By Anthony J. Machcinski
After noticing that his son had been faking it on the bass guitar, playing just one string and earning the moniker, “One String Ron,” Ron Penque Sr. gave his son a few lessons. One day, Penque Sr., an accomplished bass player for 20 years, saw his son Ron admiring his ‘57 Fender Precision Bass in the closet. Penque Sr. said to his son, who now had become passionate about his play, “Ron, this bass is yours to borrow until the day you stop playing.”
Thirty-seven years later, Ron Penque Jr., known as Ronnie, still has that bass. The bass currently resides in the office of one of the most influential bass players of all time.
“My two brothers and I were all musicians,” said Penque.“Music was always a love.”
Penque is a member of the recently revived New Riders of the Purple Sage, a jam band that featured some of the most influential musicians of all time, including the likes of Jerry Garcia and members of the Grateful Dead. Since 2005, Penque has been the bass guitarist for the New Riders, a band he originally grew up listening to.
“I was sitting eighth row center at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic,” Penque recalled. “My friend and I were sitting there with binoculars trying to get the chords from the New Riders so we could play them at home.”
Penque’s seven-year-tenure with the band has been marked by stability, retaining the same members during that time — a record its predecessor band couldn’t match. Since his involvement with the New Riders, he has been a part of three studio records and a DVD.
“Absolutely not,” Penque responded when asked if he ever envisioned himself with the New Riders when he was young. “It’s like a TV movie. I would dream I want to be in the coolest band on earth and it’s been unbelievable to wind up in that band and end up on a couple records with them.”
While with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Penque has tried to branch out and perform his solo act, Ronnie Penque & Friends, who will visit Donegal Saloon in Kearny on March 31.
“I just felt like I needed to start recording these songs,” said Penque, who plans to play some of his solo works as well as some covers from his time with the Jerry Garcia Band. “‘Only Road Home’ (Penque’s most recent work) started as a glorified demo and it just kind of turned into a record.”
Penque’s solo debut was a successful one, as “Only Road Home” was the number one record on Jam Bands Radio in March of 2011 and was number two on the same list for January and February of the same year.
“It took me almost two years to get it produced and out to the public,” Penque explained. “I have many more and I’m thinking about getting back into the studio.” Penque’s songs off ”Only Road Home” are very similar to the style that Penque played with both New Riders of the Purple Sage and with the Jerry Garcia Band. Penque’s soft vocals help accent the relaxing feel that his playing produces. American Junkie, a tune off “Only Road Home,” showcases the natural flow that a jam band needs to have in order to be successful.
Regardless of what band he is playing in, Penque loves just one aspect of every show.
“Every musician likes big crowds at their shows because the energy is great,” Penque said.
Anyone with even the slightest ear for music will have no problem providing Penque with all the energy he needs.