There is no doubt that musician Rico Monaco is Central Florida’s best-kept secret. He is perhaps the best-kept secret in the music industry. His mad guitar skills and excellent musicianship are sure to catapult him into the mainstream sooner than later. He has tenacity and a strong work ethic that keeps him working and creating constantly. This creativity and determination has earned him award after award, and recognition from some legendary musicians that he just may be joining the ranks of soon. Some of these awards include Musician of the Year, Latin Act of the Year, and CD of the Year, to name a few. Rico Monaco & Sol Sons won the Hard Rock Cafe/Cabo Wabo Tequila National Battle of the Bands. They went through several rounds, competing with bands from Central Florida, then against winners of larger cities like Chicago, Houston, and Boston. Finally making it to the top three, they were ultimately chosen as the winner by Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, and three record executives. It speaks volumes about their talent when they beat out other bands from all over the country and were personally selected by these big names in the industry.
It was Rico who formed this band upon moving to Florida. “It took over 700 auditions when I first moved to Orlando to get it going in the first couple of years. It has taken a lot of hard work to keep it going since then too, and occasional auditions when necessary to replace a musician. It is probably the most difficult part of my job, finding talented professionals. But if you want to play, you gotta pay and I have paid the price to keep it going.” Many fans and audience members would agree that they are happy that he has kept it going. The people who have a chance to hear and see him play, greatly appreciate these sacrifices.
Rico Monaco & Sol Sons was first formed in 1998, “but the band solidified in 1999 and stayed solid until 2005 when more changes took place”. “Three of us have been playing together for quite awhile and the other three are fairly new. It is very difficult to keep band members when life happens, but we have been lucky to find some talented musicians to work with us over the years. One thing I have learned, Teamwork does make the Dreamwork. It’s great to have the most talented players, but if they aren’t committed to the band it’s detrimental in the end. This band needs musicians of a certain talent but also those that are willing to commit to being a professional in every sense of the word.” Anyone that has seen RMSS in concert will agree that it appears that he has achieved this goal.
Not surprisingly, Rico comes from a musical family. “My grandparents are all from outside of Naples, Italia. My grandfather sang opera and my dad played trumpet when he was younger. He was a ballroom swing dancer too. He played great Swing and Jazz all of the time. I had all older siblings and one of my sisters dated a drummer that became like my older brother. He introduced me to everything from Chuck Berry, The Stones, Beatles, Hendrix, Cream, etc. and that had a major impact on me from five years old on.” These artists and so many more like Santana, Van Halen, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra have been some of Rico’s biggest influences.
Rico wanted to make music his career as far back as he can remember, but it didn’t always seem possible. “Sometimes it still doesn’t seem possible because it is extremely difficult to be a 24/7 musician and make a living. I have diversified my business into three categories: 1) Rico Monaco & Sol Sons, 2) Production/Studio work, 3) Guitar instruction. Rico recently released a guitar instruction DVD that you can check out at thepassiontheory.com. “It is being played on channel 53 all night and day at the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago as part of the Check In Rock Out program presented by Gibson Guitars. I am endorsed by Gibson Guitars.” Rico also mentions how difficult it is to be a band that puts out original music. “It’s much harder to create an original band and put out CD/DVDs than to play only covers. It’s a whole different world than just picking the big hits and entertaining people who grew up on those songs. I love a great cover band. We even do ‘remakes’ of covers on our records along with mostly original material, but the covers are always done in the context of our style. Like Van Halen did You Really Got Me or Santana did She’s Not There, or Sinatra singing an Elvis hit.” There’s no question that whatever Rico is performing, whether original or not, it is quality music. His guitar skills are the perfect balance of solid technique and musicality.
Rico enjoys living in Orlando because “it’s big enough, but not too big to make a name for yourself”. He enjoys “the weather and the diversity of cultures living and visiting here”. No matter where Rico has lived, he has always heard that it is better for musicians somewhere else. “(Orlando) is a good place for musicians, but it is not easy for musicians anywhere, never has been, never will be. You gotta pay the price to be an artist.” Rico advises local musicians to diversify. “Develop enough different revenue sources to survive when one goes down for awhile. Most of all do it because you love it. It will show in your performance.” It definitely shows in his performance, with a passion that can’t be faked or imitated. His advice to young guitar players with big dreams is to study with a good teacher, have an organized plan, learn some theory, and open your mind as a young person to different styles. “Nothing worthwhile is easy, but it is very valuable to have the skills of a great guitarist. Plus, it is one of the most incredible experiences to perform for people and produce music!”
If you have yet to hear Rico or Rico Monaco & Sol Sons, you can check out five of the DVD tracks on Youtube from the latest project, So Alive from the Sunshine State. This dual disc package includes a CD with 15 songs and a DVD with 16. You can also keep up with the band and find out about local shows on their website, ricomonaco.com, and on the RMSS Fan Page on Facebook. Don’t forget to visit thepassiontheory.com to purchase his guitar instruction DVD if you have the passion to become a guitar master too. This is a great opportunity to learn from a pro and future legend!
Photos courtesy of Rico Monaco, by Scott Tucker Photography and Alberto Gomez