(from left) Kay Salvato, bass; 'Rockin' Ray Bullock, drums; Frank Salvato, guitar.
“I’m 76 years old, and I’ve been playing guitar for a little more than 60 of ‘em…”
These were the first words spoken to me by longtime Texas blues guitarist Frank Salvato. What had started out on my part as a passing novelty interest in a band of seniors soon led to a good hour or so of lively and fascinating conversation as I was led on an extended journey through the storied past of this well-travelled gentleman. He recounted memories from the Sixties and Seventies ranging in scope from hobnobbing with the rich and famous to playing in filthy, dingy, smoke-filled dive bars all around Houston and the surrounding area. So many years as a performance musician has left Salvato wizened and grizzled, but he is quick to smile, always has a moment to make a new friend, and is never too busy to spin out a tale of days gone by. Our encounter turned out to be less of an interview than a one-on-three with a true down-home storyteller in the lead.
Salvato was joined last weekend on the Fuller’s Vintage Guitar Stage at the GenuWine Tasting Room in Magnolia, Texas, by his longtime band The SilverTones. They are a lively three-piece act rounded out by Salvato’s wife Kay Salvato on bass and old friend Ray Bullock on drums. Describing themselves as a ‘vintage variety band’ they play mostly music from their own era, keeping the sounds of the 50’s through 70’s or so alive and vibrant. Their sound is remarkably tight. And while both the medical and care-giving communities stress the importance of seniors to stay active and busy, I can’t help but wonder… how many of them are in a rock band??
I wasn’t even sure that The SilverTones would agree to my interview request. Certainly Rivethead Magazine is not a media outlet they had heard of and I was far from certain that they would care to be spotlighted by an underground metal webzine of this nature. However, they did and so it is with great honor that we present them here.
Rivethead Magazine Interviews: The SilverTones
GenuWine Tasting Room, Magnolia TX 8/9/14
by Andrew C Schlett
Rivethead Magazine: Thank you all for joining me. I’m sitting here with the SilverTones, and if we can, let’s start again with re-introductions. In no particular order, what are your names and what instrument do you play?
Frank Salvato: I’m Frank and this is my wife Kay. And Ray.
RHM: Frank and Kay… and Ray! All right!
Frank: We’ve been playing for 35 years. Together.
RHM: Y’all been playing for 35 years??
Kay Salvato: Together. In the same band. (points at Frank) He’s been playing for like 60 years.
Frank: And I’m still learning!
RHM: All right. So, how old were each of you when you first started learning to play, and what particular songs or artists were particularly influential to you at that time?
Frank: Well, all this is before the wheel….
RHM: Before the wheel? I really think the wheel came before electric guitars.
Frank: Before the wheel. Some of my influences were Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, Otis Redding; the list goes on and on. It’s primarily blues, everybody from Little Walter to... I mean, you can just go back down the road and find them. Robert Johnson, that era right there.
Kay: Tell him how old you were when you started.
Frank: When I started? Well, I had diapers on I think. No, but when I was a kid I wanted a guitar real bad and I didn’t have one. I tried to make one, you know, with a cigar box, or the little screens from the screen door stretched on a nail across a board, but anyway I got my first guitar… I walked out of high school, just walked out, put a Pall Mall cigarette in the skeleton’s mouth in the biology lab in 1957, and I walked across the street. I kinda ‘took’ one of my dad’s rifles and I traded it for a guitar at the pawn shop. Actually that was a bass. A little Dan Electro bass. And then later on I paid $25 for a 1961 Silvertone guitar, and I never looked back. To this day I’m still playin’. I never did make it, I never was big-time or nothin’, but I’ve always enjoyed just playing. And… I’ve got a lot of CD’s, but we were in property management, that’s what we did. It’s what we’ve always done, but it gave me time to make some real money to be able to do the things I want to do. My wife will tell you a little more about how we got started. Her name’s Kay!
RHM: Hi there Kay, nice to meet you again.
Kay: My influence was Frank Salvato.
RHM: Was who?
Kay: Frank Salvato. (pointing at Frank again) Him!
RHM: Oh yes!
Kay: My influence was him, because he taught me how to play so I learned to play what he played. I didn’t start playing till I was like 35.
RHM: 35! Wow, that’s a little later in life to pick it up.
Frank: I told her we were going to go out and get a gig immediately, within the first week, and I told her if she gets hung up on anything, just smile and act like you know all about it. Play it way back in the F, where it’s real fat and nobody will know the difference. And nobody ever did, I guess, at least nobody ever said anything. They just liked her because we kinda call her ‘Miss Electricity’. She only moves two fingers, nothing in her body, not a smile, nothing. She just plays with two fingers.
RHM: No angry punk-rock sneer or flashing of horns?
Kay: Oh, no, no, no. None of that.
Frank: Primarily we’re old blues, old rock-n-roll, old soul, old country, a little bit of this, a little bit of that….
Kay: In other words, everything old.
RHM: That’s all there was back then. Old stuff.
Frank: But we’re mostly on the bluesy side. That’s what we do, is the blues. We used to play on KPFT, ol’ big Roger Collins was the DJ and we used to play on the Blues hour. I don’t know if you remember those days, you look a little young to me.
RHM: KPFT 90.1 FM is still on the air, still pumping.
Frank: We played festivals, played the Miller Outdoor Theater, we’ve been in dives…. primarily we’ve been in more dives than anything but it was fun, that’s what we were after.
Kay: We played the International Festival, all the Blues festivals….
Frank: And then I heard of a drummer named Rockin’ Ray! So I kept asking in town ‘Who is Rockin Ray?’ The guy said ‘I know him’ but he never would give me his number, see, because when they want to play they always would call him, but sometimes they didn’t call him. But Ray had heard of us, and he was saying ‘I wonder who Frank and Kay are?’ And it just so happens that he’ll tell you the rest.
'Rockin' Ray Bullock: Well, I got dispatched out, you know, taking jobs right and left. I was living in Tomball, this is a couple of lives back, and they come out and they say there’s this guy that wants you to come and play drums for him down in Houston. It was at the Riviera Club. I borrowed a station wagon, a little baby station wagon cause I didn’t have a truck at that time, I guess I was going through a divorce or something… so I borrowed this lady’s little bitty station wagon, like a Mazda or something, anyway I get down to the Riviera Club and I finally ran into Frank Salvato cause they would always hide him! The guys that I knew hung around Billy Gibbons a lot. I was in a lot of Billy’s bands back in the 60’s. He had three or four drummers that he would run and I was one of them. I always thought maybe he called me when he wasn’t sure he was gonna get out of some joint alive (ed. note…Ray is a rather large man; he would have made an imposing bodyguard to have Gibbon’s back.)
RHM: Ray did you know the members of the Moving Sidewalks?
Ray: Yeah! Well, the two from Dallas, I didn’t know them, but the other one I went to junior high with, went to school with pretty much all the way until he left to go to college and cut out, you know. He went abroad or someplace, but yeah, I knew him up until he was about 18 years old… off and on. And I did some crazy stuff. We wrote a bunch of songs about the stuff that I did, you know, and we’re still doing them today. But I really started playing around in about 1957. My grandmother, who was a concert pianist, a German concert pianist, she thought I should become a percussionist or a drummer. She bought me a little Gretsch snare drum, and oh man, you know, it was like an anchor in the sand for me.
RHM: I’m sure it drove her nuts though.
Ray: I’m not sure whatever happened to that Gretsch snare drum, but later on she got me a Ludwig set, and I still have it.
Frank: 1957 Red Sparkle set.
Ray: Yep. Red Sparkle.
Frank: For what we do now, we kind of laugh sometimes, he’s got a little kit.. a little kit set of drums and you can’t see this over the radio (speaking, I believe, of my cell phone recorder –ACS) but we all can see it. And we’re easing on up, we do parties, played a lot of parties; we’ve played pretty much every function there is to play. We used to have booking agents when we were younger. But we play occasionally now, you know, when we want to, and so we’re gonna close this now by saying that we enjoyed your company, and by the way the cook here is a good, good, good cook! We just sampled some of the food and it was wonderful! I’m Sicilian, so I love to eat, and Ray is German so he loves to eat too.
RHM: I don’t know too many people who don’t love to eat!
Frank: And if you got a little gig, call us!
RHM: Let me just ask you one more question, if I can, for the benefit of the more … youthful, perhaps… people who might be reading this. At this point in life, and I’m not saying anything, but do you still invest a lot of time in practice, or do you figure to yourself that this is about as good as you’re ever gonna be?
Frank: (amidst much laughter) This is probably about as good as we’re ever gonna be!
Kay: Yeah, this is probably it. We’ve been playing a long time you know.
Frank: And we’re open to doing other things, learning new songs. But whenever we do it’s always an old song brought back that we feel like doing live. We’re not looking to go big-time or opening up for anybody big, or traveling any further than we can’t get back to our own beds.
Kay: We just have fun with it now.
RHM: Having fun is the most beautiful part of it anyway.
Frank: We do still play parties; we play a 3 hour set. We’ve been together so long, it’s like if you cut off your right hand when one of us isn’t here, and to this day we don’t rehearse, so in a sense you never know what I’m gonna do. I might do the same song twice.
Kay: We don’t ever have a set list.
Frank: I might break in the middle of a song, I might get two or three leads, I might sing five more verses or I might stop in the middle of a verse and talk to the people, or whatever. But here we are, and it is so much fun, these people here are wonderful, the food is wonderful, you are too….
RHM: Well thank you sir! For the record, where do y’all call home? Where are the SilverTones actually out of?
Frank: Can you crawl a little bit?
Ray: Yeah, they live only about a mile away.
RHM: So you call yourselves a Magnolia band, then.
Ray: Well I live in Decker Prairie these days….
Frank: We used to play at the old Cedar Lounge, off Airline, I don’t know if you ever heard of it. We played a place called the Four Palms, others like that.
Kay: You know, the old ‘pressure cooker’ clubs, where the women who were at the bar during the afternoon would run off and put something in the pressure cooker so it would cook real quick and their husbands would think that they’d been cooking all day.
RHM: Really? I was not familiar with that particular slice of history.
Kay: Nowadays it would be called a microwave club.
Ray: If it’s out there, we’ve been in it.
Frank: I’ll tell you a bunch of stories, we have been through every club, every place that’s got a plug in the wall, plug into an old joint, we’ve been there at one time or another. And we used to play, and work, with a lot of older musicians like Joey Long, Rocky Maydell and others. But that’s about it, we’re not really anything, we’re just having fun and playing.
RHM: Well that’s the important part. Really, ultimately, that’s why anyone should be playing music, in my opinion. Because they love it.
Frank: That’s true! Forget the money, big time, that’s why we used to build houses and owned them.. but to sum it all up, we’re an older band and we’ve grown older together, and we’ve been so happy doing that. We’ve grown up together.
Kay: And we’ll probably keep doing it until something happens to one of us.
Frank: I figure we can probably make it about 50 more years….
RHM: Well that’s reasonable. You all look pretty spry. No really, though, Frank, thank you. It was an honor to sit down and talk to you, Kay it was an honor as well, Ray, thank you all.
Kay: Thank you!
Our interview then drew to a close, but the conversation did not. After the recorder was off both Frank and Ray continued to bend my ear for almost another hour, and it was nothing less than a magical experience. History came alive in the presence of these two seasoned veterans of long-ago Houston music, as Kay sat mostly quiet listening to these stories for probably the 4000th time. Kay is the brains of this whole operation, she handles the booking, collects the money, and keeps the boys in line and out of trouble. She is a quiet woman, is Kay, not given to hyperbole or great expressiveness, but her stoicism is couched in warmth and her streamlined efficiency is reflected in her rather understated stage presence. Together, these three make up an authentic old-time throwback band of Texas troubadours, which is not what I expected the first time I saw them and said to myself, ‘hey, check out these old folks with electric guitars! How cool is that?!’ Just goes to prove what a life-long love music can really be.
To book The SilverTones, please contact Kay Salvato at Ks1561@aol.com
To access Frank Salvato’s Blues Originals, click on www.cdbaby.com/FrankSalvato
Texas bluesman Frank Salvato, doing Texas bluesman stuff.
'Rockin' Ray Bullock and his Monster Kit
Features - The SilverTones