Bob Malone grew up in Jefferson Township, yet in his piano playing, you hear the unmistakable stamp of New Orleans R&B.
How did that happen?
“My whole introduction to R&B music was Southside Johnny,” says Malone, who has a new album out, Mojo Deluxe, as well as a show at the Minstrel Acoustic Concert Series in Morristown, Sept. 4. “I was like, ‘Where is this coming from?’ So I went back and discovered all this stuff.”
Malone, 49, has been playing keyboards in John Fogerty’s band since 2012 in addition to recording and touring as a solo artist. His piano playing on his own songs tends to be energetic and colorful, though he understandably turns it down a notch when he’s with Fogerty.
“Songs are the most important thing to me, so whatever fits the song,” he says. “When I do my own songs, I can make a busy piano part, fit, from time to time. But with (Fogerty), it’s mostly Hammond organ stuff anyway. And I just do what the song wants it to be. So I’m super-not-busy in that gig. I get a couple of solos, to do my thing. But other than that, I just stay out of the way, and play my tasteful little parts.”
He says the simplicity of Fogerty’s songwriting has had an effect on his own music.
“I think I’ve tried to absorb some of that, and cut back on the overt use of many, many chord changes, and things like that, which I was partial to in my youth.
“Working with him … he plays a note, sings a note, you know who it is, right away. I’ve learned, from that, to try to step further away from my influences and just sound as much like me as possible.”
Malone has been based in Los Angeles since 1990, though for some of that time, he sublet his L.A. apartment and lived in New Orleans or New York. He got the audition for the Fogerty gigs since he and Fogerty use the same lawyer.
“Out of the blue, I got this call,” he says. “I went over and auditioned in (Fogerty’s) garage. I was like, ‘I’m playing Creedence tunes in a garage!’ But that’s how I got it.”
Songs on Mojo Deluxe range from tough, swampy rock songs (“Certain Distance,” “Rage and Cigarettes,” “Toxic Love”) to soulful ballads (“Hard Times,” “Paris”) and a manic, piano-led instrumental (“Chinese Algebra”). The New Orleans influence is always there, either in a major way or subtly.
“It’s not even that conscious,” says Malone. “I fell in love with it and I absorbed it as hard as anyone could absorb anything. So now, I don’t try to play New Orleans music per se. It’s just in there, every time I play something.
“John (Fogerty) notices it, because he loves that stuff. He hears that. Everybody hears it. And I’m not even trying to do it.
“That was the ultimate goal, really. I remember the first time I went (to New Orleans) to play. I went down and just did some bar gigs or something. It was kind of like I was going to go there and test it out, see if I could pass. So I went down and played, and this guy came up to me, and said, ‘Man, I can always tell. You gotta be from here to play like that. Nobody’s who’s not from here can play like that.’ And then I would say onstage, ‘You know, I’m really from New Jersey,’ and everybody would laugh. They thought that was part of my act.”
Malone performs at the Minstrel Acoustic Concert Series at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, Sept. 4 at 8 p.m. Mike Miz opens. For information, visit folkproject.org.