Theater & Arts

Artists you should know: Tonio K.

Here's one from the "Hey, that guy's from Fresno" file.

Songwriter and musician Tonio K. (aka Steve Krikorian) has enjoyed a long career in the music industry, working with Bonnie Raitt, Brian Wilson and Al Green since leaving Fresno as a teenager.

Recently, Tonio K., now 59, worked with Universal Records to executive produce a compilation called, "A Brief History of the Blues," featuring 21 songs he handpicked. It's in stores now.

We talked to Tonio K. about that project and others, as well as his Fresno background:

Give us the Fresno part of your bio. I was born in Fresno and lived there until 1965, when my family moved to Palm Desert.

Where are you living these days and what are you up to? I've lived in L.A. since 1969. My most recent projects have been writing with my friend Charlie Sexton in Austin, Texas, writing with Burt Bacharach, with whom I have collaborated often over the last 10 years, and writing with pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph for his next CD, which another friend, T-Bone Burnett, is producing.

How did you get involved with the "Brief History of the Blues" project? The head of A&R [Artists and Repertoire] at Universal Records in L.A. knew that I know something about blues music -- the first line of the version of "Long Distance Call" on the CD has been on my answering machine for 20 years -- and asked if I wanted to do it. At the time, Universal was thinking of doing a joint venture with Starbucks and thought that this was a good concept for a first record. That deal fell through, but Universal still liked the record and released it.

How hard was it to boil down the history of the blues into 21 songs? It was very hard being limited to only 21 songs. Universal originally hoped for only 12 or so. I talked them out of that. But I'm pretty comfortable with the choices. As I say in the liner notes, no one will ever be completely satisfied.

Of all the genres, Fresno has a pretty good blues scene -- did Fresno influence your interest in the blues? The only influence Fresno had on my blues sensibility was the Fender Broadcaster guitar I bought, at age 14, from a pawn shop on the west side. Wish I still had that guitar. Fender Broadcasters are worth $60,000-$85,000 these days. I bought mine for $20.

Aside from this blues project, you've worked with a lot of big names, from Bonnie Raitt to Al Green. With whom are you most proud to have worked? I'm proud to be the only person in the known universe to have written lyrics for both Burt Bacharach and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols ... and Dr. Dre. Not my biggest hits, but no one else can make that claim.

For music and more: Go to myspace.com/toniok.

Know a local musician that more people should be familiar with? Send the who and why to Mike Osegueda, mosegueda@fresnobee.com.

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