Jersey native Bob Malone has been touring the world for over two decades as both a solo artist and a member of John Fogerty's band for the past decade. He's done session work for artists like Bob Seger and Avril Lavigne, was featured on the 2017 Ringo Starr record Give More Love, and 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.
As a solo artist, he 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. Malone will return to the area with a full band performance on the mainstage at Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway on Thursday, September 30 at 8:00pm. Tickets range from $24.25 to $34.25 and are available for purchase online.
New Jersey Stage reached out to Malone to learn more about returning to Jersey for the show, his latest album, the pandemic, and playing with John Fogerty.
You grew up in New Jersey, but haven't lived here in a long time. Do you still have relatives or friends in the area? Does the show at UCPAC feel like a homecoming show of sorts?
Yes! It's been such a long time since I've lived in New Jersey, but when I'm back, it still feels like home. I imprinted on the place like a baby bird imprints on its mom. I still have friends and relatives there, they are my people, and they remind me where I came from, in case I start getting weird.
Have you ever performed at UCPAC or seen a show there before?
No - it'll be my first visit. I'm looking forward to it. We were going to be playing the Hamilton Stage, but because it was flooded, we're now on the much larger mainstage. Lots of seats to fill!
Will this be a solo show or are you bringing a band?
I'll be bringing my long-time NYC touring band and my background singers (four of them!), the Malonettes from here in LA. It's the whole bi-costal ensemble: Rich Zukor - Drums; Ritt Henn - Bass; Anthony Babino - Guitar; Celeste Butler - Vocals; Trysette Loosemore - Vocals; Beth Falcone - Vocals; and LaDonna Burns - Vocals.
Your latest album was released earlier this year, but the video for the title track came out in July 2019. Did you plan on releasing the album last year? Did the pandemic lead you to delay its release?
Yes, that's exactly what happened. The whole record was done before the pandemic, and we were planning on a spring 2020 release, with the "Good People" single setting it up, but like so many things that year, it never happened. It was hard to sit on a finished project like that for a year, but I felt like putting it out during the pandemic was like releasing it into the void. So we waited until this year.
Songs like "My Friends and I" have such passionate vocals. Are the lyrics based on your life or the lives of those you know?
"My Friends & I" is just me opening the most secret parts of my diary for all the world to see. That was all about me and a lot of my friends entering deep middle age, and the things that often go along with that. We had a friend diagnosed with cancer at 50, another friend who finally lost hope and committed suicide, friends losing their parents. And my cat died. And that hard to describe feeling you get at a certain age that you are becoming invisible.
How did you make it through last year? Did you have any livestream concerts or outdoor shows? Did you go a long time without performing?
My last live performance before shutdown was on March 15, 2020, a week later I started doing weekly online shows from home on StageIt. Every Tuesday fans rallied and paid to see my play. They kept me sane and kept the groceries coming in. It was pretty wonderful. I'm still doing the online shows about once a month. There were no live shows, indoors or outdoors. In July and August of this year, I finally went back out on the road with John Fogerty, and this month I started my own tour at a festival in Upstate NY. Between the StageIt gigs, some royalty checks, a few sessions, and my wife being able to work from home, we made it through ok, so I don't complain. The hardest thing by far that year was losing Lavone Seetal to cancer - so much of my new record is built around her singing and she was a close friend to all of us. A terrible loss of an extraordinary talent.
Speaking of performing... I'm sure you have had many great moments on stage, but it doesn't get much better than having someone like Bruce Springsteen jump on stage with you at Hyde Park. Was that night with Fogerty one of your favorite moments? How about playing JazzFest in New Orleans?
Yeah man - Springsteen. It was huge. When I was a sophomore in high school, I think - 1981 or so, I confessed to a friend two years older that I knew nothing about Bruce Springsteen, and she loaned me all of her Bruce records - including the Live at Winterland bootleg. She was a good friend. I fell hard for it all. This also quickly led to deep Southside Johnny fandom. My best friend Buzz (still my best friend!) had this crappy Volkswagen Beetle being held together by Bondo and duct tape, holes in the floorboards, the brakes didn't work so we'd haul up on the emergency brake to stop, and, of course, the radio didn't work. So we'd just ride around in that car at night singing Springsteen songs acapella - one after another - howling into the New Jersey night. Still one of my happiest memories in life.
Jazz Fest is a dream come true over and over. New Orleans is deep in my musical heart.
How did you get involved with John Fogerty's band?
I was recommended, got called for an audition (in John's garage!) I was like: "I'm playing Creedence tunes with a band in a garage, who hasn't done this?!" They liked me. I got the gig. Two weeks later we were playing a festival in Russia for 300,000 people.
You have toured all over the world. Is there a festival or a club/venue that you haven't played that's on your wish list?
Still haven't played Carnegie Hall. Although I have played across the street from Carnegie Hall.
Were you really on the Music Connection Best Unsigned Artist list for 5 straight years? Did that keep you motivated or frustrate you that you were close but still unsigned?
Yes, I was on that list for so long it went from exciting to embarrassing. It was the 90s, I was very unclassifiable (still am!) and this was a time when what I was doing was a million miles from what and record labels wanted - although I did have a few singing near-misses. Determined to not be relegated to a life of taking requests in bars and reminiscing about how I almost got that record deal, I set out to tour and record indie and spent years driving back and forth across the country and crisscrossing Europe, building up my fan base one person at a time.
Finally, I know it's a cliche to say someone who plays the piano and who once lived in New Orleans reminds them of Dr. John, but... Who would some of your piano heroes be?
Dr John - LOL. Mac Rebennack changed my molecular structure. Booker, Henry Butler. Ray Charles. Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson, and of course Billy Joel ("Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" also changed my molecular structure), Elton John. Richard Tee, David Sancious, Roy Bittan, Rick Wakeman, Jimmy Smith, Steve Winwood. Leonard Bernstein. My very first piano hero was Vladimir Horowitz and I learned early on that I was never going to be able to play the Rachmaninoff 3rd, let alone play it like him.