Triple threat duo coming to Folk Music Center March 23

Rick Shea, left, and Tony Gilkyson at the Ojai Underground on April, 29, 2023. The duo, along with opener Gwendolyn, will perform at the Folk Music Center in Claremont on Saturday, March 23. Photo/courtesy of Rick Shea

by Mick Rhodes |

Los Angeles is famously teeming with great guitarists of every stripe: funky, bluesy, hard rockin’, country pickin’, and jazz compin’ cats who work steadily in the clubs, studios, and on tours. But when you separate out those who are also master songwriters and compelling performers, the pool gets much less congested.

Among these rare few are Rick Shea and Tony Gilkyson, veteran singer-songwriters and guitarists who have teamed up for what amounts to an artistry rich “two-fer” show at the Folk Music Center, 220 Yale Ave., Claremont, on Saturday, March 23.

Gilkyson, who has played with everyone from the internationally renowned (Bob Dylan, Tom Waits), to the regionally revered (X, Randy Weeks), likens the pairing to a meeting of like-minded students of the folk tradition.

“Playing with Rick, he has an understanding of folk music that not a lot of other people have, just because he has a … sense of history with folk music,” Gilkyson said. “And I value that in working with somebody, when they have a historical perspective on things.”

Shea, a longtime collaborator and touring guitarist with Dave Alvin, has also played with a jaw-dropping array of other roots and rock music heroes, including REM, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and rockabilly legend, Wanda Jackson.

“I’ll tell you one thing interesting about Tony that keeps me really interested is he has an artistic approach,” Shea said. “He continually changes his arrangements, and sometimes the keys of songs, and how he’s going to approach them. And these are songs that he’s been playing for a while, and he’ll just decide that he wants a different approach. And I find that really interesting. I get a little settled in my ways and tend to play things a particular way and stick with it.

“It keeps me on my toes a bit, sure, and that’s a good thing.”

At the Folk on March 23, the duo will accompany each other on tunes from their catalogs, and a few select covers. Gilkyson will likely tap into his spellbinding 2023 instrumental record, “Avenging Angel,” which serves as a showcase for his songwriting and inventive, soulful playing. Shea said he’ll also include a few from his latest album — his 12th— 2020’s “Love and Desperation.” Tickets are $20 at the store or the door. More info is at

The duo first joined forces in the early 2000s when Shea was recruited to play pedal steel guitar in the great Mike Stinson’s band, in which Gilkyson was the lead guitarist.

“I was so opinionated about pedal steel players, and I was really, really happy that Rick started doing gigs with Mike,” Gilkyson said.

In music terms, Gilkyson was wary of steel players who weren’t steeped in “the Nashville style,” in which they resist overplaying, instead inserting their colors only when the song demands.

“And Rick was hip to that whole ideology,” Gilkyson said. “So I didn’t have to tell the pedal steel player, ‘Look, don’t play here,’ or play quietly or lay out here. He understood. So I was spared having a potentially uncomfortable situation playing with somebody.”

Rick Shea, left, and Tony Gilkyson at the Ojai Underground on April, 29, 2023. The duo, along with opener Gwendolyn, will perform at the Folk Music Center in Claremont on Saturday, March 23. Photo/courtesy of Rick Shea

The two remained friends and colleagues after Stinson moved on to Houston, Texas in 2009.

“I’ve felt always, even before we did any of these things, that musically we have a lot in common,” Shea said.

That commonality seems to have coalesced recently, with Gilkyson joining Shea’s band last year, instantly placing it among the most fearsome guitar-based groups in Los Angeles, or anywhere for that matter.

“Rick and I kind of speak the same language I think with guitars,” Gilkyson said. “Although his style is different, we both have a history of acoustic music and we have a history of using Telecasters. We’re from that same ballpark. It’s really enjoyable for me.”

Both are soulful interpreters of just about anything one might throw at them, with a combined palette that ranges from traditional country to rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, into folk, atmospheric roots, blues, and Irish music.

Shea, 70, cut his teeth in the bars and roadhouses of his San Bernardino roots. He’s toured all over the U.S. and Europe, and was a regular on the long-running Roots on the Rails music series.

Gilkyson is 71. His deeply musical family includes his prolific, Grammy nominated singer-songwriter and guitarist sister Eliza Gilkyson, and his father, the late singer-songwriter Terry Gilkyson, perhaps best known for “The Bare Necessities,” from Disney’s beloved 1967 animated film, “The Jungle Book.”

“Folk music was maybe the first thing that I ever heard growing up,” Gilkyson said. “I wasn’t captivated with folk music and didn’t really want to get into it until I had really sort of gotten my ya-yas out playing electric music and doing different styles of music. And now, frankly I find folk music to be, within my age range, something that feels totally legitimate. It doesn’t feel false. It’s deepened my perspective of playing it, and wanting to play it. It’s ear friendly too. It’s not so hard on my ears.”

“And it’s a lot less gear to carry around,” Shea added, referencing the primary implement of folk music, the acoustic guitar.

Shea’s output since his aptly titled 1988 debut, “Outside of Nashville,” has been consistent: he’s released records about every three or four years. So it would figure that we might soon see a follow up to 2020’s “Love and Desperation.”

“It’s about time,” Shea said of the prospect of a new record. “I have a couple of new songs, so it’s starting to move in that direction.”

Gilkyson’s debut solo record, “Sparko,” came out in 1998. It was followed by “Goodbye Guitar” in 2000, and last year’s “Avenging Angel.” He’s not yet sure what lies ahead.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Gilkyson said. “The last three songs that I’ve written they have sort of a Southern R&B take. That’s the direction it goes. I have a song called “Death in Arkansas” that I would love to approach electrically. But beyond that I have no idea how it will turn out. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

The pair aren’t the only dazzling guitarists on the bill at the Folk on March 23. Los Angeles singer-songwriter and six-string ace Gwendolyn will open the show, and both Gilkyson and Shea had high praise.

“I love her songwriting,” Gilkyson said. “She’s one of my favorite guitar players. She writes songs that are striking and original. One or two of them have a beautiful Southern gothic feel. She reminds me of my sister Eliza, who I also think is an excellent guitar player. She knows how to fingerpick in a way that draws you in. There’s an art to that, and Gwendolyn knows how to do that, as does my sister Eliza. I admire that in certain artists who know how to draw you in just by their style of playing guitar.”

“She is quite wonderful, and her songs are just lovely,” Shea added. “I’m very happy that she’ll be there with us.”

Rick Shea, Tony Gilkyson, and Gwendolyn appear at the Folk Music Center, 220 Yale Ave., Claremont, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23. Tickets are $20 at the store or the door. More info is at


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