Eric Onimus

On the Musical Roundabout

by Brett Levine     Photo by Jerry Siegel

“It all started because I heard Roundabout by Yes back in the 1970s, and I wanted to play whatever it was that made that amazing sound,” Eric Onimus explains. “So,” he continues, “for my 10th birthday I got a bass guitar from Sears, one of those guitar and amplifier combinations, and that was it.”

Three decades and countless instruments later, Onimus is one of the most respected bassists playing and working in Birmingham today. “I see music as an amazing career,” he remarks. “Every time I get on stage, I feel lucky to be able to keep on working as a musician. I think of the ability to make a living in this way is like a gift you can’t turn down.”

Onimus acknowledges that life as a working musician is not easy, and at times he has considered other options. “I’ve worked nine to five before, but I always found that at the end of the day it was the music that was the most important. I think of playing music like an addiction, but it is one I would never want to get away from.”

Having the opportunity to work with a number of bands, each creating music in their own unique way, is one of the opportunities Onimus has as a result of being in Birmingham. “I’m currently in a number of bands, including The Hollows and the Kendra Sutton Band.”  He also does session work. “I just got back from Nashville where I was working on some tracks for the forthcoming India Ramey album that will be released in April.”

Onimus also sits in regularly with a number of bands including Bourbon and Blood, Sweetwater Road, and the Elijah Butler band. “Birmingham has so many talented players,” he pauses, “so I get to play with a number of people whose music I really enjoy.”  Some nights, the desire to play leads him to “double–up,” playing one gig earlier in the evening and another late.

Adding upright bass to his repertoire of instruments simply created even more opportunities to play. “Playing upright involves and entirely different approach,” he laughs. “I had always played electric bass, but I began to get calls for upright work, and since I only play bass I knew it would be an incredible instrument to learn.”  Despite his skill and decades of experience, Onimus remains remarkably humble about his abilities. “I see music as a constant learning process.  There is always someone who will approach their instrument differently, and through that simple act we can have a dialogue that can make us both better players.”

Lessons have always formed a core component of Onimus’ workday, and he has recently become involved with the WorkPlay Rock School, where he is an instructor and gives private bass lessons. Opened in March, the school provides traditional lessons, as well as opportunities for students to play together each week. “What I really like about the WorkPlay Rock School approach is that we create an environment in which the individual classroom skills can be refined by working with other students at similar skill levels. But,” he continues, “rather than having to find people to play music with, we create that opportunity every week.”

On a personal level, he continues to develop his skills.  “I was a self-taught musician at first,” he explains, “so over the years I have spent more and more time focusing on the formal elements of playing — reading, scales, and music theory. I think the more you immerse yourself in music, the better a player you are likely to be.”

For Onimus, what is important is simply the opportunity to keep making music. “I’ve been with a number of bands that have been close to ‘making it,’” he smiles, “but with the industry the way it is today, the traditional artist, marketing, album sales, and support structures simply don’t apply.  In a world where everyone can have a computer and Pro Tools, the sheer volume of creativity can create more and more opportunities.”  In the end, however, he is not concerned with chasing fame. “I’ve never cared about anything the way I do about music. This is the career that I have chosen for as long as I can keep playing.”•

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