With an eye on giving a boost to young musicians, Allen Stone kicks off a three-month tour on Saturday (March 19) at the Fillmore in San Francisco before heading to Hawaii, Australia, Europe, and back to the States. The San Francisco tour opener is a benefit for the local Blue Bear School of Music, a nonprofit organization that has Elvin Bishop, Huey Lewis, and rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres on its advisory board.
“If you’re a musician and doing a benefit show, music schools are a top priority,” Stone explains from his cabin in eastern Washington. Stone will be performing an acoustic concert with Bishop at a special VIP gathering at the Fillmore before performing a full show with his band. Bishop, an original member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.
It may be a few years before Stone becomes a contender for Bishop’s exalted status, but the white soul singer has rapidly achieved international popularity since his self-titled album was released by ATO Records in 2012. The must-listen-to record drew comparisons to Marvin Gaye and other soul greats.
Stone expanded his sound and got a little slicker on his second album, Radius, which was a collaboration with Swedish soul singer-songwriter Magnus Tingsek released last year on Capitol Records. Next week, Stone, who has described himself as “a hippie with soul,” releases on ATO a deluxe version of the album with seven bonus tracks.
“I recorded so many songs I was proud of [during the Radius recording sessions],” Stone says. “Writing a song is like having kids — usually with far less responsibility. You raise this kid, work on this kid, and nurture this kid. Then I put the kid in the closet and never showed it to anyone. I had 40 kids, and 30 were in the closet waiting to be let out.”
Some fans have wondered whether Radius was the beginning of a new direction away from his deep soul roots.
“I think I always will be expanding my sound,” Stone says. “Part of the joy of creating music is approaching each album as a new canvas. You get pigeonholed with genres. I’m just a musician. I love Stevie Wonder, but I also like James Taylor, John Denver, and the Carpenters. It’s difficult to do just one style of music. My music will always have a rhythm and blues and soul backbeat. I might go back to retro soul live. I just don’t want to recycle what I have done.”
Does he feel he has an obligation to give back to the African-American community that originated soul music?
“I feel like I do give back,” Stone says. “I play live a lot in predominantly black areas of communities, and I have a lot of African-American fans. But that’s a tough question to answer, because I am not sure what giving back entails.
“I was raised in the country, in a town [Chewelah, Washington] of 2,000 people, and didn’t live in a community where whites and blacks were living on different sides of the street. I don’t negate the oppressions and problems I see in minority communities, but I wasn’t extremely connected to those communities. All my favorite singers were black. I’m just attempting to promote progress and diversity among different groups of people within a music styling, and trying to talk about social injustices I see.”
Wonder, one of the greatest African-American soul and rhythm and blues musicians, performed one of the best concerts Stone has seen. It was at a jazz festival in France a few years ago.
It was “one of the most memorable shows I’ve ever experienced,” exclaims Stone, who warmed up for Stevie that night. “Stevie played about three hours. He had no setlist. At the end of each song, he called out the song to his band. It was one big montage of music.”
He also was blown away by a Trombone Shorty gig in Boston and marvels at Trombone Shorty’s prowess on trombone and trumpet.
“I was completely sober, and he brought me to my knees with the musicality and the sheer power of a horn. He made music with that horn I have never heard or seen in my life. His abilities on a horn are otherworldly. It’s like when I saw Derek Trucks play guitar. You say, ‘What the hell, how can you make a guitar sound like that?’ It was like seeing a painter put together a piece of art, but you still don’t know how he did it.”
A Trucks show with his wife, Susan Tedeschi, at Seattle’s Moore Theater in May 2011 was the concert that most influenced Stone as a musician.
“I was always a big Susan fan,” Stone explains. “I love her voice, I love her tone. I didn’t know Derek that well. My girlfriend surprised me with a ticket. No one was standing at the show, but I had to stand up and move. Derek is probably one of the greatest guitar players of all time—certainly the greatest slide guitarist of all time.”