Give me one guitar icon: Wilko Johnson, and add one bass icon: Norman Watt-Roy, and you’ve got Blow Your Mind (2018), a collection which does exactly as the title implies. Wilko and Norm fit like a hand in glove, riffing incessantly yet never overstating their purpose. Watt-Roy’s signature Bass Centre instrument is essentially a hot-rodded Fender Jazz bolstered with Seymour Duncan pick-ups and a Badass Bridge – essential gadgetry as my 1970s bass brethren will attest to. His tone is noticeably thicker which effectively serves Johnson’s brittle Tele timbre. With Mick Talbot on keys and son of Steve - Dylan Howe, in the drum chair - if this slab does not move you, notify your next of kin!
Nathan Watts nails the A side pocket and monster unison line in “Sir Duke,” however the real gem on this 45 is the flipside, curiously included here from Stevie’s earlier, immortal ’73 slab Innervisions. I reckon the suits didn’t want to give away too much of Songs In the Key of Life (’76) which would be any other artist’s greatest hits collection. Dig Willie’s soulful pedal on the verses which he embellishes with chromatic runs, and the relaxed soulful phrasing on the bridge. Weeks and Wonder: two masters at the absolute top of their game.
With all due reverence to Queen at Live Aid, to my eyes and ears, The Band as captured in The Last Waltz on Thanksgiving Day 1976 is, by far, the greatest rock performance ever committed to celluloid.
Granted, Roberston hijacked the proceedings, and the boys were deeply mired in substance and personal struggles.
However, they individually and collectively rose to the occasion. Van, Joni, Mac, Hawkins, Neil, Bob, The Staples, Muddy, Mr. Butterfield, Emmylou, Slowhand, and even Neil Diamond were levitated by The Band’s incendiary fusion of rhythm & blues, soul, jazz, rock and roll, folk, and country.
Richard Clare Danko soars on every track. Shot in a stunning, dreamlike sepia veneer, Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman absolutely nailed it. And they looked great too!
Slick MOR 70s drivel though it was - it was expertly rendered by the top session cats of the day including Jimmy Webb, Jim Horn, Randall Bramblett, Johnny Sandlin, and Clydie King to cite few. The master Willie Weeks flexes his formidable soul chops to the max, with grooves and harmonic extensions aplenty and a pure Fender tone. You read the charts, you wax the sides, you get paid, and it’s on to the next gig!
As I recall, The dB’s were too good for their own good! With top notch songwriters Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple, and a rockin’/groovin’ rhythm section; drummer Will Rigby and bassist Gene Holder, this indie-pop quartet had the compositional and instrumental chops to go the distance ala REM. However the business of music is not known for its fairness, alas the dB’s never quite broke out of their hallowed cult status. Holder is the consummate ensemble player, working the pocket and rendering melodic passages in the service of the almighty song.
Though he plies an upright in the video clip, you’ve heard his sleek electric bass harmonics and groove passage on the 1987 “sophisti-pop” hit Mary’s Prayer https://bit.ly/1wuI4KX with Meet Danny Wilson. A busy session player who currently anchors Simple Minds, Gerard “Ged” Grimes is also a producer - composer for television , film, and video games; and music business entrepreneur.
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.