Local Music Makers
The Charming Mr. Bones
Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach,
song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
Photographer Peggy Ratusz
The reason for writing this feature is to shine light on hard working and gifted local music makers. When the interviewee is a close friend, it can be challenging. That’s not the case with my music compadre and part time co-writing pal, Hank Bones. He’s a dream to interview and a dream to write about.
A native New Yorker, Hank Bones is not his given name but it’s one that fits him to the bone, as it were, in its quirky lightheartedness. Quirky and lighthearted are adjectives I am certain his friends and bandmates would agree sums up his approach to everything.
Hank doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He’s the epitome of the ‘center of attention’ in all the good and entertaining ways you want someone who is nearly always the center of attention to be.
His wit alone is something to marvel. I often find myself looking for a pen to write down what he just said in conversation so I can use it in conversation next time it warrants, to appear as charming as Mr. Bones.
The majority of the time I spend with Hank, I’m laughing and creating. The beauty is that if you’re fortunate to make music with this wildly free, stupendously skilled musician and songwriter, he’ll make you the center of attention too.
Love Bubble is the harmony driven trio I co-created with Hank and the sensational Paula Hanke. We’ve been rehearsing faithfully, pert near every Tuesday since the start of 2019, writing songs together, working out harmonies and for Ms. Hanke and me, learning new instruments to play; all from Hank’s urging.
While the creative process can get cantankerous, there’s discernable joy in arguing when the outcome is songs like the ones he writes, we write, record and perform.
That defining moment when music became what Hank would pursue above all else happened when he was fourteen.
“I heard a high school band playing at a carnival in Long Island. They were a few years older and it was the first time I’d seen a bass up close. It only had four strings and he was hitting them one at a time and I just knew I could do that. A couple days later I went to the music store and bought a bass for 50 bucks.”
Mastering music books by “Wrecking Crew” bassist Carol Kaye and Beatles bass charts along with six months’ worth of lessons from Irving Katz, the owner of the music store, was plenty for a genius like Hank. “Learning to play bass was like a great adventure. I just knew I wasn’t going to do anything else.”
His first official performance was a school assembly where a band the music teacher put together played Lyin’ Eyes by the Eagles and Come Go with Me by the Del-Vikings. But the first paid gig he ever did was a sweet sixteen party at a place called The Spice of Life when he was fifteen.
Loading up the car, he happened to throw in a regular guitar along with his bass, which turned out to be real handy that particular night. “So I get to the gig and there’s a show-band playing “The Hustle” and I figure this gig will be easy since I knew all the hits of the day.
But there was already a bass player on stage so I go up to the keyboard player and ask, ‘what’s the story?’ He says, ‘you’re not playing with us, you’re upstairs with another kid.’
This other kid played what barely passed as a keyboard. The manager comes up, claps his hands together and says ‘Okay boys! Get ‘em dancing!’ I’d never done a gig before, I’d never sung in public before and I asked the kid, ‘do you sing?’ and he says ‘no.’ It was like one of those nightmares where you’re completely unprepared.
I knew the words to “Ramblin’ Man” which we ended up playing three times that night. I can’t imagine how terrible we must have sounded. But I made $25 which was a fortune back then!”
Spring of 1978, he answered an ad in the Village Voice for an original new wave band needing a bassist. Landing the position meant commuting to rehearsals every week, dragging a heavy bass in a hard shell case each time.
“I’d walk a mile to the train station, take the Long Island Rail Road and then the subway to these rehearsals cause I wanted so desperately to be in a group. “The Maroons” consisted of 2 guitarists: one female, one male, Hank on bass and a drummer. They eventually moved in together a la The Monkees TV show. By the summer of ‘78, they were auditioning at CBGB and landed a few opening act slots.
He ultimately started singing lead in a rockabilly group he formed called The Moondogs. “In 1982 I was playing upright bass too and I had fun incorporating all the rockabilly antics, slappin’ and climbin’ on the bass. I didn’t know or care if I was any good; I guess I thought I was good.” He still wears a classic Moondogs T-shirt.
Hank’s music sensibilities are wide. A superlative, pitch perfect crooner he excels in every genre and plays numerous instruments. Living on a budget forced him to learn how to record, mix and master his own tracks and inspired him to hone his chops on drums, keys, guitar…. alleviating the need to hire sessions players.
And not much has changed where selling his original compositions is concerned. Many songs he’s either played on or written appear in movies, documentaries, video games, commercials….He even wrote an entire Broadway drag queen show which is when he wrote the song “Love Bubble.” He told Paula and me that he’s wanted to start a group with that name since the 80’s.
What impresses me most about Hank both professionally and personally is his ability to co-create with ease and without the barriers of being self-conscious. His proclivity to co-write with mostly female songwriters goes back and is on-going. His strength as a vocals producer is legendary and his ear is uncanny. His ability to find the nooks and crannies of harmonies is astounding.
You’ll find him every Tuesday, playing with the phenomenal gypsy jazz and swing group called The John Henry’s at 5 Walnut Wine Bar. That band features Jon Corbin, Lindsey Pruitt, Kevin Kehrberg and Russ Wilson.
Look for him also on stage with the Uptown Hillbillies that features Steve Trismen and Vollie McKenzie as well as the 60’s Rock and Rollers, 3 Cool Cats with Michael Filiponne and Russ Wilson. And of course, 1/3 of the harmony-driven trio with me and Paula Hanke called Love Bubble.
Be careful what you say around Hank. His favorite retort to something someone just said that he finds inspirational is: “That’s sounds like a song! Have it on my desk tomorrow at 8am.”