The man contains multitudes. Multitudes of rhythm, soul, jazz, blues, smoke and magic. He’s an astounding piano man, a deeply soulful singer and a tremendously gifted songwriter whose music merges strains of honky-tonk New Orleans, Memphis soul, Chicago blues, East Coast rock ‘n’ roll, the California sound and more, all rendered in a voice that marries the spirit of Dr. John with Elton John. He’s “the train that never stops,” as one writer put it – a musician forever on the road who has amassed a… Show more vast network of fans around the globe, all hungry for his newest musical offering.
Bob Malone grew up in the wilds of New Jersey, where he started piano lessons at nine – within a year he could play anything put in front of him – and dreamed of being a classical musician. For years he listened only to classical music, but hearing Billy Joel in a Sears store was a revelation for him, and within a few years he was writing his own songs, and playing with rock bands. He studied music at Berklee in Boston (though he was already gigging regularly both solo and with bands, as he has ever since), after which he moved to Hollywood, and embarked, not unlike Bob Dylan, on an endless tour, playing an average of 100 shows a year.
He recorded his first CD in 1996 and started raking in a multitude of accolades and awards, including Artist of the Year and Singer/Songwriter Album of the Year at the Just Plain Folks 2006 Music Awards, Songwriter of the Year at the 2007 South Bay Music Awards, and the ASCAP Plus Award.
And now comes Ain’t What You Know, the eagerly anticipated new album, produced and created with producer-guitarist Bob DeMarco. It’s Malone’s seventh album, and the first to be released both on vinyl and CD. It’s a new phase for Malone, an evolution of his expression both as a songwriter and performer. It’s both edgier and more intimate than his previous records, both sorrowful and celebratory because, like his fellow Jersey native Bruce Springsteen, Malone writes songs that cover the full gamut of human experience, from deeply blue to vividly exultant.
“This couldn’t have come at a better time,” Malone said about his collaboration with DeMarco. He’d written a handful of new songs, but felt like he needed a new direction. He and DeMarco had worked many times on TV songs and cues, and DeMarco became a fan of both Malone’s recorded and live music. But felt the records didn’t show the whole picture. “I thought it would be great to bring out some of the most classic rock elements in his music,” said DeMarco. “So we made a record that we’d both like to hear. We tapped into some edgier music and tried some different stuff, but it’s still essentially Bob. It’s real music, as honest as anyone I’ve ever worked with.”
So together they embarked on a journey to make a new kind of Bob Malone album, one in which the rocker in him is as unchained as it is in live shows. “It was a natural progression,” Malone said. “It’s a bigger sound, more produced, more rocking – but not worlds away from what I’ve done before.”
Malone also got something he’d never had before while making an album -- the freedom to record with no budgetary or time-constraints. Since DeMarco owns his own state-of-the art recording studio in Camarillo, California, no one had to watch the clock. “In the past,” Malone said, “I’d get what I could as quickly as possible – and the results were good. But this time around [DeMarco] didn’t settle for good, he wanted everything to be awesome. If it was usable but not genius, we would do it again.”
To reach that level, DeMarco enlisted legendary friends, including Mike Baird (Hall & Oates, Kenny Loggins), Marty Rifkin (Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen) and Lee Sklar (Jackson Browne, James Taylor). “Working with musicians of this caliber,” DeMarco said, “elevated us all.” And Malone loved the new blood infused into his music: “It was great. It kicked me out of my comfort zone somewhat. People knew me as this character, the raconteur, guy in the hat, New Orleans thing. And I suppressed a lot of genuine emotions by playing that part.” Like Tom Waits and others who defined their onstage roles so thoroughly that the public became unable to imagine them outside of it, Malone knew it was time to jettison the old persona to embrace new possibilities. What came out surprised him. “Suddenly I felt free to write whatever songs I wanted to. Some I felt I would never do in front of anyone. I didn’t want to do anything that revealing, like ..No One Can Hurt You.’ That guy is a prick in that song. But people respond strongly to it. When you really put yourself out there, people respond.”
Over a period of two months, they cut all the tracks. When Malone was on the road (as he is most of the time, touring with acts such as The Neville Brothers, Rev. Al Green, Boz Scaggs, Manhattan Transfer, Leon Russell, Subdudes, and Vonda Shepard), DeMarco recorded all the guitar tracks himself. “I’d never relinquished control like that before,” Malone said, “But doing guitar parts is sort of like making sausage – it’s not something you need to watch.”
DeMarco had some ideas for outside songs Malone could cover, such as the Faces’ standard, “Stay With Me,” a song Malone loved, but never considered performing: “It’s a great song, and turning it into kind of an R&B thing with horns, seemed like a good idea. We were going for a kind of ’70s vibe – but good ’70s.” Another slice of that “good ’70s” sound is Malone’s cover of The Band’s classic “Cripple Creek”: “It’s a song I have always loved, and I made it mine. I came up with a new groove for it, and it was comfortable for me. And also, there haven’t been a million versions of it.”
Music in the ‘70s came on vinyl, of course, and Malone’s music has long deserved to be rendered with the same dimensional warmth that vinyl affords. “I always wanted to make vinyl,” Malone said, “when I was a kid dreaming of playing music, I always had the idea that I would make a big record album, but as I started in the CD age, there didn’t seem to be any call for it. Having this on vinyl has been great -- some people will listen to vinyl who won’t listen to CDs. It sets you apart from the pack a little bit.”
All the other songs on the record are originals, including “Why Not Me,” which the two men wrote together: “Both of us love a good pop song,” said Malone, “and are unafraid to say it. And it’s the hardest thing in the world to write – something that is lasting that also has some content to it. I don’t care about being cool, because I’m not very cool. I have always wanted to write a song that matters, something that will still be around when I’m not.”
The title song, “Ain’t What You Know,” was sparked by a phrase Malone picked up from a club-owner in Queensland, Australia. “She said to me, ..It ain’t what you know, it ain’t who you know, it’s what you know about who you know.’” He stashed the line in the back of his mind, as songwriters do, and the next day he wrote the entire lyric during a bus drive through the Australian outback as kangaroos and other indigenous wildlife bounced by.
Malone’s last two albums, the live “Malone Alone” and the 2006 studio effort “Born Too Late” earned Top 20 spots on the Living Blues, Roots Music Report and Earshot (Canada) radio charts, steady play on over 300 non-com and A3 radio stations, including Sirius and XM Satellite Radio, and high-profile play on syndicated shows such as Car Talk, Acoustic Café, and the Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Additionally, Malone’s songs have been heard on television shows including Jag, Felicity, Cupid, One Life To Live, The Young and the Restless, All My Children and films Hollywood Palms, Jaded, P.S. I Love You and One Eyed Horse.
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