Rob Trucks’s “Possibly 4th Street” expositions, in which he invites musicians to perform live and impromptu somewhere in New York City, run intermittently here at Sound of the City.
photos by Rob Trucks
Possibly 4th Street
Number 24 (Part One)
by Rob Trucks
This is how it’s supposed to be done.
Just over a year ago, we accompanied the seven-piece, trombone-heavy, New Orleans-based brass band Bonerama to Midtown. They parked their van just south of Radio City, unloaded the trailer, and set out an empty snare case. Hundreds of sidewalk-blocking tourists, twenty minutes, and three songs later (including a memorable rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean”), the band is 70 bucks (a Possibly 4th Street record) and immeasurable goodwill richer.
Possibly 4th Street
Number 21 (Part Two)
Bonerama co-founder Mark Mullins.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Avenue of the Americas between 49th and 50th Streets.
So you’re the rock guy in Bonerama.
I guess, yeah. A lot of guys were influenced by rock in the band. And like rock. But I probably have more rock on my iPod than the other guys do, yeah.
You started playing trombone when you were nine.
Yeah, eight or nine. I was playing piano when I was, I don’t know, seven or eight, and then picked up the trombone in band. My older brothers played in the band in the New Orleans area. In the school band, you know, and I wanted to do it, too.
And what instruments did they play?
Eric played clarinet and Doug played trumpet.
You followed in their footsteps by being in the band, but with enough independence that you want to play a different instrument.
Yeah. I wanted to play saxophone because I thought that was pretty cool, and they’re like, ‘You know, there’s a lot of saxophone players.’ And I went to the orthodontist, too. I was like getting my braces at the time. The doctor was like, ‘No, you need a trombone. You need something that’s going to go straight on your face, or you’ll mess up your thing.’ It’s not a big decision when you’re nine years old. It’s like, ‘Okay, whatever. Give me that. Give me that. Whatever. I’ll play that.’
It just doesn’t seem like trombone would be the obvious choice for someone with an interest in rock.
Well, I do play cowbell. I’m a closet cowbell player and I think that’s my true link to rock and roll. You know, I transcribe all the Blue Oyster Cult cowbell parts and I have books of those transcriptions, and that’s been very, very influential. But then the trombone showed up and I realized I couldn’t make a living playing cowbell, so I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to have to make the trombone work.’
I grew up in the suburbs, so I guess I was influenced by what was playing in my house. We had a lot of rock music in the house. We were suburban kids just doing our thing, and everyone in the band brings a different story to the table like that. You know, Craig [Klein, fellow trombonist] has a strong traditional jazz background. Rick [Trolsen, also trombone] has a real strong modern jazz background. Steve Suter [another trombonist], classically trained. Studied classically but is an amazing jazz soloist. Everybody has something different they bring to the table. The rock thing is fun because you take something and you put it together with the trombones and you throw it back at people, and you get the sense they may not have heard it quite like that before.
You played with Harry Connick for quite a while.
The Harry stuff started around ’90, and Craig Klein and I were both out with Harry. For about 16 years we were in the band.
That’s a long time.
Long time. And it kind of trickled down near the end, you know, because he was doing movies and stuff, so that’s sort of where Bonerama got bred out of that, towards the end of that.
You also played in a band called Mulebone before starting Bonerama. How many more band names with the word ‘Bone’ in them did you consider and throw out?
[laughs] That’s a pretty good question, man. I don’t know if I’ve heard that one before. We went through a few. I don’t know if I can remember them. I know Bonerama was kind of sticking because Jimmy Robinson, who was the guitarist in Mulebone, has this guitar collective powerhouse band in New Orleans called Twangarama, and they’re still around. They still play, and they’re great. And, you know, for lack of more originality we just seemed like, ‘Well gee, we’re doing the trombone kind of slant on that, except we’re doing a little more brass band stuff, too. Why not? Nobody owns the suffix, I guess, so we’ll run with that.’ I think it was the Bonerama Trombone Group for a while and that sounded too collegiate or, you know, technical, so we kind of lost that and went with just Bonerama [laughs]. And then we went on the Internet to try to get our little website going and realized that maybe that wasn’t such a good choice of band names as the domain name was taken by probably the largest gay porn site in the world. And still is to this today.
It’s funny. We go to schools and the band director, you know, is like, ‘Bonerama’s coming to the school, kids, and go check out their website.’ The .net is key, and it’s gotten a few band directors in some big trouble. It makes for good road lore.
You’re three albums in and they’ve all been live recordings. Do you have a problem with studios?
[laughs] Something happens when we get in front of people. We feed off of that energy and that live magic, that spark or two to make us do stuff that we don’t normally do. Going in the studio, we just don’t have that and we’ve just had a lot of fun and success doing it with the live thing. The state of live recording these days, and what live recording is with traders and tapers, that whole beautiful scene of these people that trade music, you know, it’s just kind of a tip of the hat to that.
We take our live recordings, though, and we really spend time on them afterwards, just mixing them very nicely and carefully. We don’t record anything over. It’s what we did that night. We don’t re-record anything, so it’s all what happened. But, you know, we take a lot of time making it sound just as freaking good as it can possibly sound. And a lot of times you don’t have an opportunity to do that when you leave a club after running a DAT or running a multi-track or something like that. So three records, maybe it’s time for a studio one. I don’t know.
We did the first live one in New Orleans. We did the second one in New York. We were going to do the third live one–we were thinking about Denver or Boulder maybe, or San Francisco; we have a good time out there–but then Katrina came and we decided it’d be good to go back home and do it at Tip’s. We did it at Tipatina’s.
So let’s talk about Katrina. Where were you?
We were on the road. Played St. Louis on a Friday, that last Friday in August, and then, you know, we were watching TV. It was supposed to come, but it was supposed to be far away from us. It didn’t seem like a big deal. All of a sudden the next day we were playing in Little Rock and the projection moved it further and further and further and it kept getting closer and closer, and sure enough it was obvious, man, we weren’t going home to New Orleans. That was the end of the run and we were going to have to stay put in Little Rock until the storm blew through.
Year after year, you know, we’d get close calls and stuff would blow on through and we just thought it’d only be a matter of a couple of days before we’d get to go home. But as the hours approached we realized this was a very historic and catastrophic event that was about to happen on our city. It was pretty weird not to be home with our families. We were talking to our families. ‘Where are ya’ll going to go? Ya’ll come up here. Come up to Little Rock.’ You know, a lot of the guys’ families came up to Little Rock. I ended up staying in Little Rock for about two and a half weeks. People were great. We had my family–my parents, my wife’s family, the kids, the dog, the whole thing, you know–in a hotel room for two and a half weeks watching CNN, not really knowing exactly what happened to our house most of those days. It was about 10 days before we got word. My house, luckily, was okay. Not everybody fared so well in the band. We all have different stories.
There’s not really a roadmap for a seven-piece band with four trombones. What do you want this band to do that you haven’t done yet?
There’s no business model, like you said. There’s no blueprint. My goal is I just want to become better. I just want the band to be better. I want myself to be better. I want the songs to be better. And, you know, I don’t think the Beatles necessarily had, you know, the end of Let It Be figured out in ’63 and ’64.
But we want to keep writing music. We want to keep playing for people turning this on to as many people as we can. Because what we see is when we play to people that maybe have not heard about it before, there’s a little light that goes on in those people, and we see that. And that kind of freaks us out in a good way. It kind of makes you feel like you might have a little something kind of worth chasing after. And that’s where we’re at now. We just want to chase after that something and grow it and make it as big as we can.