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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Timeline and Trivia

May 3rd, 2008 · Comments Off on Timeline and Trivia

Musical Equipment Used

Elrick Gold Series SLC 6 String fretted and fretless basses, Modulus Basses (6 string fretted and fretless and 4 string fretted), a Rick Turner 5 String Renaissance ‘Amplicoustic’ fretless bass, two Aguilar SL112 cabinets and 2 Aguilar Tonehammer 350 amp heads, A Jule Monique Preampthe Looperlative LP1 for looping, Keith McMillen SoftStep controller and Quneo controller, MODDevices MOD Duo for processing, MXR, Darkglass, and Markbass overdrive pedals, a TC Electronics HOF mini Reverb and Flashback delay, Aguilar Overdrive, Fuzz, Compressor, Octave, Chorus, Filter and Preamp pedals, MXR Reverb, Sub Octave Bass Fuzz, Bass Distortion, Bass Chorus Deluxe, Bass Envelope Filter, Bass Preamp & Bass Fuzz Deluxe, Subdecay Vitruvian Mod ring modulator, Pedal Train pedal board an E-Bow+, Latch Lake and Dunlop slides, Dunlop Super Bright strings, East-UK preamps, Evidence Audio cables, GoGo tuners, 2 Korg Mini Kaoss Pad s and a MOTU Ultralite Mk III Hybrid. And I carry my basses around in SlickBag gig-bags.

Musical History

1986 – got a bass and joined first band
1988 – broke arm, kicked out of first band, formed second band (EARS) – played first gigs
1989 – GCSE Music, Grade C
1991 – AS Level Music, failed – fine at composition, not so hot on history… :o) Somehow got into music college in Perth, Scotland. Teaching as head of bass at West Lothian Rock School.
1993 – left college, moved to Lincoln, tour with Canadian singer/songwriter Johnny Markin. Gigs all over Europe, played on three albums.
1994-96 – working as a pro in Lincoln, teaching, studio and live session work.
1996 – moved to London, more session work, including TV, Radio and theatre work, more teaching.
1997-99 – teaching at Drumtech and Basstech, West London.
1997-2000 – freelance reviewer/interviewer/columnist/gadget guru for Bassist magazine in the UK.
1999 – Toured Europe with Howard Jones. First completely solo gigs in London.
2000 – Released And Nothing But The Bass on Pillow Mountain Records. More solo gigs around England.
2001 – 2 Solo tours of California, including headlining the world’s first solo bass looping festival, and tour with Michael Manring and Rick Walker. Clinics for Ashdown Amps and Modulus Basses. Solo gigs in France.
2002 – Another tour in California, Released Conversations, duo CD with Jez Carr, on Pillow Mountain Records, 2 Major tours of UK Theatres and concert halls supporting first the 21st Century Schizoid Band then Level 42. Two shows at the London Guitar Festival. National TV and local radio appearances in the UK. Featured in the Sunday Times Culture Section. Released second completely solo CD, Not Dancing For Chicken. NDFC picked as one of the best CDs of the year by Aural Innovations
2003 – four week solo tour of California, gigs with Michael Manring and David Friesen, including the Anaheim Bass Bash, featured interview in Euphoria magazine, and review of NDFC in Bass Player (Feb issue). New recordings with Theo Travis, BJ Cole and Patrick Wood for future release. Duo gigs with Theo Travis. Gig at the barbican with orphy robinson. Recording in France with Vigroux/Cury/Rives for upcoming release. first italian solo gig and recording session in august. Duo CD with Theo TravisThe Arts Show, alongside Jenny Eclair and Barry Cryer. Acclaimed appearances at The Detroit Bass Fest and European Bass Day. Gigs in US and UK with Muriel Anderson. A second tour in England with Michael Manring in November.
2005 – another year another NAMM show, followed by a few promo gigs with Michael Manring in California. Dates with pedal steel guitarist, BJ Cole, and recording and gigs with singer Cleveland Watkiss, as well as more UK dates, the Edinburgh Festival and a trip to Italy. Started monthly music night, Recycle Collective.
2006 – back to California, NAMM again and some more dates and another day-long masterclass, Recycle Collective continues to be one of the best live music nights out in London, and features musicians such as BJ Cole, Cleveland Watkiss, Orphy Robinson, Seb Rochford, Todd Reynolds, Jason Yarde, Andy Hamill, Patrick Wood, Leo Abrahams, Julie McKee, Andrea Hazell. UK tours with Theo Travis, Muriel Anderson and Ned Evett. 4th solo album, Behind Every Word, released on Pillow Mountain Records. Recording in Italy with guitarist Luca Formentini. New duo formed with singer Julie McKee, for the Edinburgh Fringe. European tour in October, including EuroBass Day and European Bass Day, as well as an electronica festival in Italy. Behind Every Word makes a number of end of year ‘best of 2006’ lists.
2007 – guess where it started? Yay, NAMM!! Bass-Bash, two days of masterclasses, Modulus clinics and gigs both solo and with Muriel Anderson and Vicki Genfan. Much fun. First New York show too. European tour with Lobelia, including first time visit to Frankfurt Musik Messe and gigs in Italy, Spain, Germany and Denmark, 7 week tour of the US, 24 states, 7000 miles. Gigs at Greenbelt festival with Lobelia, Sarah Masen and Ric Hordinski. Recycle Collective relaunched in September. Playing on one track on Luca Formentini’s album, Tacet. First Amsterdam and Geneva gigs in November. Released live EP with Lobelia in December. Recorded improv album with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds.
2008 – NAMM again, with Lobelia this time, playing the bass-bash and for Looperlative and Modulus. More California shows. Back to England, playing lots of ‘acoustic’ shows with Lobelia, London Solo Bass Night in March with Todd Johnson and Yolanda Charles, . Year ended with Lawson/Wood/Dodds album ‘Numbers’ released, and some LDW gig dates round London, followed by a whole string of house concert shows in England and the US with Lobelia. 2008 was also the year of social media – 10 years of running my music career online turning into a 2nd career teaching and consulting on how it all works, including Nokia flying me to Helsinki for their Open Lab, and working on the launch of Ucreative.tv at UCA in Rochester. Finished the year with a series of house concerts in the UK and the US with Lobelia..
2009 – …which continued into the new year on a trip that included a trip to NAMM, a masterclass at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a series of masterclasses in bass, looping and ‘social media for musicians’ in various people’s houses. But I did miss the bass-bash for the first time ever. Back to the UK for more bass masterclasses and other University-based projects around the future of the internet… look out for a new solo album at some point this year!
2010 – the first half was spent looking after our new born baby, but at the age of 6 months, we took him to the US for a 7 week, 6500 mile tour of house concerts, that took us from Brooklyn to Milwaukee, Massachusetts to Lake Charles Louisiana, via Texas, Tennessee and Ohio. Lo and I recorded a live album on the tour, featuring Todd Reynolds and Neil Alexander, and while in Louisiana I recorded TWO duo albums with Trip Wamsley, released in September. The end of the year featured a sold out London gig with Michael Manring, and speaking engagements in the UK and Berlin at grass roots music industry conferences. I also released another live album, celebrating the 10th anniversary of my debut album coming out.
2011 – first half of the year was focussed on getting my first new studio album in 5 years finished. 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything was released and followed by a 2 month, 8000 mile US tour, which included shows with Julie Slick, Trip Wamsley, Tiger Darrow, Steven Guerrero, Darren Michaels, Neil Alexander, Trevor Exter and Catherine Marie Charlton. The trip also included me guest-performing at Victor Wooten’s Music-Nature Camp, teaching a bass masterclass in Virginia, and Lobelia and I being the only overseas musicians to be booked to play at the first Wild Goose festival. Oh, and  I also co-produced, mixed and mastered Lobelia’s new record, Beautifully Undone. We started selling our music on USB Stick, which has proved v. popular. A move to Birmingham in the late summer promises all kinds of new opportunities.
2012 – the year started with the release of Believe In Peace, an all-improv solo record, recorded in Minneapolis. January continued with a return visit to NAMM, 12 shows in 12 days including duo shows with Julie Slick, Michael Manring and Daniel Berkman, a recording session with Steve Uccello and a playing-and-speaking gig at Stanford uni, as well as a masterclass at LA Music Academy. The shows with Julie, Michael and Daniel were all recorded, so mixing and mastering work on those took up a lot of the following months, as well as recording for Californian singer/songwriter Artemis. May saw the relaunch of Beyond Bass Camp, and the remastering of 11 Reasons… 2012 also saw the formation of #ToryCore – a project that coupled the evil words of the Tory govt with twisted avant garde metal. One of my favourite ever musical projects.
2013 – started with NAMM and another 8 shows with Daniel Berkman, and this time Artemis joined us on vocals at every gig. It was one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life to play with them both. Which is why a large chunk of the year was taken up mixing, mastering and releasing EVERY show we’d done up to that point. All 10 of ‘em. Went out to Frankfurt to the Musikmesse, more ToryCore shows & a few more gigs with Alvin Stardust depping for his regular bassist. Started teaching at Kidderminster College, and ended the year with a lovely joint tour with one of my favourite bassists – Yolanda Charles, and with a duo show with Andy Edwards on drums.
2014 – Another NAMM trip, 11 wonderful shows with Daniel and Artemis (part of a run of 14 shows in 13 days for me!). Just before NAMM I was invited to speak at the Microsoft Social Research Symposium in NYC, which was one of the most brilliant few days of my life. The duo project with Andy Edwards expanded to become ‘Andy, Steve + 1’ and we played a couple of gigs with Julie Slick, made an album with Murphy McCaleb and gigged with Jem Godfrey and Bryan Corbett – we have further projects planned. Played a super-lovely duo show with Briana Corrigan, ex-of The Beautiful South, whose solo work I’ve been a fan of for 20 years. I released a new solo album – What The Mind Thinks, The Heart Transmits. Playing at the London Bass Guitar Show and inviting Jon Thorne to join me on my set led to the release of that as a new album – Diversion. Towards the end of the year, I launched a new subscription service via Bandcamp, with the aim of finding a useful home for the epic amounts of music that I record and want to release…
2015 – NAMM in January, of course, plus a handful of lovely house concert shows with guitar genius Thomas Leeb. Released LEY Lines with Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek, the first new thing that my subscribers got, which Phi released for everyone else. Did the London Bass Guitar Show again, and had another of my bass heroes Ruth Goller agree to play with me. That was fun. Formed a duo with Divinity Roxx – hip hop, improv, songs, stories, all rolled in. We had a week of playing and did a first gig in Kidderminster. The duo with Jon Thorne was expanded to a trio with Rob Turner, of GoGo Penguin, that band sounds amazing! In September, I release two new solo albums – my first proper solo album releases since 11 Reasons in 2011. A Crack Where The Light Gets In and The Way Home were really well recieved, and got played on Late Junction. In October, I was the cover star on Bass Guitar Magazine, almost certainly the only self-managed, self-releasing, self-everything solo bassist to ever get there without an association with any other artist. Still can’t quite believe it. The mag cover coincided with a mini-tour with Jonas Hellborg – we had a wonderful time playing in Birmingham, London and Leeds, and hope to do a bigger tour ASAP. By the end of the year, I’d released 7 albums for Subscribers, all of which I’m immensely proud of! The year ended with the recording of a second album with Phi and Andy, to be released early in 2016. The year also featured a few more Torycore gigs – a thing that gets better every time we do it, and more vital, sadly.

Current Musical Projects

Solo gigs and recording -::- Duo with Divinity -::- trio with Jon Thorne and Rob Turner -::- trio with Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek -::- performance duo with painter Poppy Porter  -::-  Torycore.

trivia

favourite artists. – these days, it’s lots of singer/songwriters, and death metal bands. So, alternately, Bruce Cockburn, Cannibal Corpse, Jonatha Brooke, Cattle Decapitation, Joni Mitchell, Job For A Cowboy, Paul Simon, Entombed, Emily Baker, White Empress, The Blue Nile, Soulfly, Nik Kershaw, Ihsahn…

Along side that, a bunch of other things – Hope & Social, Bill Frisell, D’Angelo, David Torn, Let Spin, Michael Manring, DJ Krush, Throwing Muses, Coltrane, Kristin Hersh, 70s Miles, Beauty Pill, Janet Feder, Jon Gomm, Kenny Wheeler, Trish Clowes, Divinity Roxx, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, J Dilla, De La Soul, Terje Rypdal, KT Tunstall, The Pixies, The Cure…

top 10 (or so) favourite(ish) albums

bass influences – Current favourites are Tony Levin, Ruth Goller, Michael Manring, Julie Slick and Matthew Garrison but there are literally hundreds. I suppose, in roughly chronological order, those players that have influenced me the most would be – John Taylor (Duran), Nick Beggs (Kajagoogoo/Iona), Chris Squire (Yes), Simon Gallup (The Cure), Pino Pallidino (everyone, but especially the D’Angelo stuff), Doug Pinnick (King’s X), Ewan Vernal (Deacon Blue), Steve Swallow, Abraham Laboriel, Jaco Pastorius, Scott LaFaro, Freddie Washington, Bernard Edwards (Chic), Ray Brown, Jonas Hellborg, Family Man Barratt (The Wailers), Verdine White (EW & F), Tommy Simms, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Jimmy Haslip, Danny Thompson, Eberhard Weber, Mike Rivard, Marc Johnson, Kermitt Driscoll, Mo Foster, Todd Johnson, Doug Wimbish, Yolanda Charles, Trip Wamsley, Divinity,  and loads more.

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The first interview I ever did for Bassist magazine…

September 20th, 2007 · Comments Off on The first interview I ever did for Bassist magazine…

Long time visitors to the website will know that I used to have a complete archive of everything I ever wrote for the late lamented Bassist Magazine. From the middle of 97 to about 2000, I was one of their main contributors, writing interviews, gear reviews and two columns – the gadget guru and bluffer’s guide to jazz.

Via archive.org I recently found stored versions of all the articles again, so I’ll start reproducing some of them here over the next few weeks. – we’ll start with the first interview I ever did for them, with ‘Ready’ Freddie Washington, who was in London playing at Wembley Stadium with Michael Jackson… this one is of particular note because my dictaphone didn’t work, and I had to write the whole interview from memory – I took it to Freddie at the gig to get him to check that I hadn’t misquoted him. He changed two things – both of which were direct quotes from his bio!

anyway, here it is – enjoy!


If you’ve ever experienced the ‘Ready Freddie groove’, whether live or on one of the hundreds of albums he’s played on, then you’ll understand only too well why Freddie Washington has been a first call session player for nearly 20 years. With a CV that includes many of the biggest names in soul, funk, pop, blues, country and just about any other style that you’d care to mention, Freddie’s credits read like a greatest hits of the ’80s and ’90s. From Lionel Richie to B.B. King, Anita Baker to Whitney Houston, and George Benson to Kenny Rogers, Freddie’s laid down his trademark lines with all of them, spreading the Gospel of Groove whenever he picks up his bass.

Freddie’s latest gig is holding down the bass chair on Michael Jackson’s HIStory tour, and while in the UK, Freddie took time out to present clinics in London and Birmingham, sponsored by SWR and The Bass Centre, and it was before the London show that Bassist caught up with Freddie for a chat.

So, what exactly is the ‘Ready Freddie groove’, then?

“Well, I feel the pulse of the song in half time, which gives it a much more laid back feel. In the clinics I always point out that I have technique, but I’m not a technical player. I focus in on the groove and then work with that rather than against it. Every style of music has to have its groove, whether it’s soul, funk, fusion, pop or whatever, and that’s what I focus on – the groove.”

Freddie’s path to becoming a full fledged ambassador of the groove began when he was in the eighth grade at school, in his home town of Oakland, California.

“I started playing when I was 14, and took bass lessons at school. I played upright in the school big band and orchestra and that’s where I got my classical training and learned to read. When I was in the tenth grade, I attended the U.C. Berkley summer music program for some further training and was practising like mad, day and night.”

How did you make the jump from the summer school to taking up bass professionally?

“About the time that I was finishing school, Herbie Hancock was looking for a bassist to replace Paul Jackson, Herbie had auditioned a lot of players but wasn’t happy with any of them. So he asked James Levi, his drummer, if he could recommend anyone and James said ‘There’s this kid in Oakland I think you should hear.’ I’d known James for years, so I got the call and Herbie liked what he heard and hired me.”

The Hancock gig lasted for several years and Freddie cut three albums with the band before moving to LA to further his session career. That was in the early ’80s just as synth bass was moving onto the scene. Wasn’t it a little worrying for a ‘real’ bass player?

“Not really. I don’t think I ever felt threatened by synth bass, I just learned to work with it. A lot of the sessions had electric doubling the synth line and as my thing has always been the groove and I had worked hard on my timing when I was studying as a kid, I have never had a problem doubling synth lines and taking that programmed feel and making it groove. That’s also where playing 5-string is so necessary. Synth bass goes down to a low Bb so you need the low B to be able to compete. I first got a 5 string right after doing Anita Baker’s ‘Rapture’ and I’ve used it on most of the work I’ve done since.

“With Michael Jackson, It’s a real mix. Sometimes I’m doubling synth lines, sometimes playing synth bass and I even pull out my old Precision for the Motown set. When you’re doubling keyboard bass, you don’t have to just follow the synth line, you can work with it and develop it – that’s one of the things I like to demonstrate at the clinics.”

The Michael Jackson tour must be every session player’s dream. How did that come about?

“I was actually first up for the gig in the late ’80s, so it’s been a possibility for about 10 years. When the call came in this time, I was working with Kenny Loggins, so I think they had a little difficulty getting hold of me. When I eventually got to the phone I was told that Michael’s guitarist, David Williams, who’s been a friend for years, had recommended me, so I went up and met the musical director, and they offered me the gig and gave me the tapes to learn the set. I went home and talked it over with my family, because it’s a long time to be away, but my wife Annette is really supportive so I decided to do it.

“This is my first time out on the road since ’84, and that was only three months with Patrice Rushen, but I’m really enjoying it. I’ve always loved playing live and I see that as being where I get a lot of my new ideas from. If you spend all your time in the studio, you could get sort of stale, but when I’m out playing live, I get inspired and then take a load of fresh ideas into the studio with me.”

What about the clinics?

“This clinic tour is sponsored by SWR and we tried it out in New Zealand and Australia, where it went so well we decided to put them on in Europe as well. So far they’ve been really well received. This is my first clinic tour, but with the profile of Michael’s tour it seemed the right time to do it. I’ve been using SWR gear for over 10 years, both live and in the studio, so I approached them about sponsoring the clinics and they were all for it. I guess when I’m up there at the clinics with a room full of bassists, playing and talking about what I do, that’s really where it’s at for me. I always joke that I haven’t worked in 20 years, I’ve been having fun. I don’t think bass playing will ever be work for me. It gets me excited. I love to do it because it brings me joy. It’s overwhelming. It’s just a great part of my life. And doing the clinics is really the result of 20 years of having fun. I’m really grateful to everyone who comes out to the clinics and I like to stay around and talk afterwards.”

Indeed he does. Freddie was signing autographs and chatting to people for 45 minutes after the clinic at London’s Bass Centre, giving his time and full attention to everyone that came to say hello. The clinic itself was largely a question and answer session, with Freddie fielding questions on every area of his career, from the highly appreciative audience. Freddie also demonstrated a few tunes including Patrice Rushen’s huge hit Forget-Me-Nots, which he co-wrote and is currently being giving a fresh airing as the title track to the Will Smith film, Men In Black. The movie version features Smith’s reworked lyrics but still uses the original rhythm track, which showcases Freddie’s patented groove-tastic slap ‘n’ pop workout.

Freddie also demonstrated Smooth Criminal from the current Jacko show, slapping the sixteenth note line in unison with the synth with such precision that you’d have thought he was tracking himself with a MIDI pickup – if there had been a single effect in sight. If anyone was under any illusion that this man is a one-trick slap monster, that was put to rest with his unaccompanied demonstration of the ‘Ready Freddie Groove’ that had everyone tapping their feet and swaying despite the absence of a drummer.

So which drummers have best tuned into the ‘Ready Freddie groove’?

” That’s a hard one as I’ve played with so many great drummers. I think one of my favourites would have to be Steve Gadd. When we get together it’s like a machine. We play like one big unit, just locked into the groove. I also love to play with Ricky Lawson and Bernard Purdie. And Jeff Porcaro was one of the all-time great groove players.”

In the early years, was it ever intimidating going into the studio with these legendary drummers?

” I don’t think I ever felt intimidated by them. I mean, I knew they were great players but also that we were both there to do a job and I had the confidence to get in and do it. My attitude has always been to be totally into whatever it is that I’m playing at the time. If I’m doing a country session, I want to sound like I was born to play country. And if I’m playing blues, I want you to think that that’s all I know how to play. I just did a blues album with Bozz Scaggs, and blues is such a gut level thing that it’s all about feel. That’s why I love blues so much; it’s a total feel thing.”

After the HIStory tour, what next?

” When I get off this tour in September, I would like to do my own record. I have a studio at home and I’d like to start doing some more writing for the solo album. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, after having written for other people, like Forget-Me-Nots for Patrice, and Someone For Me which was on Whitney Houston’s first album.”

With Freddie having been on tour for so long, Bassist wondered whether or not the calls for session work dry up . At this point Annette, Freddie’s wife, interjects.

“Even when Freddie’s away, the ‘phone never stops ringing. Mostly they want to know when he’s going to be back so they can book him for then. Freddie gets booked because he can play whatever is asked of him but also because he’s good to have around, and that counts for a lot.”

“That’s right,” Freddie adds. “For any gig you need to have all the skills to do whatever’s asked of you. That’s why it’s important to learn to read and to play by ear, and also to develop your sound so that when you play, it’s you that they hear – that what’s inside of you comes out in what you play.”

Which players influenced your sound when you were starting?

“When I was growing up, there was Motown, with all the James Jamerson lines, though no-one knew who he was back then, and there were all the James Brown bassists, as well as Larry Graham with Sly Stone and Graham Central Station. I used to play along with a lot of their records. Larry was a big influence. When he started doing all the popping it was like, whoah! I recently bought some of the Graham Central Station CD reissues in Japan and hearing them again now after more than twenty years, his playing still sounds amazing! Willie Weeks was another big influence, his playing with Donnie Hathaway was awesome. And Chuck Rainey, he could be so busy but under it all there was this huge groove holding it all together. I knew Paul Jackson, who was in Herbie Hancock’s band before me, when I was growing up. I had his old amp in my loft to practice through, and knowing him meant that there was no sense of being overawed by taking his place in Herbie’s band.

“All the great players have their own voice on the instrument. Here in Britain you have Pino Paladino, who I met while doing Michael McDonald’s ‘Blink of An Eye’ album. He’s a brilliant player and has his own sound, you immediately know it’s Pino on a track. I met Jaco Pastorius around ’79-’80, and he was really cool. He showed me a thing or two, and I really liked his style but I never tried to copy him. His sound was him and as I said, I’ve always had my own sound, from really early on as a player. If you compare my sound now with when I was with Herbie there will be some differences because the technology has changed but the essential sound is still the same because it’s in my hands.”

On stage Freddie is the consummate professional; offstage he’s friendly, approachable and obviously totally loves his job and is a delight to meet. For those who were at the clinic, it was a night to remember, and for those who weren’t, one to regret.

‘ Thanks to Nick and Martin at the Bass Centre for setting up the interview.

The HIStory Show.

The British leg of the Michael Jackson tour was four dates long, with one show in Sheffield and an astounding three nights at Wembley arena. Bassist went to the final Wembley show and witnessed Freddie demonstrating the kind of professionalism and versatility that he had talked about at the clinic. Being the HIStory tour, the set included material from every stage of Michael’s career, from I Want You Back up to Blood On The Dancefloor, including plenty of tunes from ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad’. Freddie played his Ken Smith 5-string for the lion’s share of the material, but switched to a Precision for the Motown set and played synth bass on Thriller, Billy Jean and Blood On The Dancefloor, Freddie’s bass, along with Jonathan Moffett’s bass drum, shook the whole stadium especially on the bass-heavy Earth Song and slap-happy Smooth Criminal. It’s just a shame that the huge venue meant the band was barely visible at the back of the stage and even Michael was just a manic dot on the horizon. Most of the evening was spent watching the not-so-giant screens, which focused on Michael and the dancers, so clear views of Freddie were few and far between.

Though a tad tasteless at times (Michael refusing to move from in front of a tank? Do me a favour!) the whole show was spectacular, for those of us tall enough to see it. The vertically challenged members of the audience had to make do with seeing the top third of the video screens with brief glimpses of Michael when he swung over the crowd on a crane.

Tags: bass ideas · journalism · Musing on Music

All change!

July 19th, 2007 · Comments Off on All change!

….bass strings, that is! It’s been two years since I changed the strings on my fretless 6, so today was the day for a change. And while I was at it, I took the flatwound strings off my fretted 6, and put roundwounds on. The reason? Due to my having been on tour for 18 weeks of this year so far with nothing but a 6 string fretless bass, I can now play all the stuff I do on the fretted on the fretless. I’ve got a live recording of Jimmy James (probably the single hardest part to play on the fretless of all my tunes) that we recorded in Nebraska that’ll be on the live album, and it sounds great.

So, that means I can try something different on the fretted bass, so I’ve put twangy roundwound strings on (still Bass Centre Elites – I’ve been using the same brand of strings for about 14 or 15 years now…) and it sounds and feels really different.. and great! Should be fun seeing what comes out when I start writing for it…

Need to do the four string fretted tomorrow, when I can find the strings for it in amongst the craziness of my room…

Tags: Musing on Music

three line whip for london bassists… don't miss this.

November 22nd, 2006 · Comments Off on three line whip for london bassists… don't miss this.

OK, a few of you will have already had me bending your ear about how you HAVE to go and see Seth Horan at the Bass Centre. But for the rest of you, click on his name there and head over and have a listen – he’s an electric bass playing singer/songwriter, of extraordinary talent. Think male Ani DiFranco on a bass. It’s not wanky bass nonsense, it’s great singer/songwriter material that happens to involve some seriously great bass playing. There’ll be more details on the bass centre site soon, I hope, and there’s a thread about it over at bassworld.co.uk.

In fact, that week is a great bass week in london – cos on Monday 4th John Lester has his ‘So Many Reasons’ album launch at the 606 in Chelsea, and I’ll be sitting in on that gig (which will also have John on bass, and Andy Hamill on bass!), and then on Thursday 7th, I’m playing at The Enterprise in Chalk Farm, opening for BJ Cole and Emily Burridge, and will no doubt do some playing with them as well! So, set aside that as bass week, and go to all three!

Tags: Musing on Music

How Music Gear Endorsements Work…

October 7th, 2006 · 4 Comments

It’s one of those perennial questions on bass forums and in emails I get – how do you get an endorsement deal with a bass company? The latest endorsement related discussion revolved around a very friendly chap on on of the bass forums I post on sending me a message to say he was friendly with the owners of a particular company and could put in a word for me for an endorsement deal with them.

Which was very nice buy wholly unnecessary, given that

  • a) I knew the company owner already,
  • b) don’t really like what they make b) wouldn’t switch from what I’m using now just because I was offered lots of money (something that’s really not going to happen to a player in my position) and
  • c) LOVE the stuff I’m using.

Let’s make it clear, getting paid to play someone’s particular product is very rare indeed. Becoming a demonstrator happens occasionally to lesser known players, but that’s just a job like any other – it’s not really a perk, more a cool job. It involves a lot of work, and usually pretty grueling sessions at trade shows. There’s rarely a retainer, and the rate of pay is pretty good, usually, but certainly not something most people could live on…

The Big Boys (probably about 5-10 of them in the world) are on a retainer – signature product sales often incur a royalty for the person whose name is on the front, and there are all kinds of deals struck to get HUGE name players using the gear, which range from split ad campaigns (promoting the gear and the artist’s new album) through to high profile clinic tours that follow the band’s tour, and even stands at arena shows for the company.

Next down are those that get instruments – these are rarely ‘free’, even if you don’t pay for them. They are in exchange for promotional services. They are usually there because the company in question can’t really afford to pay what you’re worth for clinics and appearances and being in ads, so instead they give you gear, which is worth a lot more in hard cash terms to you than it is to them. So I’ve had a few bits of free gear, and in exchange they get the exposure for me using the gear on clinics and masterclasses… it’s more of an acknowledgement thing for what actually happens – my students get to see the gear cos it’s what I play through…

When I left my previous amp deal, and started using AccuGroove, I was offered ‘deals’ of sorts with a host of companies. It was rather nice being courted (no one actually phoned me to schmooze me, but it happened to be around the time of a couple of trade shows and at those trade shows, word got round that I was no longer using the amp I had been using, and I was told by the owners and A & R people from about 6 companies that they would like to ‘work with me’. One of them offered a paid position as demo guy as well. Most of them were much higher profile than AccuGroove, but all had one thing in common – they didn’t get close to the sound I was looking for in my new rig. I knew it had to be stereo and MUCH higher fidelity than it was before. Add to that that I already knew the AccuGroove guys and was friends with them, knew what their speakers could do, I decided to go with quality and friendship over (potential) money and exposure.

Is this because I’m some kind of puritan? No, it’s as much a longer term commercial decision as it is one of ‘integrity’. The guys on the high dollar deals with companies that mass produce cheap crap in China tend to switch fairly often – when someone comes along offering more money, they jump ship, and every time they do, their reputation slides just that little bit further. If I was play in a Nu Metal band to 10s of thousands of people a night, that wouldn’t really filter through, the kidz would just go out and buy the new signature bass and all would be happy.

However, if you’re a solo bassist, you tend to be scrutinised more by the tech-heads. I got loads of emails when I changed my amp set up, asking me what was wrong with the old one, people who’d bought the old one because of me, and wondering if they’d make a mistake etc. The geeks were watching, and I realised that if I was changing every 18 months or so, my credibility was going to disappear pretty damn quick.

So I went with the one that offered me the best possible sound. To get any better, I’d have to go to the pro audio world, and start using studio monitors on stage. Problem with that is, they’d be WAY too heavy, and far too fragile. There genuinely is nothing that could do what I’m doing with these speakers. The nearest direct comparison would be PA companies like Mackie and JBL, but they both tend to optimise their speakers for vocal projection, sacrificing low end and tonal sweetness. They work fine as PAs, not so great as bass amps.

Same with Modulus – I’ve been playing a Modulus bass for over 13 years, the only non-Modulus bass I’ve owned (still own) in that time is my Rick Turner, and their instruments do just about everything I need them to do. They like what I do, I love what they do, and the relationship is mutually agreeable. Add to that that Modulus are, as far as I’m aware, the only bass building company who are striving to use 100% independently certified eco-friendly wood, and you’ve got yourself a match made in bass heaven. it’s the same all the way round.

So if you’re thinking about such things, have a bit of a profile and something to offer a company, my advice would be to forge a friendship with the people who make the gear that you LOVE, rather than just trying to schmooze the A and R people at companies that take out huge ads in magazines.

For the record, the companies that I have some kind of ‘deal’ with [as of Oct 7 2006] are:
AccuGroove Speakers
Modulus Basses
Looperlative
East UK Preamps
Bass Centre Elites Strings
Evidence Audio cables

Tags: Music News

Chuck Rainey's clinic…

September 25th, 2006 · Comments Off on Chuck Rainey's clinic…

What a fun night out that was! The Bass Centre hosted another great clinic last night (as I mentioned on the blog on Saturday) – Chuck Rainey played and sang, but more than that told stories from years in the business. Some great lil’ stories about working with Quincy Jones and Aretha Franklin, Lalo Schiffrin and Ricky Lee Jones… An entertaining storyteller and a great bassist, it made for a great night out (though I’m still not that convinced by the PJB amps he’s playing through – I’m just SO spoiled by the AccuGroove cabinets that genuinely, very few things ever even get close…)

Anyway, ’twas a great night out – at the end after the clinic, Chuck, Barry Moorhouse (bass centre owner), Phil Jones (who makes the amps) and I sat round, hearing all the stories that couldn’t make it into the clinic itself. Most entertaining!

It’s also great to hear a 67 year old bassist who’s still trying new things – he only switched from 4 string to 6 string bass when he was 60… so there’s hope for all of us!

I’ve also got a better idea now of what the hell he’s playing on ‘Woody And Dutch…’ from Ricky Lee Jones’ ‘Pirates’ album.

These nights at the Bass Centre are such a gift for bassists, and the next one is going to be BRILLIANT – Seth Horan is coming to do a night, hosted by Warwick. Seth’s a singer/songwriter/solo bassist from the US – an amazing songwriter, great bassist and marvellous performer, you SO don’t want to miss that (and it’s one that you can take your girlfriend/boyfriend to without fear of them getting bored shitless by endless bass noodling – he actually writes songs… no, really, actual songs – who’d have thought it?) I think that one is on December 8th – I’ll confirm that as soon as I’ve got the details. Til then, go and have a listen to some of Seth’s songs on his MySpace page, then get the CDs – both Conduit and NotWithStanding are worth £10 of anyone’s money.

Tags: Musing on Music

Chuck Rainey at the Bass Centre tomorrow…

September 23rd, 2006 · Comments Off on Chuck Rainey at the Bass Centre tomorrow…

how I’ve only just heard about this is anyone’s guess, but legendary bassist Chuck Rainey is doing a clinic at the Bass Centre in London tomorrow.

Chuck’s one of the all-time greats, played on God-knows-how-many unbelievable records, and should be great value. Tickets are a fiver.

See you there!

Tags: Random Catchup

Marcus Miller at The Bass Centre

July 3rd, 2006 · Comments Off on Marcus Miller at The Bass Centre

Got an email last week from the lovely Nick at the Bass Centre telling me about the Marcus Miller clinic they were hosting last night.

The Bass Centre normally hold their clinics in the shop, but the take-up for the clinic was far to high, and they moved it to a local pub. I’ve chatted about this with a few people, and other than Victor Wooten, can’t think of any other band-leader/bassists that would draw that kind of crowd for a clinic. Even big names like Doug Wimbish, who did the last Bass Centre clinic, can’t compete with that…

The pub was packed, and Marcus played a handful of tunes (starting out with Run For Cover, a tune from David Sanborn’s album Voyeur that I haven’t heard since I was at college!) and answered questions. His natural sense of humour and passion for music comes across really well in this kind of setting, and the audience lapped up every demonstration.

These kind of events are always a great chance to catch up with friends, meet other bassists, and generally hang out with bass-people. this was no exception – the guys from the Bass Centre, Alex from The Gallery, Steve Davis, Mike Brookes, John East…

The gig was organised by Fender with the Bass Centre, and Fender UK’s AR head is an old friend from Ashdown days, Hoda – I so rarely get to see Hoda, he’s a v. busy man, so getting a chance to catch up was fab. The other lovely surprise was bumping into Pris from Holland – she helped organise the UK Bass Day last year, and is on tour with Marcus’ band doing merch.

Come the end of the night, Hoda, Pris, Marcus, BeBe (sp?) and I hadn’t eaten, and where else is there to go from the Bass Centre but over to Brick Lane for a curry – Chutney’s did the business, and much lovely food and chat was to be had. Then, like Bruce Cockburn in the song ‘Coldest Night Of The Year’ I ‘drove all the people home, I was the one with the car’.

A fun evening all round.

Tags: Musing on Music

London Guitar Show

May 7th, 2006 · Comments Off on London Guitar Show

I have a love/hate relationship with music trade shows. On the one hand, I hate the noise, the nasty conference centres, the being bombarded with information about stuff I really don’t want. I hate the idea that’s being sold that it’s possible to tell how good a particular guitar/bass/amp is in a room with an ambient noise level of 90dB.

But on the other hand, it’s a lovely chance to catch up with some friends I don’t get to see too often, occasionally it’s nice to check out some new toys, and very occasionally to hear some nice music.

Today scored pretty well on the friends front – always nice to see Nick Owen (used to work in the bass centre, now doing sessions and stuff, and working part time for House Music), and Dave Marks doing his demo thang for The Guitar Institute. Bernie Goodfellow was there as always, and he had Laurence Cottle demoing on his stand. Davide Mantovani was demoing for MarkBass – I hadn’t seen Davide in ages so ’twas v. nice to catch up with him. And then there’s Steve Harvey and the rest of the crowd from Bass Guitar Magazine.

On top of that it’s the one day in the year when I actually get recognised by anyone – having demoed at previous incarnations of the show for Bassist and Guitarist Magazines, as well as for previous gear sponsors, I’ve been seen around at these shows for quite a while, so get to let people know what I’m up to who otherwise don’t get to find out.

On the new music gear front, my purchase this year was very pedestrian but v. useful – a new music stand. All those of you reading this who study with me will know just how shitty my old music stand is. So there’ll be a lovely sparkly new one here for us to use at your next lesson. Yay!

I spent a total of less than four hours at the show, and was exhausted by the end of it. How do I ever cope with NAMM each year??? Actually, I think the fact that all the floors at NAMM are carpeted has a big impact – soaks up the sound and makes it a lot easier on your feets.

Tags: Music News

Buying cheap basses…

April 15th, 2006 · 3 Comments

I know, you’re on a limited budget and the offer of a new bass for £85 is just too tempting. So you hit buy it now, and hope it’s playable when it arrives. That’s if you’ve got any notion of what ‘playable’ is anyway.

The proliferation of cheap import basses from the far east has led to loads of them turning up on internet shopping sites, lots of them shipped from outside the UK at prices that no high street retailer can match. And why? Because your local music shop has a legal obligation to guarantee that the bass works, that it’s OK, and that it’ll still work in a few months time.

The first thing to go when the price of manufacturing instruments drops that low is quality control. The parts are sourced cheaply in massive bulk, assembled in an OK way, but very few are ever taken out of the process for being faulty – they’re just patched up and put through with the rest of them. Quality varies massively, and if you buy online, you’ve no way on earth of knowing what you’re getting. If you go to any music shop and try out all their cheap basses, they’ll vary a lot in sound and feel. Some will play like a bass worth double the price on the headstock, others like they aren’t fit for firewood.

If you go to your local music shop and spend an extra few quid, try a few basses out, and check what your guarantee is, in the long run I GUARANTEE you’ll save money. No question. You’ll also benefit by buying a reputable make – not only in quality but resale value should you ever get rid of it. Go to The Bass Centre, or The Gallery, or even Sound Control/Musical Xchanges etc. – any well stocked shop, try a few out, and ask as many questions as you like, but don’t get hung up on the extra £25 you spend in the shop. It’s all about the Value Added.

Tags: Musing on Music