Q&A with New York Blues Hall Of Famer soul-blues diva Regina Bonelli - her music is a blues-meets-R&B tsunami

"Blues, and all music, has always had a major impact on racial, political and socio-cultural situations. Artists are responsible for getting there messages out to the world, to have people feel their pain and joy. We have a responsibility to send out the word."

Regina Bonelli: True Groove, Truth Music

Regina Bonelli Brooklyn born, New York Blues Hall Of Famer has the kind of voice that makes you sit up and pay attention. "Truth Hurts", her new album (Release Day: February 18th, 2022, on True Groove Records), is a tour de force where modern blues and vintage soul meld together into a whole new musical animal. “Even though I’d been performing for years before Love Letter came out,” she notes (commenting on her critically-acclaimed debut album from 2018 that spent an astounding 60 weeks on the Soul-Blues charts,) “and I’d worked as a backup singer on other people’s records, the whole experience of recording an album of original material is always a learning process. It was great, and I was very happy with the way it came out, but as time went on and we started working together more and more, I knew we could dig deeper. I think this is really the first time we’ve been able to capture the intensity of what it’s like when we play live. I played the record for my son the other day, he’s in his mid-20s, and he said, ‘Mom, you’re this really dynamic performer and this record really captures that spirit.”

(Regina Bonelli / Photo © by Patrick Hilaire)

Backed by the True Groove All-Stars (and under the longtime production guidance of Tomás Doncker and James Dellatacoma), Bonelli taps into the emotional core that lies at the heart of the album’s six originals and three select covers to exacting results. It’s not so much that she’s wearing her heart on her sleeve as she is drawing every drop of emotion out of each track and and leaving a pool of tears - both the joyful and sorrowful varieties - in her wake. Regina began to write blues tunes inspired by her own life and the world around her. She is an electrifying performer, and is receiving standing ovations, backed by her A-list band The True Groove All-Stars. Regina has shared the stage with music icons such as Bobby Rush, Paul Simon, Martha Reeves, The Temptations, Blues Traveler, Popa Chubby, and Ronnie Earl, to name but a few.

Interview by Michael Limnios 

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I've listened to a lot of artists that represent the counterculture over the years, and I consider myself one of them. Music is the expression of social and political upheaval, as well as life's trials and tribulations. I have always felt that it is an artist's duty to express their views and to comment on what is happening in the world.

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

I know that the Blues is a unique African-American art form, which was born from the African-American experience in the United States. Originating from slavery, I pay respect to the roots of this music. These situations still exist, unfortunately, and the Blues is an important purveyor of these injustices. I realize that I myself can be sensitive to it, but do not really know it as an inner experience.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues researches? How do you describe your songbook and sound?

I always loved blues music and have experienced my own form of the blues in my life, as we all have. I write original music based on my experiences and is influenced by blues, funk, R&B, soul and rock. Everything in music is based on something that came before.

"The lessons I have learned from being in the music business are, number one - be yourself. Cultivate your uniqueness and do your own thing. The greatest artists are recognizable. Also, I believe you have to do it without expecting anything back.  It's how we exist as artists." (Photo © by Patrick Hilaire)

How do you describe "Truth Hurts" sound and songbook? Do you have any stories about the making of the new album?

"Truth Hurts" is a hard-hitting, forceful collection of guitar-driven songs, with a few tracks of sweetness thrown in for balance. The songs represent empowerment, both on a personal and social level. The title track "Truth Hurts" talks about how finding the truth can actually be beneficial and "set you free" in a relationship. "Mr. Big Man" tackles the issue of wealth inequality. It's a soulful blues-rock album. All the musicians on the record are top notch...some of the best in the world. We are a family and work together with ease and enjoyment. Working with Tomas Doncker and James Dellatacoma, producer and engineer is sheer pleasure. We have a blast creating this music and we are all dedicated to making the best records possible. The musicians in the True Groove family are stellar artists.

Where does your creative drive come from? What do you think is key to a music life well lived?  

My creative drive comes from within. It is an expression of life, both my own experiences and what's going on in the world around me. I've been writing original music since I am about 14 years old. It's a natural part of me. It's what I do. For me, the key to a musical life well-lived is being able to express myself while connecting with the listeners and hopefully, playing and singing things they can relate to. I want to be able to move their emotions with melodies, changes and lyrics. I also love performing for a live audience, and being able to feel that exchange between myself, the band and the audience. It's powerful and gratifying to have people affected by your songs. After I perform "Don't You Put Your Hands On Me" which is on my first album "Love Letter" and is about domestic violence, women always come up to me and the end of the show and thank me for putting that experience into words. It's an amazing feeling and I'm always very humbled and touched by it.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I have been lucky to have played music and written with some of the best musicians out there. Some of my most important musical experiences have been with my label head, producer and writing partner, Tomas Doncker, of True Groove Records. I have written, recorded and performed with Michael Hill. The best advice I ever got was from my mother, Jane Bonelli, who always told me that "cream rises" and I should just keep doing what I do and be true to myself.                 (Regina Bonelli / Photo © by Patrick Hilaire)

"I know that the Blues is a unique African-American art form, which was born from the African-American experience in the United States. Originating from slavery, I pay respect to the roots of this music. These situations still exist, unfortunately, and the Blues is an important purveyor of these injustices. I realize that I myself can be sensitive to it, but do not really know it as an inner experience."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

One of my very first professional gig was when I was 18. It was in a club called the Bitter End in NYC, which was very happening. I was singing solo with my guitar by the bar and the crown was noisy. I started and was not used to playing out and was getting a little frustrated. A woman came up to name and told me that she heard and saw everything and was listening, and I should just do my thing. I found out later it was the famous folk singer Odetta who encouraged me that night. That always stuck with me and still means a lot to me as a performer.

Are there any memories from The Temptations which you’d like to share with us?

A memory I have from performing with the Temptations is interesting and kind of funny, looking back. I was on the bill with them and scheduled to go on after The Tempatations, and before another act. I was very young and hadn't really performed in front of such a large audience before. I was in the lobby listening to them. At this time there were only a few members of the original band left, and they had a new guy doing David Ruffin's leads. All of a sudden, in the middle of his second song, the audience started walking out in droves, congregating in the lobby. I overheard some comments and, apparently, they weren't very pleased with the new band member's singing. I knew then these folks were expecting great music, and I realized I had to bring it. I was scared but totally did my thing and it went over really well. The audience loved it. And that was my first experience with the proverbial "tough crowd!"

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

The lessons I have learned from being in the music business are, number one - be yourself. Cultivate your uniqueness and do your own thing. The greatest artists are recognizable. Also, I believe you have to do it without expecting anything back.  It's how we exist as artists.

"I always like to think of myself as a Musician first and foremost, and not a Female Musician. No one says, here's the "male blues guitarist" Gary Clark Jr.! I think there are many talented musicians in blues who happen to be women." (Regina Bonelli / Photo © by Patrick Hilaire / All rights reserved)

Artists and labels will have to adapt to the new changes. What are your predictions for the music industry? How do you think the music industry will adapt to it?

There is so much music out there these days - the good,  the bad, and the in-between. It's incredible.  You can get most of it for free, which makes it difficult to make money selling records.  Playing live has obviously been greatly affected by the pandemic. Also, just the general lack of interest in going to shows affects things.  It's not like it was back in the day when finding out what act was coming to town and making sure you went to a concert was the regular thing. But, despite the fact that there's a flood of music out there, we, as artists, still continue on.  We do it because that's what we do. And, you know, there may be a lot of good music out there, but there's not a lot of great music. Cream rises! People will always be drawn to great music.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Don't really miss anything from the blues of the past. I believe music is always evolving. I miss the amount of people who come to see live music but I think it will cycle back around.

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

I think Blues is a genre with many facets. I also think it's definitely a state of mind, and a set of experiences.

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in Blues?                         (Regina Bonelli / Photo © by Patrick Hilaire)

I always like to think of myself as a Musician first and foremost, and not a Female Musician. No one says, here's the "male blues guitarist" Gary Clark Jr.! I think there are many talented musicians in blues who happen to be women.

"Don't really miss anything from the blues of the past. I believe music is always evolving. I miss the amount of people who come to see live music but I think it will cycle back around."

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

Blues, and all music, has always had a major impact on racial, political and socio-cultural situations. Artists are responsible for getting there messages out to the world, to have people feel their pain and joy. We have a responsibility to send out the word.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I'd like to go back to before my mother passed away, sit in her kitchen and tell her about all the awesome things that have been happening recently with me, my music and her grandchildren.

Regina Bonelli - Home

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