Raleigh Daily News: September 7, 1994
TAB: Band on the Rise
By Kenneth J. Morrison
Daily News Music Critic

RALEIGH ­ Leaning back on his couch, Tommy Aguilar expertly flicks a cigarette butt into a trash can across the room, props his battered Converse sneakers on a coffeetable and ponders the question of guitar preference. It’s anything but a minor issue to him. “Give me Gibson or give me death,” he says, quoting one of his many mottoes. Aguilar knows whereof he speaks, having played ­ if not necessarily owned ­ most every kind of guitar there is (he jokes that he’s writing a book called “How To Be A Professional Musician Without Ever Actually Owning A Single Piece Of Equipment”).

“Rickenbackers are too jangly, they’ve got no guts,” Aguilar continues, warming to the topic. “If they didn’t look so great, wouldn’t nobody ever play one. Fenders, I don’t really like them much, either. They clang too much and have this piercing tone that just sort of…dissolves. They also have too much high-end, and no crowd worth a [expletive] ever showed up for treble. They come wanting to hear treble, they’re gonna just stand around and that’s no good.”

On its face, there’s nothing all that unusual about this conversation. It’s standard guitar-head talk, not too far removed from what you’d hear in any instrument store. But you’d have to see what Aguilar is doing with his hands as he speaks to fully understand the oddity of the situation:

Cleaning a gun, slowly working it over with an oily red cloth. “You know,” Aguilar says, handling the 38-caliber snubnose pistol with practiced familiarity, “I can tell what a crowd’s gonna be like just from watching their heads, whether they’re paying attention to the bass or the drums. Drum crowds are easy. They’ll go for big, obvious, stupid [expletive] every time. Bass crowds, though, you have to work a little harder to get to.”

With that, Aguilar puts down the rag, points the gun out the window of his living room, takes aim at a large elm tree in the front yard outside his shack and pulls the trigger. Inside the small room, the roar is deafening. Outside, the shell knocks a chunk of bark off the trunk. A flock of birds flees from the branches above, screaming for vengeance. All the noise appears to cheer Aguilar up visibly.

“Bass crowds are the shows where I usually wind up rolling around in broken glass or something,” he concludes, returning the gun to a pocket of his tattered jacket . He pauses to light another cigarette. “Which is why I like Gibson guitars,” he concludes, finally coming back to his target. “They’ve got that thick, fat, dirty tone and they’re more forgiving, which is perfect for what I do. They sound dangerous as a chainsaw if you hit ’em just right.

“Say,” he says, suddenly vaulting to his feet and heading for the kitchen, “can I get you a beer or anything?” Give me Gibson or give me death, indeed.


Welcome to the strangely fascinating, never-boring world of Tommy Aguilar. When he’s not indulging his enthusiasm for firearms or puttering around his shack (which looks like the set of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), Aguilar is the 24-year-old wunderkind behind rising locals TAB ­ an acronym for Tommy Aguilar Band.

After scarcely a year together, the trio of Aguilar, bassist Michelle Rubin and drummer Ray Roby has become both the toast and scourge of the local music scene. TAB has a dedicated and growing regional fan base, as well as an equally dedicated and growing crowd of hostile detractors ­ many of whom are other musicians.

The outspoken Aguilar is largely responsible for both the positive and negative perceptions of his band. He is TAB’s songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, and is quite honestly better at all three than almost anyone else around these parts. He’s also not the least bit shy about letting other people know that, and doesn’t lack for opinions on most any subject: politics (“The president? I like the guy, he reminds me of me”), barbecue (“I’m tellin’ ya, Wilbur’s is the best damn ’cue in this state, and don’t trust anybody who says otherwise”) and most of all his peers in the local music scene.

“This town is just full of idiots in bands,” he declares. “It’s really pathetic. We’ve opened for most of them, which has been a total drag ­ I’ve had to sit through more fake, awful, phony music just waiting around to get paid. But at least we’ve managed to show ’em all up for the truthless [expletives] they are.”

Fortunately for everyone involved, TAB’s days of opening for other bands seem numbered. The group is set to record its first single, and head out on its most extensive tour to date. At least one person who believes in TAB is Bob Porter, owner/manager of Each nightclub, who recently signed on as TAB’s manager after booking the group into his club.

“You probably wouldn’t look twice at Tommy if you passed him on the street,” Porter says. “But there’s just something I can’t explain that happens when he gets on a stage. It’s the wildest, maybe the best music I’ve heard in all my years running this place.”

Even accounting for Porter’s desire to hype his client, there’s unquestionably something special about TAB. Start with Aguilar’s voice, which is as pure as Roy Orbison’s operatic flights, yet can also be as playful as Little Richard. Aguilar might be the best pure singer in town, able to melt knees with a single wail. In terms of singing, at least, few people are completely immune to his charms.

At the opposite end of the accessibility spectrum is Aguilar’s guitar-playing, an extremely aggressive style that brings new meaning to the adjective “skronky.” If there’s a precedent for the volume, distortion and frenzy Aguilar conjures up with six strings, it would probably be Jimi Hendrix.

TAB doesn’t lack for hooks, either, which is where Aguilar’s bandmates come in. Eye-catching bassist Rubin provides the perfect cushion of rhythmic stability for Aguilar’s wilder six-string brush strokes, while muscle-bound drummer Roby’s jackhammer pounding makes for a formidable bottom end.

Capturing TAB’s sound on paper is a tall order. Call it something like punchy, space-age rockabilly that somehow integrates elements of country, soul, funk and classic pop. Live, the band covers everything from jazz pianist Vincent Guaraldi (the wickedest “Linus & Lucy” you’ve ever heard) to the Sex Pistols. Yet none of the trio’s oldies sound dated.

Neither do Aguilar’s originals, which pass by in a pulverizing torrent of howled non-sequiturs and white noise. For all the intensity of Aguilar’s delivery, it can be difficult to fathom just what his songs are about. Aguilar himself is no help, declining to explain his lyrics and even going so far as to claim that words don’t even matter because they “suck.”

“No one can hear [lyrics], which is probably a good thing,” he says. “Words suck because they can tell lies. Little lies, big lies, I-Love-You lies ­ the most treacherous kind of all. I don’t like lies because I tell a lot of them. Can’t help myself because it’s a kick, you know? It’s fun, especially when you can get away with it. I do because I’m good at it, better than most. “Music, though…does…not…lie.”

True enough.


While Aguilar will talk quite animatedly about all things musical, he becomes evasive when the subject turns to his own history. Press him on the details, and he’ll claim his father was a disgraced Benedictine monk.

“My dad taught me everything I know about singing,” he says. “Wasn’t much of a guitar player, though. That damn robe always got in the way, and he kept on wearing it even after they kicked him out when I was born…”

Aguilar has his reasons for avoiding specifics about his background. His father Edward was actually an insurance salesman who committed suicide when Tommy was still an infant. Aguilar’s only living relative is his mother, Rita Aguilar. She has been a patient at the state hospital in Austin, Texas, since her husband’s death.

In effect orphaned at a young age, Aguilar grew up in foster homes all over the country. No one is exactly sure when he first showed up in the Triangle, and Aguilar himself isn’t saying. He apparently arrived about three years ago and took up residence in a run-down shack out in the country near Knightdale, keeping a low profile and subsisting on odd jobs and yardwork.

But people sure noticed when he strapped on a guitar. Aguilar tried joining other bands, which didn’t work because he appears unable to interpret any artistic vision save his own. So he formed TAB, which for a time consisted of just Aguilar and whoever else he could con into showing up for jam sessions. TAB’s first other fulltime member was Roby, who Aguilar asked to fill in for his “regular drummer.” Roby soon realized there was no other drummer, but by then was hooked.

A series of bassists followed until Aguilar found the perfect foil in the classically trained Rubin. Since then, TAB has made huge strides and seems poised on the verge of a breakthrough. It remains to be seen just how far the trio can go. As far as Aguilar can take them, most likely. “We are gonna show everybody,” he says, betraying not the slightest trace of doubt. “Just you watch.” We will, we will.


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