Interview: At home with Tony Franklin | “We will come through this and things will be even better”

English bassist Tony Franklin, aka The Fretless Monster, made a name for himself performing with Roy Harper, The Firm, Whitesnake and Blue Murder. He went on to perform with Marty Friedman, Kate Bush, Quiet Riot, David Gilmour and many more. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Tony in his Los Angeles home to talk about his past, including his many Japan-related projects, but also what’s coming next: an autobiography, an instrumental album and the formation of a new band.

You first became well-known to a wider audience when you played with Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) and Chris Slade (AC/DC) in The Firm. Despite working with such established musicians, you stepped up and ensured that your distinctive bass playing wasn’t overshadowed. Was it tricky to be part of such a constellation or did you just get in there and did your thing? “Everything about The Firm was very natural and organic. I simply went in there and played. I’d worked with Jimmy beforehand – with Roy Harper – so we had a working relationship and friendship before The Firm. But I wasn’t asked to be in the band immediately. It was a good few weeks of playing and hanging together before I had any clue that I might be in the band! I decided to do it all on fretless and nobody said anything negative about it, so I just kept going, doing my thing. I think if there was a problem in any way, personally or musically, they would have let me know. It was a real pleasure because I was allowed and even encouraged to be 100% myself.”

What do you remember from working with Marty Friedman on his solo album “True Obsessions” in the mid-90s? “Those were very intense but fun sessions. Marty is very clear about what he wants in his music. I’d never met him before and he pushed me hard, musically, in those sessions. I was able to give him what he needed. It was a real pleasure.”

Marty is of course now based here in Japan. You have worked with Japanese artists such as Tadashi Goto and Naomi Tamura and on other Japanese projects. You’re an Englishman in the US, how did you end up working on these Japanese projects? “Because of my history, especially The Firm and Blue Murder – Blue Murder toured Japan in 1989 – I became in demand as a session player in Los Angeles. I played on many Japanese artists’ albums. I did recordings for Kyosuke Himuro and also played live with him in 2009. I toured Japan with Whitesnake in 1997. I also toured with Eikichi Yazawa in 2017. I’ve always loved the Japanese people and culture, so it all just kind of happened naturally.”

What are your thoughts on the future of live music now that most gigs and tours have been halted and seriously impacted musicians’ livelihoods? “It has been a very challenging time for sure, but I have always been an optimist, so I believe we will come through this and things will be even better. Hopefully, it has made us appreciate each other and made us realise how important live music is. During this time, I’ve been exploring new opportunities and possibilities, finishing off a bass instrumental album, writing my memoirs, collaborating with different musicians. I’m getting ready to do some live-stream performances which I’ve never done before. I believe in staying positive and making the best of the situation.”

You have some serious pedigree in the rock music business. But you have also done other work, such as scores for TV shows and producing sample loops and such. Is it all good fun or do you prefer playing live music? “I’ve always loved doing different things creatively. I’m always writing and creating. I was fortunate to grow up listening to and playing many different styles of music – classical, big band, Broadway musicals, pop and of course rock & roll! So, I welcome doing different creative things. It can be challenging but good fun too!”

What do you have going on right now music-wise? “Before the lockdown, I was close to securing a deal for a new band of mine. I’d like to pick that up again. I’ll share the details when it’s time. I’d like to wrap up the bass album, possibly do some shows with that. I’m recording some songs for possible licensing and publishing opportunities. I’m keeping my eye on a few other projects also!”