- Published: Monday, 08 August 2016 20:49
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by AK63 Photography)
You must be born with those natural gifts that just people like Carmine Rojas possess, otherwise you will never be able to build or acquire them through time and experience, because they are so unique. A truly positive person, surrounded by an aura of pure karma every time that he speaks or smiles, Rojas is not just one of the most talented bass player of the last half a century of music but he is also in body and spirit, one of the youngest looking 63 years old artists that Bluebird Reviews has ever met.
His palmares, as a musician, is something that belongs to the elite of music history, given the fact that throughout his glorious career, Rojas has played with giants of the music business, artists like David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, BB King just to mention few of a very long list. After the end of his long-lasting collaboration with blues titan Joe Bonamassa, Rojas is now currently working with one of the most talented blues/rock artists and an old friend of Bluebird Reviews, Ryan McGarvey. Whilst on tour in Europe with McGarvey, our website had the opportunity to meet Rojas and talk about his remarkable career plus his ongoing side projects.
(Photo by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato)
BBR - Carmine, welcome on Bluebird Reviews. You are one of the most respected bass player worldwide and your musical background is second to none. Has the love for this instrument been always the first choice for you, as a young boy, or did you start your approach to music by playing something different?
CR - I started on drums, then I moved to keyboards and then I got cornered, one day, into playing bass for a guitar player who was missing, at that time, a bass player in his band. I liked so much the tonality and the rhythmic of the bass and I fell in love instantly with the instrument. It felt like I walked unconsciounsly into a lifetime opportunity, without realising in that moment the future impact that it would have then created to my career for which, to these days, I am still very grateful for.
BBR - Through your eclectic career as a sideman for many of the biggest names in the music industry, you shifted through many different music genres always with an incredible elegance. Which style of music do you prefer to play that is closer to your heart and your background?
CR - My first instinct is to say world music, because it covers literally every music corners and any genres coming from any part of the world. What I really love a lot about world music is the fact that when you take away all the embellishment coming from the guitars, keyboards etc, all you have got left with is rhythm, which is at the absolute core of the genre. Due to the fact that world music incorporates such a wide range of styles and influences, I find the genre highly educational, because it allows me to understand and to add to my background the roots and the culture of many world countries. It can be Irish music, Arabic music, Hispanic, any kind of music or sound. It hits me emotionally a lot. Also, in my personal opinion, I consider almost every music genres part of the definition of world music. It doesn't matter whether it is gospel, blues or rock, because it's all part of that big music umbrella called world music. As a young boy, I used to listen, due to my Latino origin, not just rock music but also genres like merengue, salsa or any sort of Cuban music. Growing up in the 60's, our radio stations were playing Tito Puente, Frank Sinatra and Black Sabbath at the same time, thing that I found brilliant and very refreshing and challenging. I was also fortunate enough to see, in those days, phenomenal live performances of artists like Puente himself, Iron Butterfly, Miles Davis and Led Zeppelin playing on the same bill, Tony Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, just to mention few of them and all this for the mere cost of $3 per gig! Whilst living those moments, I didn't realize immediately that I was going to the best music class in the best music school available worldwide for a young kid, crazy for music like me. I guess that, thanks to the musical formation and inspiration that those incredible musicians gave me, I have then learned to love and appreciate artists like Santana, someone so talented and able to incorporate in his music Latin rhythms, like the ones I mentioned before, combined with rock or blues. That fabulous ability to combine music genres together, which was something that geniuses like Duke Ellington, Count Basie or Miles Davis were able to do so superbly, has always been a huge font of inspiration for me, especially when it comes to create and blend different music styles together. I guess that my head has always been into world music but I never completely realised how much I was into it until twenty years ago, when I finally said to myself that world music was going to be my main focus, because it's what feels more natural for me to play, as a musician. I also guess that I have been blessed, in a way, to grow up in the 60's and the 70's, two decades not just filled with great artists and great music but also with freedom. Freedom of expression and creativity, which is the essence of world music.
BBR - When it comes to describe many aspects of your career as a musician and the excellent relationships you still maintain nowadays with the cream of the music business worldwide, you often used the word "respect", in many interviews. Do you feel that you have been given, throughout all these years, all the respect you deserved by fellow artists you worked with as much as you have given to them?
CR - To be honest, I don't really take the aspect about respect too seriously. Obviously, if any of the artists I work with pays me a compliment about my work, that makes me smile and feel happy, but, true to be told, as the years go by and I get older, this stuff about respect doesn't bother me that much anymore. I don't think that perhaps, even in the past, I have been hugely bothered about it because all that I have always wanted in my life is to be a good player, someone that the crowds would truly appreciate, not just for my natural skills but also for the desire to challenge myself in finding new and contemporary musical expressions and to be able to translate them into music while I am on stage. To be challenged is something hugely important for me because I like to feel that, as a musician and as a person, I am motivated and constantly evolving and moving on with times. Life is always in constant evolution, even now that you and I are talking. And by doing that, you and I are both unconsciounsly evolving as individuals in different ways. I like to apply that same philosophy to my music too, because I feel that music gives so much to me that I feel the need to give back to it for as much as I get out of it. Music talks to me using the sweetest and most emotional language existing and every time I feel that emotion, that connection between music and myself is taking place, when I get into that zone, it feels like walking on thin air when I close my eyes and let the music flow. It's an unsurpassable emotion and the best food for soul that one can ever wish for. It's like gospel to me.
BBR - Is there an anecdote very close to your heart, related to a special moment of your splendid career that you can share with our readers at Bluebird Reviews?
CR - There are so many stories I could tell you that I wouldn't be able to know even where to start! A lot of them are related, and I am truly thankful to God for that, to the time I was playing with David Bowie. That was a time in my life that I shall never forget, for the amazing feeling I felt about being educated, as a musician, by David's eclectic music catalogue and his talent. I have got to say that for my formation as a musician, working with Bowie has been an incredibly inspirational and educational platform. Through him I had also the chance to meet and to play with an extraordinary musician like Carlos Alomar, an amazing artist with whom I have Latin roots in common, being himself from Puerto Rico. Alomar became for me a real music brother, somebody I could trust and I was so fortunate that he took me under his wings, musically speaking. To these days, I cannot thank him enough for being so good to me, because learning from him has been one of the greatest artistic gift I have ever received in my career. He looked after me and helped me to grow and develop, as a musician and taught me how to become a music director, to learn arrangements, all that stuff. Carlos is like a living music encyclopedia to me. I have been blessed also in my musical development by so many artists, like Patti Labelle or Nona Hendrix, just to tell you the first names on top of my head and it's thanks to each and everyone of those artists that I have been able to grow as an individual and as an artist and to move forward into my music journey.
(Media Archive - Carmine Rojas with David Bowie)
BBR - One of your best friends in the music industry is certainly Marcus Nand, which you have been knowing and working intermittently with for almost two decades. Have the two of you ever thought to re-form that wonderful music project you created back few years ago called Ziroq?
CR - He is a very good friend of mine and one of those very talented musicians I had the honour and pleasure to take under my wings, exactly like people like Alomar did for me many years ago. With Marcus, we are actually entering a new stage of our collaboration as Ziroq, something that I like to call Ziroq Mach II. Besides that, we are planning to tour together in Europe and in places like the Dominican Republic, which will certainly be a lot of fun. I am working with Marcus every time I get the chance to, which is never easy, given how much I am working currently with several musicians in the area of Los Angeles including my dear friend Tal Bergman, with whom we are working together on a project involving a talented young country artist. Going back to myself and Marcus, I am trying to push him to do another solo album soon and to work with him a little like a hidden partner, because I am a great believer of his artistry on many levels as a musician, a singer and as a composer. It's funny how, whenever we get together and play, there are always some elements of that Ziroq sound emerging, a little like a personal music language Marcus and I have developed through the years. We did something together, a couple of months ago, a live webcast which was an enormous fun thing to do. I sincerely hope we can get together soon to try and push forward his talent and bring those positive music vibes that we are able to create every time we play together to the rest of the planet. It will be a masked Ziroq Mach II album under Marcus Nand's name.
BBR - You are a composer, a musical director and a musician. Did you find more challenging working as a musical director for Rod Stewart for almost fifteen years or rather being On The Road for almost 250 days a year with somebody like Joe Bonamassa?
CR - At the time I worked with Bonamassa, I felt I wasn't only just his band's bass player but also an added music director, an extra special force on the side, you know. I have always tried to guide him quietly, trying to shape his music in different forms, because you cannot just tell him to do this and that but rather trying to do so quietly and slowly. I really enjoyed working with Joe, because he is very open about music and he likes to challenge himself as a musician a lot, a little like what Ryan McGarvey likes to do. Joe is one of those rare artists that has got a very open mind when it comes to different music genres, by throwing himself in different musical projects with outstanding results, like when he works with Rock Candy Funk Party, with Beth Hart or with the Black Country Communion. I do believe also that a little part of the secret of his success, together with his great ability, is also due to the people that surround him and look after him on many levels, either musically, like his band, when he is on stage every night or his Production and Marketing Team. With Rod, it was great fun and very easy to work with him. I have always been a great fan of The Faces and The Jeff Beck Group and I remember to have seen them live when I was a kid. I got him completely as an artist, at the time we worked together, working on all that R&B stuff he was into, in true Temptation and David Ruffin style. I just found occasionally complicated to work with some people of his entourage and within his band, because they thought I wasn't schooled enough on R&B and had not enough background or knowledge about it. But I completely took them by surprise when they realised how well I could do arrangements, how well I could work on harmonies and all that stuff. In the end, I said to them: "Hey Fellas, never judge a book by its cover!" and from that point on, once they understood they could trust my musical guidance, it wasn't difficult at all to keep the whole camp united and tight and I believe we did some seriously good work together.
BBR - Do you follow any particular relaxation technique before going on stage every night when you are on tour?
CR - Yeah, absolutely and you know what is it? A very healthy nap before the show! (giggles). I would love to say that is just for meditation purposes and I guess that it is, in a way. If I manage to close my eyes from 20 minutes to an hour, in complete silence, then I get to recharge my batteries completely because I know I shall need that energy to be able to do my job, which is to look after The Man upfront at the very best of my abilities every night, when we are on stage. My job is something I take very seriously, because when I am hired to do a job, I always love to do it at my very best, because I am a professional and I want always to be able to give 100 per cent of myself all the time. Working with a class musician like Ryan McGarvey is a real pleasure and it is always a lot of fun. In few days, I believe on 13th August, if I am not mistaken, we are going to record with Ryan a live CD/DVD that will be released, hopefully, in few months, something that I am sure all Ryan's fans will absolutely love. On top of that, there will be a full European Tour schedule starting in September and the full schedule is available on Ryan's website. That is going to be a lot of fun too, I always love to come back and play in Europe.
BBR - I bumped in one of your fans, one day, that described you as "one of the most solid and consistant bass players of the last 40 years and a true gentleman". In everyday's life, who is really Carmine Rojas?
CR - He is exactly what that fan said. That's a very good question, actually, because I always try to do my job in the best way possible and to be honest and open with fans and people in general. I am a very spontaneous and natural person and I always try to be available for those that really matters to me, wchich can be either friends, family or colleagues. I try to be always that same genuine guy I have always been and I have to thank my family for raising me that way. I hope to be able to leave my legacy as a musician and a human being wherever I go and play, because I like to think that, in those moments, I am connecting and building emotional bridges with people through my music. If I can inspire any kids to play, in any part of the world, that will mean that I have fulfilled my goal as a musician, which is to leave my little footprint in music history and pass the baton to the musicians of the next generations to come. In essence, to answer your question, I see myself, fundamentally, as a giver and if people perceive me in that way, both as a person and as an artist, then I am the happiest man alive!
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato