Words by Jonathan Hooper
Photography by Dawn Skinner and provided by Charles Mooney
It is not unusual for the children of bankers and financiers to become artists and musicians: painter Paul Cezanne was the son of a French banker; Winston Marshall of Mumford and Sons is the son of the co-founder of one of Europe’s largest hedge funds; Yoko Ono is the daughter and granddaughter of two of Japan’s most successful bankers.
But it is altogether a different matter when a trendsetting Rock and Roll musician turns to banking and finance for the next step in the pursuit of embracing life as it gets thrown at him.
Rock and Roll is here to stay, but musicians come and go…
If you were born after the peak of the Big Band Era, the soundtrack of your life has been guided by those who influenced Rock and Roll, from Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan to Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. If you were fortunate enough to be born after the downfall of Disco, you may know that Possum Kingdom is more than a great place to spend the hot days of summer.
“One day in 1987 you are a student at TCU, studying Finance while working part-time at a record store, and the next thing you know, you are asked by a co-worker to become the lead guitarist for a punk-grunge band. But you don’t know how to play guitar or read music. And it’s okay, because the bass player doesn’t know anything about music, either. But at least she had money and could buy a bass and amp.”
This is how the seminal Fort Worth band Toadies got started, as explained by Charles Mooney III, former lead guitarist of Toadies. Six years later, shortly before Toadies became a national powerhouse with “Possum Kingdom,” Mooney left the band to pursue a career in banking, currently as the Operations Supervisor at Chase Bank in Granbury.
The earliest lineup of Toadies had come in 2nd place at a Battle of the Bands at TCU, which gave them enough money to record a cassette to shop around on radio and at clubs, leading to their first EP, “Pleather.” Mooney helped to co-write most of the songs with singer and co-founder Vaden Todd Lewis.
They honed their skills by playing gigs in living rooms before making it into the local Fort Worth clubs on Wednesday nights “with ten people in the audience, if we were lucky.” They continued on to headline clubs across DFW, and gained a national following after winning Battle of the Bands competitions from Los Angeles to Daytona Beach and “Best Unsigned Band” awards. Finally, Toadies hit the big time. It had taken about two years for their single, “Possum Kingdom,” to become a hit.
But after a few years of life on the road, dragging equipment around the country and playing music with his best friends, Mooney was fast approaching a major crossroads in his life.
“I was finishing my Finance degree at TCU and getting married, and so I bowed out. I quit the band. There was frustration, lots of sadness, and more animosity than any of us wanted. But life was out there beyond the band, so I did what I did. It was time.”
There are very few regrets for Mooney.
“The mind plays a lot of tricks about our history. We remember the good stuff, but I also remember there were some challenges along the way, too. But it was worth it. I had a great time.”
Even creating the band name and image was a good memory. Wanting a name that did not give away the style of the band, and not wanting anyone to make an assumption based on their name, they were influenced by the Pixies out of Boston. Sitting in a McDonald’s on Beach Street in Fort Worth late one night, they just came up with Toadies.
“That doesn’t make a good story, so we came up with another one about getting kicked out of line at a Star Trek Convention and William Shatner yelled, ‘Get rid of them, they’re just little toadies.’ That never happened, but it was a much better story. Good times.”
The first Toadies show, held at the Axis club Fort Worth, in April of 1988. Vaden Todd Lewis singing, Charles Mooney on acoustic, and Lisa Umbarger on bass.
On becoming a “responsible citizen”
Mooney has been in banking for more than twenty years. He calls himself “a happy homebody who just wants to be with my family,” and lives rather quietly in Benbrook, just outside Fort Worth. He credits life with Toadies with helping him grow up and become more aware of how things work. As a younger man, he was a bit socially withdrawn, but performing on stage night after night brought him out of his shell. “It forced me to get out there and learn a lot about a lot.”
The pitfalls of the music business have been chronicled for decades. Life on the road takes its toll, and there are predators around every corner waiting to exploit and crush the unsuspecting artist.
“Music has a lot of dirty stuff behind closed doors. Everything you hear is true, only worse. And that statement coming from someone in the banking industry! But I enjoy the banking business these days, and don’t plan to change.”
Emotions were laid bare over his difficult decision to quit the Toadies, and he decided to mostly leave the music scene altogether. These days, he remains good friends with not only the other founding members of the band, but with the current Toadies as well, occasionally getting on stage with the band for a reunion gig, as long as it is local. “I went inside their current tour bus. It is very nice, but no thanks! I would rather sleep in my own bed,” he says, laughing.
Mooney never joined another band. He still plays guitar, doing a bit of studio work adding guitar tracks to recordings with established bands, and mentoring younger bands as they start out. He also plays guitar in his church band at High Ridge Church in Benbrook. The church knows about his past with Toadies, of course, and they embrace it for what it is. Meanwhile, Charles is still learning about music.
“I learned to play guitar in a punk-grunge band. I didn’t even know the chords. I couldn’t really play lead guitar, which was my job, so I made stuff up. I could get feedback, and liked tremolo effects, and that created the sound for Toadies. People still try to figure out some of the chords from those songs—I don’t even know what they were! Obviously, playing in church is very different. I had to learn a new style, a new way of thinking about the music. But sometimes, the church turns me loose, and it’s fun to recreate that Toadies sound.”
He is generous with his advice to young bands, stressing the importance of dedicating themselves to the work, finding their emotion in the music, and playing as much as they can with others. If they are lucky, they might one day get a gig on Wednesday night opening for another unknown band, and lose money. “Friday night headlining gigs are years away, so be ready—this is not an easy career. If they aren’t grounded, it is even harder.”
For Mooney, being grounded has made all the difference. “It is amazing what comes out when your emotions are low, or very high. Not all of it is good, and not all of it is happy. But some of it is great. I embrace all of it. I embrace life! Everything I have gone through, and anything I have to go through yet to come, I will embrace.”
And you can take that to the bank.