KNOW YOUR BASS PLAYER BLOWN AWAY: By Carmine Rojas on the live tracks on the former David Jones compilation Loving the Alien (1983-88). Rojas was brilliant on David’s Let’s Dance (1983), Tonight (1984), and Never Let Me Down (1987); working a modern rhythm & blues / reggae / funk / soul pocket with a piercing tone signature of the era. However, on the Serious Moonlight Live ’83 selections, Carmine goes full-throttle with harmonic extensions, pop/slap passages, and register leaping counterpoint to reinvigorate Bowie’s early canon. Dig the space he leaves in “Rebel Rebel,” and the wicked interplay on “Cracked Actor” to cite two extraordinary cuts. As I recall back in the day, Bowie diehards recoiled (and many still do), however Rojas and that band (also featuring Earl Slick, Carlos Alomar, Tony Thompson) kept the Ziggy zeitgeist relevant for a new generation. Essential listening for those who did not get it the first time around!
Bassist Davey Faragher, a fine player, has the unenviable task of following Bruce Thomas in Declan’s regular backing ensemble, aptly dubbed The Imposters as compared to The Attractions. To my ears, when the mirthless McManus shed Bruce, it coincided with a rather noticeable slump in songwriting as his catchy tunes gave way to mostly vitriolic tone-poems. Look Now (2018) is actually worth a repeated listen. Costello & The Imposters have finally forged an identity. Aural references to Imperial Bedroom abound, and Faragher abandons the pocket on several occasions for a countermelody or two or three or four…. which certainly echo (dare is say “appropriate”) his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame predecessor. Thomas would have been masterful on this song-cycle. Perhaps I’ll head to the Bass Centre on my next trip to London, purchase a Bruce Thomas Profile Bass (in salmon pink, no less), and give it a shot!
Kudos to Mrs. Lennon for unlocking the Imagine vault wherein we hear not only John in his un-Spectorized natural habitat, but the remarkable ensemble playing of Hari, Sir Winston, Alan White, Nicky Hopkins, and the inimitable Klaus Voormann, among others. Sans the flatulent Flux Fiddlers and excessive knob twiddling, the raw studio mixes reveal remarkable grooves and riveting interplay at every turn. Even on the jam-oriented tracks, Klaus was perfect. Had Lennon toured and recorded with this outfit, he’d have been a reborn artist at the center of ‘70s singer-songwriter movement. Or maybe this was all that was left in him. We’ll never know. Certainly, Mind Games and Walls & Bridges, had their moments, but this was Lennon at his solo best.
Herein lies the mighty Rolling Thunder Revue’s finest 56:13 on wax. To my ears, Zimmerman’s most potent ensemble, anchored by Rob Stoner and Howie Wyeth, affords the revered bard the much-needed muscle to contend with the 70s generation’s au courant rock heroes: David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, and the emerging punks – all of whom were leaving the 60s far, far behind in sound and artistic vision. Rob is both pocket and melodic catalyst on this stunning song-cycle, penned by Dylan and Jacques Levy. Just when you think the whole shebang is about to go off the tracks, blood and all, Lieutenant Stoner throws down a passage that rights the train. Note that this was first of two album jackets wherein Dylan directs his gaze towards the bassist, noted by Rob Stoner in Know Your Bass Player On Film Season Duex due in 2019.
Pocket player Kirby Johnson anchored The Lincolns folk group which waxed one side in 1963 on the Kapp imprint, before they changed their moniker to The Wellingtons.
Featured on several Disneyland slabs on tunes such as “Savage Sam,” “Folk Heroes, “The Ballad of Davey Crockett,” and “Annette on Campus” – the band reached their widest audience on TV’s Shindig, Hollywood A Go-Go and with the 60’s hit sitcom Gilligan’s Island wherein they cut the initial version of famous theme song – which only appeared in the first season before being replaced by “The Eligibles” - and as the fictional band “The Mosquitos” – performing self-penned compositions. https://bit.ly/2E0woKY
On the 1965 episode “Don’t Bug The Mosquitoes” the band was consequently upstaged by the Honeybees aka Ginger, Mrs. Howell, and my personal favorite, Maryann – whose vocal track on “You Need Us.” https://bit.ly/2pObAB5
Akin to his legendary UK ancestors Sir Paul, Herbie Flowers, Trevor Bolder, and John Deacon to cite a few; singer, composer, recording artist, multi-instrumentalist Royston Langdon is quick to sprinkle (as in “Ray Sprinkles”) just the right amount of contrapuntal and rhythmic wizardry into his recorded works, most notably with his longtime ensemble Spacehog.
A master compositional player, Mr. Langdon’s latest endeavor – under the moniker LEEDS (the West Yorkshire region city where he was born) entitled “Everything’s Dandy” – emerges as a cinematic song-cycle which details his astute observations on the g-g-gentrification of his beloved adopted hometown of a quarter-century and counting - New York City.
https://bit.ly/2MxvdMa To my ears, the cosmic grooves, riff-raffery, and compositions which define Dandy comprise the most enduring of all Bolan slabbery – including official and archival collections. The last platter released during the former Mr. Feld’s all-to-brief time on this immortal coil, we’ve got UK session deity Herbie Flowers and longtime T. Rex bassist Steve Currie working the pocket on the majority of the tracks.And that’s Bolan on bass for “Pain and Love” and LA studio ace Scott Edwards affording Marc the soul of his final suite on “I’m A Fool For You Girl.”
Absofookinlutely, had Ox and Moonie not popped their respective clogs, this would have made a smashing ‘Oo slab, especially given the presence of Bijou Drains - who brilliantly bolsters the old Duchess with his posh rhythmic prowess. Daltrey’s grizzled pipes prevail in the service of sensible libretti penned by geezers Stephen Stills, Boz Scaggs, Nick Cave, Stevie Wonder, and Joe Tex, among others. High Numbers touring bassist Jon Button, Moke multi-instrumentalist John Hogg, and ex-World Party thumper David Catlin-Birch hold the bottom with imaginative pocket proclivities and countermelodies aplenty. Flog the hipster gits and naff music scribblers, Who matters even with just two mugs sucking air!
As Carlos ventured into increasingly abstract electric Miles territory in the early 1970s, his percussionist Jose Octavio “Chepito” Areas Davila waxed a killer slab in ‘74 which stuck to the Latin jazz-rock Santana formula that made them international stars following their Woodstock appearance. Doug Rauch, who replaced David Brown in the Santana line-up, plays the pocket pure and simple, whilst Chepito and his day-job brethren, including Gregg Errico, Tom Coster, Neil Schon, and Richard Kermode lay down some serious grooves and solos.
Before embarking on a 20-year Heartbreaker hiatus, finesse song player Ronald Edward Blair waxed, what is to my ears, some of the finest bass performances on any Petty platter. Though Duck Dunn was called in to cut "A Woman In Love" - a groove which was certainly within Ron's range - this is Blair's baby. Dig his legato phrasing on "The Criminal Kind," the heavy pocket on "King's Road," the smooth undertaking of "A Thing About You," and the subtle glissandos and sustained upper register movement beneath "The Waiting" and "The Night Watchman."
“So help me groove! My musical language is determined by my musical philosophies which in turn challenge me to develop in all areas of my life. So for me it’s about body, mind and spirit – their mutual and cohesive health and development. I believe that musicians, like all people, are conduits for love, and love is the will to nurture one’s own or another’s growth….”
So says Paul Ill, a groove master in the mold of his idols - among which he lists as Duck Dunn, Jerry Jemmott, Berry Oakley, John Paul Jones, Sir Paul, and Will Lee, amid others. A player, composer, sideman, and engaging stage presence – Ill’s illustrious resume is rather impressive: Michael Des Barres, Pink, Christina Aguilera, Hole, Celine Dion, Reeves Gabrels, Bill Ward, Juliette and the Licks, and Alicia Keys – to cite a select few.
Christopher Kuffner wears many musical hats! He’s an acclaimed producer, bassist, composer, musical director, and multi-instrumentalist with Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson, Jay Stoler, Bess Rogers, and Gregory and the Hawk, to cite a select few. Mr. Kuffner reveals the powers of the bass unbeknownst to most civilians!
Know Your Bass Player Guest Editorial By Chris Semal
OK, after the last blog post dealt with a lot of sadness, I promised to lighten up and write about something happy this time around. Since some people have a fear of circus clowns, I’ll avoid that topic and stick to a subject that certainly brings great joy to each and every person, especially me: the bass guitar! Perhaps there are some six string guitarists out there reading this who will snort with derision, but let us pity those poor, misguided souls.
I first picked one up as a freshman in high school when the bassist for the Deep Purple cover band in which I was singing had to leave school for a couple of months due to some reason I can no longer remember. He lent me his instrument so that the band could continue to rehearse and Steve, the guitarist, demonstrated zen-like patience in teaching me some of the songs. I’m sure you’re all thinking, “Ah, the first thing he learned was ‘Smoke On the Water’”, but no, believe it or not, that wasn’t in our repertoire. It was way too obvious and I commend my band mates for their foresight at that tender age. The first song that Steve showed me was ‘Child In Time’, the ten minute opus from their amazing album ‘In Rock’. I suppose he thought that the beginning chords would be easy enough, and he was right, but then about halfway through the song, it’s off to the races and I can’t speculate on how many hours we spent trying to play this, just that there were many, many blisters acquired. I should point out that Steve was a European transfer student whose father was head of the Goethe Institut in New York, the offices of this association promoting German international cultural cooperation located directly across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue. The band was kindly allowed to use the auditorium and it’s a safe bet that in 1974, there were no other bands out there slamming their way through ‘Highway Star’ on the stages of institutions named for key figures of Weimar Classicism.
I’d always admired the shape of the electric guitar or bass in all its permutations, but had never strapped one on until then. I’ve now been playing for thirty-eight years (gulp!) and can still remember the initial sensation, feeling the smooth wood against the front of my body and flicking the switch to turn the amp on. If you’ve never experienced this, go into a music store somewhere and give it a try. The vibration from the strings through the wood, into the pick-ups and then finally out of the amp speakers is a majestic revelation. The instrument resonates and reverberates with the massive sound. A fourteen year old boy with a bass slung down at crotch level, plucking the low E string? Well, as I said before, I’m still jamming at fifty-two and have no immediate plans of stopping. Somewhere along the way, I actually learned how to play the instrument and it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.
P.S. I have to mention this: I always write with music playing and have some nine thousand songs in iTunes on my computer, invariably set to random play. Guess what started playing halfway through creating this post? You got it: ‘Smoke On the Water’.
Chris Semal was born in New York City in 1959 and has lived there all his life. He is aware that other places exist and likes to visit them from time to time, but the city is a hard mistress to resist and he keeps going back to her. A musician, singer and songwriter, he has played pretty much every rock club in Manhattan at one time or another since the late 70s and went to school at the University of Miami to study Music Engineering, coming back north to do the only obvious thing possible, becoming a municipal bond broker and eventually working as a consultant building financial models. In the early part of the millennium, between both consulting and band gigs, he thought it might be interesting to see what would happen if he expanded on the 80 or so words he used in writing song lyrics and went for the 80,000 he would need for a novel. And so Trial Of Tears was born, along with a passion for developing plots and characters.
He exemplifies the class of players which Know Your Bass Player reveres. As I was witness, The Silver Bullet Band were among the best backing ensembles of their era, rivaling Bruce's E Street Band and Johnny's Jukes.
Curiously Bob Seger chose to wax a considerable number of album tracks with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section - however to my ears, those cuts lacked the muscle of the Bullet Band's classic lineup anchored by bassist Chris Campbell.
Working the pocket with a definitive Fender tone, Campbell, in the tradition of many a master bar band bassist, moved seamlessly from rhythm & blues, funk, disco, soul, hard rock, 50s rock, and tender balladry.
“All the tired horses in the sun, how am I supposed to get any ridin’ done….” In his autobiography Chronicles, his Bobness reveals that Self Portrait (1970) was an attempt to shed a segment, if not all of his fervent reverential fanbase who cast him as the “voice of a generation.” Regardless of Zimmy’s intentions, to my ears, this scorned two-fer and its extended Bootleg Series: Another Self Portrait emerges as a shambolic masterwork that divulges more about the artist than was probably intended. The rotating bass chair features Rick Danko on most of the tracks, along with Nashville studio cats Charlie McCoy, Bob Moore, the devil’s fiddle player Charlie Daniels, Stu Woods, and Wrecking Crew icon Joe Osborn. As a musician, I appreciate the informal, throw-it-all-against-the-wall aesthetic and target practice approach to the bass.
https://bit.ly/2IR7Dnn In the early 00’s when Johnny Marr produced Brit "Beatle Barnet Fair" Haven’s magnificent pair of dream pop platters Between the Senses - perhaps a nod’s as good as a wink to the Stones’ Between the Buttons – and the follow-up All For A Reason, Moz’s former mate was certainly enamored with the melodic pocket plectrum purveyance of bassist Iwan Gronow.
Anchoring Mr. Marr’s muscular post-Smiths ensembles, https://bit.ly/Yqnems Iwan serves the mercurial Mancunian guitar hero quite effectively by way of a gritty, pedal pushing Fender P tones and supportive passages with an occasional harmonic foray into the upper register.
Double live slabs are oft ponderous affairs, however to my ears, this terrific Traffic twofer with Muscle Shoals Swamper David Hood in the bass chair is indeed an exception. Waxed in Germany ’73 – hence the “wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn” cover artwork – Hood along with polyrhythmic percussion purveyors Jim Capaldi, Rebop, and Roger Hawkins stir up a Bitches Brew brouhaha on super stretched out renditions of the studio originals. David is a master of the pocket – rendering subtle variations on what are essentially jam vamps tailored to the improvisational prowess of Messrs. Chris Wood, Steve Winwood, and second keys man Barry Beckett. https://bit.ly/2JFsgE9
Affix Ferry to Phil Manaznera’s extraordinary solo sides; and you’ve got another generation or two of classic Roxy. Of all the outstanding work Bill MacCormick rendered in the service of Phil and 801, K-Scope (1978) is likely the pinnacle. With his resonant Fender P up, up, up, in the mix with an occasional tinge of flange, MacCormick flexes his funky rhythmic and harmonic chops on killer tracks that ache for a charismatic crooner. Cameos include John Wetton, Tim and Neil Finn, Paul Thompson, Lol Crème, Simon Phillips, and Mel Collins.
Tuna morphs from a jam ensemble to a bona fide song band on their immortal third slab waxed in late ‘71, and which also marks their studio bow. Every Casady side is essential, however Burgers further reveals the innumerable ways Jack seamlessly works the pocket and serves as a countermelodic virtuoso. The abrupt tempo changes in “True Religion” https://bit.ly/2GwgXMp , the fuzzy sustained notes, chromatic runs on “Sea Child” https://bit.ly/2Jhwf9Y and “Water Song” https://bit.ly/2q3jfwt among others, weave their way through Jorma’s repertoire of master guitar techniques too numerous to cite here.
Papa John and drummer Sammy Piazza add a funk - swing vibe to the proceedings. And that’s David Crosby on “Highway Song” https://bit.ly/2q1cPgo wherein Jack disposes the distortion for an usually resonant trad bass tone.
https://bit.ly/2GjdLI2 He is a prolific Grammy Award winning composer, filmmaker, producer, solo recording artist, multi-instrumentalist, and founding member of the Patti Smith Group wherein he shared bass duties with Lenny Kaye.
His collaborations and band memberships span Blondie, Iggy Pop, John Cale, and John Waite, to site a scant English speaking few.
As a bassist, Ivan was the consummate song player, working the pocket and outlining them changes to ensure everyone around him on the bandstand and the studio sounded great. And they did!