Interview with Marco Mendoza by Ty Campbell, Bass Frontiers Staff Contributor
Recently while in St. Louis, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Marco Mendoza. Marco has played with such great artists including Ted Nugent, Whitesnake, Edgar Winter, Bill Ward, Blue Murder with John Sykes, Delores O’Riordan, and countless others. Marco is currently at home with legendary rockers Thin Lizzy. Thin Lizzy is still putting on great shows, as I witnessed later in the evening. Marco also has 2 solos albums (Live for Tomorrow and Casa Mendoza, both available on iTunes and amazon.com) out that are definitely worth checking out and they will not disappoint. Enjoy!
(Ty) Marco, can you share with us your story? Starting with where you were born and raised to what brings you to where you are today.
(Marco) I was born in San Diego, grew up in a family that was bilingual, bi-cultural, so as soon as I came home, I came home to Mexico. So you know, I grew up in a home that we spoke Spanglish pretty much. My whole lifestyle was a mixture of both, which was very cool and interesting. My dad worked in the states as an aerodynamic engineer for General Dynamics. My father always had an instrument playing, his favorite was clarinet, Benny Goodman, the big band stuff, so I got exposed to that very early even before I started playing when I was about 5 or 6. I started appreciating music from that point of view. After that, my parents had a big divorce. My mom is a retired singer, into the Broadway plays, blues stuff like Billie Holiday, Mel Torme, and she had a little bit of a run in Mexico. She had a couple of 45’s in those days. So, needless to say, I grew up surrounded by music. Later on, as I got interested in playing an instrument, the hip thing to do was to play the bugle in the school band. It was a bugle with no valves, so I started to understand how much work it took, the discipline of learning an instrument and practicing. I must have been 8 or 9 years old, so the bugle was my first instrument. I think from then on, I was really digging it so much, the fact that I had to practice to get better and invest time, focus, and then go play with the band. I used to be in the parades and all that, so, it was pretty cool, pretty fun. After my parents had separated, my grandma had come from Mexico City, to raise us, my father’s mom. Along with her came a big old piano, because she’s a piano teacher, and then, another spectrum, another side of music. She was all classical. She had ten to fifteen students at any given time. So there it was, the big band from my dad, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman. The influence from my mom, the blues, the crooners, Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and the Broadway plays. Then my grandma, and it was classical. My sister, she was going to be the concert pianist. I saw what was involved, being a kid, I saw the time involved, the discipline in order to become a concert pianist. As a kid, I was surrounded by music.
I started picking my grandma’s brain, about the keys, having her explain to me “shortcuts”, chords and majors, thirds, fifths, sevenths, nines, thirteens, and all that. I could goof around on the piano but when it came down to sitting down and doing theory, it was too technical for me. My brother had a birthday and he had shown interest in guitar, so they got him an acoustic guitar. He played it for a little bit and 3 or 4 months later, it was just there gathering dust. I gotta say, when I picked up that guitar, that’s when the page, the book opened up if you will, because I really realized I could apply some of the stuff on the keyboard to that guitar. For me, that was easy. I didn’t have to be in the living room in front of everybody practicing. I could be by myself, pick and learn. I started working on the chords. It came with a Mel Bay book of chords, and everybody had those. I slowly started putting time in and I learned there are only really seven chords and variations thereof, and so then I could play songs, and it became fun. I was hooked. Any spare time I had I would spend on the songs that were out there, and that’s when rock-n-roll came around for me. I discovered the connection. Christmas came, my dad got us Abbey Road, Beatles, and an electric guitar. That was it, that was how my whole musical journey started and I jumped into it even though I wasn’t actually playing in a band. My brother showed an interest in playing drums, so my dad got him a drum set. I was the guitar player, and we had some neighbors that played bass and lead guitar, and we started goofing around. Fast forward to high school, by then, our garage band had already gained reputation and we were doing parties, high school dances, and all that. My brother left to live with my mom, and he was pretty much the cat that put everything together. He was older, so when he left, I kind of got left hanging without a band. It just so happened that another band from where I live, little bigger, little more popular, more gigs, they had a van, PA, a little more organized, and they needed a bass player. They came to me because I could sing and they needed someone that could sing and play bass. I lied, I said “of course”, and I had never played a bass, so, yet another challenge and another step to where the direction I am in today. I fell in love. My dad took me to a pawn shop, got me a no brand bass and that started the love affair. I really dug playing bass and singing, it was challenging. Bands that were a little more organized, had major tours going on, started recruiting me. I did a tour of Latin America with a big time progressive rock band, so I had to grow. That’s what it was for me, I got married so young, at 16, and never finished high school. Playing music became the only way for me to make a living. My father said if you wanna get married, cool, you’re on your own and you gotta earn. It was something that forced me into my journey of learning what I had to learn, skill wise, and showing up prepared to any given gig. I was kind of pushed into it, I don’t regret it, I dig it now. I then started getting recruited by even bigger and bigger bands, bigger names and along with that, being married with kids to support and so young, I couldn’t handle the stress and pressure, and there came the downfall. Alcohol, drugs, the whole thing. I have to say, that was pretty hard what I went through. I lost a lot of great opportunities along the way. It took twelve years of abusing myself with drugs and alcohol. I was just “there”. Somehow I managed to be functional when working, still building a little bit of a reputation, but towards the end, it got so bad that people were not calling me anymore because I was dropping the ball. I went through recovery and I met Bill Ward in recovery. Bill was working with Ozzy, Zack Wylde, and Jack Bruce on this new solo album of his. Amazing how things happen, that was my connection back into the business in a bigger way. Bill had known about my skills, who I was, and that I was trying to get my life in order. Bill said he would love for me to come and play on a track or two. Chameleon records, one track turned into two, three, four and I think I did five or six on that album, next to Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Zack, Ozzy. Next thing you know, he wants to go out on the road to support the album. Bill asked me if I was interested, and I absolutely was interested. We had the common denominator, no matter what happened, we were not going to drink or use. We shot a video with Ozzy and there was a big campaign behind the album. “Ward One” was the name of the album and before you know it, the label goes down, so there goes the tour, promotion, and the marketing. By then I had my own project. I played with Edgar Winter, and John Sykes came and recruited me for his second Blue Murder album. He needed a fretless bass player to replace Tony Franklin, and that was my main thing. Things just started flying from that point on, starting with Bill Ward. I think it had a lot to do with me being sober, paying attention to my career, showing up on time, practicing, and learning the tools of the trade a little more. It started coming together, mentally, socially, spiritually, and psychologically, and I was able to focus more and show up. Sometimes that’s all you need, to show up prepared. It’s become something I love doing. The homework, I really enjoy doing the homework. Looking at where I am going, whether it’s an album, jazz fusion, pop, whatever it is, I put it in front of me, and in the downtime, I shed. Make notes when I have to make notes, which I try not to anymore. It’s a challenge of mine to try and memorize stuff. From the Blue Murder thing, I met Thin Lizzy, and we did a tour in 94 and there’s the whole circle right there. From then on, I got recruited by Ted Nugent, David Coverdale with Whitesnake, and Delores O’Riordan from the Cranberries. With Whitesnake, we had a great time. Tommy Aldridge and I started ending up in the same projects, so we started hanging out. I love Tommy. I think he is one of a kind, one of those drummers that is always on my favorite drummer list. Tommy and I would go from Ted Nugent to Thin Lizzy, Thin Lizzy to Whitesnake, and back and forth and it was a beautiful time. That bring us up to the past 4 or 5 years.
I’ve being doing a lot of stuff, including two solo albums, Live for Tomorrow and Casa Mendoza. (both available on iTunes and amazon.com) . I did the last LynchMob album Smoking Mirrors, two albums with Delores O’Riordan from the Cranberries, and hanging out with Thin Lizzy. I feel that I am at home with Thin Lizzy. We have know each other since 94, we’ve been through a lot, and this current lineup is just mind blowing on how good it is. Ricky Warwick is fronting the band, and not only he is a great frontman, he was there for the phenomenon and success of Phil and Thin Lizzy when it was happening. It’s in his DNA, he has lived the whole thing, and now he is in it. He is a great entertainer, musician, songwriter, just a great guy. Brian Downey on Drums which is great. Darren Wharton on keyboards, Scott Gorham at the helm on lead guitar, and Damon Johnson from Alice Cooper. We went through Viv Campbell earlier this year, and he has his gig with Def Leppard that he had to go do. We had the opportunity to hang out with Richard Fortus who is now with Guns and Roses. We have a lot or work scheduled for next year after we finish this tour, I’ll be going Europe to do some solo dates, back home for Christmas, then back out in January with Thin Lizzy.
(Ty) Can you shed some light on your gear?
(Marco) We all have our preferences in gear as it comes along, and I gotta say, I am lucky. For amps, I ended up with Hartke and it is some of the best stuff out there, absolutely, bar none. Dave Ellefson, Billy Sheehan, Nathan Watts, JD and Victor Wooten, there is a reason why we are all there with Hartke, it’s just great stuff. For basses, it’s Yamaha. They are putting out some great stuff, building some great basses. For strings, I am with D’addario. Pedals, I use TC Electronics and EBS. With Thin Lizzy, I have to use the flange/chorus combination that Phil used a lot. I try not to keep to much in the loop, to get the preferred tone I need for me anyway. Gear wise, I am so lucky, privileged and blessed. I am really at a great time in my life and career. I have a great family, wife and 5 children. My son Marco is part of a band that got 3 Grammys a few years ago. He is in the band Jaguares. I love to sing and write, and after Thin Lizzy, that is my second priority right now. We are going to be doing some new music with Thin Lizzy, and we are currently working on new tracks as we speak. I have a new album in the works with Neal Schon and Dean Cassanova, probably coming out next spring and if we have time, we may do a tour to support it.
(Ty) Any Advice that you can share with the readers ?
(Marco) I tell everyone that wants to get serious about their career, to move to LA and give it a chance. It’s becoming increasingly harder and harder for anybody because their is very little industry. Local gigs are cool and all that, but if you really want to pursue the bigger things, I would do that in LA. That’s what happened to me. I finally got to the point in my career where I said I am going to go where the stuff is happening. It took a lot of work, patience, tolerance, focus and auditioning for anything and everything. Getting rejected, it’s part of what we do. Every time I got rejected, I got back and worked harder and harder. Sooner or later, if you have something to offer, you will float to the top and you will be noticed. I see a lot of talent everywhere, mind-blowing talent. Kids, 17,18, and 19, songwriters, singers, and guitar players that will never get a chance. That another thing about the shows, American Idol, X-Factor, and the Voice. People shoot these shows down, and there is the commercial thing going on, but think about all these people that would never otherwise get a chance. I support that 100 percent.
I would change a few things here and there, but the market is full of people that we would not get to see, and there are some amazing artists. Bass players, I would say they need to get to the foundation of where the bass playing is, which is a function in a group be it a 3 piece or 7 piece which we need to address. Before you go soloing and getting all the shredder stuff down, learn about the R&B, blues, the root of bass playing. Listen to the cats that got on the map in a big way, and start growing from there. You will get more calls to do that than the other stuff. It’s a fact. I’ve seen it and I went through that period where I wanted to be Mr. Man and I would lose gigs by overplaying and not applying myself. It takes maturity and understanding about what music is all about. You would be surprised at how many make that mistake and they don’t do the homework because they are on a different path.
(Ty) What are you currently listening too ?
(Marco) I’ve been listening to some of the work I have been doing in the past. I’m a big Kings of Leon fan so I’ve been listening to them. Listening to the mix we have been doing with Neal Schon. Right now I am in the middle of a period of a lot of work, so it’s all work related. I’m a classic rock cat, so I always go there. Always refreshing myself with Thin Lizzy stuff.
For tour dates, events, discography, etc, please go to marcomendoza.com
Marco’s two solo albums, Live for Tomorrow and Casa Mendoza are both available on iTunes and amazon.com.