By Matt Skoufalos
Back when she was a college student growing up in New Jersey, Mariah Garcia was on a pre-law track, at the insistence of her parents. But by her own admission, “school wasn’t going that great, and I didn’t really enjoy it.”
“I wanted to get into medicine, but I didn’t see myself going into med school,” she said. “At the time, you could be a doctor or a nurse, and I didn’t know whether I wanted to go that route.”
Instead, Garcia took a job as a night receptionist at an MRI center, and started hanging out with the imaging technicians in the office. In no time at all, she fell in love with MRI.
“Nobody comes to a career show at your grade school and talks about this career; I didn’t know the technology was there,” Garcia said. “The first time I saw an MRI machine, it looked like Star Trek. You’re able to see patients’ bodies and what’s going on; I was mesmerized by it, and fell in love with it. I asked the techs, ‘What do I have to do to do this?’ ”
On the recommendation of her coworkers, Garcia worked her way through X-ray school, earned her certificate, and received an invitation to take on a role at the imaging center where she’d began in reception. She learned MRI on the job, starting slow, but making steady progress. Within a year, she was running studies on her own.
All the while, Garcia continued to work as a session vocalist and live performer, singing with a party band, Zanadu, and backing up studio artists during recording sessions. Monday through Thursday, she worked in medical imaging, but the weekends, she worked in music. Zanadu played throughout the tristate area (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania), covering radio hits and other songs. Garcia’s fluency in Spanish and Portuguese also meant that the group was invited to play special events for families of those cultures, but her heart always pulled her towards R&B and the ‘70s radio hits of her youth.
“A lot of it was word of mouth, especially in New Jersey,” she said. “I was born in Switzerland, and my parents are Spaniards, so I grew up with a lot of guitar influence. I loved power ballads, and then rock music, ‘70s, and disco. I love Heart, I love Pat Benatar; those power vocals from that time.”
While her imaging career grew, Garcia also met Yadira, a Konica engineer and the woman who would become her wife. However, when Yadira fell ill and needed a heart transplant, the couple decided to move away from the East Coast for a slower pace of life in the Southwest. They landed in Arizona, and Garcia took a break from performing to focus on Yadira’s health. In 2010, Yadira underwent a successful heart transplant, and now, 10 years later, she’s in good health, and they both work for Banner Imaging.
“She’s doing fantastic,” Garcia said. “She wanted to give back, and now she’s in medicine.”
Yadira’s recovery also meant that Garcia could slowly rejoin the music scene. In Arizona, however, she would have to reinvent herself with a new lineup and new repertoire to match the interests of venue owners and clubgoers. Her new band, NoBody BIG, performs classic rock and radio hits from the 70s and beyond.
“It’s hard to get gigs out here, but once you establish a really big venue, you can usually have a pretty regular following,” she said. “That’s why we called ourselves NoBody BIG.”
“What I enjoy about this is the way we pick our music,” Garcia said; “taking you back to your high school and college years. We pick songs that transcend you back to those times. The fans who follow us are people who I call my age now, so we all grew up in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.”
“Growing up in Newark, there was a lot of R&B, but out here in Arizona, there wasn’t, so we switched over to classic rock,” she said. “We do Journey, Tom Petty, Melissa Etheridge, Motown, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. For the most part, we take a song, pick it apart, and make it our own.”
Although the live music scene in her community is still growing, Garcia said NoBody BIG enjoy strong support from her coworkers and colleagues at Banner, and the band wins over new fans at every show.
“We have a great time getting everybody to come out with their families,” she said. “It builds camaraderie, brings people together and relieves stress.”
Although Garcia believes she could have kept up with a recording career as a younger person, she’s content with her imaging career trajectory, and has no intentions of giving up performing on the side.
“I’m 50 now, and it’s getting a little harder to get up there and do a four-hour gig,” she said. “It gets a little difficult as you get older, but I’m going to do it as much as I can, and then once I’m good, I’m good.”
Moreover, after 25 years in MRI — 10 with Banner — Garcia’s professional experience is also relied upon in her role as a lead tech.
“You have more responsibility to make sure things are running properly, and make sure your techs are trained and they have the support they need,” she said. “I love teaching new things, and as the technology comes out, just growing with it.” •