Don Butler, also known as “Toneman”, does repairs, modifications, general maintenance and restorations to tube amplifiers (Vox-Marshall-Fender), guitars and effects pedals.With over 25 years of hands on experience as well as being a professional musician, Toneman knows not only how your equipment should sound, but how and why it works!
“I started working on guitars and amps in 1973 at the old Acoustic Control Amp Company. Then I went to West L.A. Music’s Service Dept. And in 1975, I moved to Texas and worked for a couple of different stores partime doing repairs and playing in various bands at the same time until touring became a fulltime commitment with our new record contract with MCA. In January 1987 I moved back to LA and worked for Soundcraft (mixing consoles) until late 1988 when I went to SWR Engineering(at that time a very small company building bass amps). I was at SWR for nine years and was the Head Production Tech & Customer Service Manager, but really did a little of everything while I was there. I left to do this and haven’t looked back.”
Don has been singing and playing guitar with “Working Class Hero’s Tim Piper for over 14 years– touring the globe playing John Lennon and Beatles classics. They are currently playing at the West Valley Playhouse in Canoga Park, California. The critically acclaimed show called “Just Imagine” will be playing for the entire month of August– Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm with a Sunday matinee at 3pm. Buy tickets here.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Describe your very first concert experience.
Don Butler: July 25th, 1966 The Rolling Stones @ The Hollywood Bowl: Opening acts were Buffalo Springfield (who were incredible, Bruce Palmer used Bill Wyman’s Framus Star Bass), The Trade Winds, The McCoys & The Standells. Keith Richards use a `52 Les Paul Goldtop that he had just gotten that afternoon.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Chances are, you’ve heard a fan yell something to you while on stage at a concert. Any particularly memorable stories of that, and what did the fan say?
Don Butler: Usually the stupid stuff that drunks yell at concerts like Freebird or La Grange, etc. Usually nothing enlightening, and that was even more so when I lived in South Texas.
Rock Cellar Magazine: We’re certain every artist and musician has at some point forgotten the words or the lick to their biggest songs in concert. Any fun stories about that that you’d like to share?
Don Butler: When I was playing with Sam Neely (MCA Reords) back in the `80’s, I forgot the solo to I Fought The Law which he had out in the mid `70’s and was a Top Ten hit for him. Luckily I was able to redeem myself about halfway through and nobody acted like anything had gone wrong.
I spent the rest of the show mentally beating myself up about it though…I seem to recall that this happened when we played Billy Bob’s in Ft.Worth, Tx. Or it could have been the Bell Star in Dallas.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What was the very first car you ever drove?
Don Butler: 1964 Pontiac Tempest Station Wagon. My Dad bought the car new for my Mom in `64 and then gave it to me when I was 18. I drove that car until 1978.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What’s your favorite charity?
Don Butler: Actually two: Goodwill and Disabled American Veterans. Both actually help people try and rebuild their lives. I’ve also done dozens of benefits for Diabetes.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Describe the best day of your life.
Don Butler: The days that both my daughter and my son were born & the day I met my wife Bonny.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What’s your favorite snack food or item?
Don Butler: Black licorice, specifically Bassest’s Allsorts (from the U.K.)
Rock Cellar Magazine: If you want to tell it, what’s one embarrassing thing that happened on the road that taught you an important lesson about the industry?
Don Butler: 1983, The Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida. Halloween. We did what was supposed to be a huge concert for our label, MCA Records/Nashville. Every act that was on MCA showed up to play a free show.
The local radio station did a really poor job of promotion. The place held around 10,000 and there was maybe 500 people there. MCA picked up the tab for the whole event including our airfare. Just shows you that you can have the biggest names in the biz do a show, but unless the local media promotes it, nobody will care or show up…
We did our hour show anyway. But you travel halfway across the country looking forward to playing for a dome full of folks and nobody shows…very disheartening.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Tell us the story about the shortest time it took you to write one of your biggest hits. The longest time?
Don Butler: I woke up one morning in a hotel room with a whole song in my head and wrote down the lyrics and made up all the chord changes, etc. Took me about 30 minutes.
I use to work with this great producer/engineer in Corpus Christi, Tx named Rick Garcia. We use to laydown a lot of basic tracks for a lot of the Mexican bands that were signed to his label (Haciendia Records). Our goal was to write, arrange & record one basic track an hour. Rick knew in his head what he wanted and one song was so simple but for some reason it took nearly twice as long to arrange and record…just shows you that even the simplest things can be hard.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What song written by someone else do you wish YOU had written?
Don Butler: I wish I had written Dickey Betts’ In Memory of Elizabeth Reed or Free’s Alright Now.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What are your favorite non-musical hobbies?
Don Butler: Reading!
Rock Cellar Magazine: What is your LEAST favorite thing to do? Why?
Don Butler: Attend Funerals. Been to a number of them lately…why? Too many friends, former bandmates & family have been departing lately.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Who are your mentors?
Don Butler: Stormy Rice, Doug Fieger, Sam Neely & Todd Potter.
Rock Cellar Magazine: How do you develop your techniques?
Don Butler: I used to sit in my room playing along with vinyl records. I took everything I love about what I heard and tried to develop it into what I do. It’s a mix of everyone I love. I think that’s what we all do…
Rock Cellar Magazine: What audio engineering technique could help a lot of musicians who are doing home recording?
Don Butler: Find a small amp and a good mic to play through. You simply do not need a big ½ stack to get a great sound/tone. I did a movie soundtrack in 1989 for a movie called Angel Town and I used a Fender Super Champ in a small wood room. The engineer used a Shure SM-57 and a Pultec mic pre into Pete Townshend‘s old Neve Console. It sounded like a full Marshall Stack on 10…
Rock Cellar Magazine: What are some of the most important lessons about the industry?
Don Butler: You have to do it yourself. Nobody is going to do anything for you. You have to make your own career. Persistence pays!
The music business is full of liars and thieves. Do not believe everything somebody tells you. Take the time to find out exactly what someone means and if they’re telling you the truth.
Don’t sign anything without your own lawyer reading it and being present. If someone says to you; “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll take care of it for you” – don’t believe them unless they’re willing to put it in writing and sign it.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What advice do you have for those just starting out in Entertainment?
Don Butler: There are times you feel like you’re beating your head against the wall…you are, but sooner or later that wall will open up. Don’t quit, especially if you have real talent.
Be nice to everyone no matter what! Treat everyone how you’d like to be treated. You’d be surprised at how years later someone will tell you how much they appreciated you being nice to them or helping them out. I once gave a stack of Guitar Player magazines to a late friend of mine’s nephew. 25 years later he sought me out to tell me how big an influence that had on him and it made him decide to be a guitar player.