INTERVIEW WITH... MARCO MENDOZA
PHOTO CREDITS: 131 IMAGES
Things are not going quite to plan for MARCO MENDOZA on the last day of the UK segment of his ‘Viva La Rock’ tour. For reasons not divulged, his sound check has been delayed, although he briefly mentions something about a breakdown in communication with the venue and the equipment they have, he doesn’t seem unduly fazed.
“Whatever can go wrong in the music business, it will,” he shrugs, “you have to accept it and tolerate it and roll with it.” And while he admits he can get “beat up and cranky” he tries not to take it out on the people around him.
It’s hardly surprising that he gets a bit tired sometimes, his schedule is pretty packed to say the least. After tonight’s gig he has an early morning flight to Gothenburg, before heading down to Romania, then flying back to his native LA briefly, before flying out to Japan. All in under a week.
“Wait,” he says, noting my astonishment, “it gets more...” he continues with a chuckle.
“After Japan I fly back to LA to play the famous Baked Potato with my Jazz trio - it’s like Ronnie Scott’s in London, in LA - and then I go to Russia for three shows there.”
Pretty hectic stuff.
“Hectic, yeah,” he concedes, “sometimes when I’m exhausted I get tired and punchy and no one deserves to see that, when I’m tired I’m like my Grandma y’know? Bitchy and cranky, but that’s the worst of it, when I’m on stage, even like just now doing a little sound check, it’s beautiful.”
And if anyone knows how to deal with being busy in this game, it’s MARCO MENDOZA. In his 30 odd years of experience he has been in pretty much constant demand, playing with a long line of legends including Bill Ward, Ted Nugent, Whitesnake and more recently forming The Dead Daisies. But it could have all been very different.
“I’ll tell you honestly, when I got sober in ‘87 I had a new found energy and focus. Because I’d lost the gift of music, I hadn’t been playing for a couple of years because I was so strung out on heroin and cocaine and alcohol and pills and everything.
“I wasn’t ready, I was too young, always on something, going through two divorces...I wasn’t able to roll with the punches. And in LA you get a lot of punches, because all the cats were there, back then it was the Mecca of the industry.”
But far from becoming another rock and roll casualty, he turned his life around and in quite spectacular fashion.
“I got sober, got my inner strength together and realised I love music, man. I’d play any gig, anywhere, show up on time, practice. And I guess I started getting noticed.”
‘Started getting noticed’ is a characteristically humble way of saying that he was getting hired by some of the biggest names in rock, but the longer you talk to Marco the more apparent it becomes that the size of the band or the size of the gig isn’t what drives him. It’s always the music that comes first, and he will give his all regardless of who he’s playing with or where he’s playing.
“Being professional, that’s the word. Taking pride in what you do. Because those that don’t soon fall by the wayside.”
He talks of playing music as being “a privilege,” and - as with everything he says - it is meant sincerely. Although relaxed and friendly throughout the interview he also has an endearing intensity about him, and he is clearly a driven, passionate person when it comes to music.
“I’m motivated by the fact that I travel the world, I play all these different cities, different languages and people sing my songs. To me that’s the ultimate compliment.”
And while he made his name playing the classics with the greats his current focus definitely appears to be making new music, interspersing his solo work with the Dead Daisies.
“I’ve been really busy with the Daisies; five years,” he says as if he can scarcely believe it himself, “back in ‘13 I started. We did our first tour with Aerosmith. Then Skynyrd, then Bad Company.”
As ever he can reel off a list that would make most musicians weep. But it’s when he talks about the Daisies’ own headlining shows that his eyes light up.
“We were surprised at the response we got, it’s a great band, man. A great, great band with a bunch of cats I love and respect. I miss them, we finished up in December and it’s May now, no wonder I’m missing those guys!”
That said he seems to be revelling in his front man status. Likening it to an actor going from an ensemble piece to being the main character in a show. And while he describes it as “beautiful” he also admits he is putting himself “under some pressure. You’re very vulnerable, you’re exposing yourself up there and if they don’t like it they could easily walk away. But the reality is it’s been the complete opposite.”
As a man who clearly feeds off of the audience’s response you can see he is very proud of the response he’s been getting.
“Honestly I haven’t always been able to focus on my solo career, I’ve been too busy with the Whitesnakes, the Thin Lizzys, Soul SirkUS, The Dead Daisies, I could drop names forever! But that’s not the point, the point is I did a little run when my last album came out and I was like: Oh! People are really digging it.”
And it appears the crowds on this tour have been digging it too...
“Very appreciative. We’ve sold out quite a few shows. Spain was stupid, like really good, I hadn't played there before. France. I'd played there with the big bands, the arenas, festivals. But I gotta tell you man I'm really, really enjoying it." Incidentally for brevity’s sake I cut out about four more uses of the word ‘really’ from that quote. Trust me he is really enjoying it.
Although the venues for his own shows might be more intimate than he's used to it's not something he worries about.
"I've learnt to enjoy both, I think psychologically you're under the gun a little more in the smaller venues, because it's direct. Instant. And so far every show we've done, 44, 45, it's been good."
And while creating new music and playing it live is his obvious passion, he's more than happy to reminisce about some of the great stars his worked with. Like for example how David Coverdale called him up to ask him to join Whitesnake.
"The story goes like this, I'd gone to LA in '87, I was sober, I had my heart in the right place, my spirit in the right place. I was psychologically ready. I mean I had a bad reputation 'don't call that guy he's loaded...' So I started earning it again - the respect. And within two years, three years my name got around...so David Lee Roth called me to be part of his band. John Sykes obviously, Blue Murder we ended up doing five or six albums. And so on and so forth and because of John, David [Coverdale] took notice. Because of course they'd been partners."
He tells this so casually as if rock stars calling him up is the most normal thing in the world, and perhaps it is now, but it wasn't always the case:
"So yeah, David called me directly and I almost hung up on him! But his voice man, and his charisma and everything [he puts on a somewhat dubious British accent] 'hello darling', this is David Coverdale."
Another of his former bosses was Ted Nugent, who one imagines is a very different personality to David Coverdale, but Marco doesn't see it that way.
"No, they're very intense both of them. Very intense, very focused...Ted is a little more - er - outspoken, to say the least." And while that might be the least surprising description of Ted Nugent ever, the fact that he also describes him as "a sweetheart" shows just how much affection he retains for all the people he's worked with. But MARCO MENDOZA is so much more than just a bassist to the stars, as his latest album 'Viva La Rock' proves. It is clearly a source of much pride for him.
"I get a kick out of going into the studio writing what comes from within you. On this particular album I was very lucky I had Soren Anderson producing. He's one of my favourite musicians, he and I get along really well and we had fun with the music, so that reflected in the studio, boom boom boom boom, twelve days we're done."
Incredibly, despite his busy schedule he reveals they're going back into the studio in December to record another album. It's hard to work out how he gets the time, but as he puts it "we make time." And you get the feeling that when it comes to music, MARCO MENDOZA has always got time for more. And though he points out he always ensures he has time for his wife and kids, who directly after our interview concludes he goes back to his hotel to call, you get the feeling that it is impossible to separate the man from the music. It embodies him as much as he embodies it. Whether it's playing with the greats, or storming the rock world with the Dead Daisies, or playing his solo stuff to adoring crowds across Europe or even his jazz fusion trio back in LA, the passion for music that MARCO MENDOZA re-found after getting sober still very much burns brightly within him. Viva la rock indeed.
Viva la Rock is out now. Go buy it here:
And also follow Marco here: