Updated: February 3, 2014 1:43PM
“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”
— Miles Davis
Marco Villarreal is a tremendous professional musician who plays in several bands and gives guitar lessons at Rubino Music Center in Merrillville.
Villarreal, 40, is single and lives in Hobart.
At what age did you start playing guitar?
“I was 15,” he said. “My oldest brother, Luis, let me use one of his guitars.”
How long have you been subcontracting at Rubino Music Center?
“Since 1990. I was still a junior in high school when I started teaching here.”
Do you own several guitars?
“I have a nice, humble collection of about seven guitars that all serve their purposes.”
“Steinberger. For acoustic, I use Martin, Taylor and Ramirez. I’m more interested in Classical guitar which is more or less another instrument. Classical guitar in that tradition is completely different than playing electric guitar. I try to stay in that direction.”
Do you ever sing while playing guitar on stage?
“I’ve been known to sing after I’ve had a few.”
People who have inspired you through the years?
“It hasn’t always necessarily been music. It could be comedians, artists who paint, composers of 20th Century Classical... I was lucky, when I was going to Merrillville High School, I had some good teachers who really stood out for culture.
“I took Spanish for four years. When my Spanish teacher, Mrs. Jeffries, passed, I attended her funeral. She had an impact. Mrs. Jeffries would take us to the Art Institute (of Chicago) and we’d check out artists like Salvador Dali. That was very cool. I remember those field trips vividly.”
“Jeff Beck got me started. There were others early on like Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen and a Swedish guy by the name of Yngwie Malmsteen who really did his own thing.”
What about Slash?
“Never got into that. But my tastes did change through the years. By the time I was 17, I was moving more toward jazz. One of the first guitar players that got me going toward that direction was a guy named Allan Holdsworth. So, Holdsworth, Al Di Meola, Pat Metheny and Pat Martino became huge influences — and others.”
“And then I heard Miles Davis. And that was it. ‘Cookin’ at the Plug Nickel’ was the record that turned me around. From then on, my idea was just to try to combine the rock-guitar influence with this jazz influence. I knew I wanted to hear a certain sound and I’m working on that as of this day.
“All that led to the discovery of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk — all of the bebop masters. That’s where it’s at right now, you know.”
Marco, I really don’t plan out who I interview. When names come up, I interview the person. It’s funny how things go in streaks. A few weeks ago, I interviewed a jazz pianist by the name of Billy Foster from Gary.
“I love Billy Foster. Add Billy to my list of influences. I was on his radio show about a year ago.”
On a sadder note, I also interviewed the mother of budding jazz drummer Shea McCarthy a few weeks ago.
“You speak of Heather McCarthy. I know Heather pretty well. That was a drag when Shea was killed.”
Tragic. Tell me about Freek Johnson.
“It’s a group that was formed in approximately 1996. We’ve been kinda off and on since then. We still play together.
“I should mention a band I play with in Chicago. There’s a bassist, Frank Russell, who actually lived in Northwest Indiana for a while. Last year was very crucial for me as far as experience playing with great musicians who are in Frank’s band. Frank is the first electric bass player to serve as a band leader at the Chicago Jazz Fest.”
“I recently recorded some original music in Los Angeles. I was hooked up with a fantastic rhythm section which included Tony Franklin who played with Jimmy Page and The Firm and a great virtuoso drummer named Tony Austin. All this was made possible by my friend and trumpeter Willie Waldman. I recorded about seven or eight instrumentals that will hopefully be released in mid-spring.”
I wish you luck. Marco, most of us don’t become rich and famous like B.B. King or Stephen King. But music for you, and writing for me, is how we make our living.
“Right on. It’s a blessing to be able to survive and do what we love to do.”
“I’m still learning and feel like a beginner every day.”
Marco Villarreal, a man who has been influenced by many, but has steadily honed is own sound for a quarter-century.