Bernie Chiaravalle: ‘Michael McDonald has been a huge influence on me’
17th January 2015
Interview. Bernie Chiaravalle, Michael McDonald’s guitar player, has released a new album untitled Hideaway Tales, a great soft rock album with a genuine westcoast sound. He has been kind enough to answer to my questions.
You grew up in the Bay Area in the 60’s and the 70’s. It must have been an interesting time to discover music. What are your best musical memories of that period?
Yes, it was wonderful growing up in the Bay Area in that period. I grew up in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. One of my early memories was walking through my neighborhood and hearing bands rehearse in garages. I can remember a guitarist named Stacy Accamazzo literally showing me how to play a bar chord in the middle of the street! Changed my life!
There was a venue called The Santa Venetia Armory where I saw some bands like Paul Revere and the Raiders and Quicksilver Messenger Service. I also ventured into SF to Fillmore West where I saw The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver, Iron Butterfly as well as Winterland where I saw Stevie Wonder and The Doobie Brothers for the first time (before Michael McDonald was in the band).
I can also remember recording at a studio called The Church in San Anselmo. It’s where my band Logos made our first professional recordings. The Sons of Champlin used to record and rehearse there. It was THE place to be back then!
The Bay Area was such a center of creativity back then and it’s part of my make up to this day.
Then you moved to Los Angeles. The musical scene of San Francisco was often opposed to the Los Angeles scene. Was the musical atmosphere in these two cities as different as it is often said?
Yes, very different. Marin County and SF were so laid back … almost too much sometimes. I honestly welcomed the move to Los Angeles when the time came. I wanted to work in music and LA seemed the place where dreams come true. I probably was the most productive I’ve ever been the 14 years I lived there. It was also while living and working there I got the chance to audition for Michael McDonald’s band … I have great memories from LA.
And now you live in Nashville. Is it the new place to be for a musician?
Nashville is great because you don’t feel so much like a small fish in a large sea. There’s a lot of great music being created here. I feel it’s a great place if you’re a songwriter. I’ve made some great friends here who I’ve written with. But one of the reasons I like it so much is because you can be a musician and have a great quality of life here. It was a great place to raise my kids.
What are your memories of your experiences with the bands Logos and Page One?
Logos was my first real band. I learned to play music and write songs playing with Logos. I had a great bandmate in John Lovrien. We learned to read each other so well. I miss playing with him sometimes. Our first drummer was Mitch Hinard who was so great. We use to practice in his parents garage! Logos went a long way in the Marin County music scene. But after 10 years or so we parted ways.
John and I then joined Flavia Paulsen and Mike Morris who already had formed Page One. We were a great quartet with 3 lead singers and writers. We worked the club circuit throughout the Bay Area. It was with this band that I moved to Los Angeles. We had some great experiences and heartache as well. But I love those people to this day.
Michael McDonald has played an important role in your career. What kind of man is he? And how is it to work with him?
I cherish my relationship with Michael. He has been a HUGE influence on me. Not only as a musician, singer, writer and player, but as a person. He really is a great guy and puts everyone else before himself. He’s incredibly generous. We’ve written many, many songs together. He’s a very unique singer of course, but his writing style is also like none other. I’m honored that he has wanted to write with me over the years and still wants me in his band.
Your new album Hideaway Tales contains very catchy melodies. Do you attach great importance to melodies?
Yes for sure! A melody or chord progression is what draws me to write a song. I sometimes have a lyric concept or subject ahead of time but most times I find a melody that inspires me to out words to it.
What inspires you to write a song?
There are many things that inspire me to write. Mostly life experiences. Love and heartache of course. I’m also drawn to politics and the state of the world. I sometimes write about my friends and situations I observe around me personally. I’ve written songs for my kids too. And I also like to make up stuff too … like fiction.
Hideaway Tales is a very homogenous album. Was it written and recorded in a short period of time?
Hideaway Tales took about 8 or 9 months to complete. It really came together naturally for me which may be why it feels fluid.
Which musicians play on the album?
I play all the instruments and vocals on the record except for Dan Needham who plays drums on “Don’t Know What You Want” and Vince Denham who plays sax on “Through Every Window”. Both amazing musicians!
Is there a chance to see you live in Europe and especially in France in the near future?
I certainly hope so! It’s very possible with Michael possibly releasing a new album next year.