The loss of a loved one is a stark reminder of how short life really is, especially when they go before their time. On July 31, 2012, Tony Sly was taken too soon, dying peacefully in his sleep at age 41. He is survived by his wife Brigitte, their two daughters Fiona and Keira, his brothers Mike and Jonathan Sly, and his parents Pauline and John Sly. In our time of grief it has been the stories from all over the world shared by band members, friends, and fans that have brought solace in an inconsolable time. To his family, he was a loving husband, a father, a brother, and a son; to us he was a loyal friend, an artist, a poet, and a philosopher. He was a man unafraid to bare his soul to the world. Throughout his lifetime as a musician, whether it was fronting No Use For a Name, or during his solo career, it was as if he was speaking directly to each of us, and because of that, each of us felt a special connection to him. Of course the real connection was to his family, and his loved ones, but somehow when he sang “International You Day” (for Brigitte of course) you felt that he was singing to you. Thank you, Brigitte, Fiona, and Keira, for sharing him with us. He was loved by so many, and will be forever missed.
In 2010, No Use For a Name frontman Tony Sly dipped his toe into the punk-guy-turned-acoustic-troubadour pool with 12 Song Program, which featured a dozen stripped down tracks with a Beatles sensibility that at times recalled Jets to Brazil’s quieter moments. He did a ton of touring, notably with Lagwagon’s Joey Cape and Jon Snodgrass of Drag the River. Tony was obviously inspired by his experiences because he came home and whipped out another twelve solo numbers for his most recent album, Sad Bear, released on October 11, 2011. This material is boozy, angry, heartbroken, frustrated, happy, nostalgic… If 12 Song Program was testing the waters of having a solo career, Sad Bear was a cannonball into the deep end.
Lyrically, Tony was never more open or vulnerable, touching on everything from love to poverty, self medication to faith, to getting older, having kids and still being as confused and angry as a teenage punk rocker. As Tony said himself, “The lyrics on this record are my most uninhibited and honest words ever…” and it’s easy to see why he feels that way. This shit isn’t afraid to get dark, to be funny or to be brutally self-aware.
Right around now, you’re probably thinking what everyone thinks when confronted with an album like this and it’s: “Oh, great. Another dude pretending to be a poor hick singing about cotton gins and whiskey stills that he’s never seen, in a fake accent he doesn’t really have.” Well, firstly, real nice. Secondly, Sad Bear is anything but a shit-kickin’-culture-slumming Americana record. Though the main instrumentation centers around the acoustic guitar, Tony brought in eleven different guest musicians to flesh out the sound, which features accordion, piano, pennywhistle, drums, some weird circus-y sounding organ, some distorted guitar and a whole shit-ton of ambient percussion, including, if my ears don’t deceive me, a triangle. Far from southern fried, Tony instead tackles melody head on and the results are, dare I say, reminiscent of such heavy-hitting 70’s melodic powerhouses as Billy Joel and Elton John, songs you kind of feel like you’ve heard before because the melodies are so distinctive. In a world of dull, same-y solo outings from guys in aggressive bands, Sad Bear stands out because it feels a little risky. It’s not easily categorized and it’s definitely not what people are expecting. It’s big melodic songs in small, sad, deceptively simple little packages.
On June 19, 2012, Fat released Acoustic Vol. 2, the follow up to Tony Sly and Joey Cape’s first-of-its-kind 2004 split album, containing stripped-down re-makes of their previously plugged-in punk hits. The format is the same this time around, with Joey’s side featuring five acoustic Lagwagon songs and a new tune while Tony has matched him with five stripped down NUFAN numbers along with his own new song. These two toured together like crazy over the past few years; wherever there was a dim barroom with a microphone and a few beer taps, you could find Joey and Tony, their acoustic guitars and their insistence that one of them will buy the next round, lurking around near the back. They completed their final tour together in support of Acoustic Vol. 2 just days before Tony’s untimely passing.
Many have asked how they can support Tony Sly’s family in this trying time. A memorial fund has been created to help support his daughters Fiona and Keira, and you can donate here:
Those of you unable to contribute financially, but still wanting to show support, can send letters and share memories of Tony with his family by writing to: Tony Sly Memorial, PO Box 54405, San Jose, CA 95154. In addition, a special Tony Sly memorial website has been set up by Tony’s former bandmate Rory Koff. You will find many great stories about Tony, photos, music, history, and community. You can even share your own stories about Tony.
We have no choice but to say goodbye to the physical presence of Tony Sly, but he will live on in our thoughts, in our hearts, and in our memories; eternally through his music and his children. Goodbye, our friend.