“If you’re holding a trombone, you’re supposed play certain kids of music,” said Mark Mullins, one of three trombonists in Bonerama. “But we’re not gonna!”
Expect anything from hometown New Orleans brass blasts to Led Zeppelin blues-rock to tight Frank Zappa tunes from Bonerama tonight at the Parish Public House (338 Broadway, Albany).
Raised in New Orleans suburbs, Mullins has co-led Bonerama with Craig Klein since 1998 when both still played in Harry Connick Jr.’s big band. Like Trombone Shorty, both started playing in grade school.
“My older brothers were in the school band. As the youngest brother, I said, ‘I want to do this.’” Mullins actually wanted to play saxophone, until his orthodontist warned playing sax would increase the overbite his parents were expensively fixing, and a brother told him everybody in band wanted to play trumpet, sax or drums, but nobody wanted to wrestle the trombone.
“He was right,” Mullins recalled. “I was first chair right away” — in fourth grade.
At Loyola University, classical teachers Richard Erb and John Mahoney widened Mullins’ view of trombone tradition and technique. “All I knew back then was Jimmy Pankow with Chicago,” said Mullins. When Mahoney put on a J.J. Johnson record, “I went, ‘Oh, my GOD! He totally changed the world of the trombone in bebop; he was the ultimate innovator.” Mullins said Erb “gave me the tools to play everything I play in Bonerama, though it has nothing to do with what I do here musically.”
Worked his way up
Studying formally by day, Mullins played New Orleans clubs at night. Allen Toussaint played Tipitina’s in the French Quarter on Thursdays, Cyril Neville had Fridays so Mullins took Wednesdays. He learned the dollars and cents reality of the music business — “You’re only worth what you bring in the door,” said Mullins — and how to build Bonerama.
“Craig [Klein] had seen a band in New York with multiple trombone players, and he had a vision,” said Mullins. “We should do this with a New Orleans theme. Obviously, the brass band culture is enormous in New Orleans and a great inspiration, but we wanted to feature trombones up front.”
One night, Mullins called all the trombone players they knew to Tipitina’s: “Before we knew it, we had a band,” he said, “a musical gumbo, channeled through trombones. We knew in the first four measures we had something with its own kind of energy, spark and sound ... really unique and really fun.”
Musically, too; as Bonerama branched out from the Meters’ New Orleans funk to classic rock, first with Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein,” Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, whose “Peaches in Regalia,” for example, “transfers beautifully to the trombone,” said Mullins.
Mullins said, “We’re recording an entire Led Zeppelin album, through the Bonerama voice;” plus a second new album mixing covers and originals. He loves to compose and arrange but also enjoys when Bonerama “goes ‘off the page,’ when anything goes, when we’re floating and we’re holding onto each other musically.”
Mullins acknowledged, “This is a tough business, and it’s getting tougher,” but he’s also wryly grateful. After 18 years together, “It’s like our buddy Dave Malone from the Radiators says, ‘We're too stupid to quit!” He quickly corrected himself. “It’s not stupid at all. It’s the luckiest job in the word: playing music and making people happy.”
Doors 8 p.m., opener Oobleck plays at 8:45 p.m., and Bonerama hits at 10. 465-0444 www.parishpublichouse.com
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]