Orange County’s far-flung music scene has launched the successful careers of punk, pop, ska, blues and even country artists, but the burgeoning success of singer-songwriter Tyrone Wells draws few obvious ties with those movements.
The long-time Fullerton resident (who recently moved to Chino Hills) impeccably blends pop, rock, soul and blues with R&B across his latest album. Songs such as the folk rocker "Need," gospel-tinged rocker “What Are We Fighting For?” and melodic ballad “Sea Breeze” are among the many highlights on “Hold On,” his first-ever album released by a major label (Universal Republic).
Wells has seemingly been on a non-stop tour since the release of the 12-song set on Feb. 6, but he was in town earlier this month to perform two special benefit acoustic shows at the Plush Café for six-year-old CHOC patient Bailey Spoonhower. Wells returns home this weekend to perform a proper homecoming show with his full band at the House of Blues in Anaheim on June 23.
“I came here and went to Hope International University; it’s a little private school right across the street from Cal State Fullerton,” Wells said of the move from his native Spokane, Washington to Fullerton.
“I think when I left Spokane I thought that I was leaving music behind me and I was going to enter the professional world or something. But then I met some guys right away at the college that were great musicians so we formed a band at that point and basically there has been no looking back. It’s like I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Wells is armed with a powerful voice, and uses that in the service of songs that mingle the singer-songwriter instincts of James Taylor with the soulful approach of Stevie Wonder. His distinctive and affecting voice is capable of tackling a variety of styles, and he is as comfortable playing alone with his acoustic guitar as he is backed by a full band. And that gift of writing, performing and entertaining came despite an admittedly conservative upbringing where the young son of a preacher was only exposed to gospel music.
“As I grew up and got into high school and stuff, my parents were a little bit lenient and I was able to listen to all kinds of stuff, but I think once I got into college I did a lot of research – listening research – behind the stuff that I had missed that was so great. You know great classic stuff like James Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel; I was really a huge fan of Stevie Wonder and still am, especially his earlier work.”
Wells established a strong following in Orange County before being signed, performing frequently at coffeehouses such as Fullerton’s McClain’s and the Plush Café. He also released several independent CDs, including “Snapshot” (2003) and “Live at McClain’s” (2005) before going into the studio with producer Chris Karn to work on “Hold On” in late 2005.
“I was basically just doing my own thing for about five or six years and had never talked to a major label,” Wells admitted.
“But then I released my last record, which is called ‘Hold On’ and within a month I had talked to almost every major label there was. It was really surreal for me because I had just been plugging along forever, and just thought maybe I’m not major label material, maybe I’m going to be an independent artist the rest of my life – which is not bad because I was doing fine.”
Wells, Kalai and Ernie Halter perform at House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, at 8 p.m. on June 23. For more information on that show, visit www.tyronewells.com.
To hear several full-length songs from Wells’ latest album “Hold On,” visit www.myspace.com/tyronewells.