Interview by Mark Lacey
Across the last thirty years, there can be few more recognisable bass players in the rock music industry than Marco Mendoza. His tenures with Blue Murder, Whitesnake, Ted Nugent, the Dead Daisies, and more recently Neal Schon and Journey, have seen him grace some of the biggest stages across the world. During that time his solo career has taken something of a back seat, but with two of his most recent albums, ‘Viva La Rock’ and ‘New Direction’ gaining increasingly positive reviews, and fans clamouring to see the songs performed live, the momentum is building for Marco to express himself further in his own right.
“As you get older, you start realising, maybe I have something to say. Maybe I have a way of singing that I like to sing. After the Daisies, I realised that I wanted to have a little more control, to be honest. I was amazed, and surprised at the response”.
Marco: 2019 was the first year that I dedicated a lot of time and energy to my solo thing. My priorities were the Dead Daisies until 2018, and then things changed, so I had time available. The reception was over the top. Not what I expected. I’m still trying to get my music heard, but I was really surprised; people dig what I’m doing, and I have a great time doing it, so why not pursue it more? And that’s what happened.
MGM: You’re one of the most recognisable bass players of the last 30 years. You’ve played with everybody from Dead Daisies, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, Whitesnake and many others. But your professional music career goes back to the late eighties, and your first recordings with Bill Ward. You were quite late to becoming a professional musician.
Marco: I think I was. I came from Mexico and I had started touring when I was 15 or 16, and I had a great run. I was an apprentice and I got lucky. I got recruited by some major players and touring bands in Mexico, and that was the beginning of my career. I always knew that I wanted to come to the States; I’m a US citizen. But I fell into a lot of bad influences …. drugs and alcohol and all that. I crashed and burned, and it was a learning process for me. I got to the point in my mid-late 20s where I realised how lucky I was and what a gift music was. I hadn’t finished high school, so this was going to be a lifetime commitment. This is going to be my livelihood and I didn’t have the clarity because things were moving so fast. I mean, I went from playing little clubs, school dances, to major touring at 15-16. There are no manuals to prepare you for that. You learn everything on the road. I have an addictive personality, and I fell into all the bad influences. I got married very young at 16, I had two kids, and that fell apart four years later. And then I got married again. I was trying to find myself in the midst of the music business. It was overwhelming. It got the best of me. And in ‘87, by the grace of God, I got sober … September 20th. Playing with Bill Ward was the beginning of my professional, focused, productive career. I was in L.A. but by then I had played in New York and Miami. I travelled the world playing with a lot of different cats, a lot of jazz, a lot of funk. And Bill and I met at a twelve-step meeting; he was getting sober too. And that was our connection. We started talking and he said, “I’m doing my first solo album. I’m trying to surround myself with sober people. I would love for you to be to come hear it”. That was the beginning. “Come hear it, but bring a bass”. I went, heard it, and to my amazement, because he really downplayed everything; Jack Bruce was playing on it. Ozzy was on it. Some big names. Zakk Wylde, I believe. I could go down the list. It was pretty amazing. Tim Bogert; some of my bass heroes, and I’m like, wow. Very casually he goes, “I have some unfinished stuff here, would you plug in”, and he started singing me the parts and we played. From that point on, we got on so well, and he was surrounding himself with sober people. So, he said, “I want to get a band together, and I want you to be the bass player. Are you interested”. That was the beginning, and Bill being who he was, it got my name out there. That was the beginning of my focused career.
MGM: It must be quite difficult to be in recovery, which is a lifetime thing, and be touring the world as a musician? That’s a world with more temptations than almost any career.
Marco: But there’s no doubt in my mind, the opportunity I was given; coming out of the gate onto my sober career, being with somebody like Bill; that was such a catalyst to the rest of my career. Because from that point on, the calls started coming in, and people started looking for me and what I had to offer. I got some pretty cool calls. Edgar Winter, John Sykes came to one of the clubs where I was playing with my jazz fusion trio, and he needed a bass player that played fretless because Tony and him had parted ways, and that ended up being Blue Murder’s second album. And that was my connection to Thin Lizzy through John Sykes. And meeting Tommy Aldridge; it’s like a snowball effect. You start playing with all these different cats. Obviously, you have something to offer, you do a good job. I enjoy what I do. I love it. I smile. I really dig it still, and I think it’s contagious. One of the big things that did help is the fact that I sang BVs, and that’s always an asset for any player.
MGM: It’s interesting you said that you have an addictive personality, because you seem to have been collecting musical projects along the way. You’ve played with anybody and everybody.
Marco: That sounds pretty bad. But imagine being a carpenter, and you get to be good at what you do. Your name gets around, and people say, let’s call this guy. Because of my sobriety, I was really responsible. I would show up on time, prepared, have a good time, leave on a good note. So, the word gets around. The music circles are very small when it comes down to it. It was amazing, the calls I started getting.
MGM: Talking about your own music, Marco; you put out a new album last year called ‘New Direction’. Solo music is still important to you. What did you want to kind of say with your own material that you can’t say through the other projects that you’re part of?
Marco: I was always available for people calling me for their projects. I love the whole process, but I started realising that I always put my fate in everybody else’s hands, meaning wherever they decided to go, I was going. The list of the people I work with; it’s such a privilege to be part of that. But as you get older, you start realising, maybe I have something to say. Maybe I have a way of singing that I like to sing. I’m not the greatest singer, but I really like to sing, and I think I deliver well and people are digging the shows. After the Daisies, I realised that I wanted to have a little more control, to be honest. I was amazed, and surprised at the response.
That fuelled my motivation to keep going. And the more you did it, the bigger the gigs, and it seems to be growing. That’s not to say that I won’t do all the other gigs, and I have done. Most recently I got called to do the “Journey through time” thing. And that was amazing. It was beautiful, but it came to an end. I have my project that I’m fuelling and trying to see how far we can go. I was motivated and had the time and the energy. Working with Soren, one of my favourite guitar players, who sat with Glenn now, it was something that had been coming. He was my first guitar player with my solo project; he and I hit it off and we just come from the same place. He’s an extremely talented cat in every possible way. He’s a singer, songwriter, producer, engineer, mixer, everything. He looks amazing. And him and I just have fun.
When we get together to write music. It’s like instant, and I don’t have that with anybody else.
‘New direction’ was released at the time where the industry is just really faltering. But I insisted with the label to release the album, and the timing might have been wrong because it was at the end of my touring. But I just needed to get it out there because that album was ready to go in 2019, and it was supposed to come out 2020. Postponed, postponed, postponed. In retrospect, if I could change it, I would have released it this year. I was impatient, but we didn’t know what ‘23 was going to be like, and we still don’t know what ‘24 is going to be like. Very unpredictable. And it’s not back to normal, not by a long shot.
MGM: You’re going to be over in the UK in November. You’ve already been around Europe, but you’ve always had a great affiliation with the UK. You’ve done well over 400 solo shows, and the UK has been a big part of that. Why do you think you connect so well with the fans here?
Marco: John Sykes was my introduction. The first time I came to the UK, he took me to Blackpool, his hometown. I love discovering things and I love travel; that’s one thing I dig about my job. But it took me there, and shortly after we did some Blue Murder shows, and then shortly after we started the Thin Lizzy shows, and the response playing with a band like that, it’s massive. So, there was a lot of love and acceptance. I did a lot of work in the UK with Dolores O’Riordan, RIP, God love her. And with Whitesnake. Every time I would get involved with any project; we would end up in the UK. I developed a relationship with the fans there and I met a lot of lovely people. My last touring there with the Dead Daisies is when I started getting invited to come play there as a solo artist. To my surprise, I thought we’d do three or four gigs and then call it a day, but it started growing again. 2019 was a different time. Some years I came there twice.
I can’t imagine coming to Europe and not touching base in the UK, which is why we’re doing four dates because I insisted. I’m like 2023 is going to go by and I haven’t been to the UK. Let’s just do a quick four dates. So, we put it together.
MGM: Who’s performing with you on this tour? Will Kyle Hughes and Tommy Gentry be back with you?
Marco: Kyle is in L.A. now and he’s going to be doing a few gigs with me in California and the US. He moved here. I love that guy. And Tommy Gentry was working with Gun and he’s moved on to Raven Age. It’s a beautiful project, man. And that keeps him busy, so our schedules haven’t coincided. But I have Chris Allan now on drums, and he’s been playing with everybody in the UK. He’ll be doing the next leg in the UK, and the Netherlands supporting Adrian Vandenberg.
Drew (Lowe) is an amazing guitar player. I met him through Chris. He’s one of the top session guys in the UK, currently working with Boy George and Culture Club and many, many others. But every time I talk to him, he’s doing a session. He’s a busy cat. Great players. I’m lucky to have them.
MGM: What will fans expect to see from the show? You’ve mostly been playing songs from across your solo work, but adding in a few songs from your time with Ted Nugent, Neal Schon, and Thin Lizzy.
Marco: I have four albums, and when I listen to ‘Live for Tomorrow’, that speaks really loudly to me. Richie Kotzen and Steve Lukather are playing on there, and Doug Aldrich, Ted Nugent, Tommy Aldridge to name a few. It’s a great album. We did it in a hurry, but it’s more focused. I’m trying to lean more on the hard rock, classic rock, AOR. ‘Viva la rock’ and ‘New direction’ are kind of going in the same direction. But when we play live, every so often I’ll pull something out of the bag, unbeknownst to the guys, and I’ll play it.
MGM: Pretty much all of your solo dates have been overseas. You’ve very rarely played anything in the US. Is that deliberate or just a coincidence?
Marco: I have the same question, but in 2019. I think I did maybe five or six dates in the US. The bulk of the dates are overseas, in Europe and that side of the world. In the US, people know that I work with all these other bands, but they don’t know my solo music. It’s a lot of factors involved. So that’s what we’re trying to do, and we’re talking about booking more dates in the first part of the year in the US before I go overseas. Japan is another market, and South America. It’s been an uphill battle, but I dig it. I’m motivated, I love what I do, and I’m getting invited everywhere, so we’ll see what happens.
MGM: Many musicians seem to be playing in multiple projects at the same time. You’ve become the go-to bass player for many high-profile artists, and have a successful career, but what does it say about the music industry that the same musicians are in so many groups, and constantly touring?
Marco: I think with any given project, no matter how big they are …. let’s just use Whitesnake as an example …. when I was there, the longest time we worked was seven or eight months. We’d go out for two, three months, come home and go out again, and then another cycle starts a few years later. There’s a lot of downtime. Whitesnake back at the beginning of 2000 was extremely busy and successful, and we did some great runs, and played all the festivals you can imagine. But there’s downtime. If you’re a musician, you start getting itchy. You’ve got to be creative; you’ve got to be involved with this and that, and so you let people know you’re available. For me, it’s not only a financial thing, it’s a passion thing. It’s been such a part of who I am. Now I’m coming up on twelve days at home and I’m getting itchy already. So, I’m lining up some things. I’m supposed to do this new album with ‘Iconic’ starting off in a few days and then I’m playing some local gigs. I’m the healthiest when I know I’m moving forward, however slow or not, but forward. And then financially, obviously, that’s another factor. But the Journey thing, I came in and I did a short run, and when I got approached by Neil, he said “Randy Jackson’s supposed to do this, but he’s not well, or something’s going on. Can you come in”. I knew it was going to be a temporary thing, but I had a blast. So, you get invited to do all these other projects and you say yes, so you keep your calendar full.
MGM: You mentioned the Iconic project, which is you alongside Michael Sweet, Joel Hoekstra and Tommy Aldridge. You have one album already, and sounds like another way on the way. Tommy is such an awesome player, and at 73 years of age, he’s still rocking’ it.
Marco: I just spoke with him yesterday. He’s great, man. At every level, we connect in such a beautiful way. He’s a friend. I consider him a brother. A lot of respect for him. And every time we work together, it’s always fun. He’s a funny guy and nobody plays like Tommy Aldridge. We’re trying to put some things together right now.
I was looking at my calendar when I got home and the Iconic guys are writing. When they’re done, they’ll get in touch. I put this period aside to be here in LA to track that project, but I’m just the bass player there, and love being part of that project playing with the cats, man. Tommy, Michael, Joel … and Nathan James singing.
Drew Lowe, my guitar player was part of Inglorious with Nathan. The first time I saw Drew and Nathan, it was like, wow, this is an amazing band. It had everything, the songs, the sound, the players, the singing, the look. Everybody looked amazing. They’re playing their hearts out
Marco will be performing 4 dates in the UK from 16-19th November:
16th November: The Patriot, Crumlin
17th November: Black Heart, London
18th November: The Forum, Darlington
19th November: Bannermans, Edinburgh