Tonio K. (born Steven M. Krikorian, b. April 15, 1949) is an American singer/songwriter who has released eight critically acclaimed albums and has had original songs recorded by many of Pop, Rock, Country and R&B’s leading artists ranging from Al Green, Aaron Neville and Burt Bacharach to Bonnie Raitt, Wynonna Judd and Vanessa Williams.
As a teenager, Krikorian, along with friends Alan Shapazian, Steve Olson, Nick van Maarth, and Duane Scott formed a Surf-Funk/Psychedelic-Punk band called The Raik's Progress, which recorded a single for Liberty Records, released in 1966. Known for their Dadaist-inspired between-song routines, one reviewer described their performance while opening for Buffalo Springfield at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium as being like “the Three Stooges playing strip poker with Iggy and the Stooges.” A full-length album by the band, Sewer Rat Love Chant, was eventually issued on Sundazed Records in 2003.
In the early 1970s, Krikorian recorded two albums with Buddy Holly's original band, The Crickets. The group consisted of founding members J.I. Allison and Sonny Curtis, plus Ric Gretch (Blind Faith, Traffic) and Albert Lee (Heads, Hands and Feet, Eric Clapton) and the Raik’s Nick van Maarth. Remnants (1973) and A Long Way from Lubbock (1974) were produced by long-time Holly and Cricket cohort, Bob Montgomery. In 2004, Krikorian reunited with the Crickets for a track on their star-studded (Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, Phil Everly) album, The Crickets and Their Buddies, singing lead on the Holly classic, "Not Fade Away."
In 1978, Krikorian went solo with Life in the Foodchain on Irving Azoff’s Full Moon/Epic label. Adopting the moniker Tonio K., a reference to the writings of Kafka and Thomas Mann, he was hailed as America’s answer to Britain’s Angry Young Men (Elvis Costello, The Clash) and the “funniest serious songwriter in America.” The record was produced by Rob Fraboni (The Band, Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker) and featured a supporting cast that included Earl Slick, Garth Hudson, Dick Dale and Albert Lee. It was also the first Pop/Rock record to feature the percussive sounds of an AK-47 firing live ammunition. The album garnered much critical acclaim, most famously from Steve Simels at “Stereo Review” who proclaimed it "the greatest album ever recorded" and established K. as an artist to watch.
K.’s follow-up album, Amerika, was released in 1980 by Full Moon (this time via Clive Davis’s Arista Records). Filled with literary and political references, the album was hailed as “Punk for academics” and once again pronounced by Simels to be “the greatest record ever recorded” (as was every ensuing Tonio K. disc). Unfortunately, critical acclaim did not lead to commercial success and it was at this point that K. reports he “committed suicide for the first time.”
After a move to Capitol Records in 1982, K. recorded La Bomba, a live-in-the-studio album produced by Carter (Motels, Tina Turner, Paula Cole). Recorded in the famous Capitol Studio B, it featured K.’s touring band: George “Geo” Conner (guitar), Alfredo Acosta Alwag (drums), and Enrique “Eric” Gotthelf (bass).
Tonio next released Romeo Unchained on What?/A&M Records. Hailed by “Rolling Stone” magazine as “the best Bob Dylan album since Dylan himself lost interest in the Pop song form,” the album landed on numerous critics’ Top 10 Albums of the Year lists. Recorded during 1985 and 1986, it was produced, variously, by Rick Neigher, Bob Rose (Julian Lennon) and T Bone Burnett (Counting Crows, Wallflowers, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss). The musicians on these recordings included Neigher (on many instruments), Rose, Burnett, Peter Banks (Yes), David Mansfield, David Miner, David Raven, Tim Pierce, Tim Chandler, and Rob Watson.
Notes From The Lost Civilization, again on What?/A&M, followed in 1988. Produced by Tonio K. and David Miner, with T Bone Burnett serving as Executive Producer, the all-star cast of supporting musicians included Burnett, Booker T. Jones on Hammond B-3, Jim Keltner, Raymond Pounds and Alex Acuña on drums and percussion, James Jamerson, Jr. and David Miner on bass, and Charlie Sexton and Jack Sherman on additional guitars. The video for the single, “Without Love,” marked Tonio’s first airplay on MTV.
Olé was Tonio K.’s final record for A&M. Recorded in 1989 and 1990, it didn’t see release until 1997 on Gadfly Records. (The reasons for this are well documented in the liner notes to the CD.) It was produced by T Bone Burnett and David Miner with a core band consisting of Marc Ribot, Booker T. Jones, David Raven and Bruce Thomas (Attractions). Additional guitarists included Jack Sherman, Charlie Sexton, Rusty Anderson, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg. The refusal of A&M to release the record at the time precipitated, in Tonio’s words, “my second suicide.” Although Olé was K.’s last major label recording, several other compilation and live CDs have been issued