Tony Sales and The Ardent Sons Release a Debut CD

One of Oakland’s most in-demand jazz session drummers, Sales has a new CD, No More Than This, that shows off an appealing range of styles.


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Photo by Tai Power Seeff

Drummer Tony Sales is one of Oakland’s most in-demand session players. While he was holding down a steady gig playing skins with San Francisco’s long-running psychedelic favorites The Flamin’ Groovies, he was freelancing with punk, country, blues, and progressive rock bands. He was also raising two daughters, running a music school, and writing songs for his own group, The Ardent Sons. “I started the Sons with Misisipi Mike Wolf from The Midnight Gamblers,” Sales said. “We were interested in the Southern sound of the ’50s and ’60s — stuff coming out of Ardent Studios and Sun Records. We played gigs and did some recording, but the lineup kept shifting, and my work with other bands distracted me.”

Sales is the son of bass player Tony Sales, the nephew of drummer Hunt Sales and the grandson of Soupy Sales. He remembers sitting behind his uncle’s drum kit, on the set of Saturday Night Live. “He had massive bass drums,” Sales recalled. “I could feel the power of the rhythm, even in the silence. I was given a Casio keyboard when I was 7. It had samba, bossa nova, and other beats programmed into it. I liked making up songs and messing with the different rhythms. When I got a drum kit for my 10th birthday, it was all over. I’d lock myself in my room, with headphones on, for hours on end, playing along to the records I loved.”

He was in bands during high school and college, where he pursued a degree in psychology. He moved to Oakland after graduation, intent on making a name for himself as a musician. “You have to invest a lot of hard work, time, energy, and money to make it as a musician,” Sales said. “I finally decided I’d feel better about myself if I was putting that effort into my own thing. I reactivated Ardent Sons with Dave Flores, who plays guitar, bass, and keyboards, and started writing songs. I put aside any preconceived musical notions I had and followed the feeling of the music.”

The seven songs on No More Than This, the debut effort of The Ardent Sons, show off an appealing range of styles. “Black Magic” has a hint of reggae in its counter rhythm, “Anything Helps” is full of swinging funk, and “It’s Not Me” is a slow burning R&B ballad. The album is mixed with the drums out front, to highlight Sales’ command of time and tempo.

“I’m a singing drummer and play lead drums,” Sales said. “When I’m sitting on stage at a gig, I hear the drums all around me. I wanted the record to sound that way. It’s not a guitar band. There’s organ, clavinet, guitars, bass, and other stuff, but the consistent theme is drums, vocals, and harmonies, working together.” Sales also produced the album, struggling to capture the sounds he was hearing in his head. “As a drummer and percussion player, there are so many places I can go that it can be overwhelming. It’s not just about the backbeat; there’s always a lot more out there.”

Sales and The Ardent Sons will be playing a CD release show with The Flamin’ Groovies and Rain Parade on Friday, May 10, 8:30 at The Chapel,777 Valencia St., San Francisco, $25-$30, TheChapelSF.com.

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