An Interview with Bob Malone

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Called “A keyboard wizard” by The New Yorker, Bob Malone has toured the world as a solo artist for over two decades and has played keyboards with John Fogerty since 2011. Bob is featured on the 2017 Ringo Starr record Give More Loveand his recording of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” was the theme in the Illumination/Universal movie trailers for The Grinch, heard by millions. Bob combines unforgettable songwriting with an eclectic hybrid of high-energy rock, uptown Blues, melodic piano Pop, New Orleans R&B, Jazz chops and a voice all his own. His latest single, “Good People,” is out now!

Recently, I sat down with Bob Malone to discuss, among other things, what he’s been up to during the lockdown, his newest music, his thoughts on the music scene going forward, and what he’s looking forward to the most once COVID-19 breaks.

If you would like to learn more about Bob Malone, head over to his website and dig in. Once you’ve done that, check out this interview with Bob. Cheers

Bio courtesy of www.bobmalone.com.

Andrew:
Bob, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough. How are you holding up?

Bob:
It’s been one long existential crisis accompanied by alarming weight gain. Other than that, I can’t complain – I’ve done weekly online shows for my very generous fans who’ve kept me in grocery and utility money, there are royalty checks, and my wife still has her job and is working from home. We lost a couple of people we loved last year – that’s been the hardest part.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway?

Bob:
Starting at the age of 9, I began to study classical piano and organ. From that point until I was around 15, I was immersed in Classical Music, Jazz, and the Jazz-Fusion that was happening at the time – I had zero awareness of any other kinds of music until around 1980 when I finally discovered Rock ‘N’ Roll and fell hard for it. Right after high school, I moved from New Jersey to Boston to go to Berklee College of Music, and by the time I moved to Los Angeles in 1991, I was a veteran bar-band rocker. Around that time, I fell in love with all things Roots and Blues – New Orleans music in particular – and became deeply immersed in that scene.

Andrew:
As an artist, who are some of your earliest and most important influences? How did you develop your signature sound?

Bob:
My earliest musical heroes were Vladimir Horowitz and Chick Corea, and Joe Zawinul. When I was about 14, I was walking through the stereo section at the Willowbrook Mall in New Jersey, and I heard Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” – that just stopped me in my tracks and rearranged my world. Shortly after that, I discovered The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and from that moment on, I was a confirmed rocker. Later on, I fell very hard for Ray Charles and Dr. John. You put all of those things together – New Orleans piano, Soul music, Pop melodicism, Classical chops, occasional Jazz harmonies, Rock energy – it basically comes out as my sound – unclassifiable though it may be.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about your new record, Good People. How did it come together? Tell us about the recording process.

Bob:
Most of the songs were written and recorded between 2017 and 2019. We worked on it here whenever I was off the road, and also recorded some tracks in NYC and New Orleans. We actually cut the final track in March 2020, the day everything shut down here in L.A. Mostly we cut piano, bass and drums (and sometimes my vocal) live in the studio, with bleed – then we overdub everything else.

Andrew:
What was the inspiration in songwriting? Is the lyrical content personal? Or are these only stories, so to speak? What would you compare your music most to?

Bob:
The lyrics are very personal – I approached them as if I had nothing to lose and opened the most personal parts of my diary for all to see. I was going through some stuff. As the singles have come out, I’ve found that the lyrics are pretty universal at the same time – especially now that everybody is going through some stuff. Stylistically, the music moves around quite a bit but hangs together nicely – kind of like a good mix-tape.

Andrew:
How about the production side of things? Do you self-produce, or were outside sources brought in to help hone the sound? What can fans expect from your new album Good People?

Bob:
I worked with producer, guitar player, and sometimes co-writer Bob Demarco on this – as I have on my last three records. He is my extra set of ears. There are also some incredible players on this record, most of whom I’ve worked with for years – Kenny Aronoff, Mike Baird, Shane Theriot, James Lomenzo, Doug Belote, Marty Rifkin.

Andrew:
How much of an influence has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your songwriting and the overall process and creation of your new record?

Bob:
All of these songs were written before the pandemic, but everyone who hears them assumes they came straight out of lockdown. Many of the songs are about alienation, fear, loneliness (the good stuff!) – all of those feelings that have become more acute for everyone over the last year. The actual work that went on during the pandemic was having Ross Hogarth mix it, getting an upright bass track from Ritt Henn in NYC, and getting guitar breaks from seven different players I work with around the world for “Tangled Up In Blue.” All of which took a few months because everything was so weird.

Andrew:
Let’s shift gears now, live music is usually a huge part of a working artist’s proverbial machine, but as we know, COVID has disallowed it. What do you miss most about live music?

Bob:
I miss being able to make a living, of course, but mostly I miss that energy that gets created when you are playing for a live audience – it is the greatest feeling in the world.

Andrew:
One disturbing fact I’ve learned over time is that streaming services don’t pay artists well, if at all. What are your thoughts on that issue? How do we,
as fans, do our part to help?

Bob:
Fans can do their part by coming to shows, buying CDs and records if they still play them, or buying downloads if they don’t. But I understand the appeal of streaming, or googling a song you want to hear and listening to it on YouTube, or just telling Alexa to play some Bob Malone tunes – it’s the world we live in. And yes, Spotify pays virtually nothing unless you are getting many millions of streams – even then, the money is shockingly low compared to what you could make when you could sell millions of records. I think that tech people like (Spotify CEO) Daniel Ek are, for the most part, actively hostile towards creative people – to them, we are nothing more than content creators, annoying ghosts in their machine.

Andrew:
In a world dominated by big business and social media, can artists really, truly get ahead? How do we keep the playing field level so that everyone has a chance to succeed?

Bob:
The playing field has never been level. But to me, 4 factors will determine success as an artist – you have to have talent, you have to work very hard, there has to be something about you that’s different from everyone else. The fourth factor that determines your level of success, if you have the other three, is luck. But even without luck, if you’re talented and work your ass off, you can be a musician at some level. A young musician only knows the world as it is when they enter it – so they are using technology and social media to their advantage because that’s what they’ve got. But monopolization and the relative scarcity of places to play and develop live while making a few bucks is definitely making it much harder to make a go of it than it ever was before – and it was never easy.

Andrew:
Are you into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music? What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Bob:
I grew up with vinyl – switched to CDs in college, started buying vinyl again when it came back. And I never got rid of my old records or my turntable – so all the old ones are on the shelf with the new ones, and they all get played. If I really like something, I still buy the CD or the vinyl. I went through a short phase where I was downloading stuff from iTunes, but I would buy something and then forget I had it, which has never happened to me with vinyl or CDs – and I’ve got thousands! I live right down the street from a cool store called Freakbeat Records – I get quite a bit of stuff there. And there’s also Ameoba Records in Hollywood – I like to go there and get lost in the bins. I also buy plenty of stuff online like everyone else. And whenever I’m in New Orleans, I always go to Louisiana Music Factory – there’s no place else on earth like it! As far as cassettes go, I didn’t like them in the 80s, and I don’t miss them now. However, I did like my Walkman quite a bit back in the day.

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for other artists? How do they stay afloat in a world that seems to be so abhorrent to creatives?

Bob:
Do it for love or don’t do it at all.

Interested in learning more about Bob Malone? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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