The band is called Bonerama. Three of its six members play trombone. So any gig Bonerama plays is guaranteed to be a bonapalooza.
A confluence of musical activities led New Orleans trombonists Mark Mullins and Craig Klein to form Bonerama in 1998. They’d both been members of Harry Connick Jr.’s big band since 1990 and, in the summer of ’98, Mullins spearheaded a Wednesday night residency at Tipitina’s that morphed into a weekly trombone super jam.
Also in the late ’90s, Mullins played trombone in the rock band Mulebone. And Mulebone’s guitarist, Jimmy Robinson, led an all-star guitar band, Twangorama.
When Mullins and Klein decided to go forward with a trombone band, Mullins looked enviously at Robinson’s already established Twangorama.
“Hey, Jimmy,” he said. “We’re putting this little project together. Not that you have a trademark on the ‘rama’ suffix or anything, but is OK with you if we name our band Bonerama?”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Robinson said.
Bonerama gave Mullins, a Loyola University-educated trombonist who’d played jazz and funk for years, his license to rock.
Highlights of Bonerama’s shows include its trombone-powered renditions of classic-rock favorites by Black Sabbath (“War Pigs”), the Edgar Winter Group (“Frankenstein”) and Led Zeppelin (“The Ocean,” “When the Levee Breaks” and “Moby Dick”).
“It’s music that so many of us grew up listening to,” Mullins said. “It’s fun for us.”
Bonerama’s bold move into rock bucked both jazz and New Orleans music tradition.
“That’s not the first thing a trombone is supposed to be playing in clubs,” he said. “But that’s one of the reasons, one of the things that spurred us to push those walls aside. We said, ‘Hey, wait a minute. We want to play any kind of music we like. We don’t have to play jazz just because we’re trombone players. We don’t have to play Meters covers. It could be anything. It could be all of that.’ ”
Mullins credits Klein with the idea for creating a non-genre-specific, trombone-heavy band.
“At the time,” Mullins recalled, “we also thought there was a need to bring some positive attention to our instrument. This was pre-Trombone Shorty, pre-Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Trombone was well-respected in the traditional world and the jazz world, but beyond that, it didn’t get much due, unless you were listening to a Chicago record.”
On a personal, musical level, Bonerama finally set Mullins free to wail like the electric guitarist he’d always wanted to be. He even plays trombone through a guitar amp.
“We threw Bonerama together, started doing it and, from the very first gig, it had some sort of a magical feeling about it. It connected with the crowd in a different way than we had seen with other projects we’d played in.
“I always get credit for bringing the rock things to the table, but Craig, he’s deep-rooted in New Orleans traditional music, he’s educated and studied. He brings a great sense of real New Orleans character to everything he does. Adding that to whatever shallow stuff I contribute is really, really fun.”