Barnaby Bye: Bobby Alessi and Peppy Castro

Bobby Alessi, Peppy Castro

Bobby Alessi, Peppy Castro

I still can’t decide if they were better live or better on record!

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Legendary Atlantic Records’ founder Ahmet Ertegun inked the band and produced their remarkable debut slab aptly titled Room to Grow (1973). The follow-up Touch (1974) was even better. Why Barnaby Bye didn’t reap the commercial success afforded their bygone era peers Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates, and even Sir Elton escapes me. 

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Comprised of Long Island rock royalty; ex-Blues Magoos Peppy Castro, ex-Illusion drummer Mike Ricciardella, and Alessi brothers Bobby and Billy -this ensemble, as I was witness at My Father’s Place among other venues, were a live force to be reckoned with. From melodic counterpoint to riveting register leaping pocket grooves rendered by Peppy and Bobby, great songs make for great basslines…go figure!         

Peppy Castro

Peppy Castro

Mahavishnu Orchestra / The Lost Trident Sessions

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Who among my generation cannot remember the raucous, live Between Nothingness & Eternity (1973) blaring from quadrophonic sound systems, suburban basement rehearsal squats, and smoky stink foot dorm rooms?

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To my ears, I’ll take the studio renditions of these cuts (and a few extra tracks) as released on The Lost Trident Sessions (1999).  Again, I profess that Rick Laird was the perfect choice to anchor the mighty Mahavishnu as his trad jazz approach to the electric kept his shredding bandmates (somewhat) grounded.

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Dig the pocket on “Sister Andrea.”    http://bit.ly/2CBAuIC

The author at Trident Studios, Soho, London

The author at Trident Studios, Soho, London

Elton John / Don't Shoot Me...

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http://bit.ly/2EEK03L  “She was long and she was lean, she's a middle-aged dream, and that lady means the whole world to me…”

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To cite an early Elton slab with Dee, Nigel, and Davey for greatness is redundant however this collection, waxed at the Honky Chateau d’Herouville, France, in the summer of ’72 is among the piano player’s most underrated collections. Murray dispatches with his register leaping contrapuntal approach for pure pocket plectrum and pluckery which soulfully befit such gems as “Teacher I Need You,” “Elderberry Wine,” “Midnight Creeper,” “Teenage Idol,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Daniel,’ and the b-sides “Screw You,” “Jack Rabbit,” and “Whenever You’re Ready We’ll Go Steady.” Bravo Ken Scott for putting Dee up in the mix. A joyous mix of rockers and ballads, entertaining packaging, tight performances that were cut with minimal takes: this was pop rock and roll at it’s finest!    

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PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN: On The Record with Bassist Paul Gray!

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PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN: ON THE RECORD WITH BASSIST PAUL GRAY

For the first fifteen or so years of my career as a music journalist, my beat was new artists, mostly from the UK. I wrote tens of thousands of words documenting young guns waxing their first record, playing their first gigs in the Promised Land that is/was the United States and so forth. From several South by Southwest sojourns to backstage at Late Night with Conan, and The Late Show with David Letterman, among other venues of dubious distinction, I was (mostly) impressed with the musicianship, song-craft, and their reverence for the rock and roll bands that came before them. It was steady work, but there was something missing.

After a bit of research on life expectancy, and the collapse of the US economy, record industry, and a rock / pop musical landscape which, to my ears, rewards abject rubbish, I decided to spend whatever time I had left above ground writing stories about the artists who inspired me to pick up a bass and get in the game. One of those players I made a mental note of was Paul Gray. Not a household name, none of my heroes are, yet he anchored two essential ensembles - Eddie & The Hot Rods, and The Damned, two brilliant collectives which prompted thousands like me to join a band - regardless of the consequences!  

So when I heard that Paul was available by way of a new slab he appears on by the group which works under the moniker of Professor and the Madman (PATM)- I jumped! Unfortunately I could not make the trip to Old Blighty to speak with Mr. Gray in the flesh, but I'll get there soon enough and I'll buy him a round for all those bass parts he taught me.

PATM are a quartet of veteran rockers - Alfie Agnew (Adolescents, D.I.) and Sean Elliott (D.I. Mind Over Four), with Paul's former Damned bandmate Rat Scabies in the drum chair. The new collection is aptly entitled Disintegrate Me.

Messrs. Gray and Scabies will not be touring with PATM given their other musical commitments – Paul has Damned dates and Rat has a new record coming out.  

Disintegrate Me is PATM’s third long-player and the first to feature Gray. In this age of streaming and YouTube.Com pilfering, far be it from me to describe the music to you. The best I can relate to you, my dear rock and roll readers, is that these cats are the sonic sum of their parts and their storied history. The melodies, musicianship, and energy are boundless!

With all due respect to newer artists, PATM proves that old chickens make the best rock and roll soup!   

Rather than my usual weaving of quotes into text, I hereby afford you Paul Gray’s opinions, observations, and prognostications unedited and unfiltered. He’s a bass player, he knows what he’s talking about!   

Let's set the record straight about "punk" - which oft times is used as a rather dismissive tag. To my ears and recollection the best "punk" bands, some of which you worked in, were comprised of creative/innovative musicians and extraordinary writers - many of whom not only continue to influence generations,  but are still on the bandstand and in the recording studio. Thoughts?

Punk is different things to different people. The UK punk scene really started when groups of kids who wanted to make their own style of music started to get together in different places simultaneously. They were fed up with the stuff that was around in the mid '70s — all of that overblown triple album prog stuff and bland disco music. I'd say Dr. Feelgood was the prototype punk band in sound and attitude. Others would say the Damned or Clash or Pistols. The last two were way too contrived for me. Once certain journalists got hold of it the boxes appeared — pub rock, new wave, punk, blah blah. It was the start of it being commercialized, which is always the kiss of death. It went from being an independent movement to everyone dressing the same. I had no time for any of that. That's why I always loved the Damned — they stayed true, original, and unique. 

 How do you define punk? 

I prefer the original punk stuff as defined by those great '60s groups like The Seeds and 13th Floor Elevators. All those Nuggets bands. Great psychedelic pop songs played with spirit and attitude through shitty amps and recorded on a budget of 10 bucks with no expectations of world domination. That'll do for me!

My goddaughter and her friends love The Damned, Eddie & the Hotrods, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Joy Division, The Stranglers, New Order… she has all of my old records, and even wears the same clothes! Why does this era, wherein you started your career, speak to teenagers in the 21st Century?  

I'd say because it's honest. It's music written and played from the heart. It connects with people who can relate to the lyrical content and musical honesty. There's no writing-by-numbers, no following of a fad, no overblown production or musical pretensions, or big marketing. The songs stand or fall on their own merit. That's why that music is effectively timeless.

 What prompted you to join forces with P&TM? The songs? The players? 

Both!  Sean and Alf sent me a song to see if I'd like to put a bit of bass down on a coupla tracks. I was blown away for all the reasons above. They were continuing that legacy in a way that immediately spoke to me. It was absolutely honest music, the most exciting I'd heard in eons, and chock full of melodies. I'm a sucker for a good melody. I knew what I could add straight away. They may or may not agree but my first thoughts were Damned meets vintage Cheap Trick via The Kinks — that's a pretty heady mixture!

Disintegrate Me runs like a greatest hits album: strong melodies, big hooks, supportive playing, hot mixes, bravura musicianship — no filler whatsoever. How much did the band work in pre-production? Did you sit down and plan the record or did it just come about organically?

Well there ya go!  No pre-production, no planning.  They sent me the backing tracks, which were pretty basic with guitar, vocals and drums, and I did two or three different passes on the bass so that they could pick and choose what they liked best as I have never played the same thing, the same way, twice. One track has two basses panned left and right as they couldn't decide which they preferred.  My kinda band!  Seriously, I was blown away, and having heard the final mixes, they've achieved something that is at once accessible and fresh and exciting but very individual sounding. Those guys are genius writers.  In fact, I enjoyed playing every track so much that I probably did a dozen different takes as I came up with different melodies each time.  I really didn't want to stop playing!

P&TM's group members were not in the same room when the tracks were cut, yet the songs exude the energy of a live performance. How did you pull that off? 

I really have no idea except to say that it's pretty rare for it to happen in my experience.  Everything just sparked from the first moment, so I guess it's that excitement of playing songs that just work for our particular individual styles shining through collectively.  Very similar to The Damned, in fact. I'm a lucky sod, ain't I!

Do you miss having your mates in the studio, cutting a track, and then knocking back a pint or two, then doing it all over again? Of course, you all reside far from each other, and digital technology allows us to tour with holograms - but is there something missing when you sweat, curse, laugh, argue, and make a record together? 

They both have their merits, I guess.  Studios can get pretty tedious once you've done your bit.  This is the first time I've done an entire album remotely and I have to say it suited me very well.  I worked when I wanted to, got my own mix and bass sound as I liked in my own time, and monitored without damaging my hearing any more, without all the unnecessary hanging around. And at my age that suited me very well! Haha!

I've had the good fortune to interview and converse with a few of my rock and roll heroes - Ian Hunter, Lou Reed, Garland Jeffreys, Dave Davies, Graham Parker. They tell me that they love making records, their fans love records - so they're going to keep making them until they depart this mortal coil. Is Paul Gray in that mindset? 

When I first developed tinnitus and Hyperacusis I never thought I'd play or record again.  It was that bad. I ducked out of music for a few years, had to, and it wasn't a good place for me to be.  It was my life, not just my career, so I had to slowly figure out how to dip my feet back into it again.  That was 20 years ago.  I seriously would never have thought that 20 years later I'd be back working with two such fantastic bands. Never say never, right?  So yeah, gimme the opportunities and I'll carry on till I drop — recording at least.  I'm about to head out on tour with The Damned again so we'll have to see how that goes.  I'm pretty apprehensive about how I'll manage with all the noise but life's too short not to give it another go at least. In the immortal words of Janis Joplin, "Get it while ya can ..."

There was a time when you sat down and listened to a record, whether it was punk, jazz, or blues. Now we live in a streaming world where folks "consume" music. Is the album relevant anymore? Is it a niche artform? 

Vinyl's coming back, right?  People are excited about actually buying a record again and all that goes with it — the artwork, lyrics, running order, turntable ritual.  How fantastic is that?  I never liked MP3s and streaming; it offends my ears more than most because of the damage I've done.  We all live in such a disposable, quick-fix society these days.  I'm afraid I''m pretty old fashioned.  I'm so pleased Disintegrate Me is coming out on vinyl — it's gonna sound HUGE! 

Given the fact that most people nowadays listen to a single track rather than an entire album, does that affect the way you write or produce a song? 

Not in the slightest.  Everything I've ever done has been done for myself, first and foremost.  My initial idea, whether it's for my own song or someone else's song, is usually the one that ends up being used on the record. It's from the heart — always has been, always will be.

On the topic of videos, you came to prominence in the pre-MTV era.  Do you think the art-form helped or hindered rock and roll? On the upside it was a great promotional tool, on the downside it pigeonholed many an artist and genre.   

Well, I guess the artists with the biggest promo budgets and best pluggers got pole positions, right?  It kinda became visuals first, music second throughout the '80s.  I was never really an MTV person.  You could smell the stink of the corporate hand everywhere.  Not for me, thank you very much!

The bass sounds amazing in the mix - crisp, I can hear every note, every rattle of those Rotosound roundwounds!

Glad ya like the bass sound — toaster pickup on a 77 Rickenbacker, good old Roto's as always, a Vox AC30 cranked way up, and shedloads of compression.  Works for me!

Looking back over your career, which record are you most proud of? 

Oh man ... so many for different reasons!  I still love the Hot Rods' Life on the Line, which was recorded in two days.  And The Black Album.  But I have to say that on Disintegrate Me, and the new Damned album, I'm most proud of my playing.  And that's a pretty bloody fine state of affairs 42 years after I first joined the Hot Rods as a spotty 15 year old!

Clockwise from top left: Paul Gray, Sean Elliott, Rat Scabies, Alfie Agnew

Clockwise from top left: Paul Gray, Sean Elliott, Rat Scabies, Alfie Agnew

Disintegrate Me is released on vinyl, CD and download on February 23 via FullerTone Records/Alliance Distribution. For all things PATM visit www.professorandthemadman.com.

And if you must know more about PATM – get ahold of Randy Haecker at Prime Mover Media www.primemovermedia.com .  

Montrose

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I’ll go on record as saying not since Meet The Beatles, 12 x 5, Zep I, Fresh Cream, and Are You Experienced? has an album inspired more American rockers.

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Montrose (1973) is certainly among the most influential slabs waxed in the 1970s and a bona fide hard-rock touchstone. Granted, Sammy’s libretto is a tad juvenile, however the riffage and performances remain matchless. Bassist Bill Church lays it down with a round Fender P tone, riffin’ and swingin’ with drummer Denny Carmassi and their boundless bandleader.

Bill Church nowadays...

Bill Church nowadays...

Kudos to Church keeping it in the lower register pocket and affording space aplenty for the music to groove. Pity this ensemble fractured early – with Hagar’s pop songwriting / vocal chops and Ronnie’s harmonic / sonic virtuosity – Montrose would have topped the charts and filled arenas for decades.     

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Bowie / Pin Ups

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http://bit.ly/2EBrr0q  For those who dismissed Trevor Bolder as all side-whiskers and platforms, drop the stylus on side one song one of Bowie's delightful tribute song-cycle Pin-Ups (1973) wherein the late Hull born bassist tears through The Pretty Things' "Roslyn" with a freight train descending motif.  Trevor traverses pocket to melodic foil throughout Ziggy's last hurrah with Ronno, plying unobtrusive grace notes and harmonic extensions amid Mike Garson's well-mannered plinkery and Ansley Dunbar's atomic fills. Hosannas aplenty to producer Ken Scott and engineer Dennis MacKay for the hot mix on this album - which resonates nearly a half century since these tracks were waxed at the Honky Chateau.

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Rolling Stones / Aftermath

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http://bit.ly/2EAmGUF An absolutely perfect rock 'n' roll record, not only signature of its time, but timeless! 

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Waxed at RCA Studios, Hollywood in 12/65 and 3/66 the Stones' fourth official studio slab was entirely composed by the Glimmer Twins.  Also noted for its groundbreaking running time (over 50 mins!) and Brian Jones' experimentation, among other elements, the authentic UK version of Aftermath was yet another showcase for the former William Perks who, to my ears, keeps the band grounded in its blues roots as they stretched the genre beyond its pop precincts. 

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Bill's pocket is the driving force throughout, especially beneath "Under My Thumb," "Flight 505," "Stupid Girl," and the epic "Goin' Home." 

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The Meters / Cissy Strut

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http://bit.ly/1ry9e45 Find it in your heart to forgive ye bass players who solely purvey funk with fast, furious rapid-fire thwaka, pop, thwaka, pop, thawaka effects via light-gauge round-wounds and flying thumbs.

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The funk is the fingers, finesse, and the flats on a Fender! Behold the master, George Porter Jr. on the monumental Meters’ “Cissy Strut” – a track duly cited by the Grammy Hall of Fame. George and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste create an iconic groove with enough space to sail a Mississippi River steamboat!

George Porter Jr.

George Porter Jr.

As Mr. Porter has noted, a lot of cats play this riff wrong. Well, it ain’t so much as the notes as it is the feel and space. How much jambalaya I gotta eat to play like Porter?    

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Fleetwood Mac / Then Play On

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"If music be the food of love, then play on!"

Mick Fleetwood and John McVie

Mick Fleetwood and John McVie

When the Mac’s early signature hit “Oh Well” was tacked on to the revised U.S. version of their third slab in the winter of ‘69, it emerged as a bona fide classic.

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This is where bassist John McVie comes into his own as a master supportive and counter-melodic player. Dig the rumbling 16th note passage beneath “Coming Your Way” http://bit.ly/2o003ii which runs parallel with Mick’s bongo fury.

John McVie

John McVie

Through all their personnel and style shifts, commercial fortunes and misfortunes, the Fleetwood Mac rhythm section never failed to ignite. No surprise that Peter Green named his band after the bass player and the drummer!   

Mick Fleetwood, John McVie

Mick Fleetwood, John McVie

Ten Years After / Positive Vibrations

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“Too many wanderers are wandering. Too many ponderers are pondering. Too many squanderers are squandering. Give yourself some positive vibrations…’’ By ‘74 Ten Years After were artistically knackered, but yer didn’t dare mention that to the mighty, meaty, mellifluous David William “Leo” Lyons!

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On the classic line-up’s floundering finale, Leo punches the pocket with a more pronounced register leaping rhythm and blues bluster http://bit.ly/2CfAPAN which affords this rather rote repertoire a furtive, funky facade. Heck even when these cats coasted, they were the dog’s bullocks!   

John London

Mike Nesmith, John London, Mickey Dolenz

Mike Nesmith, John London, Mickey Dolenz

http://bit.ly/2GZiaN1 He was at the forefront of the LA country rock movement which is now commonly referred to as “Americana.”

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A multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, and session player, the late John London (born John Kuehne) was pals with Michael Nesmith and consequently anchored a few Monkees platters and Mike’s extraordinary First National Band releases.  

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A pocket and melodic player, John also waxed slabs with James Taylor, Lewis & Clarke Expedition, Linda Ronstadt, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, among others.

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Garland Jeffreys / Rock & Roll Adult

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Since his 60’s days with Grinder’s Switch he ranks among rock’s most enduring, soulful, and spirited performers – so go figure why we don’t have more live slabs from Garland Jeffreys!

The all-to-brief Rock and Roll Adult (1981) captures this extraordinary Brooklyn born poet, songwriter, and recording artist in his natural habitat: the stage.

Brian Stanley, Garland Jeffreys

Brian Stanley, Garland Jeffreys

Anchored by bassists Andrew Bodnar of Graham’s Rumour http://bit.ly/2ErlAGI, and Brian Stanley http://bit.ly/2BtTlsg – Jeffreys, along with the aforementioned Parker posse members Steve Goulding, Brinsley Schwarz, and Martin Belmont expand on the studio versions with funky grooves ‘n’ vamps aplenty.

Andrew Bodnar (bass), Garland Jeffreys

Andrew Bodnar (bass), Garland Jeffreys

C’mon Garland, there’s gotta be more in the vaults!        

David Bowie / Valentine's Day

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http://bit.ly/1ez1zsh The protagonist in David Jones’ “Valentine’s Day” had decidedly different motives than the romantic western “holiday” celebration as we know it, the latter of which was most likely fueled by Hallmark and Godiva advertising dollars.

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Bassist / producer Tony Visconti works the root note pocket on what turned out to be the last single released in Bowie’s lifetime – and IMHO stands among David’s finest compositions and accompanying videos. 

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And props aplenty to Earl Slick with his signature virtuoso melodic accompaniment which, to my ears, evokes the immortal Ronno, and Sterling Campbell’s fat funky intro and back-beat.

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The Pretenders / Loose Scew

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http://bit.ly/2EV4m5F One tight slab with killer grooves, Loose Screw (2002) flew under the radar, likely due to the fact that it didn't contain the usual massive hit single which Christine Ellen Hynde oft supplied.  Regardless, the compositions are top notch and brilliantly fortified by percolating pop reggae rhythms aplenty. Bassist Andy Hobson hardly plays the one, rendering sinewy passages with a deep tone that maintains enough edge to cut through band's signature jangle guitar jaunts.  I've seen most of The Pretenders line-ups, and the Adam Seymour /Andy Hobson incarnation was, to my ears, the most musically flexible.

Andy Hobson, Martin Chambers, Chrissie Hynde, Adam Seymour

Andy Hobson, Martin Chambers, Chrissie Hynde, Adam Seymour

 

Squeeze / Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti

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http://bit.ly/2FPIcRz Whirrrrrrrrrrrr! Led by Pino Palladino, Tony Franklin, Sting, and the shadow of Jaco –among others, ‘twas a fretless frenzy in the Reagan / Thatcher era.

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As such, yours truly went sans metal strips -refer to the 1985 photo of this young scribe/bassist with a Japanese Tune sticking out of both sides of my neck! 

The author in 1985

The author in 1985

Among my Among my inspirational slabs was Squeeze’s Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985) wherein bassist Keith Wilkinson skillfully slaps, glissandos, and renders pocket grooves and countermelodies with a fat, resonant tone on yet another collection of Difford and Tilbrook gems.

Keith Wilkinson  

Keith Wilkinson  

Go figure why the record didn’t sell, and why Squeeze never really advanced commercially despite the fact that they never put out a perfunctory platter, and bassists, myself included, retreated to trad fingerboards in the 1990s!       

Herbie Hancock / Directstep

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There is the pocket, and then there is “the pocket!” Featuring spirited interpretations of two tracks that were originally waxed on earlier slabs and a third that would be re-cut on Herbie’s Mr. Hands the following year, this groovin’ 1979 Japan only direct-to-disc release, which clocks in at a fleeting 30:30 - features fierce interplay among Hancock, second keyboardist Webster Lewis, Bennie Maupin, Alphonse Mouzon, Ray Obiedo and legendary Headhunters’ bassist Paul Jackson. Every element of Jackson’s virtuosity – from his raw Fender P tone to his harmonic and rhythmic genius – is up front in the mix. Dig Paul’s gritty string-bending intro to “Shiftless Shuffle” –  http://bit.ly/2EqriJH - it does not get much funkier than this!         

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Freddie Washington

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This cat replaced Paul Jackson in Herbie’s Headhunters! He stands among the instrument’s true giants, yet his name is known mostly to serious bassists and liner notes aficionados.  

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As a teenage member of the Oakland Youth Symphony Orchestra, “Ready” Freddie Washington heard Jamerson, Rainey, Babbitt, and Larry Graham and chose his life’s profession.  A solo recording artist, composer, “Star Licks” star, A-list session player and sideman – Freddie’s “Forget Me Nots” slap passage is among the most recognizable bass motifs ever waxed – and if his Fender P tone doesn’t grab you, I’ll notify your next of kin! http://bit.ly/1LJ9hXh

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Mr. Washington’s discography reads as a history of modern popular music – including seminal sides by Michael Jackson, Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder, Patrice Rushen, Elton John, Whitney Houston, Donald Fagan, Billy Preston, George Benson, Kenny Loggins, Aaron Neville, Anita Baker, B.B. King, and Diana Ross, just to cite a scant few.  

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George Harrison / Give Me Love

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Agreed “You’re So Vain” unquestionably stands as this German bassist’s definitive moment on record for what may be rightly considered as the most famous bass intro in pop music. 

Klaus Voormann

Klaus Voormann

As such, I refer readers to Mr. Voormann’s rhythmic and harmonic genius as heard on George Harrison’s hit ‘73 single “Give Me Love Give Me Peace On Earth.”  http://bit.ly/2E04e6R

Pope George

Pope George

Revel as Klaus’ remarkable passage seamlessly morphs from the pocket to a melodic partner and back to the pocket once again with keys icon Nicky Hopkins’ brilliant (as usual) comping.  And dig the manner in which Rock and Roll Hall of Fame worthy drummer Jim Keltner and Klaus conjure such a deceptively subtle, soulful groove on the choruses whilst George’s melodies and slide work soar on the verses and solo section. Ensemble virtuosity indeed!

Jim Keltner

Jim Keltner

And lest we forget - Huff Post 2015: Eleven Bass Players Who Belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: http://bit.ly/2hOLzO3     

 

John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band

Ringo and Klaus

Ringo and Klaus

To my ears, never has a rock rhythm section so profoundly reflected their bandleader’s artistic vision than Klaus Voormann and Richard Starkey MBE on John’s cathartic masterpiece Plastic Ono Band song-cycle waxed in the fall of 1970 at Abbey Road.

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Voormann masters the pocket sans his signature harmonic embellishments as Sir Ringo lays down the groove with a crisp high-hat and snare drum. 

John and Klaus

John and Klaus

Dig these cats as they break into a sudden rhythm and blues groove on the chorus of “Remember.” http://bit.ly/2nlwCHb The truly great ones always make it sound so damn easy!  

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