GIVE MARCO MENDOZA A PICK AND a 4-string and he can anchor the heaviest hitters in rock; give him a microphone and a fretless 6, and he’ll lead you through an evening of world-class jazz. When former Whitesnake/Thin Lizzy guitarist John Sykes spotted him in 1991 for the first time, and asked him to join Blue Murder, Mendoza was tearing it up at an L.A. local jazz club. Five years later, he was touring with Thin Lizzy.
Such is the yin and yang of Mendoza’s career. The 54-year-old L.A. resident has established himself as someone who can bounce back and forth, seamlessly, between musical genres. Over the past decade, some of Mendoza’s gigs have included stints with Whitesnake, Ted Nugent, Lynch Mob, and Soul Sirkus, and he’ll spend this summer back on the road with Lizzy, paying homage to the music of the late, great Phil Lynott. Before the year is out, he’ll have done sessions with Journey guitarist Neal Schon and Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. When Mendoza is at home, he performs around L.A. with session heavies Joey Heredia on drums and ex-Prince keyboardist Renato Neto on keys; 2010’s Casa Mendoza showcases their soulful, chops-heavy blend of rock, jazz, and funk with Latin and gospel flavors. So, how does a fretless-6-string-playing bassist who sings along with his bebop solos do so well in a rock world?
“When I decided to do this for a living, I chose to apply myself, be open-minded, and learn as much as I could,” says Mendoza, who grew up in a “very musical” family in Tijuana, Mexico. Along the way, the selftaught pro has learned what it takes to stay working. “I don’t do any more or less than what’s required. I’m mature, and I do my homework.” The fact that he can sing doesn’t hurt, either. “People do hire me because I sing well,” he says.
After Mendoza snagged his first taste of high-profile rock, with Blue Murder, his willingness to play with a pick, his stylistic and tonal versatility, and his maturity kept on opening big doors. He left the band after a couple years and a CD, Nothin’ But Trouble [Geffen], but by 1996 he had begun his first, four-year stint with Thin Lizzy. When original Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham put a new lineup together in 2010, he remembered Mendoza’s work ethic and personality and gave him a call. “This lineup is more authentic,” says Mendoza, referring to the band’s sound. “With Sykes we tended to be more metal, which isn’t really what Lizzy was about. We’re more melodicsounding now, like the Live and Dangerous and Chinatown vibe.” He credits the return of Lynott-era drummer Brian Downey with having the biggest impact. “A drummer like Brian swings so hard, you have to lean back more and groove. With Sykes, everything was on top of the beat—which was great, but now we’re back to the original approach. It’s good for us to recognize what we need to do and apply ourselves.”
Applying oneself really is at the heart of Marco’s successful track record. “I recognize what my role is going to be in any configuration, and I don’t bring a lot of baggage. Facility is there, but so are people skills.” Marco knows how to do what he’s paid to do: hold down the fort. “As bass players we have a job to do, and it’s good to be aware of that. The time will come when someone gives you a spot to say something musically; then you fl y.” —FREDDY VILLANO
HEAR HIM ON
Marco Mendoza, Casa Mendoza [Mascot, 2010]
Basses Yamaha BB-series 4- and 5-strings; fretless Yamaha TRB-series 5- and 6-strings
Pickups Yamaha Ceramic Magnet type (BB-series)
Rig Hartke LH1000 head and Hartke HX810 8x10 HyDrive cabinet
Strings D’Addario EXL190 longscale nickel strings
Picks Planet Waves white pearl celluloid (heavy)