George Marinelli Proves It’s Cool To Be Kind
A far as cool goes, Madison’s George Marinelli is pretty much as cool as the proverbial cucumber gets. A life-long musician whose list of playing and band credits is as impressive as it is long highlights the respect his fellow rockers have for this talented guitarist.
After a family move from Staten Island, George started out in Los Angeles in the 1960s playing in a series of bands trying to find that elusive formula when the musical magic clicks.
“I got a guitar when I was 15, so I was kind of a late bloomer,” says George. “The first year out there, my mom saved up and bought me a guitar. I wanted drums, but they said, ‘We’re living in an apartment—no drums.’ But that’s where it started and like every kid with a guitar it was eight hours a day I would play as soon as I got home from school.”
George kicked around a series of L.A. bands and at the same time began to establish himself as a go-to session musician for area studios. Session musicians are the people who play on everything from demo recordings, commercials, and jingles to full albums and are relied on to come in and play quickly and perfectly for whatever the project demands.
“Most of the time you’re called in by word of mouth…and you normally don’t hear any of the material before you get there. So, you show up and start playing,” says George. “As a session musician, you get a call to go into work the same way a plumber might.”
As his reputation grew as a session artist who could be counted on to deliver, George was sought out for permanent positions in bands.
“I always had a lot of irons in the fire. I was always in bands, I was doing session work, playing clubs at night. I would take any work,” says George. “I didn’t really start to make a living until I was in my 30s. You take whatever work you can get.”
George became a full-time member of Bruce Hornsby and the Range in the early 1980s and continued with the band all through its years of biggest success until amicably parting ways in 1991.
“We put that band together in the early ‘80s, because I had worked on a demo or two with Bruce and we became fast friends. Then one day he called me out of the blue and said, ‘Do you want to start a band?’ I was already in four or five other bands, so I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” George says, laughing. “The first record was made in 1985-The Way It Is—and bingo, it took off.”
So, what’s it like to be a member of, at the time, one of the most popular bands in the country with a number-one hit and playing in front of ten of thousands of people?
“It was really exciting. We had a few top fives off of that album alone. And the second had a few hits as well. But by then I wasn’t a kid anymore and I was jaded just enough to really appreciate it and really enjoy it, but also know that hey, this could all be over in 10 minutes,” says George. “But it was great and very exciting.
“We did some big time traveling. We went to Japan a bunch. We went to Europe a number of times,” he continues. “Playing live is quite a rush. It’s pretty fun and still is. The first time you play a really big place and look out at the crowd, it’s a real thrill. I remember one time with Bruce we played an outdoor show in Virginia, and he’s from Virginia so he was the hometown boy, and I think we played for 60,000 people, and you look out at that and say, ‘Wow look at this!’ There were other times too, like with Bonnie [Raitt] when we opened for The Stones…that’s pretty intimidating. We were playing at Dodger Stadium in L.A. in 2006 and we were on stage and it looked like the first row was a quarter of a mile away, the stage was just so huge. That was a lot of fun.”
George’s talents were well respected in the industry and after a move to Nashville to escape the fast-paced L.A. scene, he eventually parted ways with Hornsby, but remains great friends with the band and still runs into them occasionally on the road.
“We loved Nashville, my wife and I. It was such a great place to be a musician,” he says. “I’ve always felt a bit guilty because musicians always go to Nashville to break into the business, and here I was getting calls from producers that I didn’t even know, that turned out to be big shots. So, I kind of felt like I was cutting in line at the grocery store in a way.”
George said he when he wasn’t on the road, he was doing session work for a long list of country and rock artists. George has played with a huge cross section of musical stars, from Vince Gill, The Dixie Chicks,and Hornsby to Reba McEntire and many more.
After several years in Nashville, George was asked to join Raitt’s band and has played off and on with her ever since. In fact, George was just about to leave for a tour with Raitt before conducting this interview and says he’s eager to get on the road after such a long hiatus.
“I really wanted to play with Bonnie, but it took a couple of years before she had a spot for me,” says George. “She finally called and asked me to come out and work on her album and then she asked if I wanted to join the band. I’ve pretty much been with her since then, aside from a short period that I took off.”
However, George says this tour may be one of his last. He is slowly weaning himself off of life on the road and is concentrating on session and recording work, according to George.
“I basically told Bonnie that this tour would probably be my last. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on a tour bus,” says George. “I’m actually not playing all the dates on this tour. I’m kind of doing three weeks there and three weeks there kind of thing. She is breaking in a new guitarist from Boston, and I’m coming in on selected dates.”
George is also a songwriter having penned numerous songs for others including Raitt. One of the most interesting musical facts of George’s career is that he replaced himself as number one on the charts back in 1986-1987.
In his early days, George had played in L.A. with a band called Billy and the Beaters, led by veteran musician and actor Billy Vera. Vera had recorded a song “At This Moment,” which promptly failed to impress anybody and sunk away in music history. However, several years later after being used on the hit TV show Family Ties, the song rocketed to number one, only a few weeks after Hornsby’s hit, “The Way It Is” had garnered the top spot.
George says that he loves playing live, but won’t miss the demands of life on the road. He is content now to choose selected dates to play live and otherwise record and play on his own and other’s music.
“The touring thing—I just don’t want to spend that much time on the road anymore. That really adds up. Bonnie likes to tour heavy, and it can turn out to be a year or two commitment,” says George. “But I still have a recording studio and I do a lot of recording for myself and others. People send me stuff to play on, and these days it’s so easy to send tracks and files back and forth, so I am keeping busy.”
And George is certainly keeping busy. He’s recorded three solo albums, just since 2020 and has donated all of the proceeds from these endeavors to charity, so George isn’t only cool, he’s kind as well.
Find George’s music on Band Camp at georgemarinelli.bandcamp.com; 100 percent of the proceeds of his three most recent albums goes to various charities.