In this series of articles, I’m going to spotlight some of my favorite guitar players. Some are well-known, but others are not so mainstream and are, in my opinion, under-appreciated and do not get the plaudits they so richly deserve.
Introducing – Marc Bonilla
Marc’s style of music is hard to categorise and I fully accept it may not be to everyone’s taste.
It’s a kind of rock fusion – elements of progressive rock mixed with a healthy sampling of funk rock and other influences as well as a good pinch of mischief!
Whatever you call it though, once you’ve heard Marc play the guitar, you’re unlikely to forget it and his style, in my opinion, is highly recognisable.
My Awakening to Marc’s Music
It was early 1992. I was two years out of university and had bought my first apartment; the economy was going bad and I was struggling to make ends meet.
It was just another evening at home after work and I was listening to one of the few rock shows on the radio at that time.
Alan Freeman “And next, music lovers, a track from a really interesting album I was sent recently, I’ll give you the CD details after you listen to Marc Bonilla, Commotion”…
…I’d never heard anything like it before, I was spell-bound. After noting down the CD details, I placed the order at my local store and waited.
And so it was – about a week later – I sat down one evening to listen to “EE ticket” by Marc Bonilla.
Now, just a bit of a tangent here! I don’t know how old you are, dear reader, but a long time ago, E ticket meant something! You see, Disney used to operate a ticket structure that incorporated “coupons” that gave access to rides based on their rating from A to E – E being the “biggest” rides.
EE ticket, as in this first album by Marc Bonilla was aluding to this – I guess the double “E” meant “extra” or some such.
The album actually starts with the sound of the Space Mountain start sequence of the time and concludes with the end of the same ride accompanied by manic laughter! Oh yes, the start does include the standard warning of “ill health”, “pregnant women” issued by a bored female “cast member”!
Each song on the album is joined to the next by some sort of interlude – for example the highly amusing spoof of a language tutorial between Commotion and Lycanthrope “…the iconiclastical lycanthrope is by the table”.
I love this album to this day; not only is the music great, but there’s a sort of “live” feeling to it that makes it really musical.
Since the album states “recorded in Kevin’s living room” – I guess it probably was mostly live! The Kevin referred to here is Kevin Gilbert, and his living room was in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles where the album was recorded and produced.
What fascinated me – I had taken up the guitar about 3 years before I heard this album, was marc’s really interesting style of playing.
As you heard on “Commotion” he has a really percussive way of playing with a lot of string muting, then becomes quite legato (smooth) with tasteful use of the whammy bar – oh hell, I’m off into guitar talk here, but the overall effect is really musical and distinctive don’t you think?
Here’s another song from the album that shows Marc’s smoother and more laid-back style; a song that gets better and better as it goes on:
I can’t recommend this album highly enough, the music is challenging and pleasing to listen to and for us guitarists, it’s terrific to listen to a guy with such an interesting style and no shortage of skill – all with a touch of mischief…
The Second Solo Album
1993 saw the release of “American Matador” – which continued the style, but perhaps had some heavier elements than the first album.
It doesn’t have the little interludes that I, for one, really enjoyed and felt make “EE Ticket” a really fun and engaging listen.
Here is the title track:
Another highlight from this record is a cover of “I Am the Walrus” which I think is awesome – a really great version.
And that, seems to have been an end to Marc’s solo recordings – a mighty big shame as I love his style on these two recordings – or is it?
Nevertheless, we’ve got these two examples of his playing and I will never get bored of “EE Ticket” – it’s just one of my favourite CDs.
Oh yeah, by the way – the only fault I have found with Marc’s music is his apparent fascination with the song “Whiter shade of pale” – which I thoroughly detest! Not satisfied with putting on this CD once, it’s actually there twice – yuck!
There are currently rumours of a third solo instrumental album and I am very much looking forward to hearing that should it appear – I will update this article if and when that happens – here’s hoping…
So What Happened?
I can’t answer that question – I really can’t explain why he stopped doing solo music, but he didn’t stop playing guitar or writing music! And, don’t forget those rumours!
In fact, Marc has been quite prolific in terms of collaborations, touring and sound track composition and playing.
A long term collaboration with Keith Emerson (of ELP – Emerson Lake and Palmer) has produced several studio albums as well as some live recordings. Whilst I enjoy these, they aren’t as exciting to my ear as his solo efforts.
An album with Glenn Hughes called “Addiction” in 1996 is worth a listen, albeit it’s a much heavier sound (as you’d expect from a former member of Black Sabbath!).
By his own admition, Glenn says this album came at quite a difficult time whilst he was battling with drugs and many songs are quite personal. It is therefore a fairly intense listen…
Here’s the title song from that album:
There have been various other collaborations and appearances, but none really have the style that I’ll always associate with Marc.
It’s worth noting, however, that he has had a long history of involvement in sound tracks from Nightman in 1997, playing guitars for “Replacements”, “The Scorpion King”, “Green Lantern”, “Iron Man 2”, “Spiderman 2”, “The Bourne Legacy” as well as composing and performing the music on the hit series, Justified,.
Marc Bonilla is one of those hidden gems of the guitar-osphere with much recognition in the music business but not much outside of it.
Back in the 80’s he was considered one of the great guitar teachers in the San Francisco Bay area along with Joe Satriani – just to add to his long list of talents.
He also spent some time lecturing at the Los Angeles based Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT).
Marc now seems to focus on touring bands and writing musical scores – but I will always go back to his two solo albums as I think they are unique moments in time and recordings I’ll never get tired of.
If rumours of a third solo CD come to pass, I’ll be amongst the first to buy it and will update this article.
Oh, by the way, you can listen to a lot of this music on YouTube – but, artists get very little in the way of royalties for that, so if you like his music, please consider buying the actual recordings.
So – What do you Think?
Are there any other less mainstream guitarists that you’d like to see put under the spotlight?
What are your thoughts on Marc Bonilla? — Do let me know in the comments section.
All the best and keep on rockin’