Born into show business, hired guns Tony and his brother Hunt Sales were the rhythm section and driving force behind some key moments in rock history.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, bassist Tony and drummer Hunt’s father was well known comedian Soupy Sales who had a long running American comedy show in the 50s and 60s. Soupy, a jazz aficionado with show biz connections, gave the brothers access to many jazz greats. Tony studied the bass from a young age with Carole Kaye, who was the bass player on River Deep Mountain High, and Hunt took his inspiration on the drums from Shelly Manne and Buddy Rich, going on to develop a style all of his own. Even at this young age Hunt attacked the drums and excelled as a singer. Tony and Hunt might have had a career singing if they never took up the bass and drums as they were notable for their distinctive background-vocal abilities, and by their teens had started a band called Tony & the Tigers.
The brothers appeared on the popular rock music series Hullabaloo, and after one of their appearances they met Jimi Hendrix who invited them to watch him record rock history at Electric Ladyland Studios in New York City. After a minor radio hit in the Detroit area and a couple of TV appearances, the brothers switched gear, eventually teaming up with Todd Rundgren, adding their loping, languid beats to some of the his best early-70s work, including his debut album Runt (1970), and follow-up masterpiece The Ballad of Todd Rundgren (1971). The brothers had an almost psychic ability to anticipate the groove, like they were of one mind, working simultaneously and pushing the music forward.
After a long stint with Rundgren, the Sales brothers joined forces with Iggy Pop providing the crucial rhythm section to the immaculate Bowie-produced Berlin-era record Lust for Life (1977). The brothers then joined Pop on his subsequent supporting tour, recording the Bowie-enhanced live album of the period, TV Eye (1978). Crucially, the Sales brothers formed a key collaboration in 1989, as half of Tin Machine, adding an edge and spontaneity that had been missing from Bowie’s music for quite some time.
The Sales brothers were hell-raisers and loose cannons with a nihilistic attitude and lifestyle to match. They provided their raw musical instinct and bombastic rock ‘n roll to a plethora of musical greats over the decades including Dr John, Etta James, Harry Dean Stanton, and Tony with Steve Jones and Michael Des Barres in the band Chequered Past.
They even recorded an R&B album together called Hired Guns in 1979 as The Sales Brothers that should have made them both big name stars if Tony hadn’t hit a tree with his car in delaying its release until 2008. Sadly, the Sales brothers’ soul-revue ambitions were derailed, leaving the album a minor footnote in rock history.
These Top 5 Songs serve as a tip-of-the-iceberg introduction to these dedicated and hard working American musicians who continue to strive for excellence.
The Sales Brothers – Top 5 Songs
5. Iggy Pop & James Williamson – Lucky Monkeys
Before Lust for Life, the Sales brothers played on a couple of tracks on Iggy’s and ex-Stooge James Williamson’s underrated Kill City, recorded in the aftermath of the Stooges Raw Power sessions, and eventually released in 1977 on Bomp! This is one pulsating ‘Stonesy’ classic.
4. Todd Rundgren – Parole
In 1970, the brothers joined Todd Rundgren’s band, proceeding to tour and record with Rundgren over the next several years, including on the hit single We Gotta Get You a Woman. Both Hunt and Tony play on the cracking rocker Parole, off The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, the album where Todd sends up the singer-songwriting genre while effortlessly affirming his ability as a balladeer of the first water.
3. Iggy Pop – The Passenger
Lust for Life’s most endearing track was written alternately in the first and third person, as it watches a man riding on a train, seeing a city slip past his window. He is not of the city, just in it, gliding through the city’s “ripped backsides”, staying “under glass”, and seeing “the bright and hollow sky”. Written by guitarist Ricky Gardiner, the track consists of four guitar chords, briskly strummed and punctuated by rests, but never moving from a single progression. Hunt’s drums and Tony’s serpentine bass line holds it all together. There’s no chorus, save for a wordless repeat of the verse melody, as the Sales brothers chime in on backing vocals.
2. Tin Machine – Under the God
Thunderous machine-gun drums and savage riffing sums up Tin Machine’s badass first single, Under the God, perhaps the heaviest and best number this short-lived project ever recorded. Hunt’s drumming is so aggressive it would have been impossible to play it any other way, and he provides a background tenor vocal accompanying Bowie’s own voice and blending very well together. Recorded pre-grunge, Tin Machine was way ahead of its time musically and conceptually. Yet, the audiences wanted Bowie’s hits, and were not prepared for the sonic onslaught and creative bombardment that was Tin Machine’s trademark.
1. Iggy Pop – Lust for Life
This instantly recognisable rock classic that gets better with each listen embraces a high level of sleaze and menace, but also has a celebratory and happy feel overall. Musically the track is confident R&B and is the sound of Iggy Pop’s artistic reinvention, with Hunt Sales on iconic drums and backing vocals…who knew?
♥ Todd Rundgren – Broke Down and Busted (1970)
♥ Todd Rundgren – Slut (1972)
♥ Tin Machine – Pretty Thing (1989)
♥ Tin Machine – Baby Universal (1991)
♥ The Sales Brothers – Shiftin’ Soul (2008)