Growing up, I was a fan of the Blues and listened to it a lot! I listened to it a lot more back then than I do now.
I remember how BB King used to always say how “anyone can sing the blues,” and I took that saying to heart as a kid. I sang the blues when Optimus Prime died in the original Transformers movie. I sang the blues when Duke almost died in G.I. Joe the Movie. I basically sang the blues just because I could.
I sang the blues about anything like how Rudy and Kenny did on The Cosby Show. I just loved how at any given time, I could belt out something to that old familiar riff and thought I sounded good. But the blues is obviously much more than that riff and me making up some stuff that I thought sounded cool.
The blues is life. Real life. And while listening to Regina Bonelli’s music, she reminded me of that.
Although anyone can sing the blues, it takes a special talent to actually encapsulate raw moments in time and project those moments through their music for the audience to then feel those “blues.”
I got a chance to sit down with Regina and have her explain her “blues” and inspiration for what drives her and her music.
Who is Regina Bonelli?
I am a singer, songwriter, keyboardist, and musician. I am also a single mother of two daughters.
Where are you from?
I am a native New Yorker, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY…Brooklyn is in my soul.
What or who are some of your musical influences?
My musical influences are many and include Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Traffic. Early blues influences are Big Momma Thornton, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and BB King.
How has your upbringing influenced your style?
I come from a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn before Brooklyn became chic! I come from a musical family – my father played guitar, piano and sang. My two sisters and I harmonized in the house all the time. I even had a great, great aunt who played the organ professionally at the silent movies. I began playing piano at age 3 and started lessons around 6 years old. When I turned 11 or so I picked up the guitar. I learned from my father, as well as a TV show on PBS. My father bought me a Martin guitar for my Sweet Sixteen. He passed away that same year. I started writing original songs around 15 or 16 and began performing professionally at around 17.
What experiences can you share with us that led you down this path of chasing your dreams?
A friend took a group of us to see Big Momma Thornton and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee perform in the Village when I was a teenager.
How did you get started singing the blues? What was it about this type of music that roped you in figuratively speaking?
I was always told I had a “Bluesy” voice singing my own music and also R&B in various bands. I started writing blues songs after I found myself living on my own and raising my kids as a single mother with no parents or grandparents as support. (My mother had passed away when I was pregnant with my second child.) Shortly thereafter, I lost my job and my apartment, was involved in some difficult relationships, and there was the motivation for a blues album, written from the point of a single mother.
I first started playing solo gigs, just myself on guitar and then formed a duo and finally a funk rock band. We played all around the area and went on network TV on Star Search, winning the US show twice and the International show as well. We performed in the band category doing my original music. I also sang with an a capella girl’s group who toured and opened up for The Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Odetta, to name a few. I decided to write a blues album after the smoke cleared from my break-up and I moved, starting a life with just my two girls and myself. The result is my record “Open Up theDoor.”
How did the formation of your band come about?
The band playing on this album and performing with me now was formed when I was looking for some great blues players. I got in touch with guitarist Michael Hill and bassist Pete Cummings who hooked me up with Mike Griot (bass) and Bill McClellan (drums.) I had met Michael and Pete years earlier when I saw them play with Michael Hill’s Blues Mob. I instantly bonded with Michael Hill, who produced “Open Up the Door,” along with Mike Griot and Kevin Hill, who produced several tracks. Harp player David Barnes is also a guest on the record.
How do you come up with the ideas for your songs? I know you said earlier that you got the “blues” from some of your everyday life situations, but is there more to it than that?
Not really. That’s just simply what the Blues is about. The ideas for my songs come from a place of reality. What I am going through or have gone through, observing life and expressing it through words and melody is how I write. Sometimes I just come up with some chords and write over that, but more often than not I think of something poetic that describes my life or an event, or what’s going on in the world. Sometimes I’ll say something to myself and think “Wow that would make a good song!” The creative process varies for me…it’s not always the same, but I always write from my heart.
What artists out now if you were to compare yourself to someone, would you compare yourself to?
There are so many great artists out there. I don’t think I can really compare myself to anyone else. I think I am in my own lane, and always have been, regardless of what genre of a song I compose. I write and sing from my soul and I believe what comes out is uniquely Regina Bonelli.
Who would you want to work with?
I would like to work with Gary Clark Jr., Robert Cray, Irma Thomas and producer Don Was.
What’s your favorite thing about being an artist?
My favorite thing about being an artist is the ability to express myself, create and entertain people with my music. I hope they can relate to the things I am singing about and be touched in some way. I just love being on stage, singing, dancing, playing and performing, although I get much enjoyment out of playing all alone in my house as well. I have been performing professionally since I the age of 17 and I even did piano concerts from the age of 6. It’s who I am. I love entertaining, and getting to do it for a living is a blessing I am extremely grateful for.
What’s your future plans? What are you currently working on?
I am currently touring the US to support my album Open Up the Door. It has received worldwide acclaim and many great reviews from noted blues publications since its release. The record broke at the top, spending 6 months in heavy rotation on SiriusXm Radio BB King’s Bluesville station. It was played every day and featured on their Picks to Click, Rack Of Blues. It has received spins on countless other stations in the US, UK and around the world, and spent months on the Blues charts. “Open Up the Door” was recently named as a Top Album for 2015 by various stations and DJ’s. Finally releasing this album and having people embrace my music has been a dream come true.
The record is a totally independent release and was promoted to radio independently as well. It was made on a shoestring budget and took a while to complete. Whenever I saved a little money up we went back into the studio. I just didn’t have enough funds to hire any pro radio promoters, so I did it myself using the telephone, word of mouth and social media. I am so thankful to the musicians for sharing their talents with me, to the DJ’s for all the spins and support, and to the fans for being there for me.
I was a featured performer last month at the Women In Blues event at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee on January 29th at Alfred’s On Beale.
I have some great dates coming up in the next few months…at the Time Out Pub in Rockland, Maine on February 22nd, at Ruthie’s BBQ in Montclair, New Jersey on February 26th, and at The Twisted Tail in Philadelphia, PA on April 2nd.
I will be announcing performances coming up for the blues festival season as well. I have been writing lots of new material for a second album, and I can’t wait to get back into the studio very soon to start recording a new Regina Bonelli record!
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