“Quincy Jones said, ‘Man, this song sounds just like Stevie!’” The Richard Bona song Stevie Wonder turned down

Richard Bona performs during the Grands Prix Sacem 2012 Ceremony at the Casino de Paris, in Paris.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Aside from his extraordinary flair on the bass guitar, Richard Bona is also gifted with an aptitude for songwriting, which has seen him in high demand to the likes of Pat Metheny, Harry Belafonte, Regina Carter, Mike Stern and Joe Zawinul, who described Bona as ‘one of the great masters of the electric bass.’

Bona has also enjoyed a successful solo career that’s seen him constantly update African styles with his own vibrant musicianship. His 2009 release, The Ten Shades Of Blues, saw the Cameroonian bassist aiming to capture the essence of the blues and surround it with his own unique sound. Alongside members of his long-serving live band, the album also featured special guests, including vocalist Frank McComb, who starred on the song Good Times

“To tell you the truth, I wrote that song for Stevie Wonder,” Bona told BP. “I wanted to get Stevie to sing on it, but it got a little complicated with management, so I asked Frank, and Grégoire Maret to play harmonica. Quincy Jones came to one of my shows in LA and he really liked the track; he came and said to me, ‘Man, I know you wrote this song but it sounds just like Stevie!’”

“Frank and me signed for Columbia at the same time back in 1999 when Branford Marsalis was running Columbia Jazz. He is a very talented guy and has the same kind of soul as Stevie Wonder. He wrote the lyrics for Good Times and I love the way it came out. I don’t think I would have had the chance to coach Stevie in the studio, but these guys came down for the whole day and we worked on everything together, even the background vocals.”

Another standout track, African Cowboy, featured Ryan Cavanaugh, a Texan banjo player, and country violinist Christian Howes. “I went to Nashville for four days, and just being there and hanging out with some of the local guys helped me get a vibe for the song. I couldn’t have written it in New York. When you listen to what some people call bluegrass, if you listen to the scale that these guys are playing it’s actually a blues scale. They might be playing a banjo or a fiddle, but it’s just their interpretation of the blues.” 

“The same thing happened in India. I went to Madras and Bombay and I had to walk in the market and meet the people there, really get myself into their thinking, and then I went back to my hotel room and I wrote the song Shiva Mantra based on what I heard. That’s why this record is called The Ten Shades Of Blues – it was all about me trying to find my own kind of blues.”

While Bona's talents on the bass are indisputable, there is a real sense that his music transcends his bass playing – as was the case with his idol, Jaco Pastorius. “The only thing I know is that I don’t know,” said Bona. “That’s always been my perception of things. I’m a student of music until I am gone, and that way I can keep my ears wide open.” 

“When I was at school a guy used to tell me music is like the ocean, because when you take a glass of water there is still plenty more out there – that’s music, and I think he was right.”

The Ten Shades of the Blues is available to buy and stream.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.