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Blue Monsoon Music
Ron Marinelli (Uttamasloka dasa) is an American musician and music producer, influenced by bands and great musicians like the Beatles, B B King, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, and later also inspired by North Indian classical music. He was born in Canada, but is nowadays livin in California where he is involved in different projects of music and film, being the owner of the record company Blue Monsoon Music.
Ron Marinelli about himself:
Iíve since discovered countless times over, that the epiphany I had at that moment was shared by millions of other Baby Boomer soon-to-be musicians around the world. It was the proverbial "call of the sirens". Irresistible, compelling and globally pervasive to say the least. The Beatles still represent the pop musical high water mark for me.
Within days, my ever accommodating parents, Anna and Ross, obligingly arranged for guitar lessons at a music store in downtown Hamilton. After a few lessons with my portly Italian guitar teacher, using an acoustic guitar that required a wrestlerís (Gorgeous George) vise grip to fret the strings, I decided that learning Italian wedding songs on a cheese cutter masquerading as a guitar was not the best way to prepare for participating in the rock & roll revolution that was taking place. I mean, given a choice between learning Volarť and House of the Rising Sun, whatís a 60ís teenager gonna do?
So I quit the lessons and convinced my father to buy me a Fender Music Master guitar and small tweed Fender amp (collectorís items now Ė doh!) on the promise that I would learn to play on my own. Armed with the basic necessities, including the standard Mel Bay guitar instruction book, and a small portable record player, I began the arduous journey of self-instruction, intuitively followed by countless other aspiring rock and roll guitar players.
Thank God for patient mothers and fathers, who some how or other tolerated hearing the same bits of a song hundreds of times in endless repetition (via RND Ė Random Needle Dropping), followed by a skanky imitation (which thankfully got better in time). At least I kept my promise.
Within a year or so, I joined a few fledgling bands and played the local party scene. By 1966 I had joined forces with one of my best friends, bass player Bobby Hebert, and the two of us formed The Jameson Roberts Blues Band, destined to become one of the most popular bands in Hamilton in the mid to late 60ís. The Jameson Roberts Blues Band was fundamentally an R&B band (Stax, Motown, Blues, etc) and that music was the mainstay of my musical vocabulary for several years.
Very early on I became curious about where other guitarists were coming up with ideas for their solos and riffs. I soon discovered that the Black blues guitarists were the well springs that others were drawing from. This revelation came courtesy of Ronnie Coppel, a friend who lived up the street from me and who had a collection of records featuring these soon to be legendary guitarists.
So I immersed myself in the study of this roots music and began emulating the styles of BB King, Albert King, Buddy Guy and Otis Rush. This was the beginning of my journey as one of the influential lead guitarists in the Hamilton band scene of that era.
One day, while in Sam Goodyís, a big record store in downtown Toronto, I heard a record playing over the store speakers that immediately caught my attention. It was an instrumental blues jam and the guitarist was like no other I had ever heard. What tone! What articulation and expressive style! Who was this guy?
I ran all over the store searching for the record player and discovered that the album was an anthology of different English bands and this was one of three songs Ė Steppin Out - from an unknown group (I canít even remember their name) featuring a guitarist named Eric Clapton! I bought the album immediately and rushed home to study.
This was just months before Clapton was revealed to the rest of the world (outside of England) in the now classic John Mayalís Blues Breakers album, which had a different version of Steppin Out (what guitarist didnít learn that one?). As with millions of other guitarists, my guitar playing life was changed forever after hearing Clapton on that album. The Jameson Roberts Blues Band was booked to open for Cream at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, but US Immigration wouldnít let us across the border because our paperwork wasnít right. Very disappointing.
Then one day we got a strange phone call from a musician friend in Windsor, Ontario. He insisted that we had to come to Windsor right away, because there was a band that was going to play that weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan (across the border). He said we were going to be completely and totally blown away because the guitarist was better than Clapton. We gasped! How could this be possible? Who could it be? He said he had an album from England that wasnít even released yet in the US.
Intrigued, a group of us went down to Windsor and I remember when we all first heard the albumÖ Are You Experienced, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. We were stunned and shocked. We had never heard music or guitar playing like that before. Where did this guy come from? This is who weíre going to hear? Imagine our anticipation.
So we went to the club in Ann Arbor that Saturday night. Just a small club and a hundred people at most. I stood right in front of the stage within armís reach of Jimi and watched the whole set at point blank range. He played so incredibly well that night that we were utterly devastated. We hid in the bathroom (poor, starving musicians) to stay for the second show and it was just as good as the first. Later on, I saw Hendrix a number of times in big concerts and he didnít play anywhere near as good as that night in the club.
In fact, during the last song, he smashed his amp (Marshall stack) and guitar (white Fender Strat), and during the frenzy, I got his guitar strap, which I used proudly on my gigs as a badge of honor for years to come. I gave the strap away in 1971, but I canít remember who has it now (40 lashes).
On the drive home from the club, we were like a car full of vegetables. There was dead silence. We didnít know what to say. We were in a stupor. It was overwhelming to say the least. I learned many years later while reading a coffee book by Noel Redding that Hendrix had just been kicked off the Monkees tour and they were languishing in New York, when the call for this gig came through. Lucky for us. In the book, he couldnít remember if it was Detroit or Ann Arbor. I remember vividly.
Well, needless to say, as soon as Are You Experienced came out in North America, we were the first band to play a collection of Hendrix tunes. Being the good copycat that I was, and having had the benefit of direct close up observation (he used a black Fuzz Face), I was able to faithfully recreate some of the sonic magic that is embodied in Hendrixís music and guitar playing (yes, I even played with my teeth) Ė what to speak of wearing his guitar strap while doing it Ė big time mojo!
At this point, the band morphed along with the tide of the late 60ís musical revolution to incorporate psychedelic rock, hard rock, blues rock with elaborate arrangements, long solos and jams, zzzzzzz... ;-)
We started incorporating more original songs. In fact, the first song I ever wrote (Now Iím So Alone Ė I was 17) was recorded in the first basement home studio of now famous producer, Daniel Langois, whose motherís sister was my motherís best friend. You see Ė itís always who you know. Daniel was a fellow musician in the music scene and saw our band on a number of occasions.
In 1969 I teamed up with some musicians from Windsor and Toronto and formed an all original group called Flapping (donít ask). We had dual lead guitars (a first at the time), myself and Kerry Shapiro. One night our manager called us to come immediately to Toronto to do a showcase for an executive from Mainstream Records, who had signed the Amboy Dukes (with Ted Nugent).
We played a 30 minute showcase of our best tunes, went back to our managerís apartment and within a few hours signed the recording contract, without any legal representation and about a 15 minute group meeting in the bedroom. Sound familiar?
We went into the studio within the week and in about 2 days cut the entire album of 10 songs. None of us received any rough mixes, what to speak of final mixes or masters. The record never came out. Apparently the master tapes were lost or something. To be honest, Iím not really sure what happened. Iíve still never heard what we did outside of when we were recording it. Eventually that band broke up but an interesting anecdote from that era is worth recounting.
In 1970, the Toronto Rock & Roll Revival was held in Varsity Stadium in the heart of downtown Toronto. It was an all day assortment of legendary Rock & Rollers Ė Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and contemporary headliners Ė Chicago, Alice Cooper, et al. We were the only local band on the bill (inside connections) and we were the opening act.
The main headliner was John Lennon and Yoko Ono, with Eric Clapton and Claus Voorman. It was the first time he played since the Beatles broke up. Right after the Montreal, Give Peace a Chance bed-in. I saw John back stage Ė white suit, long hair and beard - but I didnít get to meet him. It was still potent and I was awe-struck.
During the afternoon, after Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, it was time for Chuck Berry to go on. I was wandering around back stage when my manager came up to me and asked me blandly if I wanted to play with Chuck Berry. Surprised and a little confused, I asked what was going on? I was informed that he didnít have a band! They were trying to get a band together literally minutes before he was to go on stage! Somehow they did and I was in it!
We scrambled on stage and stood there waiting for some sort of instruction. Yah right. Chuck was talking to the audience and then he just started playing and turned around and smiled at us! Well that was the cue. We quickly figured out what key we were in and away we went. And thatís more or less how it was for the whole set. Sometimes he would tell us the key, but never the song. He just started playing and we jumped right in within a few seconds. And we knew every song. If you canít play Chuck Berry songs, you might as well sell your guitar.
Later, in 1974 when I was living in the Krishna ashram, someone asked me if I had every played with Chuck Berry, to which I answered yes, of course. I asked him if he was there and he said no, he saw it on TV! They made a movie about John Lennon and that concert, and they included a song each from Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. It was Johnny Be Good. It wasnít until about 12 years later that I finally found the video by sheer chance in a video store in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I rushed home and sure enough I was in it. What a rare slice of the past to be surprised with.
By the end of 1970, I was tired and somewhat frustrated by the music scene in general. I was also feeling the call of a higher spiritual purpose. I read The Bhagavad Gita translated and commented on by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (my spiritual master to be) and soon after, I joined the Hare Krishna movement and lived in ashrams for a little over 7 years. It was a most amazing and memorable time of my life. This was also my introduction to Indian music on a number of different levels.
I learned to chant Sanskrit slokas, mantras and bhajans and I learned to play the clay drum called mridunga, as well as brass hand cymbals called karatalas. Between 1971 and 1978 I went to India 4 times and during those trips I was exposed to more of the Bengali style of mridunga playing and chanting.
The mridunga is used primarily during kirtans Ė congregational chanting of the holy names of GodÖ Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare It is also used to accompany bhajans, which are devotional songs of love to Krishna. I got very deeply into kirtans and playing mridunga.
When my spiritual master accepted me as his disciple, he gave me the spiritual name, Uttamasloka dasa, and he told me that it meant that I am the servant (dasa) of Krishna, who is praised with transcendental songs.
I also discovered North Indian classical music with solo instruments such as the sitar, sarod, shenai, bansuri (bamboo flute - my favorite), violin, etc. And the incredible subtleties of the most expressive hand percussion instrument in the world Ė tabla. My son, Radha Gopinatha, is an accomplished tabla player and we record and play together regularly. All of these new influences expanded my musical horizons to new heights. Last year I started studying bansuri, bamboo flute, under the guidance of my teacher, Radha Prasad, a masterful bansuri player.
In 1978 I moved to Los Angeles, where I hooked up with another best friend and master musician/songwriter, Michael Cassidy (our first artist at Blue Monsoon Music). The wonderful creative partnership that was forged then, has been recently revived with several new projects in the works, including live performances around the world. In the early 80ís, Michael and I played clubs in LA together and recorded and co-produced an albumís worth of Michaelís original tunes. No record deals this time either.
In February 1984 I started working at a computer store for one of my best friends. That happens to be the same month that Apple introduced the Macintosh to the world. I quickly became the storeís Mac expert and eventually, manager. Within a year, I left the store and became one of the first Macintosh consultants in Los AngelesÖ The MAConsultant.
I was the first consultant in the LA area to develop multi-user (even before AppleTalk), mission critical applications for businesses on the Mac. I was a leading custom software developer for many years with a highly diverse and notable client list. Iím still supporting a number of clients.
Since then, other than a few forays into home recording, music took a back seat to software development until 1998 when I formed a musical partnership with Anthony Adams (guitars) and Christina Adams (vocals), a husband and wife songwriting team. Chris and Anthony are also in the final stages of editing on their first independent film project called, Peak Experience (they co-wrote and co-produced it too).
Iíve been busy the last few years producing our songs. Some of my original songs, as well as theirs, will be in the film. It will hit the Indie Film Festivals this summer and hopefully be out by the end of the year along with the CD.
These collaborations also resulted in me setting up my project recording studio, which eventually lead to the manifestation of my record company, Blue Monsoon Music. And here we are.