At a recent sit down over coffee at Borealis, in his hometown of Riverside, R.I., legendary guitarist, singer, songwriter Dave Tanury reflected on his life and career in music. It’s a career …
At a recent sit down over coffee at Borealis, in his hometown of Riverside, R.I., legendary guitarist, singer, songwriter Dave Tanury reflected on his life and career in music. It’s a career that began when he was a young boy, delivering him to people, places and things he’d only dreamt of, to ultimately becoming the recipient of the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a musician in the State of Rhode Island.
Tanury was articulate and precise, choosing his words carefully. He displayed great humor and humility as he wove yarns regarding his musical beginnings and being a part of a 1960s musical wave that took him over, sending him on a journey that he never consciously mapped out.
“When I was 7 my mom bought me a guitar. She introduced me to it and wanted me to take lessons,” said Tanury. “Her first choice for me was piano, but we didn’t have room for one in the house. She saw someone playing guitar on TV and thought, ‘oh what a pretty instrument,’ but I didn’t take to it. It just kind of sat there in the corner.”
“My mom always knew I could sing. I was singing to all the commercials on TV, and she took note that I had a good voice, so she got me into the Barrington Boys Choir when I was 10 years old.”
He continued, “I was one of the first kids to get accepted from out of Barrington for that choir. I lived in Riverside then and still do. In 1965 I got to go to Europe with the choir. We toured and sang in 11 European countries for six weeks. We went to England, Wales, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, among others.”
“During that European tour, we drove everywhere, spending a lot of time on buses, “ remembered Tanury. “There were two ukuleles and a chord book floating around the bus. To pass the time, all the boys would take turns strumming the uke and reading the book. The kids and I were playing Beatle songs, Beach Boys stuff, everything that was popular back then. So, the uke got me into strings, and I began thinking about the guitar at home that I never learned how to play.”
When Tanury returned home, two things happened that changed his trajectory — his voice lost its angelic timbre, and he felt the pull of the guitar. After three years, he left the choir, and though interested in guitar, he was unable to tune or play it. It was then that he got help through his cousin, Taft Khouri, a piano player/professional musician.
“One day my cousin Taft, who Is five years my senior, took me to his band rehearsal. His band was named ‘The Olden Briggs.’ They got the name from the clothing store in Providence, Briggs LTD,” laughed Tanury. “He had two guitar players in the band. One of them, a Barrington guy named Skip Whitehead, tuned my guitar and showed me the E chord.”
The British invasion
As Beatlemania and the British invasion were ruling television and radio air waves, a revolution was erupting — one where millions of young people all throughout America and the world sought out guitars, basses, drums, keyboards and microphones, the tools needed to convey their newfound interest in rock music, songwriting, poetry and the art of personal expression. Tanury, now armed with a rudimentary knowledge of the guitar, along with a love for music and the experience as a singer, was in the right place at the right time in history.
“I relied heavily on my ear to learn guitar,” said Tanury. “I had a good ear from being in the choir, and all that exposure to classical music was a big help. My best friend Henry played guitar as well, and we would get together to play and practice. It was 1966, in 7th or 8th grade. Henry and I started the band ‘The Carpetbaggers’ with two other kids, a drummer and a bass player. We played junior high dances for about a year, and the first rock song I ever sung live was, ‘House of the Rising Sun’.”
“When I got to High school, I began meeting more musicians. I took their departing guitar player’s place in a band called ‘The Yeomen.’ We played lots of gigs at Sugarberry, which was a hip rock venue at Crescent Park back then. We got hooked up with some guys from WICE, a popular AM radio station that played top 40. They saw our show and took us under their wing, putting us on the bill at a concert in 1967 at the old Rhode Island Auditorium featuring The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Soul Survivors and The Strawberry Alarm Clock. As the Yeomen, we played all through our high school years.”
The 1970s and Rizzz
In 1974, after high school, Tanury did a stint with the group ‘Powerhouse’, a lineup whose core members morphed into a band that Tanury would be forever associated with. The band was Rizzz.
“Rizzz gigged continuously because we had a large following. We were regulars at Gulliver’s, Januarys, The Bon Vue, every Tuesday, plus weekends at Lupos, Bunratty’s in Boston and colleges throughout New England. We were one of the hottest bands in the local market,” said Tanury.
“One day we were at Lupos setting up in the afternoon for a Friday night Rizzz gig. The bartender yells out, ‘Hey, anybody from the band, WBRU is on the phone’, I was the closest one, so I grabbed it. The guy on the phone sounded just like one of my buddies, so I’m thinking it was a prank. So, he says ‘hey how ya’ doing, I got Kenny Loggins here. He’s opening for Fleetwood Mac tonight with his new band at the Civic Center. He wants to know if he can come down and jam with you guys after his show?’, so I’m thinking it’s my buddy and I said, yeah sure,” laughs Tanury. “I go back to setting up and I’m chuckling. I came back for the gig about 9:30. We are playing the gig; the place is packed. It’s about 11 o’clock now and I look to the right where the door is and I see this guy come in with a guitar case, then another guy with a guitar case, then this really tall guy walks in. It’s Kenny Loggins. He came on stage with his guys and sat in. We did four or five songs, and the place went absolutely crazy. Anytime anyone came through town they wanted to go to Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel. It was legendary. It was like the Lone Star in NYC. And Rizzz was a Lupos staple.”
At that time, the Banzini Brothers, who were managing Rizzz, were also booking national acts. They presented Little Feat at The Vets Auditorium in Providence. While in Rhode Island, Lowell George and the band stayed with the Banzinis. At a party one night, Tanury and Rizzz were introduced to George and the band. They hit it off, hung out, talked music and George became interested in Rizzz.
“Lowell liked our original music and planned to produce a demo for his record label, Warner Brothers,” said Tanury. “He was scheduled to go back on the road as a solo. Upon completion of his tour, he was going to send a recording truck to Rhode Island to make the demo. He had a lot of clout with Warner Bros. at the time. He was producing the Grateful Dead and got whatever he wanted. While on tour, tragically, George passed away after suffering a heart attack.
A call from the Hall
The Warner Brothers deal never materialized, but Rizzz kept playing and writing until their breakup in 1980. Tanury continued to play in various bands, got married, raised kids and took some time off before reentering the music scene, enrolling in the wedding circuit with ESP, Steve Anthony and Persuasions, Nancy Paolino and the Black-Tie Band, finally joining Tom Petteruti and Brass Attack, with whom he currently performs with.
“One day Rick Couto (former Rizzz alumnus), contacted me and said he needed to organize a conference call with all the original band members. There were two different assemblages of Rizzz, lasting three years each, with a total of ten members. On the call Rick said he was notified that all ten members of Rizzz were to be inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame Class of 2017.”
David Tanury, the kid from Riverside, R.I., who once wasn’t even sure how to tune a guitar, now had his name and photograph hung on the same hallowed walls as George M. Cohan, Duke Robillard, The Cowsills, John Cafferty, Bob Petteruti, Sissieretta Jones, Jimmy Crane and so many other legends.
“It was a great honor. We became something that we never imagined. All we ever wanted to do was to play the music we loved and make people happy,” said Tanury. “Sometimes to this day I still can’t believe it. When I’m asked about it, I’m at a loss for words. It’s the greatest honor of my musical life.”
“These days I’m looking forward to re-expanding my horizons musically. I love playing in Brass Attack. There’s a myriad of styles that we play. At the same time, I like playing with different musicians. Whether it be live or studio work.”
I asked Tanury if he had any advice for up-and-coming musicians.
“Listen to the 1960s and ’70s music. It’s a generational thing. We just lost Burt Bachrach. How can you not learn about songwriting and music if you listen to an artist like that? You’re not going to learn the craft by just listening to music that only has a beat. Do your homework.”
And what is the best advice, if any, he’s ever received?
“Once, when he was in town, I drove Lowell George back to his place after his soundcheck at the Vets Auditorium. We were talking music and he said to me, ‘Don’t ever think of a microphone as a microphone, think of it as somebody’s ear. You’re singing directly into somebody’s ear. Make it count.’
You can find Dave Tanury on Facebook.
Michael Khouri is a Barrington resident writing occasionally about the Rhode Island music scene. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.