By Matt Bieker
You might expect the founder and frontman of a band called Bastard Johnson to be, well, a bastard—or at least named Johnson. In fact, neither are true. The funk rock outfit is headed by percussionist Tony Burt, who seems like a pretty nice guy.
“My main purpose when it comes to the music is just to enhance my band members’ lives,” Burt said. “It’s not about me.”
The almost-lifelong musician came to Reno by way of Buffalo, New York, in 2019. After the loss of his wife, he craved change and came to Reno to “bring his music to life.” It sounds like he’s waxing philosophical, but he’s serious—he came to find a band to perform the original songs which he wrote with his brother over 10 years ago and form the bulk of Bastard Johnson’s catalog.
“I basically took a lot of the dates off of the songs because when I speak to people, they say, ‘Ah, the songs are new’—because they’ve never been heard,” Burt said. “They’re not old songs because nobody’s heard them but, you know, me and my brother basically.”
He’s already found some success, as unofficial recordings of Bastard Johnson originals are now available on YouTube, which he recorded with a since-changed lineup of Reno musicians. The band is currently made up of Burt on the drums, bassist Calib Advincula, guitarist Bobby Blueblocker, singer Erika Malone, backup vocalist Allan Agatrap and saxophonist Caio Carvallho.
The songs, Burt said, are specifically designed to make you dance.
“I was basically influenced by everything, but I love the funk-rock feel of songs,” Burt said. “That’s the music that I love because you get a feeling from it. It makes you dance. It’s impossible to hold still, you know what I mean? And I’m talking about funk-rock, I’m not talking about disco, man. Don’t get it twisted.”
With titles like “Mayor of Love” and “Hootchie Cootchie Man Returns,” Bastard Johnson’s tracks revel in the hallmarks of funk: acidic guitar riffs, bopping bass and broken-down beats—delivered with plenty of swagger.
Burt spent almost a decade with a touring band on the East Coast playing Top 40 hits, and his sense of stagecraft demands a tight ship. The members of Bastard Johnson practice twice a week at minimum.
“I’m kinda old school,” Burt said. “I’ve seen a lot of groups here and they don’t appear to be well-rehearsed. I go see some certain groups, and they’re on stage with cut-off sweatpants. I’m not going out like that.”
Despite being committed to putting on a professional act, Burt and his band mates are in a transitional period right now. After moving here two years ago, Burt found plenty of musicians in town and accumulated all the live music gear he’d ever wanted. Any momentum he’d gained, however, was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Closures of venues, the dissolution of practice time, and personal distancing meant that Burt and Bastard Johnson had to rethink some things—including their lineup.
They are currently auditioning new guitarists and hope to find a steady roster soon, as the loosening of social distancing measures has the band looking to potentially play some live shows this summer. Apart from finally bringing his music to life, Burt and the band also hope to get a real record deal one day—and are looking into recording their own album in the meantime. But tours and albums are secondary to Burt; he just wants to keep grooving.
“I want everyone in this band to really enjoy themselves and have fun,” Burt said. “I’m not in this for the money. If the money comes, the money comes. If we play gigs, my band members can have the money. God has taken care of me.”
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