Hugh McDonald has to be the most humble musician in rock n’ roll.
He is the rhythmic definition of rock and roll cool: nary a beat is there that he can’t keep, from the driving bass line of “Keep The Faith” or the sensual hip sway tub thumping of “One Wild Night”. Cool and confident, content to be the most Unfamous Unofficial band member of New Jersey’s own Bon Jovi. He’s low key and exudes class; indeed, bassist Hugh McDonald is the ultimate hired gun.
A native of Philadelphia, McDonald has been dealing heartbeat bass grooves for Bon Jovi since the band’s inception. He played bass on the original demo tape for “Runaway”, and was a member of The All-Star Review, the collection of studio musicians who crafted “Bon Jovi”, the band’s debut LP.
Other players included guitarist Tim Pierce, keyboardist Roy Bittan (of the E Street Band), drummer Frankie LaRocka, and singers David Grahmme and Mick Seeley.
Though not originally recruited to play bass for the final lineup that would become Bon Jovi—Richie Sabora on guitar, David Bryan on keyboards, Alec Jon Such on bass and Tico Torres on drums—McDonald replaced Jon Such when he left the band after the release of 1994’s “Crossroad” album.
In addition to playing on numerous Bon Jovi studio albums and touring extensively around the world with the band, McDonald was also a member of the Dave Bromberg Band, and has recorded with Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson, Richie Sambora, Steve Goodman, Ringo Starr, Jon Bon Jovi, Lita Ford, Michael Bolton, Cher, and Ricky Martin among others.
Laid back and with cool looks that make him look like he and actor James Spader were separated at birth, McDonald must be incredibly secure in his own talent and place in the universe to not push the issue of ‘official membership’ in Bon Jovi.
At times he must certainly feel like the Carlo character from The Godfather—the one who marries Michael Corleone’s sister Connie—he’s in the family, but technically he’s not.
“Give him a decent living, but don’t ever let him in on the family’s business” is a Vito Corleone quote that refers to Carlo, but could just as easily have been uttered by Jon Bon Jovi.
Like a mafia family protecting the original inner circle, the band members never ‘officially’ replaced Jon Such; rather, they filled their need by simply hiring another session musician, a known quantity, hard worker, and someone who wouldn’t whine about not being ‘with the band’.
Official or not, Hugh McDonald is no fool.
In a music industry that chews up and spits out acts new and old as fast as the cultural whims shift the style and nature of the entertainment, Bon Jovi has endured far longer than anyone on MTV or FM radio could have predicted back when they hit the scene in 1983.
Hell, most musicians are glad if they can get a paying gig or two; McDonald has had a pretty good run with a steady job in one of the world’s best bands for decades.
Nor is McDonald one-dimensional.
His Discography is nothing short of a ‘Who’s Who’ of incredible talent he has played with during the course of his career, and clearly serves as an official set of papers for a blue-blood musical pedigree that requires nothing but to play for the love of music; to feel the incidental weight of a Carvin bass slung high on a hip and rumbling low against a tummy while lending drive to a universe of music that knows no bounds nor in which it can be contained.
Good work if you can find it, and Hugh McDonald has, and does!
Read more articles by National Bon Jovi Examiner Glenn Osrin here.
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