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Manriquez to paint Fairgrounds blue

July 05, 2000

Manriquez to paint Fairgrounds blue

 



The first time Bobby Manriquez performed on stage was at a talent show held at St. John's Military Academy, a Catholic boys' high school in Washington, D.C. His uncle dressed him up like Elvis, bought him a cheap guitar and had him lip-synch to one of the King's hits. He didn't win the contest, but he did get hooked on playing that guitar.

It was a Stella Sunburst model, he said, "Real inexpensive, but widely used. I had that guitar for a long time."

He remembers putting it on the sofa and just staring at it, as if looking long enough would help him absorb some knowledge that would help him play it. That didn't happen, so he improvised, inventing his own methods of tuning and fingering. He played so well his dad bought him an electronic pick-up so he could run the sound through the family's RCA Victrola record player.

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Then came the Beatles, and the methods he'd used up 'til then weren't adequate to pick up their tunes, an essential if his band, the Mad Caps, was going to be booked for local teen club dances in places like the Our Lady of Sorrows parish hall in Takoma Park, Md. Even then, as he faced the difficulty of learning to play in a more conventional way, he said he knew he'd discovered what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

"I was so enamored of it that it was beyond words. No way could I have conceived of leaving it," he said.

Just as he had with that first guitar, he'd go to music stores and just stare at the instruments on display, thinking about how they'd sound if he played them.

But though his early influences were probably the same as most young rockers - the Beatles, Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones - he began to search for something different. He started working with bands that had horn sections, outfits he describes as "more musically sophisticated."

From there he began playing at a club called the Apple Pie in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., an establishment he describes as a musicians' place.

"Not everybody played at the Apple Pie. It was an elitist club, sort of. Roy Buchanan would come in. Neil Young would come in," he said.

Not only would these national artists stop in, Manriquez said, but sometimes they'd sit in with the band.

"It was, for me, the epitome of the good side of the music business, before my downfall from falling into that whole deal of drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll," he said.

But before that happened, however, there were some good times. He opened for Nils Lofgren, who now plays with Bruce Springsteen, at the Kennedy Center. And then a record company asked him to tour with the band backing Kathi McDonald, a member of a group called the Shelter People who was getting her shot at solo stardom.

He toured all over the world, and found temptation at every stop. Every time he'd get off a plane, he said, there'd be somebody there offering him some drugs. Even as he was being written up in magazines like Rolling Stone as an up-and-coming player, "my life was coming apart."

Eventually he was hospitalized and stopped playing altogether for more than a decade, during which he says, "I became a daytime person and got into retail management."

He also got off the drugs, but couldn't kick his love of music. He started sitting in with old friends, playing now and then, and one night somebody came up and asked if he'd like to play with legendary soul singer Wilson Pickett. The same music he'd played at those long-ago teen dances was making him a living.

But after a couple of years of that, he yearned for something else - fronting his own band, playing the blues this time. It's not so far from rock, he explains, since so many rock tunes are really three-chord blues songs.

"I play in as bluesy way, though I'm not what I would call a roots blues player," Manriquez said.

He issued a CD entitled "Another Shade of Blue(s)" last year to favorable reviews, including one in The Washington Post that said "Manriquez has a winning way with the blues."

It was one of several upbeat assessments, with the only negative comment coming from some who said that it wasn't long enough. I've listened to it, and while his vocals aren't the growls and roars of someone like Muddy Waters, for example, his playing is as good or better than anything I heard on Potomac Street at this year's Blues Fest.

If you'd like to judge for yourself, you can visit his web site at b-side-blues.com, where some audio clips are available, or you can come to his performance at the Neighborhoods First carnival this August 5 at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds.

"I feel really prepared, and I hope that there's somebody out there who realizes that they can make money off me," he said.

To try to ensure that, he's spent months reworking last year's CD, adding music so nobody can say they're not getting enough. It wasn't easy; he played house-husband for his 2-year-old twins while his wife worked, then went to the recording studio at night.

The hard work was worth it, though, because "I want to play and be involved in music."

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor for The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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