Photo by Alex Ruffini
Many bassists are lucky to find success with a single band. Marco Mendoza, on the other hand, has found it with several. His resume includes stints with Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, Ted Nugent, Blue Murder, Bill Ward, and many more. Now he’s joined fellow veteran musicians in The Dead Daisies, a band that hearkens back to the classic roots of rock.
The rest of the lineup includes Guns N’ Roses alumni Richard Fortus and Dizzy Reed, drummer Brian Tichy, guitarist David Lowy, and vocalist John Corabi. Formed in 2013, the group is releasing their their second full-length album Revolución worldwide on August 1st. They will also be hitting the road for the remainder of the year on tour with Whitesnake and Kiss.
We caught up with Mendoza ahead of their tour to get the backstory on the Dead Daisies, the album, his work with Thin Lizzy, and his advice for players coming up.
How did you get started with The Dead Daisies?
It’s been a process. The idea of the band started in Australia. David Lowy and Jon Stevens put this whole concept together and have been adding people. They had started the process with a few songs, and then the opportunity came to open up for Aerosmith. I was touring Australia with Thin Lizzy on the Motley Crüe/Kiss package when they approached me. They said, “We love what you do. Would you consider collaborating with us and being part of this?” I said, “Of course. My schedule is pretty tight, but please send me the music.” So I got home after that [leg of the tour] and I totally fell in love with the music and the conceptual idea of it, which is reminiscing of the ’70s. That’s where we all live still, I think. We all identify with that particular time in music.
I moved a few things around studio-wise with recordings and said, “Yeah, let’s go do this.” So the opportunity came up to open up for Aerosmith. Initially that’s what it was going to be: seven shows in Australia. We did that, but by the end of that tour we were all looking at each other going, “Wow, this could be something cool.” We decided to take it to the next level with more touring.
The industry got hold of it and we got a lot of press. I guess what we were doing was cool, and the guys in Aerosmith were really digging it as well. In short, we started getting invited to some other shows. So we’ve been touring with Jane’s Addiction and Alice in Chains a few others. So by that time there was a lot of momentum. We noticed we were getting on the radar, so the logical thing to do would be record an album. We had been writing along the way on some pit stops, so we had a few songs rolling around. We released an EP in the summer last year. So this has just been the next logical step.
We got invited to play in Cuba. We went down there and Jon Stevens has some issues that he had to deal with, so we decided to call John Corabi. I gave him a call and he was available, so we went down there. It was really cool. We did two shows in Cuba and started recording there. We recorded three or four tracks. The decision was made to go into the studio in a deeper way, and that’s when we went to Sydney. We did it over about four weeks. Revolución came out of being inspired by our trip to Cuba. If you’ve ever been, that’s what the country is all about. We were inspired by that trip and around that word. We kind of dug that because it kind of represents along the lines of something that we’re doing. We have a bit of a mission and we’re going against the grain, if you will. We’re going uphill but we’re doing well. We had the song “Mexico” floating around, too, so we thought, “That’s cool. Let’s go with a Latin American theme.” So far it’s been great and it’s been well-received. Now we got invited to do the Whitesnake East Coast tour, so we’re doing that at the end of July.
The whole album has that organic, old school, nostalgic rock kind of feel.
Yeah, and that’s exactly what we [wanted]. We all identify with that. That era of music was one of the best times in rock and roll, you know? The spectrum was so wide and there was so much going on. We all grew up in that era and were influenced and inspired by those bands. When we went into the studio, we talked about it. It was a conscious decision to play what we were going to play on the spot and try to keep it as pure as possible. There’s not a lot of that going on these days unfortunately. I think the music market needs something like this.
You’re all seasoned rock veterans that have been in the business. Do you all think alike or does everyone bring a little something different to the table?
We do [think alike]. We identify a lot. I think we’re all around the same generation, just a few years here and there. Musically speaking, we all came from that. All our favorite bands we identify with are The Beatles, The Stones, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Company, Free, Grand Funk Railroad and the Allman Brothers and on and on and on. We documented some of the work in the studio. You could just grab a few guys from the same era and we could talk about music for hours and hours. It’s cool that we identify in that sense.
The music video for “Mexico” is based in Tijuana, Mexico. I have to assume that has to do with you since you spent time there as a child?
[laughs] I’d like to take credit for it but I can’t! [Our manager] David Edwards has really assembled a great team of marketing and social media folks. You know what is: these days you really have to find some kind of angle so that people can identify with you and it will stick in their head. Yeah, I grew up in Tijuana and I speak Spanish. Again, when we went to Cuba, I was involved in the interpreting there. We had an interpreter but it was a large group of people so I helped out. People realized, “Wow, this could be a good angle.” So yeah, I think somehow it was influenced that way.
Being that we live in L.A., when we shot the video here… Seventy percent of the people in L.A. are Latin American and they speak two languages or more. The director may have had the idea from there and took it to the next level. Again, the video is reminiscent of [the ’70s and ’80s] kind of vibe. I think that’s what happened, but it’s not like I said, “Let’s go that way.” I think the director did a great job.
Are you still working with Thin Lizzy?
To be honest, I saw the guys at the Download Festival a little bit ago when we played there. It was good, I just had to jump off. There are a lot of opportunities that come up to me. For some reason the last ten years have been abundant. I’ve been getting calls from all over the place. It’s gotten to the point where I have to make decisions about where I want to go musically and creatively and business-wise and all of that.
I’m still involved with that camp. The guys are talking about doing a Thin Lizzy run next year. We’ll see if it’s going to solidify. I told them that I would love to do it. I’ve been part of that camp for twenty-something years. I love the music and I love what Thin Lizzy stood for and stands for. Again, the music knows no boundaries. It’s very powerful music.
Creatively, it’s definitely something I’d love to revisit when the time comes. I think they’re going to start talking to me towards the end of the year. They’re going to look at what options we have out there. Obviously they don’t want to go out there and tour for long periods, from what I hear. It’s going to be festivals. As you can imagine, Thin Lizzy is getting invited to come out. We haven’t done anything this year or last year so it’s way overdue. We went out there flying the flag and we got a great response, so people are waiting for it. If it works out, we’ll see. It’s a matter of logistics and timeframe and schedules and all that, but definitely I would love to participate. All I can say is stay tuned to that camp and when it happens, I’d love to be part of it.
You’ve played with so many incredible bands and, at this point for you, it’s a matter of if you have time and choosing what you want to do. But for younger guys that are coming up, do you think it’s better for them to stick with one band or be in several bands?
Yeah, I’ve been very lucky. That’s a good question. You know, if I were to be straight honest with you, I grew up in an era where it was good to hang out with a project and try to make a difference like that. When I came back to L.A. in ’87, I got sober and got my life in order. That was a big part of what happened for me when I hit L.A. I stopped drinking and drugging because up to that point it was just out of control. I came in very focused. I realized that music was such a privilege and such a gift to make a living in the industry and all that. I got to the point where I appreciated the importance of it in my life. I came to L.A. wide open. I told myself, “I just want to play music with anybody and everybody. I want to work really hard at becoming a better player.” So I allowed myself to be a part of several projects. I’m a believer in bands and I’m a believer in projects and hanging out, but I have a son that plays bass. He went through a period where he was part of a big project. He would wait around until the project would go, and they’d have a long break and then go and then break. I finally had a conversation with him where I said, “You have to realize what it is. Are you a bass player or are you a musician? Because if you are, there are a lot of opportunities out there for you.”
If you want to be part of a band and use that as your only vehicle, that’s fine. Then do everything to get that up and running and stay busy. Unfortunately, the industry has changed so much that I feel for the younger cats out there. There’s just not as many opportunities out there like there was in the ’80s and the ’90s, you know? I tell young bass players to really hone in on your instrument, work hard, be versatile, and be open-minded to any styles of music. So then when the opportunity comes and you get the call to play bass on a certain genre that you’re not as familiar with, you’ll be prepared. There’s a lot of ways you can look at it. I believe in being versatile and available. If you’re a bass player, be a bass player. Try to learn what your function is within any kind of format: quintets, trios, quartets, pop, rock, salsa, latin jazz, funk. For the longest time, I stayed busy because of that. I got a bit of a reputation as the guy you could call that could play lots of different styles. That kept me busy.
That worked for me. Again, it’s a personal thing. If you have a kickin’ band and you have your brothers in arms and you’re all shooting for something and your common denominator is to write great music and get a deal, then that’s great, too. If you really break it down, you know we have a lot of time available and there’s a lot of down time. For the bass players coming up: decide what you want to do with your life. If you want to be a bass player, learn your craft to be ready for any given situation and take it from there. Maybe on your down time you can start another project that will be something more challenging for you. I was constantly doing that because no matter how big the project, you just couldn’t stay busy enough. Twelve months out of the year – even with a bigger band – you’re touring five or six months out of the year. Seven if you’re lucky, so you have a lot of down time. That’s when I started realizing I could be creative on my own. I could put my own projects together. I’m going to be touring in September in Europe because I did a little run in January and there were a lot of countries and a lot of dates that came up. So I’m putting it together.
Challenge yourself. That’s my point. Push yourself and see how far you can go. The things that are really scary are the ones that challenge you. Those are the ones you should start paying attention to. That’s my philosophy, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. [laughs]
Could you give us a rundown of your gear?
I use two Hartke LH1000 heads with two 8x10s. I could probably cover any situation with that. Like I said, we did Download which is pretty big. I’ll take it there and then come home and use it for my jazz gig at the Baked Potato. Obviously I bring it down to one head and one cab for that, but I’m really happy with that.
Then I play D’Addario strings and ESP basses. I also work with TC Electronic and EBS pedals. I have tons of gear depending on what the music requires. It’s been great. I like to say if you’re really serious about your craft, you surround yourself with the best tools possible. I’m very lucky in that department.