If there was ever a story on following your dream to be a rock star, this would be a good one. Meet Tim Stunson. From local boy to international touring bassist, the road has been long, and luckily not too unforgiving.
Born in Spokane, Washington, Tim’s family moved to Wichita Falls on his first birthday. He was raised here and is 100% Wichitan. His early aspirations were to be a drummer. He started playing drums in the seventh grade and was accepted into the Rider High School Marching Band Drum Corp his freshman year. Tim was a big Kiss fan, especially of Peter Criss. His mom bought him a drum set to play, but as he grew a little older he found himself becoming an even bigger Ace Frehly fan and his focus shifted to becoming a lead guitar player, thinking, “That could be me up there!”
While Tim was attending Rider High School he had a job at Popeyes working alongside classmate and future guitar great Jason Brown. After the place closed up at night he says, “I remember Jason figured out how to hack into the Popeyes’ music system, tune it into KNTO, the local rock station at the time, and rocking out to bands like Pat Travers and AC/DC while we cleaned up the place.”
He said that Jason gave him guitar lessons, and he worked day and night to learn the instrument. He had met Kenny Ochoa (then the drummer for local band Fury, which also included rockers Kenny Nordman and Orlando Arredondo) while working at the Southside Girls’ Club. Having been into the drums himself, they became fast friends. When Tim found out that Fury was looking for a rhythm guitar player to play alongside Steve Carter (currently of local metal band ‘X’) he asked Kenny if he could try out. Kenny set up an audition. Tim had not been playing guitar too long at this point, and auditioning for a spot in a band with so much talent was very intimidating, and a long shot to say the least. After the audition and not feeling very confident, Tim thought to himself, “At least I got my shot.” But Kenny asked him back to the next rehearsal, and he became a band member. The kid gets his first big break in the music biz!
Tim stayed with Fury and variations of the group until Steve strayed, founding the band Damien. It wasn’t long until Steve asked Tim to become the rhythm guitar player for his new group. Richard Bellamy, the bassist for Damien, had to leave the band, and told Tim he could use his bass and bass rig to cover the position until they could find another player. “I was happy to do that,” Tim says, “and voila, here I am still a bass player today!”
Damien became a very popular local act and expanded their territory down into the Dallas area playing the Ritz frequently and even scoring a gig as the opening act for the 80’s rock band WASP at the Arcadia Theatre.
As time went on, Tim, Steve, and lead vocalist Tony Estrada moved to San Antonio to forge a version of Damien in a bigger city. As it so happened, they disbanded and Tim moved back to Wichita Falls. By February of ’86, a music connection he had made in San Antonio called him up and told him that there was a band out of Oklahoma City called Intimate Acts looking for a bass player. She knew Tim was looking for a gig and told him that if he could make it to Cardi’s (a national nightclub chain) in Houston he might be considered for the position. He found a ride, loaded his gear and went to Houston. They hired him on the spot.
“Intimate Acts was a cover-band playing coast to coast, and they had some great original material,” Tim says. “They worked with the happening booking agents at the time that were booking all the big club bands from around the country. Some of the venues would book us for four to six nights, or even weeks at a time, and the touring was constant. Toward the end of my tenure with them we were cross-booking with other agents on the east coast and were playing a lot in Florida. We met some people in Tampa and eventually based out of there until I left.”
In March of 1987 Intimate Acts was headed to El Paso for a week, the last of a long tour. They were looking forward to finishing up there and going home for a break before the next tour began. “I remember I was reading a book, On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony, and the next thing I remember is coming to about ten days later,” he says. The vehicle he was in had been rear-ended. Tim suffered a massive head injury and had complete loss of use in his right arm. His memory was in a shambles for a long time (and his girlfriend of many years Carol will argue that it still is) and through physical therapy and determination he regained the use of his arm and equilibrium.
The accident forced Intimate Acts off the road for a while, and during the downtime, Tim received a call from a group called Pal Joey out of Los Angeles who had heard he was not touring. He went out there and clubbed around LA with them for a few months. He says that those were the lean days, he didn’t eat very well, and combining that with other daily living discomforts was prepared to bail the scene and come back home. As he was preparing to leave he got a call from Pat Puffer, the lead singer of Intimate Acts. Pat was visiting his family in the Mojave Desert and heard that Tim was in LA. Pat went to visit Tim and told him that Intimate Acts was regrouping, and asked if he was interested in being a part of it. “It didn’t take long for me to make up my mind. I was ready to go back on the road — BIG TIME,” he said.
Things back out on the road were different now. “After the accident I had lost a lot of performance ability and confidence. Back in the day I had a strong stage presentation,” he says. “Putting on a great show was very important to the band and me. After the accident I had lost strength, coordination and memory I felt I had to relearn everything. Performing was a struggle. So, we worked extra hard to regain the powerful performance element we once presented. You know, practice makes perfect and we were on the road constantly, and within a year or so I was back to feeling really comfortable with what we were doing on stage.”
By 1991 Intimate Acts developed a new business plan. They were going to relocate to LA, get a band house, and day jobs. The plan was to get signed – no matter what. “I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of going back out to LA at this time, so I didn’t go.” So he came back home to Wichita Falls.
Shortly after his return he got a call from a friend with Thoroughbred Music. Tim had sent a promo-pack before leaving the road and was duly notified the legendary southern rock band Blackfoot was looking for a bass player. Tim’s Thoroughbred connection offered to forward the promo-pack along to the southern rockers. “I almost immediately received a call from none other than Rickey Medlocke himself (front man for Blackfoot and current guitarist/vocalist for Lynyrd Skynyrd) and we set up an audition. I hit it off immediately with Rickey, Benny Rappa, and Neal Casal, the Blackfoot drummer and guitarist at the time. They needed a bassist for the upcoming Medicine Man promo tour, and I got the job.”
Tim stayed with Blackfoot just shy of five years, and during that time toured to promote both the Medicine Man (1991) and After The Reign (1993) albums, touring the United States, Europe, and Canada.
By the time he was in his mid-30’s Tim started facing some of life’s harsh realities. He had suffered from a noticeable hearing disability all his life and it was only getting worse. Not making enough money to put back for savings, Tim began thinking about the future. He witnessed other professional musicians 10-15 years his senior with nothing to show. He had some big decisions to make. In September of 1995 Tim hung up his guns, so to speak. He drove an 18-wheeler for a few years, and eventually went back to school (MSU) achieving Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
He didn’t play music professionally again for about 15 years until he joined up with Jason Brown and Barry Sloan in the Jason Brown Band around 2012. Currently Tim works in a civil service position in the Education Office on Sheppard Air Force Base, and he has been a bartender at Maximus since 1999. And according to Tim, “I now live the full-blown ‘old fart’ lifestyle like I never could have dreamed of as a rocker.”
Tim is also contemplating getting back into playing some music again. With a drum set loaned to him from his old pal Kenny Ochoa, a bass rig, and some rehearsal space at Fre-Mar Valley, Tim is steadily getting his chops back.
I asked Tim if he had any advice for the young players out there with big dreams, and he does. “Play it loud and heavy, but protect your ears. Hearing disability is not all it’s cracked up to be. Seriously? Finish school first! I didn’t graduate high school and regret it to this day. So follow your heart but FINISH SCHOOL FIRST!”
Wise words from someone who has been there.