As a teenager, Tommy Guerrero was one of the most prominent members of the Bones Brigade, Powell Peralta’s professional skateboarding team that was successful during the 1980′s.
He was well known for his relaxed style in street skateboarding and his Bones Brigade footage was primarily filmed in his hometown of San Francisco. The videos Future Primitive, The Search for Animal Chin, Public Domain, and Ban This all featured the street skateboarding of Guerrero.
After riding for Powell Peralta, Guerrero and Jim Thiebaud, a hometown friend and Powell Peralta teammate, started the skateboarding company Real.
Karl Watson, professional skateboarder and founder of Organika skateboards, also grew up in San Francisco and revealed in 2012 that, as a young boy, he moved into a house in which the Guerrero formerly resided. Watson has stated that upon moving into the house, he discovered a drum stick that was used in the Animal Chin movie and explained: “… and that was in my room; and right then and there, I knew that I was destined to be a pro skater.” Watson referred to himself as “blessed” as he subsequently received packages of skateboard goods that were addressed to Guerrero.
After his success in the world of skateboarding, Guerrero decided to pursue his musical interests and was a member of the skate rock band Free Beer and the experimental group Jet Black Crayon. However, Guerrero’s work as a solo artist has so far been the most commercially and critically successful. Guerrero’s albums, EPs, and various singles incorporate a diversified style of music, from rock, hip hop, and funk, to soul, and jazz.
The EA video game skate has featured numerous unreleased compositions that were written and recorded by Guerrero.
In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine named Guerrero’s third studio album Soul Food Taqueria (2003), number two on its 2003 “Best Of” list.
At the 2013 15th Annual ‘Transworld Skateboarding Awards’ Guerrero was the recipient of the ‘Legend’ award. On the red carpet preceding the awards event, Guerrero stated:
I’m super grateful, that anyone really cares, to be honest. Um … conflicted; I’m not one to rest on my laurels and it’s hard to accept accolades for something you did thirty years ago, you know? I’d rather be appreciated for what I do now, but I … I … I’m super grateful … I can’t believe it [street skateboarding in the 21st century]. I mean the technical aspect and the consistency, combined with that, is mind-blowing … but just where it’s at now, is, is insane; I mean, what Rodney [Mullen] sort of started, with the technical aspect, to a whole another level, you know? Making it extremely gnarly, extremely technical … I’d hate to be growing up skating now …
Following his receipt of the Transworld “Legend” award, Guerrero invited all “street skaters” onto the stage to stand alongside with him at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood, California USA.
It’s 2014 and Tommy Guerrero’s resume reads like a dream. Bones Brigade skate team in the 80’s, movie appearances, co-founder of Real Skateboards and 40’s Clothing, art director for Krooked Skateboarding, and prolific recording artist. From the Fat Jazzy Grooves and Another Late Night compilations, to albums for Mo’Wax, Galaxia, Function 8, Rush [Japan], and Quannum and Ubiquity, Tommy Guerrero has lead a full life. Then there’s the collaborations with Lyrics Born, Jack Johnson, Curumin, Bing Ji Ling and Prefuse 73, remixes for Money Mark/Nigo, Poets of Rhythm and Shawn Lee. His band, Jet Black Crayon, has toured with Isotope 217 and Tortoise. He’s scored tunes for Thomas Campbell’s surf film Sprout, the EA video game Skate and had the honor of being the sole provider of music for Todd Oldham’s show Hand Made Modern on HGTV. His songs have been licensed for zeitgeist television shows like Queer as Folk, Sex in the City, and CSI Miami. His designs are found on Levis in Japan, Vans shoes worldwide, and Sutro eyewear.
Tommy’s music, like his graphic design, is beguilingly simple. He sounds like a guy messing around on his front stoop and maybe that’s exactly what he is – but the result will touch you down to your toes. From Mission District punkers to Shibuya-ku hipsters, his melodies dance lightly around your head while the rhythms build under your feet and move your hips. His is SOUL music, made by a street kid raised on Santana and Bill Withers (with more than a little nod to the Clash and Public Enemy in there, too).
Herald De Paris Special Contributor, Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez took a verbal ride with the post modern mogul, Mr. Tommy Guerrero.
AC: Tell us a little about your folks and growing up in SF. How did those early years influence who you are today?
TG: My brother and I were raised by our mother. We lived with my aunt and cousins on and off over the years. As most people know, San Francisco was much different than it is currently – much more of a working class feel. Now days San Francisco is just rich kids using the city as a stepping stone. No roots will be planted.I had a pretty standard lower class childhood and started skating when I was nine. We lived on a hill so that informed my approach to skating.
AC: What was your first skateboard experience like and when did you realize you were really good at it? How does SF lend itself to boarding?
TG: A friend gave me a Black Knight board – clay wheels etc. I was hooked! Where we lived was surrounded by hills so being surrounded by hills forces a skateboarder to learn to deal with speed. You need to develop the skills to control it. The ability to do this became ingrained in the way I skated. I have never had an epiphany about my prowess on a board and am still waiting…
AC: When did you become interested in music? Who did you listen to when being inspired? Who would you like to fashion your career after?
TG: I started playing music with my brother when I was around twelve. At that time the punk movement arrived on the West Coast with a fury. We naturally gravitated to it as it went hand-in-hand with skate ideology. My brother and I went to see The Ramones in ’78; they played a free gig in front of the San Franciscan city hall. That experience changed everything! I wanted to be part of that scene.
AC: Tell us about the Bones Brigade – pro skateboard team – how did you hook up and what about that seminal video shot in SF? How old were you?
TG: The Brigades main guy, Stacy, approached my brother at the second San Francisco street style competition in Golden Gate Park. My brother Tony told me that they really liked the way I skated and wanted me in but I didn’t believe him. They were major! Then I spoke with Stacy a bit later realized that the offer was real, so I joined. The future primitive video – that was my “debut” so-to-speak. Stacy and his buddy came to SF for a day. I took them around The City to a bunch of different spots – various places I had been skating for years. Back then, you didn’t have a year or even a month to film – it was maybe three days at best for a solo part. I wish I had a bit more time but that’s the way it was. I was one of the first to do that sort of thing and it was successful. Hopefully it opened some doors for the skater community.
AC: What is life like as a ‘Pro Skateboarder?’ Travel, shows, completions . . . what is the good and bad of this life?
TG: Being a pro skater was a dream job! You kidding me?! But it was also demanding. It beat the crap out of my body and I am in pain – even now during this interview! There is quite a bit of traveling but very little time to really experience any local culture. It was always on to the next event. Always trains, planes, autos, etc… on the constant move.
AC: Tell us about the 2013 annual Skateboarding Awards. When you won the Legend Award you mentioned that it seemed weird receiving an award for doing something 30 years ago.
TG: Actually I wasn’t into it. A couple of friends – Jim Thiebaud and Juilen stranger – convinced me that I sort of had to participate. I am not one to sit back and ruminate on “the good ole days” as-it-were. I’m still being creative and skating and trying to stay in the streets… that’s where life is happening.
AC: After success in skateboarding, you went into music. Tell us about your first bands. How is performing music different than performing as an athlete?
TG: I am still in skating! Me and Jim Thiebaud formed Real Skateboards 23 years ago! Still here, still doing it! Music isn’t my job, not yet anyway. My first bands were just my brother and friends playing punk. I grew up playing bass. The guitar just happened out of necessity – just as being a solo musician. We played all the local San Francisco punk clubs – the Mab, the On Broadway, Ruthies Inn, Tool and Die, etc. We played with similar bands such as Fear, Bad Brains, D.O.A., Social Distortion, Minor Threat and so on. I don’t consider myself to be an athlete nor do I feel that skating is a performance for me. It’s part of life. Competitions were necessary at the time, so I learned how to play the game. I was decent at it. Playing to an audience can be nerve wracking. Putting your soul on the line isn’t easy and people love to criticize and diminish others for what they do. It’s difficult.
AC: Your solo work is critically and commercially very successful. Tell us a little bit about each of your albums.
TG: Ha! I wouldn’t say successful by any means. Very few people actually pay for music anymore. The only way an indie artists can make any sort of income is to license work. Definitely not commercially successful. All of my albums are written/recorded at the same time. I don’t make demos etc. It’s very spontaneous, raw and of-the-moment. I don’t like flogging songs until they become lifeless; then you’re just going through the motions which loses the emotional impact of the tune.
AC: You incorporate jazz, hip hop, funk, and soul. What inspires you to write?
TG: Inspiration can come from anything/anywhere really. A solid deep groove or a melody, or perhaps just the tone of an instrument. It’s endless.
AC: What kind of music moves you?
TG: Honest music. I dig all genres, just has to be true.
AC: Where would you like to be musically?
TG: A better musician !!!!!
AC: In 2004 Rolling Stone Magazine named your third album (Soul Food Taqueria) number two on its ’2013 Best’ list. For those who haven’t heard that joint, why do you think it is so well received?
TG: I think someone was paid off! I have no idea why. Taqueria is not anything truly special. I think it was being marketed as a down tempo recording as well, but I am grateful.
AC: Tell us about your live performances and your recent tour of Europe. How did that go? How do you like touring and what are touring plans for the future?
TG: The tour had its up and downs; there have been some promotional miscues as well as venue choices. The next time I would reach out to local skate shops to help spread the word. Maybe even play shops, drop a hat, and hope it fills up! But I had a great time and would do it all again. The next tour coming up is Japan. In the Fall we are doing nine cities and eleven gigs. I usually don’t do extended tours like most bands. I don’t have label support, the funds, or a band, although I hire musicians on occasion. It’s quite difficult to make it happen. I love being on the road though.
AC: What are you working on now? Tell us about some of your new endorsements and how people can find out more about you.
TG: I just finished an album for the Japanese label named Rush that I work with – relearning the tunes and rehearsing the material – then the standard work – and hanging with my son.
AC: This is what Tommy writes about himself:
TG is old.
he likes to play music anywhere anytime.
he wishes he could still skate but his limbs are a mutinous lot. so he pushes to the beer store.
by day [ partial ] he sits in front of a monitor [at deluxe ] and makes …
sense of Gonz’s artwork and puts it on skateboards for Krooked.
by eve/night he tries to write/play/record/music.
[ artcorn ]
he likes to use glue stick and paper. like kindergartners.
he likes wood boxes.
his son Diego is 6.5 and rules. and is smarter.
his knees hurt as he’s typing this.
he needs a beer. [ but it's too early. ]
he does lots of things. none worth mentioning but some people think
so. dumb and dumber.
he googles himself daily.
he has too many records and t shirts. most are in storage. oh and skateboards.
he likes Bill Withers and Coltrane.
he likes Joseph Cornell and Rupert Garcia.
he needs to stop typing and get to work.
thank you. TG
Edited By Susan Aceves
Photo Credit: PressJunkiepr.com