Back in the early 80’s I first interviewed a young singer-songwriter from Maine who had a dream — a clear vision — of what he wanted to do with his life. He released some songs that were well received by radio (he even had a night-time DJ gig at WTOS, at one point) and then he moved out of town pursuing that dream of his all the way to Nashville and I never heard from him again. Fast forward to a couple of months ago when I interviewed Floyd White — soon after that ran in the Morning Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal, I got an email congratulating me on the story I had written, and the author of that brief message was Tony Mantor. Needless to say, I replied moments after it arrived and requested the opportunity to reconnect, figuring folks in Central Maine would like to know what had happened to him … I began by asking him if he could remember the last time we had chatted, seeing I was unable to figure it out for myself.
Mantor: I’d say it would have to be close to 30 years ago. I was actually thinking about that when you reached out to me about doing this and I know my last record I released was in late ’91 into ’92, and then in ’93 was when I moved … so I’m guessing we’re close to 30 years.

Q: Now, that move you spoke about was to Nashville, correct?
Mantor: Right, and a lot of people think that I got off the road just to get off the road, but what formed my opinion of moving to Nashville was not giving up the chase, the dream of being a musician and singer and being on the radio. I was working with some high-level guys that had been in major bands and had major hits and were all over the country performing and everything. We were in the studio together — working on a project — when a session player came up to one of them and said, “Man, I saw your son yesterday,” and his response was, “Oh, I didn’t realize he was in town — I’ll have to give him a call!” He hadn’t even known his 20-something son was in Nashville and had had very little relationship with his kids whatsoever because he was on the road all the time. I watched that and I said to myself, “Oh, no, that is not going to be me!”

Q: That was a defining moment for you, I would imagine.
Mantor: Well, I gave it some really deep thought and I decided that I was going to know my kids … and I can count on one hand how many soccer and baseball games that I’ve missed with my kids. Now I’ve got grandkids and I can pretty much say the same thing about them.

Q: And you made the move from touring and performing to doing what?
Mantor: I left the limelight on stage to the background of the music … it’s kind of interesting how we change as we get older.

Q: What did you envision the “background” work to be?
Mantor: Well, at the beginning I thought I was going to get behind the scenes and do some songwriting like the two friends I was working with at that time.

Q: And how did that work out?
Mantor: I ended up assembling a group of people — my own little entourage — in 1993 or ’94 and from there it just started growing; I never anticipated it going quite the way it did, but we never do. And I ended up with my own production company which was Plateau Music and that actually developed into a full-blown independent record label where I was releasing records to radio, producing projects, and developing singers.

Q: Who were some of the people you’ve worked with there?
Mantor: I worked with Mila Mason, I worked with Jackie Wilson’s son Bobby, Glen Campbell’s daughter Debbie, and now I’m working with “Happy Days” Donnie Most. I’ve been fortunate to work with R&B singers, pop singers, adult contemporary singers, jazz singers and — of course — country singers, because I’m here in Nashville … and what’s really amazing is when you get involved with a new singer you get all their fans that start following what you’re doing.

Q: For example?
Mantor: Well, when I started working with Jackie’s son, Bobby, all of Motown reached out to me, I mean, I’ve got connections now and talked with Motown stars that I grew up listening to … and I’m going, “Wow, what a life!” So it’s been quite a path.

Q: You’re right on that, for sure. Now I just want to confirm some of my recollections from our initial conversations. You are originally from the Waterville area?
Mantor: I was actually from Madison — born and raised there and went to all the schools and graduated from Madison High School. From there I went to Berklee for a short period of time just to learn a few things that I wanted to do. Then for several years, I worked a day job in the Madison/Waterville area, and did my performances; we released some records that did fairly well nationally — and just kept trying to live the dream, as they say.

Q: Speaking of your former hometown area is there anything, Tony, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Mantor: Well, for those that remember me for what I did back then, I say, “If you’re thinking about doing things, no matter what it is, don’t be afraid to get out there and do it — no matter what people say … you’ve got to take a chance!” I took a chance 27 years ago when I moved to Nashville, a lot of people said I wouldn’t last six months and a lot of people said I’d be back, but here it is 27 years later and I’ve put together something that’s been pretty darn special … so it can happen!

Afterword: Here are a couple of things I learned after I had interviewed Mantor: He worked with Tom Cole and produced a project for his brother Eugene Cole to help his family back in 2018, and more recently he sent me another email stating that he’d just received a notification that his song, “Why Not Me” (his first record in decades), made the ballot for Country Song of the Year for the Grammy Awards this year — he’s had artists he’s produced on the ballots before and has been on the Producer of the Year ballot four times in the past, but this is his very first ballot as a solo performer. Congratulations, Tony!

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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