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Three trombones give Bonerama singular sound

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Bill Livick
June 13, 2013

JANESVILLE-If you're a fan of New Orleans-style brass bands, you're sure to go for Bonerama. If rock music is more your thing, Bonerama's got you covered there, too.

The six-piece band from New Orleans delivers music in a wide range of styles, from traditional jazz to funk, soul and in-your-face rock.

It does it with a front line of three trombones, slides flailing in unison and sometimes, it seems, in chaos.

Either way, it's always a spectacle.

"The visual appearance of having those trombones front and center is something that really hasn't been done before," said Mark Mullins, who founded the band almost 15 years ago with fellow trombonist Craig Klein. "When you see the slides moving in unison or even against each other, it is a pretty neat visual aspect."

Bonerama will bring its trombones to Janesville for an 8 p.m. show Wednesday, June 19, at the Armory.

Mullins and Klein had been members of Harry Connick Jr.'s big band in 1990, the year they decided to expand the role of the trombone.

In a telephone interview from New Orleans, Mullins said the Crescent City has lots of trombone players and brass bands, but until Bonerama, "there really wasn't anything yet that had put the trombone up at the forefront, especially with multiple trombones."

"So we got this idea and called some friends together, put a whole bunch of different kinds of songs together, and just had some fun with it," he recalled. "All of the sudden, it started to grow legs and take on its own little life form. People tell us, 'We love the records, but there's nothing like seeing you guys live.'"

What can Janesville expect to see? Apart from lots of trombone improvisation on original songs along with classic rock covers, even the band itself isn't sure what might happen.

Mullins agreed that three horns backed by drums, electric bass and electric lead guitar can create a "wall of sound." He compared the feeling to "driving a big truck down the road."

"You just never know where it's going to go," he said. "To me, the most fun is when those moments really do take you into another song. Nobody really called it, but all the sudden you're floating into another song, and then you circle around and come back to the first one again to wrap it up.

"When you have good people around you and everyone's listening and having fun, that's what it's all about. There's no shortage of surprises that can happen."

Some people get worked up over how to categorize a band that evokes vintage funk, classic rock and jazz improv in the same set, Mullins said. The band members themselves don't think about it much.

"At the end of the day, we're just playing music that we love," he said. "It happens to be all over the map, I guess, if you're trying to describe or call it a genre. We don't look at it like that. We're just playing our music, and the trombone is our voice."

The band snagged top honors for best rock band in the 2007 Big Easy Awards. Its covers of such hits as Led Zeppelin's "Ocean," Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression" and The Beatles' "Yer Blues" and "Helter Skelter" are fan favorites.

Klein and Mullins didn't set out to break big musical boundaries. Rather, they joined with their "musical brethren" and followed their instincts.

"We thought we could expand what a New Orleans brass band could do," Mullins explained. "Bands like Dirty Dozen started the 'anything goes' concept, bringing in guitars and the drum kit and using the sousaphone like a bass guitar. We thought we could push things a little further."



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