Anthony Guerriero is not sure he wants this story to be written. His disinterest in publicity is what led him to delete his website several years ago, so that now when you Google “Anthony Guerriero,” you won’t find a damn thing.
Even though the nearly 50-year-old artist and musician has spent much of his life in the smoky spotlight of Nashville’s music and art scene, he’s less concerned about having an audience these days. Even at the stone house in Inglewood where he’s lived since ’98, he doesn’t particularly enjoy having more than one friend over at a time to play music. There you will find his “Volcano Room” — a dining room turned soundproofed music-making refuge — so-called because, he says, “It’s where tone erupts.”
He doesn’t play in public often, but when he does, he busks outside The Parthenon, where he wears a leather mask and goes by the name King GoGo. Surrounded by a few of his paintings, he sits on some Moroccan rugs, playing a resonator guitar.
“I like to be on display, but the way I want to do it,” Guerriero says. “I went underground real heavy because I was tired of it all — tired of art shows, tired of playing shows, tired of all the Nashville handshaking stuff.”
One of Guerriero’s earliest memories is from age 4, when he secretly painted a mural of Where the Wild Things Are in his closet; it was the closest to ecstasy he’d ever come. His first time on stage was in elementary school, when he was the only boy in a Denver Civic Ballet production of The Nutcracker. He moved to Nashville from Colorado in 1985, attended Belmont for a few years and lived with his grandparents — music business veterans who ensured that part of his youth was spent at the homes of the best of the best old-time country music guys.
His entry into the music scene coincided with a management position at a long since closed Bellevue health club. By day, he ran the place; by night, he played with his heavy metal band in the aerobics room and made use of the hot tub and pool for after-hours parties. Then came his 14-year stint at 12th & Porter, during which he waited tables, tended bar, painted nude portraits of most of the waitresses, and played in hard rock bands Rockfish and Horse.
“In the ’90s I dressed outrageous,” Guerriero says. “I had long hair, and I’d wear makeup and paint my nails up and wear sandals and a robe and walk around with claw necklaces.” During that time, painting commissions were coming hard and fast, and he sold everything from Southwestern dreamscapes to pet portraits, even pairing with his nephew and his daughter to create and sell art. His inspiration hasn’t waned. “Lately I’ve been doing these Dolly Ramas — is what I call them — with dolls,” he says, and holds up a framed canvas mounted with doll parts slathered in gold paint.
In 2004, a month-long trip to Morocco inspired both Guerriero’s music and a new direction in his life. Not long after he returned to Nashville with a head full of new rhythms, he met his now-fiancée, Caliente, whom he refers to as his “muse.” Together they formed a two-piece band Mono Amor, but only after Guerriero encouraged her to play drums. “I saw her dancing one night,” he says, voice heavy with awe. “I was playing bass with this funk band, and she cleared the room dancing, moving her arms and legs around. I said, ‘It looks just like you’re drumming.’ She was a natural.” The two have yet to play outside of the Volcano Room.
In 2009, Guerriero released an album on vinyl under the name The Dollections — one of many up the hood and tinker on it. Computers — that’s not the case.”
Although his studio has remained his main passion, Little works a day job at a local auto body shop and plays bass with local blues rockers Super Honk. That means much of his studio work involves night sessions or weekends. His long-term plan of building an independent studio piece by piece, and session by session, might seem laborious for younger, names he’s worked under over the years. He calls those 10 songs a “romantic journey from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, all the way to New Orleans,” saying, “I fell in love with Caliente, and all these songs were coming out.” One of the songs that came out featured a vocal by the late blues and reggae singer Aashid Himons, who was so ill that Guerriero had to carry him upstairs to the studio to cut the track.
Part of the reason Guerriero is wary about this story, this small sliver of his whole story, is that prior to telling it to us he felt he had to make some sense of it — this life, marked by both hard times and halcyon days — and he is as daunted by the task as anyone who hasn’t gotten it all figured out yet. It’s more comfortable to don a mask and be someone anonymous, someone named King GoGo. Of the day he first put on the King GoGo mask outside The Parthenon, Guerriero says, “I played for an hour up there with no mask, and everyone just walked past me like I was a normal musician. Then I put the mask on and instantly everyone was around me. Throwing money in. It was safer. I’m behind the mask, and I’m anybody they want me to be.”
Guerriero waits tables a couple of nights a week at South Street, where he has prints on display, and he still takes painting commissions for murals and portraits and more. He works out of a gallery behind his house where visitors see his work by appointment. “I’ve had a great life,” he says. “Met a lot of good people, had more than my share of good times. I want to eventually move to the desert. I’m from the west, and I want to move back west — just go out there and do artwork and sell trinkets from a gypsy car. I want to meet people.”
One on one, just the way he likes it.