Stone American Style

Dude literally went from flippin' burgers to a deal with Atlantic Records - and now comes the moment of truth

As you read this, all over the country and indeed the world, there are people working in dirty kitchens, sweating over hot grills, flipping hash browns and burgers. Perhaps you work such a job yourself. Ty Stone did, at Molly Malone's Irish Pub in Los Angeles. Except that, for Stone, the story didn't end as it does for most. While on a cigarette break in a back alley, the Detroiter checked his voicemail and found a message from Kid Rock. It said he wanted Ty Stone.

Let's rewind a little. Ty Stone grew up in Lincoln Park, four houses away from the home Dennis Thompson, drummer with the MC5, spent his early years in. "My parents were together for my whole childhood," Stone says, grinning. "Dad worked at McLouth Steel and my mom would do telemarketing or something when we needed the money. My dad was a musician — not professionally, but he'd sit in the basement with a guitar, a microphone and an amplifier plugged in, and he'd play '50s and '60s rockabilly music every day. He was my idol, and I'm sure I picked up my love of music from him."

See this Ty Stone guy is gifted; in fact, he's as gifted as he is physically large. That's saying something. And not only is his voice powerful and soulful — screams both Seger and Stevie — he's an immensely skilled guitarist who happens to have an incredible knack for the country-tinged, blue-collar anthem, both fast-paced or ballad, as well as anyone right now.

Stone claims that, besides his dad, it was a Memphis man who set him on his way. "My biggest influence is probably Elvis," Stone says. "My mom loved listening to him and my dad knew all the songs. I have a picture of myself at 3 years of age pulling an Elvis pose. He's major. I love Motown music also. I always loved '50s and '60s music — the pop and soul from that era."

But here's a surprise: The rock 'n' soul singer saw himself as a rapper for much of the early part of his musical development — and Stone says in his defense that that's a perfectly natural thing.

"When rap music started, that was the end of me listening to music music," Stone says with a wry laugh. "I somehow got hold of [the Beastie Boys'] Licensed To Ill and a Fresh Prince record. I think it was He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper. From then on, I just wanted to be a rapper. I bought a four-track recorder and my friend had a little synthesizer, and we started making music. I'm like every white kid in Detroit — I wanted to be a rapper. I have tons of embarrassing shit. My last rap record was in '98. I'm not supposed to rap anymore, but I secretly rap when nobody's looking. When I first signed with Kid Rock, he told me that the rapping thing's neat but I'm a far better singer, and I don't want people thinking I'm cheesy."

Oh, yes, the Kid Rock association. Whatever your opinions of the mega-selling rap-rocker, it can't be denied that he literally pulled Stone out of the kitchen and into a deal with Atlantic Records. Stone says that he has the Pistons to thanks. Kinda.

He explains: "After Sept. 11, and the subsequent economic downturn, I got laid off and decided to go to L.A. I had never been there and, besides my family, there was nothing going right for me here. I went out there and started playing open mics. It started going really good, and I ended up being there three or four years, on and off. I finished up a demo in January '05, and I sent a copy to Sam Wood, a friend I had worked with at the Guitar Center. His sister works for the Pistons organization, and for his birthday got him courtside seats. They were great seats, and he was told that Kid Rock sits down there sometimes. He decided to take my CD in case he ran into Kid Rock. Sure enough, Kid Rock's at the game. Sam goes over to him and says, 'Listen, if you're not going to listen to this, I won't waste your time giving it to you. But you should hear this. This kid is from Detroit and he's in L.A. now doing this.' Kid Rock is like, 'That's his first mistake, being in Los Angeles.' The way I hear it, he popped it into the limo on the way home and he started freaking out. He said he listened to it all the time for a week or so. There was a phone number on the CD, and one night they were partying and said, 'Let's just call him'. It's like your wildest fantasy, that your favorite rock star is going to swoop down and pick you up out of your hamburger-cooking job at the back of a dirty bar. He introduced me to Elton John, Hank Jr. and Axl Rose, and I'm just like, 'What?'"

Largely thanks to Kid Rock, Stone soon found himself signed to Atlantic Records, though it's the nature of the contemporary music industry that a major label deal doesn't necessarily come complete with huge advances and other such riches anymore. Not even close.

"My deal took 18 months to negotiate, because they wouldn't sign me until I finally agreed to a 360 deal," Stone groans. "A 360 deal is where the record label takes not only a gigantic portion of every record you sell, they also take a percentage of your merchandise, publishing, sponsorships, endorsements — it encompasses 360 degrees of your career, which is kinda bullshitty, but whatever. Two-and-a-half years had gone by from the time we got started to settling in to getting it done. It's been a long process just getting through the paperwork. It's rock 'n' roll. It's true that one of the worst things you can be is famous and broke. I wouldn't go as far as to say I'm famous, but I'm semi-popular locally. You don't want to be famous and fly coach. That's like a metaphor for the whole thing. You don't want to be on a budget and be thrifty and do all the smart things that people who don't have a lot of money need to do to survive, while people are watching."

With his band, the Truth, completed by Billy Reedy and Christian Draheim on guitar, Greg Beyer on bass and Brian Reilly on drums, Stone is getting ready to finally release his major-label debut album in the new year. It's fair to say that the man is both relieved and excited.

"I have the most settled band I've ever had in my life now," Stone smiles. "They really do a great job. I love seeing Bill improving himself. He's become a better guitar player over the year, which is great because he was awesome to begin with. All the guys are getting better. It's a killer band.

Stone's latest gigography shows dates with Uncle Kracker and Frankie Ballard, and he's just been offered the Kid Rock tour for early 2011. He's also relocating temporarily to Nashville — at the request of his management — in late January with his girlfriend, at least until his Atlantic debut, tentively titled American Style, drops in May.

Stone pauses for reflection, before concluding: "My whole next year is planned out for me. I want to be on the Grammys — maybe not next year, but the year after that. I just want to show up with my guitar and play, and freak everyone the fuck out."

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