Guitarist, singer and songwriter Gary “Sly” Fox is a salesman at heart.
It’s how he got his nickname as a kid, and it’s a talent he has put to good use in both his day job as a car salesman and as a lifelong musician, most recently as leader of bluesy rock septet Sly Fox and the Hustlers.
In the past four years, this band of veterans has pushed its way on to the local music scene with its high-energy shows and equally high-energy debut recording, the seven-song “The Low-Life” EP, released in 2010.
Now, Fox is using his skills to hustle for other musicians. About four months ago, he took charge of booking music at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in his native Troy. Since then, the venue has expanded its offerings from weekend shows to music and promotions nearly every night of the week. He has also been hosting an open mic there every Wednesday, where he and a small group help back up-and-coming singers and instrumentalists looking to show off for three or four songs.
Open jam with Sly Fox and Friends
Where: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 377 River St., Troy
When: 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday
How Much: Free
More Info: 308-0400, www.dinosaurbarbque.com
Creating a haven
“Sly Fox and the Hustlers have kind of become the house band there, so they asked me about doing the booking,” Fox said. “We want to turn it into a real music haven. . . . I came up with a five-point plan as far as things that I would change if I were to do it — I said, we’ve got to get a lighting system in there. At the time it was all white lights, on all the time — now I bring the house lights all the way down. And another part of that was doing an open mic.”
Just a few weeks ago, the venue hosted New Zealand singer-songwriter Willy Moon, in conjunction with WEQX-FM, and Fox hopes to bring in more touring artists. But much of his focus is finding new local talent to book at the venue, and the open mic is the place to do that.
It’s also a chance to step out of his comfort zone and play with musicians of all experience levels and genres. Fox hosts with Hustlers drummer Mark Tritico and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que sound man and trumpeter Kevin Hendricks. A full drum kit, guitar amps and a bass rig are available for performers to use.
“It’s a cool set up — we have people come in that just sing, or just do one thing, and the three of us back them up,” Fox said. “It’s all good jamming. Sometimes — there was a girl in the other day who wanted to do a country song, which is out of my comfort zone. We just went in the other room and listened to the song on YouTube, and then jammed it with her. It’s nice doing off-the-cuff stuff like that.”
Picking up guitar
Fox, now in his late 30s, has been playing guitar since he was 10 years old. Inspired by a cousin who played, he and his childhood friend and neighbor, singer-songwriter Sean Rowe, both picked up instruments at the same time.
“I decided I wanted to play guitar, and [Sean] was my best friend, so I told him to get a bass so we could start a band,” Fox said. “Through the rest of grade school and high school, while others were on the football team, we stayed home and practiced and wrote songs.”
The two soon realized that someone needed to sing, and both of them gave it a go. Rowe ended up the singer, and developed his distinctive baritone alongside Fox’s bluesy, hard rocking riffs in Dionysus and later The Clockwork Orange, which played legendary New York City punk club CBGBs in the late ’90s.
“During our thing, we used to always do acoustic — four or five acoustic songs, and that’s kind of where he took off doing the acoustic thing,” Fox said. “I’m not really into folk music; I’m more of a rocker, although I appreciate — he’s awesome at what he does and has a fantastic voice.”
When Rowe began playing solo acoustic, Fox bowed out of the music business for a time. He continued to write and play on his own time, though, and about four years ago he had amassed enough material for a short album.
“The songs were just coming to me,” he said. “Basically, I knew I wanted to write and record them, but I didn’t know if I would end up playing out. I just knew that I need to make a CD. I had all these songs just bouncing around in my head.”
Because Rowe had done all the singing in their previous bands, Fox had to first teach himself to sing. He rented a practice space and filled it with gear, including a drum machine and recording equipment, and began working on demos for the songs that would eventually end up on “The Low-Life.”
working on follow-up
Since the initial recording, which was done at Warming Room Recording Studio in Albany with a cast of session players, Fox has pushed on with the Hustlers as a full band. The now seven-piece group is working on a full-length follow-up, tentatively titled “The Secret.”
“This time out I wanted a big, soulful band — I wanted saxophone, keyboards,” Fox said. “I like saxophone as much as the guitar, even though I don’t play it — I just wanted to have that ‘Exile on Main Street,’ big, soulful, bluesy band, and I kind of just latched on to that.”