Music Is Like Breathing: An Interview with SPUNK’s Guitar Man

Anthony “Tru” Peterson as discusses his views on life, music, and the extraordinary Cal Shakes production of Spunk directed by Patricia McGregor. Interview by Marketing Intern Jessica Reinhardt.


"Guitar Man" Anthony "Tru" Peterson in the rehearsal room for Spunk.

 I was seated in Jonathan Moscone’s office, anxiously waiting for Spunk’s “Guitar Man” Anthony “Tru” Peterson’s first strum on his lap steel guitar. “Music is another language that takes us to a different place,” he said, and then Marketing Director Janet Magleby and I sat in awe as he took  us on a journey home to the south. You could almost hear the laughter of children playing and taste the ice-cold sweet tea at your granddaddy’s house, swaying lazily on a porch swing hand-in-hand with a loved one. It seemed as almost though Tru went into a trance-like state, shutting out every distraction of the modern world, and just played. This guy really pours his heart out into his music; there’s no faking this kind of passion and ability.

The blues is a style of music that explores the not-so-perfect side of life, diving into something deeper and realer. The emotions I felt during this session rejuvenated my spirit…and the interview hadn’t even started yet! “What would you like to ask me?,” Tru began with a smile.

Tru’s kind demeanor and remarkable laugh made me feel like I was just talking music with an old friend. I asked about his “I Dare You to Make Music” concept where children get to explore the natural rhythms in their bodies, and turn feeling into action. Tru explained how he would take sheets of paper, and would tell the kids to do anything they felt to it, then rip it up himself. Music comes from a real and true feeling, he explained, and many of his unique exercises taught young students how to connect to art. “Every child and every story is different, and as much as they gain from you, you learn just as much from them.”

Tru lazily strummed his guitar, adding a mesmerizing background to his tales on music and life. We got to the root of what makes a musician when Tru said, “If the power went out and a DJ’s equipment got turned off, would they be able to pick up an instrument and play?” There are so many forms of music made possible by new technology, and accessible via the internet, making for a large variety of music; but also a large output of junk. It really is important for our generation to be able to weed through that junk, and to realize that we are capable of making music ourselves.

“Music used to be used as a herald for change,” Tru said, a tradition he calls upon with his melodies for the three remarkable short stories by Zora Neale Hurston that make up Spunk. Tru stated that the dark truth behind African-Americans’ journey in America is something that many people are afraid to discuss. If a person of color expresses feelings on that history, they’re sometimes stereotyped as a “ typical angry negro,” he said, or other hurtful assumptions. Spunk breaks those barriers; these stories are a part of our history that everyone needs to learn, regardless of background or color.

Onstage Tru’s music becomes the background of the story, like a soundtrack to a movie taking the audience through the twists and turns of the show. Tru described director Patricia McGregor as being a “rare find of a human being” and the entire cast as having a dedication to their art like he’s never seen. “Why would my character feel this way in this scene?,” actors ask each other at the picnic table during lunch. Tru described tremendous joy to come to work every day and work with the welcoming people of Cal Shakes.

As if picking his brain about music wasn’t enough, I even got to jam with this blues legend, singing my own version of Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay.” When I forgot the lyrics to the bridge Tru gladly joined in, making Janet and me glow. And as memorable as that was for me, these rehearsals have been just as much so for Tru. Asked what his most memorable project has been so far, he answered, simply: “I’ll tell you a secret. Spunk”.

Click here to listen to Tru’s original music recorded that day.

Anthony “Tru” Peterson began teaching music at age 14 and became one of the youngest members of the faculty a year after graduation from the Berklee College of Music. He has worked on songs for producer Andre Harrell on Atlantic Records, and director Spike Lee for Columbia records. He has performed and recorded projects with Peter Gabriel, Joan Baez, Janis Ian, and Cassandra Wilson. These alliances took him all over the world, on television, and on various recordings as well as his own debut CD, I’m Not Through Dreaming.