Marco Pena has plenty of guitar heroes, but John Mayer stands above them all. “My music is my driving force,” the Springfield teen said. “I’d be lost without it.”EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE
Move over Rover, let Marco take over!
OK, so maybe it’s a stretch to even mention a 16-year-old kid in the same sentence with Jimi Hendrix.
Just don’t be surprised when Springfield’s Marco Pena lights the local music scene on fire.
“My music is my driving force, I’d be lost without it,” Pena said Saturday during an interview at his home, as he mindlessly zipped through riffs on his guitar. As a huge Hendrix fan, Pena could probably play most of Jimi’s catalog, including the above referenced “Fire.”
Pena’s guitars are so precious to him that he has given them all names. His favorite guitar, a Fender Stratocaster, is Voodoo Maria, which is his favorite Jimi song (Voodoo Child) and his mother’s name. His No. 2 guitar is a Fender Telecaster that was signed by Tommy Castro at a March 2019 show at The Shedd Institute. That guitar is named Mr. Richards, because it looks a lot like Keith Richards’ guitar.
The rest of the “family” includes Coco, named after a Disney Pixar film, and Rosita, simply because it’s red. Pena’s father – also named Marco – also has a couple of guitars, but they don’t have names. He hasn’t played for a while, but he shares a love of music with his son.
Together, they’ve seen some shows to remember, including Green Day, Metallica, Santana and Dead & Co.
That Dead & Co. concert at Autzen Stadium in 2018 featured his No. 1 guitar god – John Mayer.
“It was so cool. Really an awesome concert,” Pena said. “And it’s amazing what the vibe is like at a Grateful Dead show. I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
At age 11, Pena’s first guitar was, well, how should we put this … given a little help because Marco knew it needed a good home?
“We were at Goodwill and I saw this guitar that had a $50 tag on it and I knew my dad wouldn’t buy it for me,” Pena recalled. “There was a Nerf gun next to it with a $5 tag, so I just switched the tags and I got a guitar for $5.”
But Pena is no troublemaker. Far from it. He’s smart, well-spoken, polite and humble. Family-oriented, too. Likes spending time with little brother Mario (14) and little sisters Ashley (8) and Leslie (5). He says when he’s not playing guitar, he’s “like any other kid. I like to play video games and hang out with my friends.”
There’s one thing that sets him apart from most of the others within his circle, though.
“I’m the only one who doesn’t get wasted,” said Pena, a senior-to-be at Churchill High School. “I’m a singer in a band. My voice is too important to me.
“I tried a sip of beer once. I didn’t care for it.”
It’s going to be four more years – Pena turns 17 next month – before he can buy himself or anyone else a drink, but he’s already played a couple of bar gigs – at WOW Hall and Luckey’s – with his funk-metal band called “J.A.M.” It also includes 15-year-olds Jack Troberg and Auron Cramer. “They’re both really talented,” Pena said, “and we all write our own stuff.”
Pena also has his high school band, the “Chorduroys,” which also includes Nora Bradley, Jesse Bauman and Taz Jentzsch. “We’re still together, but since COVID we haven’t played much. We’re a blues-rock-funk band.”
Let’s not forget Pena’s first solo album. There’s no title yet, but look for it in the next several weeks on Spotify and YouTube.
Once he finishes high school, Pena says he has his career path pretty much figured out … at least for the short term.
“I’m afraid to go to (college) because I think that would severely limit my chances to perform,” Pena said. “I know that being on stage on performing is what I want to do. For me, there’s nothing else like that feeling. It’s so liberating, a feeling of sheer ecstasy …
“It’s like surfing, and being caught in the tube. That’s the way I feel when I’m on stage.”
He said that Mr. (David) Powell, his former jazz band teacher at Arts & Technology, had it right when he said “music is the healing force of the universe.”
“I couldn’t agree with him more,” Pena said.
Don’t expect him to be smashing up any guitars like Jimi used to do -- guitars are too expensive nowadays. But sooner or later, he’s gonna be a hot commodity.
I have only one burning desire,
Let me stand next to your fire!