Most 30-somethings with scars on their shins and bolts where their elbow joints should be know Tommy Guerrero as a member of the legendary "Bones Brigade." From the mid-'80s through the early '90s, the pro street-skater routinely ravaged his decks, manufactured by the popular Powell Peralta, in the hills of his native San Francisco.
These days, Guerrero is more likely to be found working a bass line than a waxed-up curb. He released his first record, Loose Grooves and Bastard Grooves, in 1998. Most were surprised at how it sounded-rather than skate-punk, it was chilled-out guitar soul, like Sea & Cake covering Coltrane.
Even more surprising, it was good-a mix of slow-groove funk, Americana and Latin rhythms, all recorded primarily in his home studio. Now on his fifth full-length, he still uses scaled-down studio equipment. The result is a "lo-fi buzz" on the records, which sound like well-worn bootlegs from a trippier era.
Much like Sebadoh before him, Guerrero says the "poor" sound quality is due to time constraints and lack of recording knowledge, and that he prefers the crackle of vinyl 45s to the cleaner sound of digital.
"Studios can cost tons of money, and the labels never give squat, so it makes sense to buy a bit of gear and run with it," he says. "Plus, it's within reach, so when I feel the itch, I can plug in and go."
On his latest album, From the Soil to the Soul, Guerrero played nearly all the instruments-bass, guitar, keyboards and the African "thumb piano" called the kilimba. Most of the songs are instrumentals, but some feature vocals from his pals, including white-boy soulman Bing Ji Ling and Guerrero's labelmate on Quannum Records, Lyrics Born.
"I like to let the artist interpret the song to their liking," Guerrero says, "but I have to be able to live with the lyrics as well."
During recordings, it's just Guerrero. But for this short U.S. tour he'll be joined by three musicians, which he says helps create an "extra bit of aggression." He'll also be playing guitar, not bass, which he's been most comfortable with, having played it for 20 years.
After the tour, Guerrero plans to work on Blacktop Project, a new band he formed with three other pro skateboarders from his era-Ray Barbee (one of skateboarding's first black stars), Matt Hensley (Carlsbad native and Flogging Molly accordionist) and skate-rocker Chuck Treece.
It's a combination of pro athletes who, unlike many who've tried before them, have proven that the appeal of their music goes beyond the appeal of their name.
Tommy Guerrero plays with Curumin and Honeycut at House of Blues' 5th Avenue Side Stage on Sept. 25. Doors open at 10 p.m. $10. 619-299-BLUE.