MUSICAL DIRECTOR AND VERSATILE BASS PLAYER BLENDS MANY STYLES, ACCOMMODATING GREATS LIKE DAVID BOWIE AND JOE BONAMASSA.
“Music was not categorized as much as it is these days.”
Interview By: Cristofer Garcia
Can you talk about your musical influences and how they came about (how did growing up in New York and coming from a Puerto Rican family influence your music style)?
My musical influences came from growing up in a mixed neighborhood (Irish, Italian, Black & Puerto Rican) in Brooklyn in the 1960s. The AM radio station would play music from Memphis (Stax) Detroit (Motown), England (British bands), California (hippy bands), Salsa or boogaloo from Puerto Rico & Afro Latin from Cuba. I got to appreciate Jazz music as I got older. Listening to the radio, the music was a lot more varied back then. I would be hearing Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Celia Cruz, Black Sabbath in addition to some instrumental music and it was all from the same station. Music was not categorized as much as it is these days. To me, it was just music wrapped into one big ball swirling around in my head.
How do you take those elements and then apply them to bass when recording with different artists and different styles of music like Bowie, Bonamassa, and Rod Stewart?
With Bowie, Bonamassa, Tina Turner or Rod Stewart, I would always apply what I grew up listening to something will always fit musically and a lot depends on the songwriting and who the producers are.
Can you tell me how you came about working with David Bowie and what it was like?
In January 1983, I was handpicked by Nile Rogers who was the producer on the “Let’s Dance” album. David wanted urban players, musicians who would know how to blend R&B and rock music together.
Just to name a few songs from some of those sessions – Let’s Dance, Modern Love, China Girl, Blue Jean, D ay In Day Out and Loving the Alien.
How do you compare being a bass player and being a musical director and which do you enjoy more?
I enjoy doing both. They are like puzzles, as a musical director you have to fit the right people together in the puzzle to make it work. With one piece out of place, it could throw the whole puzzle off. And a long-time love for me is writing and arranging songs. As musical director, arranging is a big part of that. As a musician, you have to be the puzzle piece and weave yourself into the puzzle of the other musicians to make something as interesting and magical as you can. In that scenario, the lead artist is very important. You can have the best intentions in the world, but if the artist is not on the same page, it’s extremely challenging.
A big part of the work you’ve done is Joe Bonamassa. Is that the kind of music you are most interested in?
I was with Joe Bonamassa for 8 years, but my time with Rod Stewart was the longest, spanning from 1988 until 2003. Blues rock is just a small part of what I’m interested in. But my all-time favorite type of music is World music, which to me is a mixture of everything I grew up listening to as a young boy. These days I involve myself with funk bands, flamenco rock, R&B, blues rock, English Progressive rock. I really like switching it up. That’s what keeps you growing and expanding your mind.
Why did you choose bass- what kind of role do you see bass playing in music and is it more of a foundation or do you try to keep it more unique and present in the songs?
I chose bass because when I was young, my brother and I wanted to play music and I originally wanted to play the drums but my younger brother was a better drummer, so I switched to the bass. I love the idea of the drums and bass anchoring the music. Try to listen to a piece of music without the bass and drums and you’ll be floating in mid air. Without the anchor, the boat drifts away.