Remembering Tony… Tony Markellis (1952-2021)

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Editor’s Note: Chris and Tony worked in the studio on an array of albums, and toured the US for several years for Taylor Guitars. Tony was also a member of the Mountain Snow Orchestra with Bridget Ball Shaw, Kevin McKrell, Brian Melick, and John Kirk at Christmas time here in the Capital District.

I remember Tony…

We have lost a magnificent musician in Tony Markellis. There is much being said of Tony as one of the premiere bassists in the country, and rightfully so, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Tony Markellis
Tony Markellis

Tony Markellis was from Montana. A big man, with a big heart, from a big state.  He used to tell me stories about growing up there as we’d drive all over the country doing guitar and bass clinics for Taylor Guitars.  Tony’s demeanor was always the same, on stage or off.  When we co-produced my third album, he laughed and cajoled our way through the whole thing while deftly bringing in players he’d met or played with over the years.  The whole thing felt like a summer camp reunion.

I first met Tony back in the 70’s when The David Bromberg Band came to play at our little college in northern New Jersey.  David’s  “Wanted: Dead or Alive” album was crushing the alternative FM radio stations around New York City. It was Tony who designed the iconic cover with David climbing the Empire State Building like King Kong.   It was Tony who set the grove, and let it fly through blues, bluegrass, ragtime and David’s signature rants.  I was dumbstruck by the band, and when Tony put down the bass and picked up a mandolin for the “Big Finish”, you could have knocked me over with a feather.  Bonnie Raitt, John Prine, Steve Goodman, Trey Anastasio, Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, The Mamas and the Papas,…they all wanted him to play with them too.  And he did.

Tony Markellis

Years later we were driving through Florida on tour, and suddenly he said, “Wait a minute…” and reached for a spiral notebook in his breast pocket.  “Get off at the next exit!”, he said.  “This is gonna be great!”

“What are we doing?”, I asked.

“Never mind just drive… it’s all good!” 

We had arrived in Itchatucknee Springs, a tubing destination known all over the south.  People in inner tubes floating through a veritable jungle… with four-foot page wire fences to keep the alligators out.  Not the kind of place that inspires confidence…

That’s when we first saw the snake.  He was a huge one who swam like a dart in front of me and disappeared into the underbrush.  The second was hanging over the river on a branch I passed under while Tony floated way out in the middle of the river humming some jazz tune.  That’s when it bit me.  I had visions of a 30-foot anaconda sucking me into the depths of the river never to be seen again.  So I arched my back and rocketed 6 ft. In the air and came down horizontal to the water creating a minor tsunami.  When I got through spitting and sputtering, I could hear Tony laughing…

“I forgot to tell you about the sunfish… they nibble things!”, he spit out between howls.

Man… am I going to miss that guy. 

Mountain Snow Orchestra
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