The short: Tonetta is a 66 year old recluse who's been making home recordings, often augmented with performative videos, since the 80s. His music is some of the most raw and catchy pop-funk in existence, and certainly the most sleazy. While it's incredibly melodic, there's also an oddness to it, an otherworldliness to it that makes it clear that it's coming from an absolute outsider without an inner censor at all. Vulgar and contagious, it speaks for itself.
Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to present my favorite artist of this century: TONETTA is the alias of one Anthony Jeffrey, age 66, Toronto, Ontario, a self-taught musician who claims that he (according to interviews) stopped listening to music when John Lennon died in 1980. He was also divorced around the same time, and took to a resolutely reclusive life. For the last 30 years or so, Jeffrey's been making music on his Fostex 8 track recorder, and gradually performing in front of a camcorder or eventually the modern equivalent. At the advent of online resources such as Youtube, Tony began paying people to upload his work for him, and became something of a "viral success". He doesn't have a computer, internet connection, cell phone, or bank account to this day.
His videos had evolved over the years to incorporate dressing in drag at times, or at other times, odd (full body) make up, masks, and costumes, with a series of decorative curtained backdrops in his apartment. The nature of most of the music is absolutely sleazy. The omnisexual, unrepressed, and unresolved nature of it would make Prince blush. Tonetta has become not only an alter-ego, but an alternate outlet for sexual repression, and if what Mr. Jeffrey says is true, the songs seem to write themselves. Contrary to most "outsider artists" or home recording artists, Jeffrey is also an extremely talented musician, but with very little beard-scratching, meandering, or self-conscious naval-gazing to be found. Most of the songs, he says, are done in one take, and he does two or three a day; A kitchen-sink aesthetic for sure. A couple of them go on while the phone is ringing in the background. I have been saying for years, that while young bucks are gazing into the omnipresent haze of glowing screens, somehow the old folks are showing people how to let loose, and somehow weave the idea of dancing in drag to their own music on youtube into a groundbreaking genre.
At times, it seems like many of these songs were written to the same drum machine pattern, at the same bpm, and remnants of a certain string of ideas wrapped around a single beat can be found. I focused on what seems to be a period that incorporated a mid-tempo, funky drum phrase, a children's keyboard, and what seems like body slapping as alternate percussion. Other times there are several tracks with a cowbell, and faster pacing. Some of them were written in the moment, just little thoughts that translate into catchy songs, for a sort of self-sufficient and fun, yet bizarre and lonely narrative that altogether comes off as otherworldly and almost disconcerting. The songs range from sexist, self effacing filth, to lovelorn and lost sweetness; both have a melody so catchy that it almost makes you ashamed of getting such perverse lyrics stuck in your head. People report finding one of his videos and ending up in an odd wormhole, watching as many as they can all night.
Tony has proven to be a flagrant liar, and when I initially thought he had been ripped off by other labels, I think more likely that he is an attention starved neurotic. Here is one of the label's testaments. Here is mine.
When I spontaneously decided to call Tonetta on the phone at 3AM, he had an old-fashioned microcassette driven answering machine, and after he screened the call, he picked up right away. Not a man of many words, he explained when I offered, that he can only take money through Western Union, and asked if I think I can sell cassettes (Ay?), and I said yeah. He said "Well, good luck." still shy, and maybe unaware of how much water he draws. Early on, the explicit nature of his videos led to his accounts being deleted. He thought that he might get less negative attention if he had a female name on his youtube account, so he named his next one "Tonetta777", followed by a series of others. Dozens of people flocked to repost his videos to keep them alive... lots of Silence of The Lambs references were made... and something of a phenomenon began, over 5 years ago.
I am pleased to announce that I have spent months compiling my favorite tracks by Tonetta, and it is being released on a pro duplicated, imprinted cassette with a double-sided, 8-panel fold out j- card featuring Anthony Jeffrey's surrealistic, vivid illustrations. It's 90 minutes, and it could have been twice as long. This is an authorized, shrink-wrapped release, and the artist was paid in advance*. 28 tracks in all.
Limited edition of 100 copies. *more than half of which were burned.
*I have ceased the sale of these copies, I burned them. More information can be found HERE.