From Bruce to Bonnie, George Marinelli adds to the beauty of song
George Marinelli continues to thrive in the music business. The 62-year-old’s key to success: always honor the songwriter.
“The reason I’ve been able to do this along as I have as a session man, as a side man or a band guy is that I put the song first,” said Marinelli, speaking from his Nashville home. “It’s more about the material and the song itself before the playing.”
Marinelli was the lead guitarist with Bruce Hornsby and The Range, who achieved headlining status following the 1986 release The Way It Is. Following a nine-year run with Hornsby, Marinelli joined Bonnie Raitt’s band, a partnership that has lasted for over 19 years.
“My blues playing has certainly gotten a thousand times better from being in a band with her,” said Marinelli of Raitt, “and she’s also this rare breed that doesn’t over play. I have to tell myself, ‘OK slow down when I have a solo.’ She has a signature sound and as soon as she plays, three seconds later you know it’s her if you had your eyes closed and there’s not too many people you can say that about.”
A music lifer, Marinelli’s first concert was when his parents took him to see Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. As a teenager, he saw Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Traffic as well as Rod Stewart and The Faces.
How did you meet Bruce Hornsby?
I was playing around town in LA in bands, clubs, and doing session work. I ended up in a band with John Molo, who would become the drummer, and somehow or another I got to be friends with Bruce. I was in four bands at the time and he asked me to play on some demos. I heard his songs and I really liked them a lot and then he called one day and said, ‘Would you like to put a band together?’ John, Bruce, myself, Joe Puerta, and at that point, Bruce wanted to add someone who could play mandolin and fiddle, so I recommended David Mansfield and that’s what the band became.
What was that time period like?
It was a really fun time. The success surprised us as much as it surprised anyone to tell you the truth. We made a record ( The Way It Is ) and felt really good about it, but just kind of assumed that no else would like it. I did three albums with Bruce and I’m really proud of those records. We toured a lot, went around the world a bunch, got to play some great gigs and meet some cool people. It was a neat time, pretty exciting. Sold a lot of records which is a big deal.
Looking back what makes The Way It Is a timeless album?
It was all about the material. In the mid-80s there was a lot of strange music out there. A lot of if it was really good and just like any other times, a lot of it was really bad. There were a lot of trendy sounds and a lot of technology was being invented and you can hear it on a lot of the music. It had been years before anyone heard a real piano on a pop record. There were a lot of synthesizers and drum machines. When our album came out, it caught people’s ears who wanted to hear something real and something kind of fresh compared to what it was surrounded by at the time.
When you started playing with Bruce, could you sense how talented he was?
At first I sensed how good of a writer he was, then as a singer and then after that, as a pianist because in the very beginning when we were playing clubs in LA, he didn’t have a piano. He was playing accordion and playing synthesizers. And eventually he was borrowing a piano from Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers/Rolling Stones) and then he started playing a real piano and I was like, ‘Wow, he’s great.’
Do you have a favorite memory from your tenure with the band?
They all were. There were no bad memories except being exhausted from touring all the time. We always had a good time. The gigs were fun. The hangs were fun. We would just go up without a setlist. We had a lot of laughs together.
Do you still keep in touch with Bruce and other guys from the Range?
I spoke with Bruce three days ago and I speak to Joe Puerta, I was closest with Joe and Bruce, so I stay close with both of those guys. And I did see David Mansfield over the summer at a gig in Montclair, New Jersey. I hadn’t seen him in person in a while.
Has there ever been discussion about a reunion?
A couple of people have brought it up. I think Joe brought it up for a charity event or something like that a year or two ago. We talked about it but it didn’t happen. But honestly I don’t see it happening. I would be up for it, if they wanted it, but it’s not in the back of my mind or Bruce’s mind or anyone else’s for that matter.
Molo seems to have found a niche in the jamband world.
He definitely has. I haven’t seen him play but I know he’s in Moonalice. He seems to pretty darn busy doing all of that.
Bonnie and George
How did you get connected with Bonnie?
I was friends with Hutch Hutchinson, who was her bass player. She’s a fan of Bruce and the Range and used to listen to those records all the time. When I quit Bruce’s band, I called Hutch and said, ‘I wanted to be in Bonnie’s band,’ but they already started rehearsing with a new guitarist for a new tour. When that tour was over and it was time for a new album, she called me.
Did you immediately hit it off with her?
I think we did. It certainly has grown over the years into a really neat thing. In the studio, the next day, she asked me to be in the touring band, and I said, ‘Of course – absolutely. ‘We’ve been close ever since. I’ve really enjoyed playing guitar with her and I think the feeling is mutual.
How have you and the band grown together over these last 19 years?
The band has grown musically a lot in the 19 years. I’ve learned so much about guitar and different style of guitar. When I came on board with her, I wasn’t much of a blues guy at all and I told her flat out and she knew it. She also knew she didn’t need that from another guitar player. She needed another guitar player who can cover the stuff that she doesn’t cover as much and that’s what the complementary thing is all about.
The band covers so much musical turf, which is why it intrigues me and why I love being in the band. I don’t know anybody else I can play with where I can play blues and traditional rock ‘n’ roll and really nail it but also play Afropop and reggae really well. She can pull out a Celtic song or a folk song and we can go with her. We don’t do it by rote, we don’t play it the same way every night. It’s really fresh and we cover so much musical ground, you just have to keep growing.