Regina Bonelli – Raising Sweet Sounds of Blues with a mix of R&B

By Tina LoBosco

Regina, tell us a little about your musical background and do you remember one particular moment pointing you in the direction of making music your career?

 I grew up in a musical family.  My father sang, played guitar and piano and a great aunt even played organ for the silent movies. My sisters and I sang.  We all were always harmonizing in the house.  I started piano lessons at 5 years old and was told I went over to the piano in the living room and picked out a song I had heard on TV when I was 4.  I guess my parents thought they should cultivate that.  I started writing my own songs and performing when I was 17, first in a local coffee house, and then at the Bitter End.  I guess that’s when the performing bug bit me.

How would you describe your musical style/genre?

I would describe my musical style as Regina Bonelli! It’s a mix of blues, soul, and R&B, with a little rock thrown in. All the styles I grew up listening to and admiring.  I write original music and so I’d like to think I have my own unique spin on my music.

Can you tell us about a defining moment in your career?

Early on, my first real gig was at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village, NYC. I was singing and accompanying myself on my Martin guitar.  The great folk singer Odetta was in the audience, unbeknownst to me. At one point some people at the bar were getting a little rambunctious and I guess she saw that I was a little flustered.  I was a very inexperienced young singer out there at that point. She came up to me in between songs and said “Don’t worry about them…just keep doing what you’re doing.  I’m listening.”  That was so meaningful to me and the time, and still is.  I figured if she was into it, I must be doing something right.  It gave me confidence.

What challenges have you faced as a musician and how did you overcome them?

As far as musical challenges I don’t think I can say I’ve really faced any.  Supporting yourself playing music professionally can be difficult at times, and more so today with music being given away and the sheer amount of material being produced.  However, there’s a lot of good music, but not a lot of great music. I just do what I do…always have and hopefully, always will.

Are there any artists who have inspired or influenced your work over the years? What about the current music scene?  

I’ve been inspired by so many artists along the way…early on, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, The Stones, The Beatles from back in the day.  Parliament Funkadelic, the Band, Allmans, Santana, Baba Olatunji.  I guess Big Mama Thornton influenced me as far as blues goes. I truly love all great music…Coltrane, Miles. As far as current music, I like a lot of what the kids are listening to.

What is your process for songwriting? Do you set time aside or is it more organic whenever the moment strikes you?

My songwriting process is both organic and planned.  It depends.  I tend to write and just sit down at the piano, or with the guitar, and just play for enjoyment.  Sometimes something that I think is cool comes out and I’ll develop that. Or I’ll think of a lyric or just say something out loud and say to myself, hmmm, that would be a cool hook. At other times it’s more deliberate like, hey, I need another song for this album.  Let me see what I can come up with.

Any upcoming projects or collaborations you can share with us?

I’m in the process of making a new recording for the True Groove label.  I just laid down vocal tracks and finishing up a new song. I’m also out and about touring this coming fall and winter. I have upcoming shows in Brooklyn, New York, the Long Branch, NJ Jazz & Blues Fest on August 26th, which I am really looking forward to then Massachusetts, Maine and a Florida run in December.

What advice would you give a young musician who wants to take the path to becoming a professional? 

My advice to young musicians just starting out? First and foremost be yourself and do it for the joy. Then I would advise don’t take any “guff” as my Pops would say! He passed away when I was 16 and I often think if he’d been around a while longer, I might not have taken as much myself.  But, hey, we live and learn. That’s why we write songs though.

How have you balanced the demands of your personal life raising your children and professional life as a working musician?

I raised my children as a single mother. My parents were both deceased by the time my second child was born.  My grandparents, aunts and uncles were also gone. But I had my two sisters, my in-laws and my friends who were my support group.  One of my friends (and now my publicist) Gwen Toline of GHT Communications, used to watch my kids for me when I went out to gigs when they were little lol. It takes a village.  I also performed on the weekends, so I was able to be with my kids during the week for much of the time. But being a single mom did have its upside.  It was hard financially, but the bond that formed between my kids and myself is incredible.  It was us against the world, you know?