Guitarist Tommy Katona and his band Texas Flood has become the premier Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute act in the nation. With guitarist Tommy Katona leading the way, they bring the raw high energy of music and stage presence that Stevie Ray himself had. They have had the privilege of traveling all over the country with their tribute act. It is not only a show, but a recreated experience of one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time. This is their loving tribute to the life and music of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Guitarist Tommy Katona Interview
Guitarz Forever - Hi Tommy, Hey brutha.... Thank you so much for taking the time out to do an interview w/ me and my Guitarz Forever.com site. Go ahead and introduce yourself to our readers and what it is that you do in the way of music...
Tommy - I am Tommy Katona, I was born and raised in Hungary. I grew up playing music and learned a lot from my dad who is also a guitar player, one of the best in Europe. I was about 4 years old, when I saw a video tape of Stevie Ray Vaughan and I immediately got inspired by his music and energy. Few years later my father told me that he died in a helicopter accident. That moment have changed my life forever. I was already playing the guitar because of my dad, but Stevie's passing gave me the reason to try to play his music and give it back to the people. It was like a mission for me. There's not enough room in this interview to tell you about what I feel about Stevie. He is my hero, inspiration and a man who's life and legacy had formed my life the way it is today.
Guitarz Forever - We would love for you to also introduce us the other talented musicians in the band and tell us about how your band Texas Flood came about...
Tommy - Texas Flood was a Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute band under a different name for years and was started by our bassist and manager Steve Buckner in 2002. When I came to Dallas in 2007 we got to know each other pretty soon after. It was about early 2008 when I started working with the band. That was a different line-up, we had a singer and different drummer. The final and best line-up was formed in 2010 when Steve had Travis Montoya on the drums already and then I came back from a short period of time working with another band. This is a power trio now and we have the most fun together you can ever imagine. We play great together and also get along well. It is a family.
Guitarz Forever - Why did you pick Stevie Ray Vaughan to emulate and give tribute to?
Tommy - Because I have always loved his energy that he had in his music then I started to be more interested in the person that he was in real life. He is more than an inspiration to me. He is a part of my life, I love him dearly even though I have never met him. Feels like he is a family member to me. I remember when my dad and I were watching him on a video playing Riviera Paradise and we both teared up. It is very special for us.
Guitarz Forever - Do you remember the first time you heard brother Stevie? What was it that attracted you to his music and persona that made you want to do what you do best?
Tommy - I sure do. Like I said I was about 4 years old, just a little kid and I stopped by the TV when my dad was playing music videos and couldn't stop watching playing "Look at Little Sister" at this German TV show called "Ohne Filter". I believe it was from 1985. He had facial hair and a white hat. His playing, music and moves just grabbed me immediately.
Guitarz Forever - Where is your stomp'n ground?
Tommy - I was born in Hungary, a south-western town called Pecs. Beautiful place, I really miss it. Although I could not do what I do over there. It is a different world. I am very fortunate to be here in Texas today. I have lived in Dallas for almost 8 years now, this is my home now.
Guitarz Forever - Are there a lot of places to play your style of music in and around your area? If so, could you name some venues?
Tommy - We have a great blues scene in the Dallas area. We are staying busy and have our regular venues where we are playing at every month. I can name a few that I really love to play at, Tolbert's Restaurant in Grapevine, Rock 101 in Little Elm, Bryan Street Tavern in Dallas, Keys Lounge in Fort Worth, Midway Ice house in Dallas. Those are just a few to mention. We have great places to play and great, dedicated following who really likes what we are doing.
Guitarz Forever - So Tommy, is there a big market out there for what y'awl do?
Tommy - It is a hard question. Depends on what you are trying to do. What we are doing is fortunately more popular then just being a regular blues musician. Stevie has a following and it always feels great when people come up to me and thank me for keeping his music alive. I feel like that the mission I had is accomplished now. The next step for us as a band is to find our own sound which we already have I think. Besides Stevie's music we do a lot of different music from original tunes through Jimi Hendrix to Led Zeppelin. It feels great to be open to do other music and learn new things. Music business is difficult though, you really have to put something on the table that people will like and buy.
Guitarz Forever - Have y'awl toured overseas?
Tommy - Me and Travis (drums) traveled to Hungary a few years ago and played some shows over there. We are planning on going to Europe hopefully next year as the full band.
Guitarz Forever - Being that Stevie Ray is a legend and one of the greatest blues players of all time, do have any fears of not living up to his huge persona?
Tommy - Those are definitely some big shoe to fill... I am not trying to be him. No one should do that. There's a lot of people all around the world including me who are trying to do his music justice. It is a very hard thing to do. He was only one and no one will ever replace him. When I listen to his music or watch videos of him, he's mesmerizing, every time. I keep wanting to get better and better, be like he was, but I know that it is impossible. You can learn songs and licks by the master but you should not try to be him. It's like fingerprints. There's not one that matches the other. But it is a wonderful thing to get inspired by him every day. Not only his music, but the person he was. He was just a wonderful human being who was taken from us too early.
Guitar Forever - With that being said, do you ever get any animosity from his loyal fans?
Tommy - I used to get some of that and I am pretty sure there are still people out there who don't like what I am standing for. Part of it could be jealousy. I cannot help those people, can't change them. What I am grateful is love and respect and mostly understand where I am coming from. I am friends with some family members of Stevie's and they respect me for who I am. His nephew, Jimmie's son Tyrone is a friend of mine, also Gary Wiley, his first cousin is a very sweet guy and a true fan of the band. We also got a lot of compliments and respect from other cousins and a lot of friends and fans, people who actually knew him. It feels great when they tell me "Stevie would be proud of you". When I hear that I am good. :)
Guitarz Forever - Have Tommy Shannon or Chris Layton ever seen your live show?
Tommy - No, at least I don't know of that. I though have played with Tommy Shannon about 6 years ago at a concert, where they invited me up on stage for a song. It was amazing. I really wish I could spend time with them and just thank them for all the work and love they gave us.
Guitarz Forever - Why did you pick the Guitar as your instrument of choice?
Tommy - Because it's awesome :) I saw my dad playing the guitar at home first, then I was about 7 when my mom took me to one of his shows. I saw him playing on stage and I was thinking, this is what I really want to do. I also took piano lessons when I was little, but I was a lot more into the guitar so I quit after 4 years. I kind of regretted it, because I really want to play keyboards, especially the Hammond organ. That sound is very sweet to me.
Guitarz Forever - Is your guitar, amp, and gear the same set up that Stevie used or do you have your own guitar set up.
Tommy - I have been pursuing the "Stevie tone" for a long time. It is an endless story. Basically you have to have a Strat with a Tube amp, more like Fender or Marshall, it doesn't really matter, because if it comes to Stevie it's all in the hands. He could pick up a Squier and plug it into a solid state amp and he still sounded like him. My favorite amp for years has been the 1969 Fender Super Reverb. I also run a Leslie 16 speaker cab with a Twin Reverb amp. I am also endorsed by the Hamiltone guitar company who make wonderful guitars, including the SRV model and also make amps based on the famous and loud Steel String Singer that Stevie used. I have one of those as well. It is amazing and very clean sound, I love it.
Guitarz Forever - Give us a run down of your set up and backline to include the type of strings you use, etc. ...
Tommy - I usually use the GHS Boomers .011 set on every guitar. I have some custom made pedals that I use, a couple of overdrives by a good friend of mine John Munder. He owns Munder Amplifications and makes great pedals and custom amps. I am also endorsed by Sabbadius, a great friend from Argentina who makes killer pedals. He actually created a signature pedal for me, called "Triple Trouble". It is actually on the market, so you can buy one :) I also have a custom Octavia pedal hand-made by an other good friend and fellow guitar player Jesse Davey from England. He has a band The Hoax, they tour once a year in Europe.The wah pedal I am using is made by my great friend Mike McConachie, called McCon-o-Wah. That is the best sounding wah you ever heard. I also got a great fuzz pedal from OX Fuzz, that is one of the greatest sounding fuzz pedal I ever played.
Guitarz Forever - I have to admit, you do look like Stevie Ray... And, you definitely spent some time on the costumes, hats and guitarz. Who helped you with this? Who custom made the Stevie's replicated Guitarz?
Tommy - Thank you. :) It is not my intention, but when it comes to stage presence I have to dress like him sometimes. The hat comes from the same company where he got his from, Texas Hatters from Lockhart, TX. I have different shirts to wear but the signature "happi coat" that he wore I had to special order from Japan. The Number One guitar that I have been playing was made by Tim Davis from Missouri, he made the best Number One replicas I have ever seen in my life. You can check his website at srvnumber1.com. It was also a wonderful gift from a friend of mine from Japan, Kouichi Morita who has actually won that guitar at the Stevie Ray Vaughan Ride and Concert in 2007, shortly after I moved here. The guitar was a raffle prize and he won it. 3 years later after we did an album together, he just gave it to me as an honor for working with him. It was more than amazing, I can't believe it.
Guitarz Forever - And yes, I also have to admit, you do sound and play like Stevie too... I'm sure this took a lot of time a dedication. Can you give us a brief history of how much dedication it took to get where you are at musically today?
Tommy - I have been playing for about 24 years now. That's what I wanted to do in my whole life. As a kid I was just like the others. I used to like to hang out with my friends, play video games, watch movies etc. Sometime I really felt like I was different from the others though. I always felt secure when I picked up my guitar. That is a comfortable place for me. When I don't have to think, just shut my brain off and play from the heart. Of course you have to use your mind when you learn new things, but it is just the best feeling when you can let your heart and soul speak. All that I have today is a life long dedication to music, lot of faith and dreaming and of course a lot of help and luck.
Guitarz Forever - How did you first get into the music business?
Tommy - I started playing with dad and his band back in Hungary in about 1994. The band leader once came to our apartment and saw me playing. He told my dad he should bring me to some shows to play a few songs. I started to go to his shows just to play 2-3 songs then went home with my mom early, because I had school the next day. I was 9 years old. My guest appearance started to get more frequent and very soon I have been a full time member of my dad's band. We did a lot of shows, festivals together back in the mid 90's. It was amazing. As I was growing up I started to feel like that I had to do something with Stevie's legacy so I started learning his songs by ear. I spent hours and hours just listening to his records and trying to mimic his playing. I am still doing it and I love it. :)
Guitarz Forever - What’s the best thing about playing your own music in front of a live audience?
Tommy - When you see people paying attention at what you're doing is the greatest thing. When they get into it and enjoy what you do is the best feeling to a musician. And it doesn't really matter if the audience is big or not. I have played for 5 people and had a blast because they had a great time, also played for 100 people who did not really care about the music much. It can be different sometimes. Of course it is a blast playing for thousands of people, that really gets the best out of me.
Guitarz Forever - Who are you listening to these days?
Tommy - My favorite "new" guitar players are Philip Sayce (played with Jeff Healey), Gary Clark Jr, Eric Gales, Rober Cray. I always enjoy to listen to them and learn new things. I have been listening a lot of Led Zeppelin lately, I got into Jimmy Page a little more, started to analyze his style more. I also love Gary Moore, he is my hero, another true inspiration. I love ZZ Top, I have been listening to some of their new stuff, Mescalero and Rhythmeen albums. I love that sound they had then. I pretty much listen to the kinds of music that is close to what I do. Could be blues, jazz, funk, rock, soul or anything. Nothing
modern pop stuff though, I am not interested in that.
Guitarz Forever - Where do you see the music business today?
Tommy - It is pretty terrible. I cannot say much about it, I don't want to blame anyone for it, but overall it is pretty bad. All I care about it to give the blues back to the people, inspire the new generation and encourage them to keep on playing real music. Fortunately I can see many great young talents these days
and I am glad that they are discovering this music again. As long as I can see that I feel good.
Guitarz Forever - Please give us three top musical goals you would like to achieve this year.
Tommy - I want to work on more original songs with my band and hopefully release a new record later this year. I would like to get more students and teach them all that I have. Playing more shows out of town, which we already started to do.
Guitarz Forever - Is there anything else you’d like to achieve in your life personally and or as a musician?
Tommy - I am happy with what I have right now, I am grateful for my band, that we are doing great, have a consistent schedule. We have great things coming for us. Also I am happy about my guitar students who are dedicated and have been coming back to me to learn more. It feels great to pass on what I have learned in many years. That's the point of my life.
Guitarz Forever - I also don't want to forget this... Tell us about any other things you may be in involved in or any special interest besides music that is close to your heart.
Tommy - Music has been my life, it is part of me, that's my job. When I don't play music I want to focus on my family. My parents are back in Hungary and we can't see each other very often, which is hard, but we can talk on Skype, that is pretty awesome. My wife is the most important in my life. You really need to be ok in your heart if you want to have a good balance in life you know. It was hard for me to give up my previous life and not being able to spend time with myfamily, only once a year maybe. I had to sacrifice that for the life that I have now. Family is all that really matters to me at the end of the day. I never expected much, but being loved and having family around me.
Guitarz Forever - I would like to thank you for your time and candor with our loyal readers and keep on fighting the good fight to bring us some awesome music...
Tommy - That is my pleasure and thank you!