Akin to nearly all their 1990s Brit pop peers, Suede unabashedly borrowed from Beatles to Bowie to the top of the UK charts. Bassist Matthew David Osman did his classic Macca homework diligently, working a vintage Rickenbacker and rendering upper register melodies aplenty to underpin Brett Anderson’s tortured croon. Rinse and repeat for thirty years and counting.
To my ears, Degradation Trip - commenced in ’99 but not released until ’02 - would have made a classic Alice in Chains collection. Nonetheless, Jerry Cantrell’s sophomore song-cycle emerges as an intriguing meld of grunge, metal, and alt-rock signature of the era. A trio affair with guitar overdubs aplenty, drummer Mike Bordin and bassist Robert Trujillo compliment Cantrell’s sonic din with equally heavy pocket grooves. Trujillo works his magic in the lower register, plying motifs no higher than the 7th fret - to further emphasize his band leader’s anguished libretto.
Fusion is a genre oft misunderstood, maligned, and given to the favoring of one or more of the musical elements over another - be it permutations of jazz, funk, rock, and so forth. And then there's "Billy Panic" (aka bassist Tony Curatola and guitarist Ron Malkenson) who have mastered the rare feat of actually fusing the aforementioned musical designs with equal balance and purity. You have your grooves (the subtitle "It's All About the Feel" rings true) and stylistic references sans any of the clichés, the playing is masterful, and the compositions display melodic and rhythmic flair. To my ears Ish exemplifies power of the ensemble over the individual - even when these cats improvise, they do so with a collaborative mindset. Props to drummer Alessio Cupo, and keys man Matt King who play to the song with conviction. If this record had come out when there was a record business, and radio wasn't run by millennial bean counters….oh don't get me started.
She anchored what is arguably the first all-female rock ensemble to garner commercial and critical success and prove once and for all that girls could rock just as hard and funky, if not more so, than the boys. An accomplished vocalist, Jean Millington’s pocket/ song player bass style exudes a decidedly soulful disposition. Jean also did session work aplenty; that’s her with Babs Streisand, John Simon, and on Bowie’s “Fame” and his rendition of “Across the Universe.”
FROM A YARDBIRD TO A MAMBO SON! SOWING SEEDS IN TOM GUERRA’S AMERICAN GARDEN - this feature was published in No Depression in 2018
“A couple of people said to me that I shouldn’t write anything political - you’re gonna piss some people off. But what is the sense of writing anything if your heart is not in it? I’m not saying ‘my way’ has got to be everybody’s reality, but this is what I see and feel, and this is what impacts me. And this is what I’m writing about! Not every song on this record is political.” Tom Guerra
Life is indeed different in these United States since Mr. Guerra and I discussed his sophomore solo slab Trampling Out the Vintage way, way back in 2016. Perhaps the divisive issues that currently dominate our national agenda were there all along and we Americans ignored them – or quite possibly, we the people simply were not cognizant of them. Whatever the case may be – and we could debate this topic ad infinitum – most of us are greatly affected by the turbulent times we live in the year 2018.
Such is the state of Tom Guerra’s new album, American Garden. True, not all Tom’s compositions are overtly political. But there is a noticeable civic, social, and emotional gravitas to his latest song-cycle. Like all of Tom’s work – under his own name and with the mighty Mambo Sons – those magnificent guitars are front and center – save for one piano-vocal track with Morgan Fisher - “Meet Me at the Bottom of Your Glass” wherein the keyboard maestro, renowned for his Mott the Hoople / Queen plinkery and his extensive solo and collaborative canon, renders a riveting final motif which Guerra fittingly pronounces as “sounding like ice cubes in a glass.” Guerra’s melodies are splendid, the lyrics insightful and intelligent, and the musicianship and production are par excellence throughout.
Yet I cannot ignore that, to my ears, this artist has a lot weighing on his mind. Which is a good thing for the artform that is rock and roll. We need more than “entertainment” to navigate the here and now and wherever we are headed. Guerra’s interpretation of Tom Petty’s “Walls” which he waxed shortly after the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s passing, stands as a celebration of the iconic songwriter. And I also get the feeling that Guerra, like most of us who revered the work (and attitude) of the Heartbreakers’ leader, harbors a broken heart that Petty, a straight shooting “spokes-rocker” for our generation, is gone. “I put that little Leslie solo in there which I think was something Mike Campbell would play, this is actually a Heartbreakers tribute as well.”
“Jack for Joe” joyfully jangles in all the right places - and it’s another tribute – this time, to a fallen friend of Guerra. “He’s been gone now for thirty years, and I still miss him and our younger days, but realize you can’t go home again.”
American Garden also affords a rockin’ rave-up harvest which began as a Yardbirds songwriting project. Tom was approached by his bassist buddy Kenny Aaronson – a current member of the revamped legendary British ensemble, now led by drummer Jim McCarty, and a bona fide legend in his own right (Bob Dylan, Billy Idol, The Stories’ “Brother Louie” to cite a ridiculously select few)– to collaborate on songs for a planned Yardbirds studio album which was slated to be produced by Jack Douglas – whose credits as an engineer and producer include Aerosmith, Miles Davis, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, New York Dolls, and John Lennon & Yoko Ono, among others.
Kenny, akin to most bassists, is a born collaborator. It’s the nature of the instrument and the player. Recalls Aaronson, who anchored Guerra’s aforementioned previous platter, “so here I am in the position to possibly write, but I’m not a songwriter! Over the decades I have written a song here and there…and I certainly did not want this blow the opportunity. But I also realized that there is only so much I can do…. I love bouncing ideas around, from musical ideas to titles, I can come up with a lot of stuff, I can write lyrics, but I’m not big on melodies. But I also need to work with someone I know and respect.”
Soon after, the bassist experienced a rather animated instance of “divine intervention.” Laughs Kenny “I was taking a morning walk, and suddenly, the lightbulb went off above my head like “Gramps” in a “Betty Boop” cartoon: ‘I’ve got it! Tom Guerra!”
Guerra and Aaronson worked up a few demos and Douglas liked what he heard, however the album never materialized for reasons I won’t go into. Lucky for us, three killer Guerra / Aaronson songs intended for the Yardbirds disc made the American Garden cut: “The Lyin’ King, “Goodbye to Yesterday,” and “Family of One.”
“I’m a huge Yardbirds fan,” Tom enthuses from his home in Connecticut. “But I got to thinking as to what made them unique, besides the obvious great guitar stuff, and that was great lyrics. Listen to ‘Mister You’re a Better Man Than I.’ That song could be written today about all the things that are going on now. And their background vocals were very representative of what they did too. In our song ‘The Lyin’ King’ we do their ‘ohhh ohhh ohhh Gregorian Chant-esque backing vocals. Our approach was that we wanted to write stuff that we could imagine The Yardbirds doing.”
Aaronson also served as a catalyst. Given the dangers of inadvertently imitating, or even worse, forging a Rutles-like parody of The Yardbirds, Guerra and Aaronson nailed it and then some. “Kenny sent me the riff to what became ‘The Lyin’ King’ - which is that key of E big rock riff –that one really jumped out at me!” Had their album come to fruition, The Yardbirds might have pulled off what their peers The Zombies did in 2015 by way of Still Got That Hunger - i.e. making a fantastic record that lived up to their legend in modern times and added prime cuts to enhance their live set.
Guerra further elaborates on teaming with Kenny, whom we both revere, especially for his work on Brian Setzer’s all-but forgotten 1986 gem The Knife Feels Like Justice: “on our three tracks you hear different things from Kenny. On ‘Goodbye to Yesterday’ he had the whole first line of lyrics and asked me ‘can you do something with this?’ At first this one sounded a bit like The Animals which is from the same era as The Yardbirds. I did a harmony part about the colored memories ‘they turned grey and living in the past is here to stay…’ and I thought that they could relate to that as a band. Kenny’s bass just pushes the tune into the stratosphere.”
Inspired by Sirius/XM radio shows Little Steven’s Under Ground Garage and Chris Carter’s British Invasion along with his deep knowledge and worship of all things rock and roll, Kenny chose the right tool for the right job for “Goodbye to Yesterday.” He gleefully boasts “I had to pull out the Rivoli bass for this – it’s short scale, with flatwound strings, I’m using a pick – man, this reminds me of something you’d hear on a Shel Talmy record!”
Guerra continues, “for ‘Family of One’ I sent Kenny sort of a modified version of the signature guitar line – he liked it – and further developed the song playing a lap steel and he upped the tempo. I’m happy the way the lyrics came out – I really put my ‘Keith Relf’ mindset on! If you listen to the Yardbirds hit ‘Shapes of Things’ – this song is actually the answer to it. The original line is ‘come tomorrow, we’ll all be older…’ my response is ‘now that tomorrow’s here at last…we’ve got to learn from the lessons of the past.’ It’s about mankind and the fact that we’re basically all related in a big family.”
The title track emerged from an extended drinking session Tom had with a group of former soldiers during a gig wherein Guerra was accidentally double-booked, and consequently had time to kill. “American Garden’ is one of the strangest songs I’ve ever written, and among the songs on this record that I am most proud of. I am the narrator, but it is based on true stories that were told to me by Vietnam veterans. The more we drank, the more they told me. One of the vets kept repeating to me ‘I’ve been to the top, saw all three.”
Guerra had no idea what the soldier was talking about – top of the hill? Top of his command? A religious connotation? Respectfully, Guerra did not press the vet on the actual meaning, and the refrain in the song is open to our interpretation.
Aaronson flexed his formidable conceptual producer chops on this cut, altering the sound of Guerra’s vocals in his home studio with the intention making Tom into a “character” ala the various roles played by Michael Madsen and Harry Dean Stanton.
“I’m not a real political kind of guy – I keep my feelings to myself,” notes Aaronson, “but the whole thing of what he was doing with the veterans and their experiences affected me. I didn’t get drafted back then, I was lucky, but I knew people who fled to Canada – I knew people that were over there, and I remember living in New York City in the ‘70s and many of the guys that came back had a lot of issues, so when I heard this song, it really hit home.”
American Garden Video https://youtu.be/ceQU6y-12Xo
Another powerful cut is “Blood on the New Rising Sun” which references the Charlottesville riots. For this track Tom enlisted a powerful guitarist: Jon Butcher. “He and I have known each other for a few years now. He sends me his latest and I sent him my latest, and he said that he wanted to hear more, so I basically sent him everything I ever put out. And then he said that he wanted to do something with one of these songs. I had just written ‘Blood …and I thought, we’re on the same page socially ---there’s a lot of places on this track for Jon to do his thing. He didn’t play his traditional Strat, he used a Telecaster. It gives you a different perspective along with a sort of a richness because it’s not just one guy playing every guitar part…”
Blood on the New Rising Son: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPt7ryr03Mc
Of course, the bass player has the final word: American Garden is the deepest thing Tom’s done’ reflects Aaronson, “he’s taken his craft a little bit further…his songwriting is growing, his guitar playing is growing, the lyrics are adult, which is very important now… he’s a thinking man!”
For all things Tom Guerra visit: www.TomGuerra.com
Tom Guerra’s American Garden available at TomGuerra.com, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, CDBaby
Promotional video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yVN_CK52Ic
This feature also appeared in No Depression in August 2018
"Quite frankly it sounds f'n corny as hell …I was about eight years old, my mother brought home Abbey Road - she was a huge Beatles fan…she loved Little Richard too. And when I first heard 'She's So Heavy' - a song I'm not really crazy about - I immediately turned to her and asked: 'what is that fantastic sound?' You know, Paul is all over the place on that song…and she told me it was the bass. And I knew at that moment - that was it! I think of myself as a bass player. I learned to play guitar, piano, drums, and a little harmonica - but that's just to write!" Glenn McCready
Two middle-aged bass players walk into a bar in mid-town Manhattan…don't stop me if you've heard this one before.
Singer, songwriter, performing and recording artist Glenn McCready is a rock and roll lifer. It’s summertime and we're decamped in a bustling urban watering hole in proximity to our respective commuter trains and the talk, of course, centers our passion; playing bass and rock and roll -and a new brand of ale that McCready has discovered!
The twenty-something waitress is gorgeous - we don't notice. We are impervious to the cute thirty-something office girls seeking someone new to blow off a little steam, and the appealing forty-to- fifty-something women in the hunt for a hook-up. We've got more important issues on our minds. What gauge bass strings did John Deacon prefer? Check out Dee Murray’s riff on “Love Lies Bleeding!” Who does that anymore, other than our pal Tony Senatore, another guy like us! Should my next bass be a Jazz or a Precision?
I’ll let Glenn do most of the talking!
"My friend Henry used to call me 'Behind Blue Eyes McCready' - reveals Glenn over a second round. And there you have it. Glenn's sophomore solo slab is entitled Unknown Influences. My guess is that he's "taking the mick" out of us. I can distinctly hear Glenn's influences - heck, he puts out missives about his inspirations on social media wherein we all ruminate. However, McCready is that rare artist that incorporates that which came before him into his own voice. He sounds like himself – which should be the goal of any artist.
Glenn’s working cover band - I hate that term, let's re-brand that to "repertory ensemble" is Hell or High Water - a collective of seasoned, grizzly lads whom I've witnessed tear the house down and then some. These cats don't copy tunes, they shred them - in a good way.
"Hell or High Water made me a better singer…the songs that we do - such as 'Sugaree' - are wonderfully written and allow us to do our own thing” emphasizes McCready. “We came from a generation where you had to know what you were doing - whether it was the Wrecking Crew or just a singer and a band…you had to be able to bring it!"
Akin to the 70s golden age of singer-songwriters, McCready's libretto is borne of honesty and experience. "I was a young man falling in and out of love once a week or having love fall out of me…that's the great connector in all these songs. If you listen to anything on my two albums, all of these songs are real life. I can tell you who every song is about - what part in my life it played. I want some guy sitting in his room in Flushing with a beer in his hand hear my songs and say ‘ab-so-f’n-lutley dude!"
To my ears, Unknown Influences works as both a song-cycle and recordings which stand on their own individual merits – think singles and b-sides. As I have oft discussed with my pallies in the music biz; is the album format still relevant in an age of streaming, YouTube, and endless shared playlists? McCready opens a vein.
"There are still a lot of people our age who want to hear full albums. I gave this album to someone I work with who popped it into their car CD player, and it took 'em across the state of Pennsylvania! So it's relevant that way! Again for people our age, it's nice to have something tangible. If the cloud goes down, I've still got this!”
McCready brandishes his CD aloft as if it were a sword! “And I always carry a copy in my bag, so if I die on the street someone will get it! When they find my lifeless body, they'll say 'hey that dead guy made a pretty good record!"
Save for the drumming of Henry Kuck lll on the track “S.O.S. 2018” McCready is the sole musician on Unknown Influences – though you wouldn’t know it lest you read the album credits. The songs groove, the playing is disciplined. “The Section” would be mightily impressed. Though he road-tested some of his songs to work out the tempos and gauge crowd reaction, Glenn hears the songs in his head and then commits them to "wax." And he understands how to create a running order that takes the listener on a journey.
"The first song has to catch your attention …and like the old days of records - the fourth song was always the hit!" He continues " I adhere to the 'W' theory - start up, bring it down, up in the middle and then up at the end. I am trying to keep you interested… and sometimes it actually works! I only have the two records to speak for! Most songs stay the way I wrote them - I'm either stubborn or I have a vision. I left a little glitch here and there to give it the flavor of a live performance - the only two guys I've ever heard do a complete album by themselves and sound like a band are Paul McCartney and Todd Rundgren. Steve Winwood is brilliant but it sounds like Steve Winwood! I don't use a sequencer - I physically play the drums…which should be fun because I have a reggae song planned for my next album. I refuse to program anything!"
Anyone who digs bass will recognize McCready’s McCartney modus operandi. The countermelodies, upper-register passages, and warm tone afford a lyrical aesthetic to each track. Again, it all goes back to those known influences.
“I cannot stress enough my siblings - especially my older sister - Tea for the Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat, Honky Chateau, I wore that vinyl through. I was just mesmerized by all of this…it was just a guy and a guitar! At the end of the day - Cat Stevens, Paul McCartney, Elton John - they were singer songwriters. But listening to those artists - and Gordon Lightfoot - Jim Croce - who wrote the ultimate singer songwriter tune 'Operator' - you could squeeze the emotion out of that song. I got turned on to John Prine who is what we all wanted to be - he could tell a story in three minutes with the same three chords - he's up there with Dylan and Joni to me. And don’t get me started on 'Harry's House' - I am very inspired by her visual lyrics 'a helicopter lands on a Pan Am roof like a dragon fly on a tomb…' who would not want to write that! And the glory of those 'f- you’ songs by Dylan, Elvis Costello…."
Thirty years-ago Glenn and I would have drank ‘til the wee hours, now we have “responsibilities” and blood pressure meds. But all is not lost! Neither of us show any signs of slowing down.
"I'm not aiming my music at 20 year-olds - I'm aiming at us! The Ray Lamontagne, Jack Johnson audience. I'm 57 and I'm not going anywhere! Doing this keeps me off the streets and out of jail!"
Glenn McCready’s Unknown Influences (2018) is out now and available at Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and CD Baby.
Album cover photo by Michelle Clarke McCready.
Check out Glenn McCready on Reverb nation as Glenn Squared, and Facebook as Glenn McCready-Squared https://www.reverbnation.com/glennsquared/songs
Not every bassist aspires to virtuosity nor longevity. Some ply their craft as a means of self-expression and/or social commentary although oft times they fail to garner recognition in their respective era or thereafter.
Pep Catalano was a product of the waning days of the classic rock generation, the glam rock explosion, and the punk epoch. Some say he attacked his instrument.
Musical pedigree or lack thereof notwithstanding, he was a player, and for that, we acknowledge him!
When Don Henley saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac, he had Larry Klein lay down the perfect bassline!
A genre traversing Grammy Award winning producer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, collaborator, arranger, and master bassist who has forged a remarkably diverse body of work in the past five decades and counting, Larry Klein began his career with jazz legends Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson. Praised by Stanley Clarke early in his career, Larry then expanded to the rock / folk / pop / Americana / world fusion / soundtrack realms and beyond working on acclaimed releases by Chris Botti, Don Henley, Bryan Adams, Peter Gabriel, Pink, Seal, Walter Becker, Cher, Luciana Souza, Donna Summer, Bob Dylan, and Tracy Chapman to cite a very, very, very select few.
Larry is most known to the masses for his association with Joni Mitchell, his former wife, with whom he waxed several groundbreaking slabs in the 1980s - 90s. An agile player on fretted, fretless, upright, and extended range – Larry’s intuitive melodicism combined with his groove - pocket playing prowess rates with him giants of his instrument, and American music.
Bach to the Future: Tony Senatore, Steve Swallow, Rob Stoner Reflect on Johann
In Season Deux of Know Your Bass Player on Film, Rob Stoner comments on Johann Sebastian Bach’s importance to modern day bassists. [Video coming soon in 2019]
From Tony Senatore:
Johann Sebastian Bach might seem an unlikely role model for aspiring bass players, but his influence looms large for many. Jack Bruce considered Bach “the ultimate in bass players” and asserted that bassists could learn everything that there is to know in conventional harmony from listening to him. When reflecting on my earliest experiences as a bassist, Bach’s Six Suites For Violincello Solo as well as Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin were integral in developing my overall concept.
Perhaps the best example of Bach’s influence on bass guitar is Glenn Cornick’s work on Jethro Tull’s Stand Up (1969). The third track on side one of this seminal record was Ian Anderson’s arrangement of J. S. Bach’s “Bouree.” Cornick’s solo over the changes of “Bouree” was radical and revolutionary for the time.
I recently learned the track for a video featured on Know Your Bass Player, and noted some similarities between Cornick and Steve Swallow, both tonally as well as stylistically. I asked Steve if Bach factored into his approach as a bassist, and if he was aware of Cornick, since they were contemporaries.
Steve conveyed that neither Jethro Tull nor Glenn Cornick provided any influence or inspiration, but that he shared Cornick’s “clear fondness for Bach.”
He continued,” I consider Bach the ultimate source of contrapuntal bass lines, and the Cello Suites the one essential bass text. I know the ‘Bouree’ Tull played, and I used it as lesson material when I taught in the mid-70s at Berklee, and I appreciate that Glenn nailed it without pretense, as a bass player should.”
To my ears, he is a master of the "heavy" groove - which is why Glenn Letsch has been called upon to wax sides and anchor ensembles by guitar legends Ronnie Montrose and Robin Trower, along with such artists as Gregg Allman, Neil Schon and Jonathan Cain, among others, for a few generations and counting.
Glenn's warm tone, precise articulation, soulful rhythmic approach, and adherence to playing exactly what is needed deftly exemplifies the role of the instrument!
An author (Bass Lessons with the Greats, Bass Masters Class, Bass for Beginners, R & B Bass, Country Bass), educator (Diablo Valley College, Bass Guitar-The Lowdown with Glen Letsch), recording artist, session cat, sideman - if Glenn's bass playing doesn't grab you - check your pulse - you may have expired!
A “newbie” on the fertile New York City -Hudson Valley – Woodstock music scene, bassist Bettina Cataldi worships at the altar of warm hypnotic grooves and motifs which move a song in the manner of pocket progenitors Carol Kaye, Billy Cox, Duck Dunn, and Geezer Butler. However - she can furnish the flash ala Vulfpeck’s Joe Dart when the situation warrants!
Akin to many young players, Cataldi honed her chops at the School of Rock - in her native Long Island, playing shows as a bassist and vocalist covering artists spanning Frank Zappa, The Ramones, and Black Sabbath.
With only two weeks instruction on the instrument, Cataldi made her stage debut at the age of 8, rendering “Iron Man.” Bettina considers her first instrument voice and boasts a husky bluesy retro swing disposition much like her idol Amy Winehouse.
Cataldi works extensively with guitarist / recording artist / composer Sal Cataldi – noted for his acclaimed electro-blues-jazz fusion-indie folk Spaghetti Eastern Music ensembles.
Bettina is currently waxing her new yet unnamed project, drawing inspiration from Winehouse, Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner and Mac Demarco to name a few.
An instrument designer, prolific recording artist, studio and label owner, collaborator, producer, composer, and bass guitarist – Jonas Hellborg has been at the forefront of the jazz fusion / world fusion movements since the 1980s.
A dexterous player who draws from Western, Indian, classical, jazz, rock and permutations thereof, among Jonas’ high-profile gigs have been with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Word with Tony Williams, PiL, Ginger Baker, and Michael Shrieve among many others. Since 1979 Jonas has waxed nearly thirty albums as a bandleader!
Producer, recording artist, label head, composer – and a bass player, Bill Laswell is a giant of American music. Spanning pop, new wave, no wave, punk, dub, avante-garde, jazz, rock, reggae, electronica, techno – and permutations thereof, there is nary a genre Laswell has not excelled in.
As a bassist, his rhythmic vocabulary is stunning – and his association with players such as Jah Wobble, Bootsy, Jonas Helborg, among others has expanded the language of the instrument.
Laswell’s innovative production and collaborative efforts are the stuff of legend, he’s worked with everyone from Iggy Pop to Herbie Hancock, from Nine Inch Nails to Sly and Robbie….
Yet another influential player from Queens County New York, Jeff Berlin is not only a master bassist, recording artist, music journalist, and composer – he is an acclaimed educator whose missives (books, lectures) are essential for serious bassists.
Berlin exemplifies everything that is engaging in jazz fusion – his supportive passages, improv, and melodic prowess have inspired players for generations.
For those of you keeping sideman score, dig a sampling of Jeff’s collaborative credits which include Patrick Moraz, Patti Austin, Ray Barretto, David Liebman, Bill Bruford, Passport, Allan Holdsworth, Janis Ian, k.d. Laing, and Ritchie Kotzen, to cite a very select few.
Rick Wills commenced his remarkable career as a bassist with British blues rockers Jokers Wild in 1965 which featured future Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.
Among the most sought after recording and touring bassists in the classic rock era who plies his craft with a decidedly rhythm and blues disposition, check out Rick on David Gilmour’s self- titled debut (1978) wherein he utilizes flange and chorus effects and melodic harmonic extensions to augment the guitarist’s best work outside of the Floyd.
The year was 1975 and I’d just returned from what would be the final Faces gig in Long Island, New York. Under the banner of Rod Stewart & The Faces – the performance was a decidedly over-the-top Roddish affair with almost the entire set list consisting of selections from the rooster haired rocker’s solo slabs, save for rollicking renditions of “Memphis,” “Miss Judy’s Farm” and “Stay with Me,” all from the classic 1971 Faces platter A Nod Is as Good as A Wink…
By this juncture, The Faces’ heart and soul and most gifted songwriter – Ronnie Lane – was long gone. Frustrated with the trappings of stardom, Ronnie went solo with a new band – aptly titled Slim Chance. In his place for that tour stood bassist Tetsu Yamauchi. A competent player, as his history with Free and other studio work proved, but no one could replace our beloved Plonk. And even Ronnie Wood had an understudy – Jessie Ed Davis – another great player, but not of the Faces musical ilk.
No Ronnie Lane meant no “Stone,” “Richmond,” “You’re So Rude,” “Last Orders Please,” “Debris,” or “Glad and Sorry,” among others. Sacrilege!
By then Ronnie’s solo slabs, Anymore for Anymore (1974) and Slim Chance (1975) were staples on my turntable. And they were hard discs to come by in the States, available only as imports at import prices at Bleecker Bob’s in gritty New York City. But a fan’s gotta do what a fan’s gotta do!
I’d say that a select few of us among the nearly sold-out show in the middle of suburbia would have preferred an intimate Slim Chance gig to the rock star showboating of Stewart and then-new Rolling Stone Woody. However there was slim chance of that happening, as Ronnie’s rootsy ensemble, though an artistic triumph, was not commercially viable in the burgeoning days of punk, prog, and rock music’s transformation from a niche artform to a bona fide segment of show-biz.
Fast forward to forty years or so to The Half Moon in Putney, London. Mark Preston, Derek Hanlon and I are filming Know Your Bass Player. I’m interviewing Slim Chance bassist Steve Bingham whose lines I’d learned as a teenager. With Lane singing lead and playing rhythm – Ronnie needed a bass player with character. Enter Bingham!
In 2010, years after Lane’s passing, Slim Chance reformed. Their goal was “to create a show which celebrates the range of Ronnie's later music: to take this show to people in village halls and clubs, festivals and theatres at home and abroad; and eventually, joined by numerous friends, to resurrect the Passing Show itself.” Mission accomplished.
New Cross Road is the “newly reformed and unrepentant” Slim Chance’s third release on their own Fishpool imprint. Once again the lads – bassist vocalist Steve Bingham; Charlie Hard on vocals, fiddle, accordion, and keys; Billy Nicholls on vocals, mandolin, acoustic guitar; drummer Brendan O’Neill; the always nattily attired Steve Simpson on vocals, guitar, mandolin, and fiddle; and Geraint Watkins on vocals and keys – render a few Ronnie Lane gems, along with newly composed songs, and a Who number “Squeeze Box.”
Check your album credits and concert memories and you’ll discover these local legends alongside Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher, The Who, Ian Dury, Frankie Miller, Geno Washington, Carl Perkins, Van Morrison, Eric Bibb and Pete Brown, Colin Blunstone, to cite a few. More on that below!
As Steve Bingham is among my bass heroes, I put his name in the headline, and conversed with him about Slim Chance’s latest offering. I love talking to my record collection!
Slim Chance has been reformed and unrepentant for nearly a decade: how has the band evolved since Charlie and Steve Simpson decided to give Ronnie's ensemble another shot?
Since Charlie Hart and Steve Simpson first decided to get Slim Chance back together nearly 10 years ago it has evolved in many ways. The core original members of Charlie and Steve together with myself and keyboard/vocal legend Geraint Watkins have remained the same but there have been quite a few changes of other personnel over the years. It's a long story why various members have come and gone but the most important thing for us is that the band is now the best it's ever been and very settled. Key factors are the addition of Brendan O'Neil on drums who spent 10 years working with the legendary Rory Gallagher and Billy Nicholls who spent many years as the Who's director of music and is also a highly respected and hugely successful songwriter.
Comment on the dynamic of Slim Chance in that no single member is the focal point - the lead vocals, solos, are all shared among the band! How do you thrive sans a sexy, strutting lead singer!
One of the main factors with Slim Chance is that there is no one member of the band who is the front man as we all take turns singing lead vocals and share backing vocals, solos etc. which at first prompted comments about us having no focal point but over the years people have come to respect us for what we do and it's worked to our advantage as it makes us hugely flexible with loads of different options to suit every occasion!
New Cross Road is self-produced with help from Pat Collier - how do six geezers agree on anything! Or was it a matter of whomever wrote the song takes control over the production?
Our latest album New Cross Road was produced by the band along with studio owner/engineer Pat Collier who is incredibly talented and had a huge impact on the recording. Of course it's difficult with 6 different opinions sometimes ringing around the control room but we quickly realized that it was all sounding so good that the small details were not things to argue about and Pat's sound advice always seemed to shine through making the whole process hugely enjoyable.
Once again New Cross Road sounds like Slim Chance playing in my living room - were most of the tracks cut live? Certainly you worked them out on stage as the tracks swing and have a warm resonance.
All of the tracks on New Cross Road were recorded live with us all in the studio having lots of fun! Most of them were first takes as we'd spent a few days in a rehearsal studio before the recording sessions and of course many of them had been played live several times so we were all really familiar with the songs and there was such a good atmosphere in the recording room that it was almost like playing a live gig! Many people have already commented on the fact that it sounds like a band having fun and really enjoying themselves and we're all really pleased with the spirit and vibe of the album.
I dig the unison lines on "Flossie Lane"- what horn part inspired that lick? Where is Flossie Lane? Does it really exist? What's the story behind this song?
“Flossie Lane” is a song I wrote all about a pub landlady!! The pub in question is the Sun Inn in Leintwardine Shropshire and it's one of only a handful of "Parlour Pubs" left in the UK. The landlady of the pub was Flossie Lane -no relation to Ronnie- and she was Britain's oldest publican when she died aged 94. The pub has now been extended but originally you walked in and Flossie's room was to the left with the drinking room to the right...basically her house!! Amazingly the new owners kept her room and the bar room exactly as it was when she died and they were kind enough to allow us to film a video of “Flossie Lane” there recently which will be released to social media soon!
The main unison line which is played by everyone was composed on the bass over a number of months as I wanted a really good riff to hold the song together. I just had to write the song about Flossie after my wife and I visited the pub some years ago and I thought then what a wonderful story it would be for a song. It did take a few years to materialize but it's been well worth it and to hear it with the video is amazing because all of a sudden the lyrics come to life in the very room where she lived.
Interesting that Slim Chance chose to render "Chicken Wired" and "Annie" from Rough Mix - what inspired the band to remake those two Lane gems?
“Chicken Wired” was a song that first appeared on Ronnie's first solo album "Anymore for Anymore" which I played bass on and I also played it live with him many times in 1974 when I toured the country with RONNIE LANE'S PASSING SHOW. We tried in the set some years ago but for some reason it didn't work. However, when Brendan joined on drums it became a barn-stormer so it had to go on the album!
Billy Nichols does a fantastic job on "Annie" and sounds to my ears, a bit like Ronnie with his pitch and timbre - thoughts?
“Annie” is a lovely song sung beautifully by Billy Nicholls who was a good friend of Ronnie back in the day and he has a very similar voice with an incredible range so he was the perfect match!
Do you have any plans to play Daltrey and Townshend the Slim Chance version of "Squeezebox" - terrific rendition - it's a real rave up - superior to the original to my ears! What prompted this recording?
“Squeezebox” is a song we've played on and off live for a few years now and we chose to record it this time around as we wanted a bit more punch to the album and it really came out great with the very first take! Billy Nicholls played it to Pete Townshend who absolutely loves it and he's said really nice things about the album as a whole.
When I saw Slim Chance render "Debris" at The Half Moon - it brought the house down - how did you approach cutting a song that is such a classic? Let's review the "Debris" bassline - Ronnie cut it on fretless with the Faces and it sounded like an upright - our man Bingham renders sweet upper-register counterpoint, and a grooves mightily in the pocket - talk about your approach to the bass track - very, very soulful! Did you cut that on the Mustang with flats?
“Debris” is a classic Ronnie Lane song and we've been playing it live for a few years now. It always goes down a storm and Geraint Watkins delivers a superb vocal performance along with a very soulful track which we are all very proud of. We approached it exactly as we would on a gig. The structure of the song is always the same but we all have total freedom in how we play it and it's wonderful to play the bass on this one because I never play it the same way twice and the last few choruses are really wild! I often think of the great James Jamerson when I play this and there are definitely influences of his wonderful playing on what I do. I'd like to think he's listening with approval somewhere!! The actual bass I used on all of the recordings was a 1961 Fender Precision owned by Charlie Hart. Heaven only knows how long the round wound strings have been on it but they still sound great! It's prompted me to have my own 1963 Precision restored which I should get back in the summer!
Ian McLagen and the Bump Band covered "Spiritual Babe" - tell us about the Slim Chance version.
“Spiritual Babe” is a lovely song written by Ronnie in Austin Texas when he was very ill. It's a lesser known work but a beautiful song with heartfelt lyrics which we decided needed to be on the album. It's one of those songs that you have to sit down and really listen to but if you're prepared to get into it then you won't be disappointed. The vocal was a first take which I only intended as a run through but the band and Pat Collier wouldn't let me do it again as they all thought it was perfect and in hindsight I'm glad we left if how it is!
Despite the fact that digital technology permeates every aspect of our lives, folks still yearn to hear real voices and acoustic instruments - why is the sound of Slim Chance more relevant in 2018 than it may have been back when Ronnie started the band in '74?
One thing that has kept the band together and continues to be inspirational is the reception we get when playing live. We are not there to be pop stars or posers as our only aim is to play great live music with heartfelt soul and to give the people who come to see us something to smile about. Our gigs usually end with one big knees up and everyone is happy at the end of the show which is why we continue to do it!
Explain the significance of the album title New Cross Road.
New Cross Road is a road that runs between the Elephant and Castle and New Cross in South East London and it's where we rehearse!! We were all sitting on a hot summer’s afternoon debating what to call the album and nobody could agree on a title until somebody (I can't remember who!) came up with the idea of calling it New Cross Road which we all immediately agreed on and the meeting was finished allowing us all to go to the pub!
We had a great time making New Cross Road and it shows in the recordings. We laughed all the way through it and I think the years of playing the songs live make this album our best to date and we're now looking forward to promoting the album on live gigs and doing what we do best which is enjoying the thrill of being in a fabulous live band.
New Cross Road is out now on Fishpool Records.
For all things Slim Chance check out: http://slim-chance.co.uk/
Watch Steve Bingham on Know Your Bass Player On Film: https://bit.ly/2DRsqsD
Huffington Post: Tom Semioli Slim Chance: And the Band Plays On The Move (2016) https://bit.ly/2DfKEjg
Huffington Post: Tom Semioli Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance Are Alive and Well (2014) https://bit.ly/2SFMLEc
STEVE SIMPSON vocals, guitar, mandolin and fiddle, has worked with Frankie Miller, Eric Bibb, Roger Chapman, and played on Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance, One for the Road and See Me.
CHARLIE HART vocals, fiddle, accordion and keys, has played with Pete Brown, Ian Dury, Eric Clapton and worked on Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance, One for the Road, Rough Mix, See Me, Rockpalast.
STEVE BINGHAM vocals and bass, played with Geno Washington, the Foundations, Colin Blunstone, worked on Anymore for Anymore, played bass on The Poacher and toured with the Passing Show
GERAINT WATKINS vocals and keys has played with Carl Perkins, Nick Lowe, Van Morrison, released his own albums and joined Slim Chance for the 2004 Ronnie Lane Albert Hall concert.
BRENDAN O'NEILL, drums, has worked with Rory Gallagher, Nine Below Zero, Glen Tilbrook to mention a few. Brendan knew Steve Marriott and is highly respected for his all round musicianship.
BILLY NICHOLLS, vocals, mandolin and acoustic guitar, knew Ronnie well as he and the Small Faces played on each other's records back in the Sixties. Since that time Billy has been a prolific and successful songwriter and singer and has also worked extensively with The Who.
Jeff is a longtime friend of mine, because we relate on many levels. We both have a thing for Gibson EB series bass guitars, cheap but great Japanese bass guitars, Marshall amplifiers used for bass, and multi string basses( Jeff often plays an 8 string, double course bass, and I play a 12 string, triple course bass). The foundation of our connection is that while we are well versed in many styles, we are both rock and roll players at heart, and we both have great admiration for Jack Bruce and Felix Pappalardi.
Another layer to our connection is the fact that he often worked with my late father on as far back as I can remember. Back in those days, 150 to 200 club dates per year was the norm, and my father used to always tell me that Jeff Ganz is " some bass player'. That was the highest accolade he ever gave anyone, and he didn't give praise often.
Jeff has recorded and toured with artists ranging variously from Johnny Winter to Gerry Mulligan and Dr John. As his website illustrates, his resume reads like a who's who of popular American music. Last night, all of that diversity was on display as he navigated through an incredible array of genres with Acid Cabaret, which proves to be a perfect vehicle for his immense talent. Jeff will be moving to Florida next week, and I was glad to get the chance to see and hear him, and get a big hug too! He will be back next month for a show at the Cutting Room with the Hit Men, and I'm hoping to make the show.
It was great to see you last night Jeff. I'm wishing you all the best in Florida.
Amid the barrage of keyboard synthesizers, drum machines, and other digital wizardry, many a bass player in the 1980s pop music medium had to further explore the instrument to maintain its relevance. Enter Talk Talk’s founding bassist Paul Webb who worked the fretted and fretless, abetted with effects, rendering counterpoint and soulful grooves aplenty in the service of Mark Hollis’ compositions. A producer, writer - nowadays Webb works under the moniker “Rustin Man” with two slabs to his credit.
We weep when any venue which affords a stage to performers goes dark.
This deceptively humble setting, however, was a venerable non-stop circus of poets, crooners, rockers, bikers, folkies, freaks, attention seekers, winners, losers, jazzers, avant-garde 'aven't got a clue artistes, flakes, floozies, boozers, bohemians, loners, bon vivants, rappers, painters, pouters, shouters, raconteurs, and writers of every conceivable genre and permutations thereof - among others - who celebrated the fringe - and perhaps not realizing that they too were a part of the show! It was my de facto Huff Post hub, and the site of scores of interviews ranging from Vh-1 to Amplifier Mag, Shout New York, Pop Smear, Spin, No Depression, and its ilk.
Aside from the gigs, my most treasured wee hours of the morning memory here was in April '97 dining next to the Spice Girls, still in uniform and at the apex of their fame following an Saturday Night Live appearance. No one fawned over them other than their waitress, who was decidedly non-plussed! New York City is a much, much poorer metropolis with its absence.
Godspeed Side WalkCafé!
By Graham Maby
I knew Doyle Holly as the tour bus driver. He was a good driver who kept the bus fastidiously clean. He could be kinda grumpy, but I liked him.
It was around 2001 and we pulled up outside a college somewhere in the Midwest. There was a fan standing with a 12” album cover and a Sharpie, and as I got off the bus this guy asked me if Doyle Holly was on board. I was confused and curious. Doyle got off the bus and graciously signed the cover. It was an album by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. That’s how I found out about Doyle’s illustrious career and impressive history. Over the ensuing weeks I hung with him a lot, we became chess buddies, and he shared a few stories. I wish I could remember them all.
Originally from Oklahoma, Doyle Holly held it down on bass during the heyday of Buck Owens’s Buckaroos, progenitors of the “Bakersfield Sound,” who had more than 30 Top Forty singles on the country music charts in the 1960s and early 70s and were a hugely influential band of fine musicians. During Holly’s tenure, the Buckaroos won the Academy of Country Music’s “Band Of The Year" award four years in a row from 1965-68, and won as "Instrumental Group of the Year" twice, in 1967 and 1968. Holly himself was nominated several times as "Bass Player of the Year” by the ACM, receiving the award in 1970.
The band recorded a live album at Carnegie Hall in 1966, which Holly said was his favorite recording as a Buckaroo. It is widely regarded as one of the best live albums in country music history. The Beatles famously recorded one of the Buckaroos’ hits, “Act Naturally,” on their 1965 album “Help!” Wikipedia states that “while on tour in London in 1969, Holly, Owens and (guitarist) Don Rich met up with John Lennon and Ringo Starr.”
However, Doyle himself told me a different story: Owens had told the band that the Beatles wanted to meet them during a day off on tour. Doyle and Don Rich had already planned to rent motorcycles and go riding that day, so that’s what they did. They weren’t so impressed by the Beatles that they were willing to miss out on a day’s riding!
After he finally left the Buckaroos in 1971, Holly formed the Vanishing Breed and recorded two albums and some of his own songs, such as "Woman Truck Drivin' Fool,” “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” and "Lila,” which reached number 17 on the country music charts in 1973. Holly continued to record throughout the 1970s and scored a minor hit with "A Rainbow in My Hand" and a jukebox hit, "Richard and the Cadillac Kings."
Holly is honored in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and in 1980 received a block in the Walkway of Stars at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Tiring of the road, Doyle opened “Doyle Holly Music" in Hendersonville, Tennessee in 1982, finally selling the store a few years before his death in 2007. He also continued to play a handful of gigs across the United States and Canada, and as Wikipedia states, “for a time Holly even drove tour buses....”
That’s when I had the good luck to meet him and know him—thanks to that fan with the album cover. But dang, I wish I could have seen and heard him play.