Grammy-Nominated Michael O’Neill Brings Gift of Music Just in Time for the Holidays

October 14, 2011
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From his house to the White House, Michael O'Neill is a superb guitarist, songwriter, producer and teacher.

From his house to the White House, Michael O'Neill has entertained audiences as a superb guitarist, songwriter, producer and teacher.

As it is only mid-October, you probably don’t want to hear this, but the holidays and the holiday shopping season are here.

Perfume for mom? Maybe socks and a neck tie for dad? Or if you’re a parent, the latest video version of Halo for junior or a Juicy Couture ruffle edge nightshirt for your budding teenage fashion queen?

Or you could just knock it out of the park with a really original gift this year: a live recording session with Glendora’s Grammy-nominated guiltarist/producer/songwriter Michael O’Neill.

oneillalbum1O’Neill’s discography reads like a who’s who of music. For more than three decades, he’s appeared on stage and cut records with George Benson, Natalie Cole, Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder and other amazing musical giants, representing practically every musical genre from blues to pop.

Indeed, as this article goes to press he’s in Phoenix, Az., performing with Benson. Over Thanksgiving, he’ll move his guitar to Washington D.C. for three sold-out performances at the Kennedy Center, joining the National Symphony in paying tribute to Nat King Cole.

He’s a veteran road warrior who has toured the world countless times, from Alaska to Angola and from Montreux, Switzerland to Monterey, Calif. He literally hasn’t missed a beat on the world’s musical stage for more than three decades.

But it was during a stretch at home — helping his 20-year-old daughter, “a singer/songwriter type,” produce a record — that he had his latest “aha” moment,

“That awakened a passion in me to start working with people on an individual basis,” Michael said over a cup of coffee at the La Verne Starbucks.

Clearly, he has the musical chops to assist and steer young musical artists in the right direction concerning their musical careers. “Certainly, I can help them transition from just knowing their music to helping them document it in the form of a recording,” he said.

Think Jimmy Iovine, the CEO of Interscope and the in-house musical coach for “American Idol.” He knows how to take a rough product or act and polish and coach it up to professional listening quality.

“There are so many things that go into it, there’s even a right and wrong way to hold a microphone,” said O’Neill, whose production company is called Green Bean in honor of his Irish-Mexican heritage. “I’ve learned there are few shortcuts in this business.”

Young aspiring artists aren’t the only people who would benefit from O’Neill’s musical direction, editing, mixing, mastering and professional input.

“What about that older person who always had that dream of recording that one signature song? O’Neill wondered aloud. “He or  she can do that now because of the amazing advances that have taken place in recording technology.

“When I started, we were using 24-track, 2-inch analog tape,” he added. “When you wanted to edit on a mix, you had to splice the tape and reattach it. Today, it’s a digital world, everything is done seamlessly.”oneillalbum

O’Neill can also separate the vocal tracks from any recording and create a digital file or CD that singers can bring to their favorite karaoke outing.

“Now they have their favorite music customized to their key, where they feel most comfortable,” O’Neill noted.

Just like the half dozen CDs that O’Neill has released, he sees countless possibilities with not only his music, but also in helping others find their muse. For example, many music schools and colleges as part of their admissions process ask applicants to submit samples of their music. Again, O’Neill could serve as a resource to help students produce and submit their best work.

O’Neill has seen his career come full circle and is enjoying reconnecting to singers who are ready to make their mark on the music world as he has. After attending Los Angeles area high schools and Los Angeles Valley Community College, he hit the streets and the clubs, picking up any gigs he could.

His major musical inspiration was his godfather, a member of Trio Calaveras (skullheads), a famous band in Mexico that regularly appeared at Los Angeles’ Million Dollar theater. “When they came up for shows, we always had these extended family gatherings,” O’Neill recalled. “As a young boy, I was fascinated by the experience. They always made me do my Elvis impression.”

A born entertainer, O’Neill finally got his big break with the Crusaders. “They were at their peak with ‘Street Life,’ sung by Randy Crawford. ( The next thing he knew he was jet-setting around the world with the titans of the music industry.

“I’ll never forget it, I’m this greenhorn out of the clubs of L.A., and we’re flying to Europe via JFK. After we land in New York, I’m looking around and tell the tour manager that the terminal looks kind of weird. He says, ‘Hey kid, we’re flying on the Concorde (the supersonic transport airplane).’

streetlife3“I finally take my seat, and who walks by me but Paul McCartney and his late wife, Linda, so I spent the entire flight talking to them.”

From that initial whirlwind tour, the touring has never really stopped. He hooked up with George Benson in 1981, and while still a member of Benson’s band, he also played with many of the world’s great jazz and R&B greats, including Aretha Franklin, Joe Sample, Chaka Khan, Bobby Caldwell and Sarah McLachlan, to name but a few.

About 10 years ago, O’Neill, the veteran sideman who had backed up so many outstanding artists, decided it was time to come out with his first solo album. The inspiration had come when he was onstage at Carnegie Hall as part of a world tour with singer Rickie Lee Jones in support of her 1991 Top Pop album.

What poured forth was a fusion of influences from Stevie Wonder, George Benson and other celebrated artists with whom he had performed. The album was appropriately named, “Never Too Late.” (

Wrote Jonathan Widran, of JAZZIZ Magazine, “Mid-tempo meditations like “Sidewalk Strut” and the Brazilian-flavored acoustic piece “Cruisin’ On Down” (featuring O’Neill’s lively scatting) offer more evidence of the guitarist’s ability to please the listener’s ear while stretching stylistic boundaries.”

Added Jeff Charney of “Contemporary Jazz”: “Michael O’Neill created a masterpiece and his songwriting reached new heights. His tone and playing is wonderful. On this album, O’Neill found his true voice. He definitively will show that he belongs to the best. His music is a fantastic mix of jazz, funk, soul and R&B.”

Maybe the greatest praise of O’Neill’s work comes from Benson, whom O’Neill has accompanied for three decades, a soulful association that shows no signs of slowing down.

“He was great when he first joined my group but he has continued to grow and search for new and fresh ideas,” Benson said. “He possesses great technique and versatility and plays with conviction. Michael is a contemporary player, who, like myself, gives attention to the melodic side of a composition and stays within its context – but can stretch when called upon to do so. Check him out, I know you’ll like him as much as I do.”

That’s good advice. O’Neill’s music may belong to the world, but he’s also right here at home, willing to help young and old alike take their musical interests, however small or large, to the next level.

For more information about the man and his music, visit, where you’ll find a variety of his songs. You can also email him at The REEL People video on the home page of LaVerneOnline also features one of his contemporary jazz tunes. Enjoy.

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