Bass legend Carmine Rojas discussed his work with Joe Bonamassa, explaining some of the most important things that are required for working with the blues guitarist.
Well known for his extensive work with plenty of big names in the music business, it’s no secret that Carmine is the right person for the job. With the likes of David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Herbie Hancock, and Lee Ritenour in his lengthy list of artists that he collaborated with, we could safely say that he’s more than qualified for any gig that would come his way.
And as he told Guitar World in a recent interview, it’s all about being the best supporting musician that you can be. Looking back on how he got the spot in Bonamassa’s band, Rojas said that there was no audition and added:
“This time, it was another phone call from drummer Jason Bonham, asking if I was free. We both lived in L.A. and knew each other, and he knew I could handle it. It was cool to get back into blues again and work with someone like Joe, who was influenced by English players.”
As expected, things fell right into place and he was a perfect match. “It felt good right away,” Rojas added. However, what made this gig so special is Bonamassa’s particular approach to blues. Although mostly inspired by the legendary British blues guitarists, there’s a bit of a twist in there as well.
“Joe was different because he took a British blues approach but didn’t just copy it,” the bassist argued. “He was able to make up incredible stuff on the fly.”
“He showed there can be more to it regarding motions and chord changes. Basic blues music is fantastic, but he ended up rearranging a lot of things and f***ing killing it while doing it.”
Discussing the matter, Carmine also said that the pay wasn’t necessarily as attractive as with some other potential gigs. After all, back when he got the gig, Bonamassa was still building his reputation. However, he was more than satisfied to make things work since they had such great chemistry. Carmine added:
“When I got the call I was told, ‘There’s not much money involved in this project, but we feel you’d be great for it.’ They were right. Jason and I helped put Bonamassa on the map, and the tightness of that band landed him in a different space.”
“He went from playing blues clubs to playing bigger theaters and halls. We ended up being perfect together.”
And there was the obvious question — “What’s the key to locking in with a guy like Joe Bonamassa?”
“Stay out of his way! Joe grew up listening to Hendrix, Cream and Traffic, and I listened to those bands too, so I knew where he needed me to land. I’d maybe alter the bassline so it would always fall where he needed it, and it worked.”
“If you watch us playing live, there was some jamming,” he added. “But it mostly came down to me being supportive of what Joe was doing.”
When asked whether this is “the key” in most situations, he replied:
“For the most part, yes. I’m a support player, and I always give support. And with Joe, he wasn’t afraid of anything. When you have a guy who isn’t afraid, you can go anywhere, but he needs support. The more support I can give, the better off we’ll be when we’re going off to new places.”
“But it was always organic – a matter of plugging in and listening to what the track needed,” Rojas explained. “You must know what the movements are. If you’re trying to play blues, you’ll fall flat. We made the blues come alive again, and much of that depended on that rhythm section backing Joe up.”
During the interview, Carmine also talked about his work in the business and some of the most important skills one might possess to keep growing. He said:
“The big thing is staying fluid and avoiding the superficial bullsh*t. Sticking to who I am, staying true, and being at the right place at the right time has been my gospel.”
“I stay professional, be on time, do my homework and stay supportive. That’s what true greatness in music is all about. The other angular stuff you can mention has nothing to do with moving forward.”
“Life will test your shit to see if you’re strong enough. You must be tough to navigate it all. But more importantly, you must be sincere. Being that has probably saved my life.”