An Interview with guitarist/singer/songwriter Marcus Bonfanti: Happiness is doing what you love all the time

"You can take the emotion and feeling required to play the blues and apply it to anything you do."

Marcus Bonfanti: The new Blues has come

From the first note of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” sixteen-year-old Marcus Bonfanti knew he wanted to be a guitar player. Bonfanti has become the sum of all the great music he was exposed to as a young boy growing up in North London. His 2008 debut album, ‘Hard Times,’ set the scene and sent some subtly effective messages about a new British voice demanding to be heard. 2010’s ‘What Good Am I To You’ makes good on all those promises. The critical acclaim that both albums received earned him 2 nominations in both last year and this year’s “British Blues Awards” for Best Male Vocals & Best Guitar.

Born to an English Mother and Italian father who was still at University at the time, they preceded to play the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Beatles and Cat Stevens throughout his childhood but it wasn’t until a friend at school turned him onto Zeppelin and The Doors that his love for the guitar began.
After moving to Liverpool to study music at The Institute for Performing Arts, Marcus decided to leave the college after 2 years and follow in the footsteps of his idols by learning his trade out on the road. He formed a 3-piece blues band and played 3 sets a night 7 nights a week all over the country picking up valuable experience of how to perform as well as a healthy appetite for late nights and strong Whisky along the way.
Also a member of UK rock band Saint Jude and playing and recording with legendary singer PP Arnold, Bonfanti has managed to pack a lot into his early musical career. Opening for the likes of Chuck Berry, Robert Cray, Jack Bruce, John Mayal, The Yardbirds, Walter Trout, Ian Siegal, Philip Sayce, Sonny Landreth, and Paul Jones. As well as working with Joe Louis Walker, Johnny Mars, The Selecter, Jimmy Carl Black, Earl Thomas, and Todd Sharpville. 2012 see the release of Bonfanti’s much-anticipated third album as well as dates around the UK and Europe to promote it.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Marcus, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues & from whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music?
The first time I remember wanting to play the blues was after a friend at school recommended I get into Led Zeppelin and The Doors. I bought Zep IV and LA Woman on the same day and it changed everything. As soon as I heard these albums I knew I wanted to play the blues, I’d been playing guitar for a year and learning mainly old folk tunes and The Beatles. Led Zeppelin was the heaviest thing I’d ever heard. It’s too difficult to pinpoint exactly who has influenced me most but Jimmy Page, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Steve Cropper & Marc Ribot have definitely taught me a lot.

Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?
I think its from a bit of all three, I play and sing from the heart because it’s honest and sounds better but you got to have your brain keeping up with it so you can execute everything the way you want it. If you’re playing music the right way then it’s always got soul. Music played solely with the brain leaves me feeling cold.

What does music offered you? What do you learn about yourself from music?
Because music is the way I make money and also the thing I love to do most with my life I find a lot out about myself when I play, the way I play guitar changes with how I’m feeling. I used to think that I couldn’t play good guitar unless I was unhappy but now I know how to feel it when I want to without having to be depressed all the time!

How has the blues music changed your life?
It’s changed the songs a write and the way I approach playing all different styles of music. I play a lot of different styles from day to day not always blues. You can take the emotion and feeling required to play the blues and apply it to anything you do. You got to know the blues to feel and play music properly.

How do you describe your philosophy about the music and life?
That’s a heavy question! I think as long as you do whatever it is you do honestly and from the heart then you can take pride in everything you do with your life. I love how interesting my life is and music has made it that way. Although Tom Waits once said “Just because it’s true doesn’t make it interesting” we all love a good story so I try and be involved in as many as I can.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician and people?
I think my growing up was important, my mum and dad used to play me lots of old records when I was younger, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens, The Beatles etc… those early experiences definitely shaped what it is I do today. Also the way my dad worked really hard to provide for us gave me the same drive to do the same so I never stop working and I never stop trying to improve what I do. Now I got a family I provide for the exactly like he provided for us.

How/where do you get inspiration for your songs & what do you think is the main characteristic of you personality that made you a songwriter?
I get most of my inspiration from past experiences and people I meet on my travels around the world playing music. There are so many interesting stories I hear from people from all walks of life. Most of my songs are about things that happened to me and usually things that really got me angry, although I do write some happier songs too…sometimes.

To which person do you want to send one from your songs?

I would love to send one of my songs to Tom Waits; he is one of my hero’s and biggest musical influences. I don’t think he would particularly love what I do and lyrically I am nowhere near what he does but I’d love to know that he listened to it all the way through, just once. That would be enough.

What would you like to ask the Zeppelins?
How did you get your albums sounding so good and also when you recorded “Since I Been Loving You” what take did you use? Was it a first take because it’s an incredible performance?

How has the blues lyrics changed over the years?
Blues lyrics have changed a lot in my opinion, obviously the world has changed so much since blues was first recorded and the themes are still similar but the subject matter has changed. Not everyone has moved on but the people I really like all write lyrics that respect the way blues started but write about life as it is now.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
The best moment of my career was my first sold out show in London at the Jazz Café in January 2012. It was my first gig of the year and I’d never played such a large venue before. We promoted it hard and it paid off, we had a full house and it was an amazing moment walking out to a venue full of people there to listen to my music. The worst moment is difficult because I always try and take positives from every situation but traveling up to Glasgow and back in 24hours to play to 6 people wasn’t a lot of fun BUT I was so happy those people came out I played a great show and now I can sell venues out in Glasgow so its all worth it.

What is the “THINK” you miss most from Jimmy Carl Black?
I had a great time with Jimmy, he came by the pub in Liverpool we used to rehearse & record a couple of times and hung out and jammed with us. We recorded loads and got drunk listened to his stories it was great times. I didn’t meet him enough times to miss anything specific but he taught me how to play the Texas shuffle properly and how much fun life on the road is. I will always miss his great vibe…

Which memory from PP Arnold makes you smile?
Ah I love P, she is great. I had such a good time touring with her last year and I can’t wait to do it again real soon. So much about her makes me smile. My favorite memory is sitting in a splitter van with her coming back from Swansea at bout 2am while she told me stories of how she used to cook dinner for Hendrix and The Stones otherwise they wouldn’t eat.

Are there any memories from Joe Louis Walker, which you’d like to share with us?
I always say that I learnt more from sharing a stage with Joe Louis Walker for 2 nights than I did from 2 years at University. His feel and ideas are amazing and they way he lead the band was great too. The gigs were so good and we had a lot of fun hanging out with him too. He’s played with the best, he is one of the best!

Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet?
I’d love to meet Howlin Wolf; his music has everything I love about the blues in it. Its sleazy and got a great groove and then the whole raw vocals and swagger that goes over the top is what makes it amazing. I’d have loved to have a drink and a jam with him.

What would you say to Van Morrison?
Can I open your show please Mr. Morrison?

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
The blues is hard to play, BB King said “The blues is easy to play and impossible to master” and that’s the truth. Not just anyone can learn the blues scale and then expect to be a blues musician it takes way more than that. Some music styles can come and go and it’s usually style over substance, which gets people caught up in the moment and then very bored very quickly. The blues just draws you in always and echoes what you’re feeling inside. I just wish that more people have a deeper look into all that blues music has to offer and find people like Mississippi John Hurt, JB Lenoir, Leadbelly and get as much enjoyment from the music as I have and still do.

What is your “secret” music DREAM? What turns you on? Happiness is…
I just want to be able to play music forever and keep on writing, recording, touring and meeting new musicians till the day I die. That’s my dream and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Happiness is doing what you love all the time.

How you would spend a day with Tony Joe White?
Drinking expensive Whisky and playing in the key of D! Also playing golf because a friend of mine from Scotland who runs a golf hotel told me he is crazy on golf and bought a set of clubs from him a few years back. I’m rubbish at golf so I hope he wouldn’t want to do that and just want to drink and play music.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
I think its now. I’m doing this interview from a car in the middle of America driving between Miami and New Orleans and when I get back to England I have a gig opening for one of my favorite artists JJ Grey, then a gig with Mark Feltham at Ronnie Scotts and then I go to Scandinavia for a bunch of solo shows and come back to open for The Straits. Then I go on tour of the UK with my band in April with a short break in the middle to play guitar for American singer Earl Thomas in Switzerland and Poland. It is definitely now!


What do you think for the 60s BRIT BLUES & how close are to the MODERN BRIT BLUES?

The 60’s seemed like an incredible time; everything I read about those days makes me wish I were there. The exciting thing about that time was it was all new to everyone. People in England had never heard this sound before and it was blowing their minds. We can never have that again but we are doing something different now and that is important. There is no point trying to imitate the past because that isn’t moving anything forward, what the exciting bands around now are doing is referencing it and doing something different. I think its exciting times right now, just like it must have been in the 60’s.

Marcus Bonfanti's official website


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