“It’s been a wild ride,” Tony Reece says of his musical career. “Along the way, I’ve gotten to play with a lot of great people.” Tony Reece, an award-winning Dobro player, has played with the KrĢ_ger Brothers, Chris Thile, Amantha Mill, and the bluegrass band Buncombe Turnpike. He won the Resonator Guitar National Championship in 2004.
Tony grew up in the western part of Watauga County in a family that loves mountain music. His great-grandfather Marion Reece was recorded by Library of Congress folklorist John Lomax in the 1930s. Marion Reece performed in the area with his son, Grady Reece. “It was a great way to make a little money in those days,” Tony notes. Tony’s father did not play music, but he loved bluegrass and mountain music.
The Dobro attracted Tony’s interest when he saw the Flatt and Scruggs television program and heard Josh Graves. “I loved the bluesy sound of the Dobro,” he remembers. He started playing guitar when he was about eight years old, but he really wanted to play Dobro. No one in the community played the instrument, but Tony’s sixth-grade teacher knew how to tune a guitar like a Dobro, and he helped Tony tune his guitar that way. “I started playing with a knife,” he remembers. When he was about twelve years old, his father took him to Johnson City, Tennessee, and they purchased a round-neck Dobro for $350. “That was a lot of money for us at the time,” Tony remembers, “and dad jokingly told me if I didn’t learn to play that instrument, he would break it over my head.”
When he realized that he needed a square-neck Dobro, he soon found one at Greene’s Gospel Music in Boone. “It was the sweetest thing I ever heard,” Tony recalls. He traded in his round-neck Dobro and paid a little extra money to buy the instrument he needed. “I just sat down with the Dobro and those records, and I would slow them down to figure out the notes,” Tony says. His father knew how the songs were supposed to sound, and he helped Tony figure out the timing and phrasing of the tunes. “I’d sit in my room and practice for hours,” Tony says.
At the age of fourteen, Tony joined the Drake Creek Boys, a band with members from Mountain City and Trade, Tennessee. He played three years with the group, learning more about playing in a band. Next he played with Blue Grass Discovery, and now “There’s been so many, I can’t remember them all,” he says. He moved to Asheville, where he freelanced as a Dobro player with several groups and taught at a local music shop. “I was able to keep busy,” he says. Tony moved back to Watauga County in 2000, and he continues to perform as a Dobro player and give lessons on the side.
Tony Reece is available for performances with various combinations of musicians, or solo. He is also available for lessons and school performances.