It's the Broadway ethos…revision, revision, revision!" Bob Dylan's ebb and flow approach with to regard to rhythm, harmony, lyrics and song structure is legend. In this KYBP "Short Take" bassist Rob Stoner recalls waxing the Desire collection with guest vocalist Emmylou Harris and lyricist Jacques Levy. Tom Semioli: Interviewer / Writer. Mark Preston: Director / Producer. Derek Hanlon: Cinematographer. Mark Polott: Editor. [www.KnowYourBassPlayer.com]
With Rob as the anchor and musical director, Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue made the iconic singer, songwriter relevant to a new generation tuned to the burgeoning punk scene, and emerging voices such as Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith, along with a new wave of writers and musicians. Stoner was the "thunder" in that Revue, commandeering a rotating cast of diverse players including Mick Ronson, Roger McGuinn, and Joan Baez, among others. To this day, it is among Dylan's greatest artistic achievements and a watershed moment in popular music that continues to resonate. Stoner's swingin' modal bass passages recast Dylan's repertoire - nothing was off limits - harmonically or rhythmically. Dylan always surrounded himself with great players, but none of his bands, including The Band, could rock akin to Rolling Thunder. Tom Semioli: Interviewer / Writer. Mark Preston: Director / Producer. Derek Hanlon: Cinematographer. Mark Polott: Editor.
In Part 1 of this riveting two part episode, bassist and musical director Rob Stoner takes us behind the scenes of the recording of Bob Dylan's Desire album in New York City, including the controversial single "Hurricane," which sets the stage for the historic Rolling Thunder Revue. A veteran of the Greenwich Village scene, an in-demand session player/vocalist, and a band-leader in his own right, Rob plays a pivotal role in Dylan's remarkable resurgence on this record - which reignites a folk-rock landscape mostly given to the softer, overtly commercial sounds of Laurel Canyon. With Stoner as his anchor and guide, Bob was accepted by a generation which had grown skeptical of 60s "icons" in a rapidly changing popular music scene where commerce was consuming art. Tom Semioli: Interviewer / Writer. Mark Preston: Director / Producer. Derek Hanlon: Cinematographer. Mark Polott: Editor.
I-IV-V blues has been the bane of many a bass player, however when a guitar icon sets that time-tested format in the swingin’ hands of Jeff Ganz, no two tracks sound remotely alike. This veteran cat – whom you can watch in Season Deux of Know Your Bass Player on Film in your spare time– runs the voodoo down with smooth chord substitutions, modal passages, inventive voice leading, varying tones / techniques on electric and upright, and rhythmic reworkings that really inspire the legendary slinger and his song akin to his 70s rock star heyday. For those of you who pine that bass blues is a snooze, spin this slab and let Ganz take you to blooze school.
If Jimmy Webb’s Land’s End slab reminds you of Reggie Dwight, that’s because the rhythm section on select tracks features bassist Dee Murray, along with EJ band cohorts Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnstone – then at the zeitgeist of Captain Fantastic mania in 1974. Webb weaves many a groove and arrangement that echoes Elton’s hit records. Murray plays the pocket noticeably more conservative on this outing, likely to afford space for Joni Mitchell, David Hentschel, Tom Scott, and B.J. Cole to do their thing. A gem of a platter is this!
Bassist Gary Van Scyoc recalls John Lennon’s “discovery” of the Elephant's Memory Band in New York City. Gary, along with his bandmates Stan Bronstein, Tex Gabriel, Richard Frank Jr., Adam Ippolito, and John La Boosca, with renowned studio drum Jim Keltner recorded John & Yoko's politically charged "Some Time in New York City" album in 1972 - a riveting song-cycle which was the most controversial entry in Lennon's solo canon and among the most divisive slabs from a major rock artist. Tom Semioli: Interviewer / Writer. Mark Preston Director / Producer. Derek Hanlon: Cinematographer. Mark Polott: Editor.
Today I have owned my 74 Jazz 44 years. I had it as a kid, as a father, and now a grandfather It always reminds me how wonderful my Mother was.
I cut grass all summer to buy my first bass. Started playing commercially at 14. Played regularly in in a couple of bands and in my high school Jazz band. I saved up money from my gigs and bought my second bass and a bigger amp. Unfortunately, our house was broken into and that Bass was stolen. I was devastated and absolutely miserable. I had no idea what I would do.
I went to school on 9th of May 1975 and walked into the band director’s office. I was shocked to find my mother there with the band director. On the floor in front of them, in a case, was a brand-new Fender Jazz. I was informed that it was mine… I couldn’t believe it. We lived modestly, so I know it was a great sacrifice. It was the Bass I wanted. How she knew that I will never know, but that just attests to how special she was.
Although it doesn’t get the play it deserves, no other bass I own will ever be cherished as much. It’s a simple reminder of how very wonderful my mother was. R.I.P. Mom
Rock and roll is in a tough spot, dear readers. The record biz is kaput. Terrestrial rock radio has gone underground i.e. it's dead and buried. Sir Mick has a new valve. Punk rock relics are in museums and its fashion cues retail at Neiman Marcus. And alternative rock plays in Vegas. What next, Greta Van Fleetwood Mac?
But don't lose faith, because just when it appears that our brickhouse has caved in, an album (that is, an assemblage of audio recordings issued as a collection on compact disc, vinyl, audio tape, or another medium) "drops" that restores our belief in three chords, a sunburst Fender Precision, and the truth (or something close to it).
Behold our saviors: Greg Antista and The Lonely Streets. Their debut disc - Shake, Stomp and Stumble sees the light of day on May 17, 2019 on Primal Beat Records. Their roots run deep, deep, deep into the Orange County / California punk scene.
Where to begin? Bandleader / primary songwriter Greg Antista lists Joyride and Foxy on his resume. Lead-guitarist Jessica Kaczmarek toiled in Busstop Hurricanes, and Russell Scott & The Red Hots, among others. Jorge E. Disguster has manned the skins for Mr. Mirainga, Mink Daggers, Disguster and CoDependents.
And then there's the star of the Know Your Bass Player show, bassist Warren Renfrow - anchor of the mighty Cadillac Tramps, Manic Hispanic, Final Conflict.
If that does not impress you, you may be a Childish Gambino fan. Research these giants of their chosen genre on YouTube.
The band members have known each other for centuries (the press release reads "decades," but you can never trust such documents) and despite the fact that they've been in business for a little over a year, these veteran cats rock with the exuberance of youth and the wisdom of age.
Thanks to digital and social media it is no longer required of a hack such as I to "describe" GAATLB music to you. I'll draw analogies to Social Distortion, Alejandro Escovedo, Tom Clark and the High Action Boys, Jason & The Scorchers, The Clash, and The Stranglers - and I may be right. Antista is a master lyricist - akin to the best writers, he paints pictures with few words. The melodies are inescapable, and the rhythm section is air-tight, loud and proud.
And what of our man Renfrow? We're talking legend here. In addition to his aforementioned pedigree, Warren went to war as a touring bassist with The Damned and Adolescents.
Logistics and schedules prevented us from capturing Warren for Know Your Bass Player on Film - though Mark, Mark, Derek and I will see to it that we do.
Until then, we give you the words of Warren Renfrow.
Were the Renfrows a musical family? While I’m the only one in my family to play an instrument, I grew up in a household with seven siblings. I was exposed to everything they listened to — mostly '60s pop/rock, with an emphasis on the Beatles and the Stones. My older brother was the closest in age to me. He took me to a lot of really great concerts like Elton John, AC/DC (with Bon Scott), The Who with Keith Moon, and one of the first tours by Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
At what point in your formative years did you gravitate towards playing a musical instrument? Like most kids, I air guitared with a stick or a broom. Then a family friend gave me a little Sears bass and amplifier (kinda wish I still had it). I remember sitting and trying to learn, playing along to side one of the first Rodney on the Roq album.
Describe the moment you first became aware of the bass - was it a record, a song you heard on the radio, a performance? It was probably listening to Dee Murray playing on "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" from Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album. The sound, the tone…the way it pops out and drives the song.
How did you evolve into Warren the bass player? I saw an old, grainy VHS of the original lineup of The Damned performing. Captain Sensible was playing bass. He just had such an attitude, and that’s who I wanted to be. I even tried wearing a beret and little round glasses, but I've got too big of a noggin to carry off that look. Continuing with the Damned, another big influence was Paul Gray. Back in 2002, I had the opportunity to be the fill-in bassist for the Damned when they opened for a Rob Zombie tour. It was an awesome feeling playing those songs that I revered, and nailing it. Leading up to the tour, the drummer, Pinch, and I rehearsed in a garage, then drove straight through to Houston where the rest of the band met us. During our one rehearsal before the tour, I was so exhausted from the drive that it didn’t even hit me that I was playing with my idols. Going through the set, "Wait for the Blackout" came up. As we were playing that song, I looked up and saw Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian and that’s when it hit me. That very moment — out of everything I’ve done musically — remains the most memorable.
Many folks, despite their love of music, are woefully unaware of the existence of the electric bass and what it does. Anyone ever ask you “what does that thing do?” I’ve never had to answer for it. The bass and drums (the rhythm section) are the engine of the machine. The rhythm section drives the song. When you’re tapping your foot, or nodding your head, or dancing… it’s to the rhythm section. If you wanna be the star of the band though, bass ain’t for you. You’d probably get more attention if you were in the witness protection program. But if you’re an introvert, it’s the perfect instrument.
Tell me about your first gig - triumph or tragedy? I will say my first gig was pretty fuckin' awesome. It was with my first band, The Inferior, with Ron Martinez, who I’d later play with again in Final Conflict. He's now in the Lower Class Brats. I'm sure we sucked but we had the time of our lives.
The Cadillac Tramps were an iconic So-Cal ensemble: tell me about the recordings and performances you are most proud of. I loved the music on the first two albums but they weren’t recorded well. Those records failed to capture us properly as a live unit. By our third album, It’s Alright, we actually had a pretty good producer named Howard Benson, and the sound quality was a lot better. As far as performances and touring, I look at it as an evolutionary process. You need to build a fanbase. When you first visit a town it's possible that you'll only play to 10 people. A few months later that crowd would grow to around 50, then 100. If you visit that market consistently, you'll eventually sell out the venue. Back then, during the early days of the Cadillac Tramps, it was all word of mouth. No internet. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I can remember taking the stage opening for Pearl Jam and hearing the roar of 12,000 people. I was overwhelmed. Tears welled up. As I reflect on that moment, I have to mention the Cadillac Tramps' dynamic and talented frontman, Mike "Gabby" Gaborno. He was the guy who made everybody in the room feel like his best friend. He had that gift.
Recall for me the emotions you felt when you first heard yourself on the radio with Cadillac Tramps. It was on 95.5 KLOS, Uncle Joe Benson’s "Local Licks." It was fuckin' cool. You turned on the radio and there you were. I never thought that would happen.
The Tramps were/are a tremendous influence on a generation of alternative rockers - comment on the band's legacy - what does that mean to you? It's nice to hear we were influential, but honestly, I sure as hell didn't know it. I haven’t given much thought to our legacy. I just look back on it as the best of times.
Final Conflict and Manic Hispanic also garnered acclaim aplenty - what was special about those ensembles? Final Conflict was special because it was my first real band. That band grew out of backyard parties, before we eventually played clubs. Now Manic Hispanic, that was special because it was a joke that took on a life of its own. Everybody in the band was of Mexican descent, so the twist was that we would take old classic punk songs and put our own cultural stamp on them. We would make them funny. It was a totally cool thing because we were all great friends and we'd get to goof out on these classic songs we loved, and laugh.
Tell me how Greg Anista recruited you to be one of The Lonely Streets. Back in the 1990s when the Tramps were at their apex, pretty much our favorite local band was Joyride with Steve Soto and Greg Antista. Steve and Greg shared singing and songwriting duties. I’ve always liked Greg’s songs. In between then and now, there were a lot of years where everyone settled down, had kids and kind of focused on that. Now everyone’s kids are older and getting out of the house. In 2017, Greg wanted to put a band together, and I believe it was Steve Soto who said, “Hey, why don’t you ask Warren to play with you.” Greg asked, and I’ve always loved his songs, so I said yeah and I’ve been having a blast ever since.
GAATLS are a group of friends and collective of rock and roll veterans - tell me how that affects the music - it sounds as if the band has been playing together for years! While I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to play with many talented people, within the framework of a group, there’s a lot to be said for chemistry. When you like the people that you’re playing with, and you like the songs that you’re playing, it comes together quite easily. At this point in my life, I have to really like what I’m doing and have fun doing it, or it’s just not worth my time. I’m not going to play in a band just to play in a band.
Talk about recording SSS - did you work the songs out on the road first? The band certainly recreates the energy of a performance in the studio - not an easy thing to capture! Greg wrote all the songs acoustically and got together with us each individually, gave us his version, and then we all came up with our parts. The equation came together and gelled. Once again, a lot has to be said for chemistry. But if I would have to reveal our secret weapon, it would be Paul Miner at Buzz Bomb Studios. Paul is a great engineer and producer and he had a lot of great ideas during the sessions. I wish Paul was around when the Cadillac Tramps were recording.
SSS is a fantastic record - however we are living in a "post album" era. What are your opinions on the fact that the majority of music listeners stream single songs - is the album format dead? Is it relevant anymore? The album format was limited by how much music you could fit on two sides of a disc. Streaming music is the next evolutionary step. There are no limits to what people can create. I think the waters are still being navigated.
When you first picked up the bass, did you think you'd still be playing in your middle-age? It is more satisfying now as an experienced player as opposed to rocking in your younger ears? Early on, my only goal was to play parties, get fucked up, and get laid. Looking back on that now and where it’s taken me — and taking those goals into consideration — I have to say I am a major success. But it’s way more satisfying now. At the beginning I wasn’t part of the music. Now I am.
Recall for us your gig nightmare - that one show where everything that could go wrong went absolutely …wrong? There used to be these yearly shows called the Hootenanny. One year, the Stray Cats reunited to play the Hootenanny and the Cadillac Tramps were on the bill. I remember feeling really charged up and excited as we took the stage. Unbeknownst to us, our drummer had gotten really drunk in the lead up to our set. So instead of the Tramps hitting the stage like a wildcat, it was more like a beached whale. Horrible.
Who are some of your favorite bass players? Who were the players that inspired you even if you don't play like they do? I guess I could bring up the usual suspects, like McCartney or Jamerson. There was a time that I really wanted to be and play like Paul Gray, but now as I’ve gotten older, I find myself being more of a 'dug in, in the pocket' groove rhythmic player. And I’m amazed by guys like Conrad Lozano or the Mighty Gil T or John Baz. You can’t teach the way those guys play.
Aside from The Lonely Streets - what more would you like to accomplish before you call it a career? Once again, I just want to have fun playing music that I like. As long as that's happening, I'll never call it a career and I’ll go into the box playing.
Breaking News: Warren has waxed a new slab with Manic Hispanic slated for summer release!
For all things Greg Antista and The Lonely Streets Visit https://www.gregantistaandthelonelystreets.com
Dig Greg Antista and The Lonely Streets Video for the Track “Good Night Ramona”
Though I find his political disposition and public behavior rather distasteful – to put it mildly - Theodore Anthony Nugent is, was, and always will be a rock and roll force to be reckoned with. His mighty Amboy Dukes were among the seminal proto-punk bands of their era, and their influence on a generation of rockers cannot be denied. Bassist Greg Arama, who came on board for their classic Journey To The Center of the Mind (1968) slab, worked the pocket and rendered countermelodic motifs borne of a soulful, rhythm and blues approach and round tone which cut through the sonic din of his mates, which, to my ears, put the Dukes a cut above their peers. Right said Ted: "And everyone knows that The Amboy Dukes are the ultimate garage band on planet earth!" And that’s the only statement made by the aforementioned Motor City madman that I actually agree with!
The first episode of KYBP on Film Season Deux asks the most obvious question! With Rob Stoner (Bob Dylan, Robert Gordon, Don McLean, Roger McGuinn), Jeff Ganz (The Hit Men, Johnny Winter, John Lee Hooker, Ben Vereen, Roy Buchanan), John Montagna (Alan Parsons Project, “Happy Together” tours with The Turtles, Todd Rundgren, Chuck Negron, Mark Farner, Denny Laine, Felix Cavalerie), Alan Lefton, Chris Semal, Mark Polott (Haystacks Balboa), Glenn McCready, Amy Madden (The Shivers, Adam Bomb, Jon Paris, Alan Merrill, Ricky Byrd & Deuces Wild). Tom Semioli: Interviewer / Writer. Mark Preston Director / Producer. Derek Hanlon: Cinematographer. Mark Polott: Editor.
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” 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!