Interview by Cameron Arndt, 18/01/17
(Photos provided by Marco Mendoza, except where noted)
Over the past 20 or so years, Marco Mendoza has been the go-to bass player for some of the most legendary rock bands and artists in history. He’s covered the low end in Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake, and joined up with Journey’s Neal Schon in Soul SirkUS. He’s also played for Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward, ex-Dokken guitarsit George Lynch among many others, he was a founder member of Lizzy offshoot Black Star Riders and currently appears as the talismatic bassman in bad-ass rock & roll collective, The Dead Daisies. He’s also no slouch when it comes to vocals, check out him sharing the spotlight with David Coverdale in Whitesnake’s incendiery live version of Deep Purple’s Burn:
After some difficult times in his mid-to-late twenties, he gave up alcohol and drugs. As of September 2016 it’s 29 years since he got sober; something which he notes not only saved his life, but also allowed him to rediscover his passion for music and kick start his career. His list of album credits and collaborations is frankly astonishing, yet somehow he’s also found time to have a successful solo career in which he stretches out into even more musical styles and tackles lead vocals with aplomb. He’s released two studio albums under his own name, Live For Tomorrow (2007) and Casa Mendoza (2010) and this month heads out on a UK and European tour with guitarist Fabio Cerrone and drummer Pino Liberti.
On the eve of the tour we were delighted to have the opportunity to catch up with Marco via Skype to find out more about his solo career and other projects. In conversation, as on stage, his energetic and engaging personality shines through. He has a gracious, eager to please style and goes to great lengths to express his gratitude at the career he has, and the fans who make it possible. The time absolutely flies by as he covers a variety of subjects with grace and wit.
First up, with such a lengthy career as a member of various bands, we wanted to know how he found touring and operating as a solo artist…
How do you approach touring solo? What are the differences between that and all the bands you’ve been in? What does it change for you?
Well, first the obvious things go into play, like the fact that it’s your name. I try to use the opportunity when I do my solo thing to introduce people to some of my writing, some of my songs, and try to make the vocals the main focus. So that people see that I like to sing. The singing, and the writing is the main priority to kinda let people know what I do.
For me there’s a lot of satisfaction that goes along with taking that responsibility on. It’s very challenging, but at the same time very rewarding. I have a blast! We have fun, and I always try to surround myself with the best musicians I can. I did a little run in the UK and Europe in January of 2016, and in May, and I walked away feeling like… it was really satisfying, you know, and very challenging.
The approach is like I say, I try to focus on the vocal, and the songwriting. There’s no way around it: I have to play some of the Thin Lizzy stuff, and stuff that I’ve done with Ted Nugent and all that and that’s all part of my history, part of my journey. So I have to share that with the audiences. But that’s cool. 85% is original music and so that’s what it is.
You’ve done two solo albums so far?
Yeah. Well, actually I’ve done three, there’s another one floating around that’s a different genre, Live In LA. It’s more like a Latin Fusion/Jazz thing.
Can you tell us a bit more about the three albums?
Live For Tomorrow, that was on Frontiers, has Richie Kotzen producing, playing, singing, co-writing. Steve Lukather’s on that album, Doug Aldrich… who else… Ted Nugent is playing on that too, a great friend of mine. Plus on drums I have Brian Tichy and Tommy Aldrige and my son’s playing bass on some tracks. It’s a fun project. My daughter is on the cover of it actually, that’s my daughter when she was 5 or 6 years old.
What was it like working with Richie Kotzen?
Well, what can I tell you about Richie? He’s a very talented cat, we had a lot of fun doing it. We had, if I remember, we did everything in like, 15 or 16 days. It was very quick… it was a moment in time. Richie and I had talked about working with each other for the longest time and so as things would have it, life is what it is and situations present themselves and we hooked up. We had a blast and we kept saying ‘let’s do this again’ but he’s been extremely busy, and so have I so I don’t know if it’s gonna happen anytime soon but I will try!
Yeah, I don’t know how either of you find time to fit anything extra in actually!
Well, he’s amazing. He’s an amazing singer, and songwriter, producer. He’s amazing in the studio. Great engineer, I mean he’s shooting from every angle. He’s a talented cat and… we had a blast.
How about your other solo records then?
The other album is Casa Mendoza which is a little eclectic, it’s a little bit all over the place but I did that for Mascot and that’s what they wanted. It’s another fun record where I get out the box and just get off on whatever I can. All fretless bass and a lot of singing there, and some influence of Afro-Cuban, funk, fusion, rock n roll, rhythm and blues, gospel-ish music. Ha! That one is fun so, I might be doing a track or two from that album on the tour.
Then the other one, as I mentioned, is Live In LA which is Afro-Cuban, funk, rock n roll, rhythm and blues; with Joey Heredia on drums and Renato Neto on keyboard, and these cats are at the top of their game, you know. They’ve played with everybody. Joey’s played with Frank Gambale, Scott Henderson, he’s played with Stevie Wonder, Shiela E… who else… Steve Lukather from Toto. The list goes on and on. Renato as well, he’s worked with Rod Stewart, Joe Bonamassa, Prince so… that’s another fun project.
Doing the solo stuff, you sort of touched on this, is it a good opportunity for you because you want to play different styles of music? Or do you have particular things you want to say in the lyrics? Where do you come from in writing the stuff?
Well yeah, you know. When you write songs it’s an extension of who you are, as a person, as a human being, as a musician. You’re kinda painting your own picture you know. Well no, that sounded pretentious – I mean that – it’s part of being an artist, a true artist. Especially in music, in my opinion, you have to keep growing, it’s a good thing to keep challenging yourself. When you get to the point where you start relaxing, you get comfortable… I’ve done that before in my career, to no avail. My theory about life, and in general, is that you should never stay in the same place. You either grow, or you stop growing and you digress, you know?
How do you find the time to plan in a solo tour?
It’s just, whenever I have a little bit of time, like right now… We’ve been working really hard with The Dead Daises. We had a new album out last year, in August, and we literally travelled all over the world. So now we’re going to take a break until May. Then we got the festival season starting, and we’ll jump on those festivals. So, when that was talked about I was looking at four months of no activity with The Dead Daises I put some feelers out and the promoters & the agents started working and before you know it I have… I dunno, I mean there’s a ton of dates man, I’m looking at it and going ‘wow!’
But I’ll tell you, and I’m not just saying this, I have a great relationship with the UK, and with the fans. I’ve been coming there since ’92, ’93 so you know, you build a connection with the fans. You guys are very special folks. A lot of good things come from the UK in the music business so to be appreciated, and to be invited to part of the scene there, is very rewarding for me. So yeah, I’m really really looking forward to it and, like I say, I always try to focus on making every performance special, different from every other one. Every show has got something going on in it that didn’t happen before, and will never happen again so, I try to seize the moment, try to shed some light and be positive and uplifting about life – through my songs, and my energy and opinions, my points of view – and I have a blast doing it, man!
Yeah, we saw you playing with The Dead Daisies in Belfast last year, and you just seem to absolutely love playing every gig…
I do, for 90 minutes or 100 minutes, however long the set is, I turn into a 20 year old cat, I still have that lust for it, I really thrive on it, you know, I dig it. It’s very special to perform in front of an audience, however big or small the audience is, it’s very special. When I do my solo show it’s even more intimate, we’re doing smaller clubs, and I turn into a 20 year old kid, jumping around, all energised and I have a blast, you know. You could say that I’m addicted to it!
You’ve played with some amazing musicians over the years, Doug Aldrich, Scott Gorham, Richie Kotzen… Just now you’ve got Fabio Cerrone and Pino Liberti on the tour with you. How did you hook up with those guys, and how do they compare to some of the other people you’ve played with?
Well, like I say, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve played with the cream of the crop. Living in LA you come across nothing but the best players available, drummers, guitar players, keyboards, singers. I got introduced to Pino Liberti. This agent called me and wanted me to do some dates in Italy, a short little run with Mike Terrana and Kee Marcello and so, what he would do is put together three or four names, put together dates and everyone goes out there and does their little bit.
So, I met Pino when I went to see him play on a night off and he was just great. I loved his energy, I loved his chops, he’s such a sweetheart, he’s a good human being, he’s a family guy. We have a lot of things in common, he’s very focused, his business is together. As a bass player it’s important to have a strong drummer and he’s got it all. He’s got the chops, he’s got the attitude, you know? He’s very hungry – we’re not young guys here, but he’s very hungry. He’s always learning and he’s a teacher, he’s one of the top players in Italy, he does a lot of session work, TV work, movie work and he’s a good guy, he’s a good musician and he loves to play. So I love to play with him.
Then Fabio, I met him through Pino, another guy that’s got some chops and what can I say, he’s at the top of his game as well, as a guitar player. He brings a lot to the table and so we all put in our bits and pieces and we munch on, you know, on stage. We have a good meal! I have a blast with these guys. I’ve done two runs with them before and I appreciate the fact that they kinda know who I am and what my motivations are on stage and what I’m trying to accomplish. They respect my point of view, they respect what my vision is, what I’m trying to create and that’s very important. Contrary to that, I’ve played with other cats where they’re so into what they want to do it’s hard to get them to consider other options. But these guys are great players, I guarantee everyone will be surprised. If you haven’t heard Pino and/or Fabio, you’re gonna love them. And they’re sweethearts, they’re amenable, they’re good people, they hang out.
You know, going out and spending 6/7/8 weeks with guys you kinda need to like each other! It’s so important, I kinda emphasize that cos, having been in the business for so long, when you go out there and you don’t dig each other, even though the music might be strong… if you think about it, you spend, out of the whole day, at most 90 minutes or 100 minutes on stage. The rest you’re having dinner, checking into hotels, travelling together, flying, in airports, so it’s nice to be with people you dig. So yeah, it’s a good relationship in every sense of the word. The other thing, they’re very creative. Every time I go out with them there’s songs that keep popping up and so the writing process begins, which is very cool. It’s all good man, I’m really excited! I hope you can make it?
Yeah, we’ll definitely be at the Glasgow show.
Great! Please invite all your folks, all your readers at Rock And Roll Traffic, to come along also! Go to marcomendoza.com, all the dates are there. The other thing that I try to emphasize is that I really try to do a Meet & Greet right after gig, to show my appreciation. If you’re interested in buying a CD or a T-shirt that’s fine, but the main objective is just to say hello, and touch base, show appreciation for the support. It’s been suggested for me to charge for that but I can’t justify it, you know? We do the same thing with the Daisies, the support from the fans means so much and if you can’t afford a Meet & Greet, that’s fine. You’re showing up to the show and I’ll bend over backwards to say hello. Always.
Yeah, I think the fans really appreciate that as well, I could see at the Daisies show that they feel like they can come up and talk to you.
Yeah. I mean, not to put it down, I’ve been part of projects where we’ll do the VIP, and we’ll do an acoustic set and hang out, sound check and all. That’s cool to but, you know, buying a ticket – however expensive or cheap it is – to come hear you and see you, for me that means so much and I’ll do everything possible to meet everyone. Unless, logistically, I have to get out and be on a plane or something which happens from time to time, then you can’t do it.
So what area are you in in the UK?
We’re based in Glasgow.
Oh Glasgow, great man! I love Glasgow, I’ve played there many times, over many years. I think I first started playing there in 1935!
Ha, before my time.
Yeah, I was about 12 then or something!
I saw you playing here with Thin Lizzy a few years back.
I remember… The Waterfront, is that the venue?
No, I think that’s Belfast – my fault for mentioning it earlier! – it was maybe the Academy?
Oh yeah, Glasgow, I’m sorry. Right, the SECC, what’s the venue there, the smaller one? Looks like an Armadillo?
Yeah, the Clyde Auditorium, it gets called The Armadillo because it looks kinda like one.
Yeah, the Armadillo. Exactly! I love Glasgow man, it’s slammin! Got confused there for a second, I’m sorry. You’re both in the north, and both very cold!
Yep, that’s exactly right! All the time! I think you’re playing the Hard Rock Cafe in Glasgow this time?
Yeah! We played there in May last year and I was so blown away! I’ve been invited to a few Hard Rock Cafes – it’s a good relationship, but I’ve played them with other projects. We’ve done acoustic sets and this and that. So I was like, yeah, let’s go check it out and it was such a great time. Great venue and it was packed. Glasgow’s just a great place, I’ve got some good fans there and, I will say this, the UK, generally speaking – and in Ireland – the fans, once they become your fans, they follow you and they dig you and they support you. It’s very cool.
Yeah. I think that’s definitely because of the sort of attitude you have to it as well. People can see you enjoy it, so they want to come back again and again.
Yeah! So I’m hoping that this is part of a long-lasting relationship there. I will always try to do my best to give you the best show possible and have a good time, and share some experience, some strength and hope and points of view and, I always like to challenge myself to walk away from every gig having created a bit of uplifting energy and shed some light in what seems to be some very dark times that we’re going through so that, to me, is my challenge. Every night.
I know you have to get on, so one quick final question: Can we expect a new solo record at some point?
Yeah, you know, I’ve been approached and, like I say, right now it’s the first time in maybe three or four years where there’s time. March/April looks like the target period where I’m gonna try and put something together. There’s a few other things cooking, there’s a project cooking here with two of my dearest friends – big names in the business – a drummer and a guitar player and we’re looking at possibly doing that. If that, for some reason, doesn’t come together the other option would be for me to do another solo album. I have two or three labels very interested so we’re in dialogue, we’re talking and it’s all about time, availability. It’s a commitment when you’re gonna do that so to be able to fulfill that commitment is very important.
But, as long as cats like you, and the fans that show up in the UK and Europe – you know, I’m going to Spain, the Czech Republic, all over the place. Denmark, Germany. As long as there’s support and interest of course, I’ll always put some stuff out… and of course, The Dead Daisies, Make Some Noise, came out last August and it’s got some amazing reviews. We got voted the best album of the year by a few cats so it’s nice to get a pat on the back for things that you do because it encourages you to continue as opposed to getting beat up, discouraged. Haha!
But there’s a new thing that’s happening with The Dead Daisies as well, there’s a Live And Louder live album coming out in April so look out for that too!
Lot’s going on and, as I say, stay tuned to marcomendoza.com for updates and more info, I’ll always be doing something or other and I’m so grateful to be part of this industry and, to be honest, to have this long journey. I keep it at 30-something years but it’s been maybe 85 years I’ve been playing! I try to have a sense of humour about it, but it’s been great. I always like to mention to remind myself, I like to live with the ‘attitude of gratitude’ and when I live there, everything is fine, you know? When I forget about being grateful for things in life, and the journey, and the music business I start getting in trouble! So I try to live there, and I encourage anybody and everybody to think like that.
Marco Mendoza UK Tour Dates (check marcomendoza.com for full European Tour Dates):