tricks and he did very well. He practiced a lot in front of a mirror.
But here's an interesting thing that you may not know. The song we did tonight on Don's show "You're My Little Darlin" was a record Chet played on.
TM: Yes. We worked with Don about 95 on this album and Don said, "Do you think we can get Chet to play one of those songs, maybe just a small guest appearance?" and I said, "Let me bring a copy to him and let him see if there's anything he likes that much, so I did it and Chet said," Why do not you come over to the house? We do it in the basement. "
When Don was in town, we went over a day and went to the house, and Chet played the metal resonator, what's his name, the D & # 39; Angelico?
TM: Excuse me, I messed up my Italians. Yes, he played it there and did the solo. It was a beautiful afternoon.
TR: I loved the song you did tonight, "What the world would be like."
TM: When I started working with Don after the guitarist I mentioned, John Platania left, it was just us both. We worked like that for five years. He started to make that song, "how would the world be," and I did a little tricky trick. In fact, today, when I went into his dressing room to have him talk to you, he sang that song for himself and it's a beautiful song.
TR: You do not know what's in a Don McLean set. I mean, there is no set list if you play right?
TM: No. He inspires it. Don is another master at reading his audience. He will know if he should change gear or not and what he should play.
TR: You mentioned that you play in Chet's cellar. How is his cellar? I was never there. Is it like tape devices, sound cards, microphones, etc.?
TM: Well, he had a real little studio in the basement. A control room with tape machines, and he had a small grand piano and guitars that stood only on stalls. You know, he was never more than a meter from a guitar. I think that was his lifeline. He always needed to have one nearby, just in case he wanted to jiggle something.
He would pick up a guitar if he thought of something or if he just felt he needed it. There was a lot of stuff down there, because he was a hobbyist, too. He had his amateur radio equipment down there, he had a workbench that looked like the back room of a jeweler's shop where the jeweler had done his little finite things. It was his own personal production studio.
TR: Probably a haven too.
TM: Yes. It was not something he had leased to other people, but sometimes people were invited to play with him, and yes, it was also a kind of sanctuary for him.
TR: He would go there just to be alone?
TM: Alone or with a few people playing one or five tunes or whatever. We did his Christmas album "East Tennessee Christmas" down there and it was really fun.
TR: Tony, thanks for spending so much time tonight.
TM: You're welcome. It feels good to talk about Chet, and it brings back great memories, so thanks.