Bronson Arroyo, retired Reds pitcher, rocks out with new album



Plenty of active athletes and former sports stars record vanity projects that tragically misfire. Retired Cincinnati Reds all-star pitcher Bronson Arroyo avoided that pitfall with “Some Might Say,” releasing on Friday, Feb. 17.

“Making this album has been gratifying and fulfilling in a lot of ways,” said Arroyo, 45. “I picked up the guitar about 25 years ago when I was in Double-A with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I’ve been on a journey of learning cover songs and playing cover songs, which is gratifying as well, but writing my own songs for this album is the next part of that journey.”

For much of his life, Arroyo was best known as a hotshot jock, but the retired Major League Baseball player is changing that perception with his first collection of all original rock songs. From the songwriting to the musicianship, this guy is proving he is the real deal. However, it didn’t come without plenty of hard work and dedication to the craft of songwriting. The years of practice Arroyo put into transforming himself into a musician is obvious. Still that work ethic isn’t surprising considering it was first instilled in him as a 5-year-old preparing his body for sports.

“I wasn’t just watching my father, I was in the weight room working,” Arroyo said. “I’ve got DVDs of me at 8, in 1985, maxing out on squat, bench and deadlift. I weighed under 60 pounds, and I could deadlift 235, squat 255 and bench 130. This was unheard of stuff. I was squatting four times my body weight up until I was about 15 years old. Think about how dedicated you have to be to that craft to do that and I was only doing that to play sports better.”

Credit: Al Behrman

Credit: Al Behrman

Year-round conditioning

Arroyo was born in Key West, Florida on Feb. 24, 1977, to Julie and Gus. His father is a native of Cuba. The family moved to Brooksville, where he was an all-state player for Hernando High School.

“There was music around the house, but I didn’t partake,” Arroyo said. “People were playing pianos, cellos and violins and they were singing but I was playing baseball and then basketball and football in the off-season. A lot of my being was consumed by athletics and being in the weight room.”

His dedication paid off. Arroyo logged 16 seasons in the MLB, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2000 and 2002. He was with the Boston Red Sox from 2003 to 2005, which included the team’s 2004 World Series Championship season. He spent nine seasons with the Reds (2006-2013, 2017). In his first season with the team, he earned his first shutout in the majors and was selected to his lone All-Star game appearance.



Beyond the diamond

Even while an active player, Arroyo was establishing himself as a rocker and did cover song performances at special events. In 2005, before joining the Reds, he released his debut album, “Covering the Bases.” It featured his versions of tunes by Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Incubus, Goo Goo Dolls and others. Author Stephen King is featured on Foo Fighters’ “Everlong.”

“I did ‘Covering the Bases’ almost on a whim,” Arroyo said. “I got asked if I wanted to make a record. We had just won the World Series and I said there was no way I could write original music. He said to pick my 12 favorite songs and he’d get a great band together. I just had to show up and sing. That was some hard work too but not nearly as hard as creating your own original music.”

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Arroyo enjoyed the process but never saw “Covering the Bases” as the start of an ongoing recording career.

“There was never a thought in my mind that I was going to record an original record,” he said. “It was something that maybe could happen one day, but it was never present because I was so serious about baseball. As you’re getting older, you have to take care of your body. Performing in public or thinking about writing a record was a bit more in the background from 2010 to 2017. You’re thinking about your body almost 11 months out of the year.”

Arroyo spent the 2014 season with the Arizona Razorbacks, where an elbow injury forced him onto the disabled list for the first time in his career. He spent time with several teams before returning to the Reds organization in 2017. He had 14 starts that year and ended up retiring when the season ended in September.



Finding his voice

Arroyo stayed in Cincinnati after retiring and continued performing with his cover band. With no year-round conditioning for the first time in his life, he also got serious about songwriting.

“Writing songs was always a challenge,” Arroyo said. “I could write songs that were very literal, like a kids song where you’re talking directly to them and saying, ‘Hey, you should eat your fruits and vegetables.’ A lot of the rock stuff I really enjoyed listening to from the ‘90s like Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots, was a lot more cryptic but the music felt good and made me want to listen. I wasn’t sure I could write in that sense. I tried to come up with a formula to be able to finish songs I’d be happy putting out to the world, which was always hard. I found a way to do that with (my) buddy Chris Lambert here in Cincinnati, and also Eliot Sloan from Blessid Union of Souls.”

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Arroyo connected with the music and lyrics of the grunge-era acts but brought his own worldview to the songs on “Some Might Say.”

“I’ve always been an optimistic guy,” he said. “Growing up in the weight room with my father, everything was about the glass being half-full all the time. A lot of the music I really enjoyed from the ‘90s was coming from a dark place. I haven’t had a lot of that darkness in me, so I wasn’t sure what to write about. I wasn’t that hard up to tell my own story, but I found I can write about outside subjects. These songs are written about historic events or someone else I observed, and then I infused a bit of myself into the songs. The inception was writing about something from the external, but you can hear it’s about me. When I figured that out, it made it possible for me to write a whole record.”



Music with friends

“Covering the Bases” was produced by Loren Harriet and featured legendary musicians like drummer Kenny Aronoff and bassist Leland Sklar. Arroyo’s new album was recorded in Los Angeles with his band the ‘04: guitarist Jamie Arentzen (Miley Cyrus, Butch Walker), bassist Ed Valauskas (Juliana Hatfield, Graham Parker), guitarist Clint Walsh (Dwarves, the Motels) and drummer Eric Gardner (Gnarls Barkley, Garbage).

“This is a group of New England guys I met in 2004,” Arroyo said. “We’d play once a year at (fundraising concert) Hot Stove Cool Music for Theo Epstein and Peter Gammons. We really liked hanging out in the off-season. We always said we’d write a record one day, but I don’t know if anybody thought it would happen. These guys tour a lot with other people, so this album wasn’t on the forefront of their minds. It took me saying, ‘I want to do this.’ I went out to L.A., and we started working on songs.”

Despite the members of the ‘04 staying busy with other musical obligations, he never considered recording “Some Might Say” with studio musicians.

“I never would’ve made this record with a bunch of hired guns,” he said. “To go on this journey that’s going to take a lot of work but also feel like we’re being creative, you want to do it with your buds. It was nice to have this group of guys play on the record. It sounds great and it feels very authentic. I’ve always tried to be authentic with my personality in the locker room, in the way I pitched and the way I played the game. Musically, I feel the same way. Every single story written in these songs came out of my mind. Nobody else wrote these for me. The inception of every story is from me. I’m proud of it and I hope people can feel that.”

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