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Lee Sklar interview from Bassist Mag, Oct 99

February 3rd, 2008 · 2 Comments

One of my favourite things about going out to NAMM each January is getting to see Lee Sklar – if you’re a bass player you obviously already know who he is. If you’re not a bassist, you might recognise Lee as the guy that played bass with James Taylor and Phil Collins who looks like the Farside version of God.

He’s a bona fide bass legend, has defined how the rest of us approach playing with singer/songwriters, but has covered so many other styles, including playing on Billy Cobham’s classic fusion record, Spectrum.

Interviewing Lee back in 99 was a real pleasure, and an honour, and since then we’ve become friends, and always catch up for a chat a NAMM. He’s on tour with Toto at the moment – if you go and see them play and get to say hi after the show, please pass on my best!

here’s the interview – enjoy!

—o0o—

Lee Sklar Interview

(Reproduced from the October 1999 issue of Bassist Magazine)

Few faces are as instantly recognisable within the bass world as Lee Sklar. The same is definitely true of his playing. With more than 30 years and 2000 albums behind him, Lee’s sound has graced more hit records than almost anyone.

Aside from being a hired gun, Lee is best known for his long standing musical relationships with Phil Collins and James Taylor. Indeed, it was the gig with James that proved to be Lee’s ticket into music full time back in the late 60s.

“I was in a lot of local bands in LA, including a band called Wulfgang,” recalls Lee. “James auditioned as the singer but wasn’t what we were looking for – we needed someone somewhere between Sam ‘n’ Dave and Robert Plant! James blew me away but just wasn’t right.

“About a year later, James asked me to do a gig, which I immediately agreed to. We did two gigs at one venue – the first was before ‘Fire and Rain’ and the place was so empty you could drive a truck through it. At the second show, the place was packed, and we knew we were onto something! So a gig which initially looked like being one or two shows ended up being 20 years.”

So was it working with James that opened the door to session work?

“Yeah. It’s funny, I’ve always considered myself a band guy. I was an art student in college and I still think I’m a better sculpture than musician. Music was just a weekend hobby – I had no intention of becoming a studio musician. I was really shocked when I started getting calls to play on people’s records.”

Unlike many bassists, it’s impossible to label the one kind of music that you get called for – your CV is so diverse. How did that come about?

“I don’t really know – I feel really fortunate to have just got the calls! I guess that once I came to the realisation that I was a studio musician, I discovered that the most essential aspect is having really wide ears, embracing all styles.”

Has that always been your approach?

“Not at all! I started playing classical piano at four years old and was still a complete classical music snob when I started studying upright bass – all orchestral stuff. I wasn’t into Elvis or the Beach Boys – I was into Gershwin and Copeland. It was a different world. Then the first time I heard the Beatles’I was an usher at the Hollywood Bowl the first time they played there – Paul changed my life! (laughs)

“When I got into the studio scene, I found myself getting all kinds of calls. One minute I’m doing Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman’, and the next thing I know I’m doing ‘Spectrum’ with Billy Cobham. The calls would come in and I’d just look at everything as a challenge.

Have you ever turned down a session?

“Occasionally – I’ve had a huge amount of wrist injuries, so I can’t play thumb-popping (slap) style – I don’t have the dexterity to deal with it. So when people call me to do that, I put them in touch with friends I have – I’d rather see other guys working, and I’ll just come hang out.

“I also don’t play upright anymore. I was doing a project where I was using a Washburn 5 string fretless to get an upright sound, but they had a couple of songs where they wanted real upright and I said ‘call Patitucci’ – it was when he was still living in LA – and I went down and hung out at the sessions with John.

“I’ve always tried to understand my limitations so I try to find out ahead of time what they want on the session. The one main thing I’ve cultivated is a real sensitivity to singer/songwriters. I know how to accompany, and how to listen to a person breathe to hear where the down beat is – to never try to lead them. I’m really comfortable on that seat – I’ve never considered myself a virtuoso. It’s like going to the NAMM show and listening to all the guys with the monstrous chops – I’ve never considered myself that. I’m happy when people say I’m ‘king of the whole note’ – I really value that position as a bass player. I’ve done fusion, but I like being an accompanist.”

From a listener’s point of view, it sounds like you spot the holes, and never play across the vocal?

“I think it just requires listening and one of the problems that a lot of players have is that they don’t listen. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the tenacity that it takes to develop NAMM show chops – you see all these guys that have these different gifts and it’s fantastic. But I’m just one of these people that if I’m doing a recording and they ask for a bass solo I say I’d rather hear another song in that space, and I’ve heard some of the greatest soloists in the world play. I can enjoy it for a bit but I’m really a song person – maybe an element of it is laziness on my part. I grew up in an era where you were hired as an accompanist, even if you were doing a metal project. I really believe in the song.”

I assume that that sets producers at ease?

“Not only the producer, but I often get hired because the artist feels like they’re going to be comfortable with the extra room to breath. Guys get so used to ‘time’ that they don’t really understand that you can have a beautiful pause before a verse, because you’re human! Don’t do all your training with a metronome, try to understand what it is to really feel a song. Don’t be afraid to leave that kind of space. That’s what I’ve always liked about Asian thinking, the importance of space, allowing things not to be there.

“I did a clinic at the Bass Centre in LA a few years ago, and it scared the crap out of me. I only agreed to it as a non-playing clinic – most of the guys there were sleeping with their basses and waking up and playing them – that’s what I was like at that age, too. Anyway, they got to talking about how boring it must be to play country cos there’s not much going on. And I said a whole note is much more difficult to do than 32nd notes, which only demands proficiency. If someone gives you one note to do in a bar, there’s a whole lot more responsibility – where do you drop that note? Do you put a little vibrato on it? Which string do you play it on for tonal quality? When do you lift off? Do you mute it with your hand? They were all looking at me saying ‘geez we just thought it was boring!’

After so many tours and albums, do you still have any unfulfilled ambitions?

“I would like to get back and start sculpting again. I haven’t done it for a long time now, just because the music has occupied such a large part of my life. I’m going to be 52 years old this year, and you’d think at this point in my life that maybe things will start to slow down but I’m still as busy as ever! I’ve been working with artists from Mexico, Japan, Thailand and France; I’m musical director on a TV show, I’ve got sessions coming up with Barbra Streisand. It’s amazing to me that I’m still getting all these calls. My ambition is just to keep doing what I do. I just really enjoy getting up and going to work and playing with guys that I like playing with. That and enjoying my home life – my family, my pets, my garden, building cars. I feel like a big pie, and music is a slice of the pie but not the whole pie. It impacts everything else I do, but I don’t have to be playing every day to feel I’m a valuable person.”

In Defense Of REAL Musicians!

After 30 years in the industry, having seen recording technology blossom from the days when a four track was state of the art to what we have now – how has that changed it for players like yourself?

“Firstly, I’m all in favour of technology – I don’t want to be living in the stone age – but one of the biggest problems with technology is that it’s become so good that it’s allowed people into this business that should never have been in it. With Pro-Tools and such like, you’ve got singers that can’t sing to save their lives and engineers whose whole careers are spent tuning bad singers. You’ve got a drummer with no time, so you move the beat. As far as I’m concerned if the guy doesn’t swing, fire him – let him serve french fries in McDonald’s, but don’t let him get in a studio, because there are too many great players trying to get into that seat. That aspect of technology I find really disconcerting.

“Every once in a while I work on things and I feel like I’m in the old days. We got so used to that – going into sessions with Jim Gordon, or Jim Keltner and the pocket was so strong! Everything was based on ensemble playing, whereas nowadays, at least half the work I do, I’m just overdubbing to sequenced bass and they want it to feel natural, but you’re already handcuffed by the fact that this was done to a sequencer and they want you to make it breath a little bit and I think: why don’t they just put a rhythm section together and do this???? People are afraid – they want to keep as much control and money as they can, and are afraid to let a bunch of guys come in and actually play something. I’ve worked with people and we’ve had to make their records that way and suddenly we’ll do a gig and the first time the band plays the song it’s a hundred times better than the record and they’re wondering why! It’s because we’re all putting personality into the tunes.”

Lee’s gear

Working in such diverse situations requires quite a few different tools – here’s a list of the current Sklar arsenal [current as of Oct 99!] –

1. A Fender(ish) 4 string bass – “It has Charvel alder body, two EMG P-Bass pickups in Jazz position, but reversed, a Badass Bridge, a Hipshot D-Tuner, and mandolin fretwork.”
2 Dingwall 5-string “bitchin’!”
3 Yamaha TRB5 fretless
4 Washburn AB45(s?) acoustic fretless
5 Tubeworks DI
6 Euphonic Audio 2×8″ and 2×10″ speaker cabs.
7 Walter Woods amp
8 GK 1200 combo amp
9 Boss Octave pedal (‘my rack consists of this one pedal!’)
10 GHS Super Steel Strings 40-102.

That’s a fair amount of gear, but as the man says – “It’s still the same old me at the helm so what the hell!?”

Tags: journalism

Amazing bass tuition opportunity in the UK…

January 28th, 2008 · Comments Off on Amazing bass tuition opportunity in the UK…

Here’s a bit of a heads up for you UK bass-heads – have a look at bassmasterclass.com – it’s a new venture by a very resourceful chap called Kofi Boafo, who is running a series of weekend bass masterclasses, starting with one that I have great pleasure in recommending – Todd Johnson – Todd is THE ONLY person I’ve had a bass lesson from in the last 15 years, since I left music college. I heard Todd play in a trio with Jimmy Haslip at NAMM in about 2002 and was blown away by his jazz knowledge and ability to comp chords and walk bass at the same time. Since then, he’s put out a gorgeous record with singer/bassist Kristin Korb and a series of fantastic DVDs on beginning jazz walking bass. He’s great, he’s a lovely man, and is a born teacher.

I’m in discussions at the moment about some StevieClasses in the near future, but for now, you REALLY should go and see the site check out the stuff about the 40% discount (!!) for Todd’s weekend, and go and be inspired. He’s great. Seriously.

Tags: Uncategorized

California part II

January 27th, 2008 · Comments Off on California part II

NAMM was over as soon as it began. It was definitely one of my favouritest NAMM shows ever. Getting to play all the Looperlative demos (and a Modulus demo) with Lo. and getting to hang out and play a lot with Claudio was just great. Having set times to play at Looperlative made the days much easier to plan, and thanks to a food intolerance, we didn’t make any trips over to Subway (about a 45 minute round trip), so stayed nearer the convention centre for food and coffee, thus giving us more time on the show floor.

As usual, the magic of NAMM was in the lovely peoples – the rest of it is 100,000 music gear makers and sellers lying to each other for a weekend to the atonal accompaniment of slap bass, poorly executed paradiddles and 80s guitar shredding. Thankfully, in 10 years of visiting NAMM, I’ve accumulated a circle of friends and acquaintances so lovely and so numerous that there were quite a few I didn’t get to see this year, or saw for such a brief time that it was actually more frustrating than not seeing them at all! So for those of you that I missed, I’m REALLY sorry. Hopefully we’ll be out in CA in the summer for some stuff – watch this space…

It was a really great NAMM for Looperlative, partly because most of the ‘competition’ were conspicuously absent from the show, but largely just because in its third NAMM show, the product has proved itself, there’s a solid user base who swear by it, Bob’s proved he can do the customer service and support required for a product in that market and price range and a lot of people are realising that to get a dedicated laptop looping set up that’s stable enough for stage usage, fast enough for low latency audio, and especially if you want to use it for processing your sound too, costs a heck of a lot of money. The software part of it may be a free download, but trying to run a looper on a laptop alongside all your other stuff and expect it to not crap out on you on tour is asking a heck of a lot from your gear… 2008 could end up being an amazing year for Looperlative…

In other gear news, Accugroove launched a new amp, that sounded great, and certainly bodes well for the hopefully-finally-on-the-way powered cabinets…

From NAMM, we spent a day in and around LA with Claudio and Alex Machacek – who inevitably found that had hundreds of friends and musical acquaintances in common. Alex gave us a copy of his new album, Improvision, a trio record with Matthew Garrison and Jeff Sipe. Really amazing stuff.

Then it was the long drive north to Oakland for a couple of days with Michael Manring, before our last gig of the tour at Don Quixote’s in Felton, near Santa Cruz. Things were looking really great attendance-wise before the show – threads on discussion boards with folks arranging to meet up at the show. Then the weather went to shit, and a snow and ice warning quite understandably curtailed the travel plans of quite a few people. And yet we still managed to pull a decent crowd, and played some of the most satisfying music I’ve been a part of in ages. I started the show solo, then Lo. joined me for a duo set, then after the break was Michael solo, then he and I duo, and finally a trio improv piece. The improv stuff both duo and trio felt really really great, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the video and hearing the recordings that were taken on the night… we’ll see if there’s anything useable in there… Also worth a mention is that the soundman at the venue, a guy called Lake, was one of the finest club engineers we’d ever worked with. A really friendly guy, with great working gear, and just fantastic sound! It was one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard Michael have, and the on-stage sound was amazing too… it makes all the difference.

And then we flew back to Ohio, and both Lo and I fell ill. Proper ill. Fever and shaking ill. Yesterday was a wash-out – having hardly slept on an overnight flight, I slept pretty much all day, and then all night too. Feeling much better today.

So tomorrow we drive to New York, and I fly home on Wednesday – feel free to email me now if you want to sort out teaching stuff for when I’m back! :o) It’s time to start booking some UK gigs now too.

Tags: Uncategorized

half way through NAMM

January 19th, 2008 · Comments Off on half way through NAMM

We’re half-way through NAMM, and having lots of fun. Despite not being booked for the Bass Bash before the show, we got a phonecall at 5pm on Thursday asking if we could play at 8pm. A quick dash back to where we’re staying to collect a mic and a mixer, and we were there, maintaining my record of having played at EVERY NAMM bass bash since it started about 8 years ago, which is bizarre, but strangely satisfying, despite not really meaning anything other than I get in people’s way, and that Californians like to hear an english bloke speaking too fast for them to understand then laughing at himself…

The demos for Looperlative have gone great – Lo and I have just been playing a bunch of songs, and sometimes explaining what we’re doing, or just leaving Looperlative Bob to do that…

Today (saturday) is always the hardest day of NAMM – too many ‘guests’ there who have no business to do, but just want to ooh and ahh at members of Kiss and Quiet Riot hanging around signing stuff…

NAMM, as mentioned in previous years, is a mixture of 99% nonsense, but 1% amazingness. Many of my favouritest peoples in the world are here, some amazing music, some really inspiring creative types and of course a whole load of music industry contacts that are good to maintain.

I’ll write a fuller report soon, but now have to head back into the maelstrom, and get my loop on, y’all…

Tags: Music News

Musical fun times in Northern California.

January 14th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Wow, I’m exhausted! The last three days have been pretty intense work-wise.

Starting with a gig Friday night at The Red House in Walnut Creek – it’s a fantastic venue: The Red House is a ‘health club for musicians’, the attendees pay a monthly subscription, and then get to use the rehearsal facilities, go to gigs, buy stuff in the shop, record demos and get music lessons in a really great facility.

The gig went really well – the onstage sound was spectacular, which always makes for a better show, given that we can play with more nuance, and Lobelia sang beautifully. A fine time was had by all, many CDs were bought, and we all went home v. happy.

Saturday and Sunday were really heavy on the work schedule – two 7 hour bass classes and a house concert.

The classes were less well attended than previous years, mainly because I pulled the classes forward two weeks this year due to scheduling, and a lot of people still haven’t really surfaced from christmas – it’s a lesson for future years re: planning, BUT the great thing is that the smaller classes actually make for a much better learning environment for everyone. The group of bassists who come along to these classes are such a fascinating, diverse group of musicians, all willing to learn, full of great experiences, comments, questions, and capable of making some really beautiful music. It’s a real privilege to get to teach them one weekend a year, and to see the progress from year to year.

The house concert at Looperlative Bob’s house was another really special event – Bob’s living room turned into a REALLY great lil’ venue, and again the audience was full of really really great people! One of the most exciting things about house concerts is that the audience isn’t ‘genre defined’ – they aren’t full of bass-geeks or ambient music afficionados or jazzheads or whatever. They are generally friends of the people putting the show on, out to hear something new, and it’s a such fun to play our music to a completely uninitiated audience. Again, it went over really well, and lots of CDs were sold too… (it’ll be interesting to see if CD sales at indie gigs remain high even after CD sales online and in shops die out – people still want the social currency of coming up and buying a piece of the evening, interacting with the musicians, and showing their support by doing that… there are clearly other things that can be sold, but I do think CDs will remain as ‘souvenirs’ of a great night out long after they cease to be the primary way of transmitting music from band to fans-at-home. Right now, CD sales are still a vital part of the indie gigging economy, so a HUGE thanks to all those who bought discs at the shows…)

So that was our weekend – busybusy, rewarding, exhausting, mentally taxing (staying focussed on a room-ful of bassists for 7 hours a day two days in a row is pretty challenging, especially given that I don’t work from notes, so have to keep the narrative thread of the day’s material moving forward whilst accommodating all the side-tracks that happen based on the questions people ask and the things they play…), and above all it was a great chance to catch up with loads of old friends and meet lots of new lovely people. So much fun.

Today’s a day off, tomorrow we drive to Southern California, and on Thursday, NAMM starts… hurrah!

Tags: Gig stuff · Music News · New Music Strategies

Steve Rodby interview from Bassist Mag, Aug 1999

November 5th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Steve Rodby was, without a doubt, one of the nicest people I got to meet when writing for Bassist mag. Along with Michael Manring, Lee Sklar, Jimmy Haslip and a handful of others, he was one of the interviewees that inspired me as much by his personality, grace and enthusiasm as by his wise words and exceptional playing. His thoughts on soloing in this interview were particularly enlightening…

He’s also, bizarrely, one of the most underrated bassists on the planet. I’ve had the ‘who could replace Steve Rodby?’ conversations with loads of great bassists the world over, and no-one has yet suggested another player that does everything that Steve does as well as Steve does it in the Pat Metheny Group. His jazz upright playing is exemplary, his bowing beautiful, his rock and pop electric playing makes him sound like he’s spent the last 40 years studying nothing but great rock/pop bass playing. He’s a proper low-frequency master of all trades. So here’s the interview – again, frustratingly, it’s an edit of a very long and involved conversation that I wish I had transcribed… maybe I’ll have to start an ‘in conversation’ podcast – could be a fun project for NAMM… Anyway, have a read of this, then go and listen to any of the PMG albums that Steve plays on, and be amazed at what a great player he is. One thing to keep in mind is that when Richard Bona joined the PMG, he joined as a singer. That’s how good Steve is :o)


For 20 Years now The Pat Metheny Group has been one of the biggest selling acts on the contemporary jazz scene. It has consistently filled concert halls and arenas the world over, and produced a series of critically acclaimed albums that have touched on almost every imaginable area of contemporary music, from Latin to industrial, drum ‘n’ bass to avante garde and freeform improv.

Since 1982 Steve Rodby’s upright and electric bass grooves have driven the band’s sound, helping to define the style that is now instantly recognisable as the PMG.

Bassist collared Steve for the low down on all things Metheny-esque while they were in London earlier this year for three nights at the Shepherds Bush Empire.

SL – You started out as a Classical bassist, but made the switch to Jazz fairly early on. How did that come about?

‘I always thought I’d be a classical bassist. My father is a classical musician, so that seemed the obvious direction. I went to college to study, but I don’t think I was ever quite at the level where I would have landed a really good orchestral post.

‘Very early on I started playing pop. When I was in college I got a couple of calls for studio work and I took to those sessions extremely well. Because orchestra playing was kinda boring, I played this game with my self when I was a kid where I would imagine that there was a mic in front of my bass recording every note that I played and that someone was going to say “Rodby, come in here!” and then play the tape back and say “What were you doing there”'”

‘So when I finally got in the studio, it was a fairly stress free process as I’d been playing for imaginary tape recorders for years!!

‘I also started to play electric bass, and made the switch to playing pop easily as that’s the music I was listening to all the time.

‘I finished college got my degree in classical bass, but by half way through college I was playing fairly regularly on the Chicago jazz scene.

‘My big break came when the great bass player Rufus Reid, who played in the house band at the Jazz Showcase (prestigious Chicago jazz venue), moved to New York, so the gig was up for grabs. The owner of the club seemed to like the way I played, and I ended up playing five nights, three sets a night with all these amazing visiting musicians like Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt and Joe Henderson. The drummer in the house band had played with Charlie Parker and the pianists were all 30 years older than me and knew so much about music. And here I was this nerdy college kid with a classical background and all I had going for me was my ear and a feel!’

How did you learn all the tunes?

‘When I first started playing bass, my dad bought would play guitar and we would play duets. To teach me a song, he would write the roots notes and bar lines down, with no information about what else to play, so I had to improvise from the very beginning.

‘On the gigs, I was doing the same thing – following roots and knowing instinctively what the rest of the notes were. The piano players would play the first few choruses very clearly until I had it. I learned on the bandstand rather than in the practice room or out of books. I never really studied as much as I wish that I had.’

How did you first hook up with Pat?

‘I’d met Pat at various jazz camps when we were younger, and had stayed in touch. He was looking to add acoustic bass to his band and was auditioning players. My name came up so he called me and I went to NY and auditioned. Shortly after that he offered me the job.

‘When I met Pat I was an unformed nobody from small town Illinois, who didn’t even know what chords were, and he was already the future of music – he was 18 and had it all figured out. He was so far ahead of the game it was unbelievable. But when we played there was something about the style of the music that I felt that I could understand that I couldn’t account for – It may have been similar backgrounds and a shared love of pop music, the Beatles. It just made sense. I used to listen to the first couple of PMG albums and say to myself – ‘that’s my music’. It really was my dream group.’

Was it intimidating to work with Pat after the succession of great bassists that he’d already worked with?

‘Mmm, not really. The only thing that could have freaked me was Pat’s relationship with Jaco. Not only because he played with Jaco, but he REALLY played with Jaco. Bright Sized Life was one of the best records ever made. The next time I saw Pat after he met Jaco he said, “Oh man, I just heard a bass player that is going to change music. He sounds like John McLaughlin and John Coltrane only better – and on bass!!” – Pat doesn’t say stuff like that lightly!

‘Once I heard Jaco I just said “forget it, I’m not even going to try!” I was one of the few bassists on the planet who loved Pat and Weather Report but didn’t get a fretless and transcribe Jaco’s licks. I’ve never transcribed a bass solo in my life! Hearing Jaco also kept me away from playing fretless. So I thought if I’m going to do anything, I’ll play acoustic bass and I’ll play fretted pop style bass. Playing acoustic bass with Pat gave me a lot of freedom because what I was doing was different to what Mark Egan, Jaco or Charlie Haden had done. That’s my way of being able to sleep at night, otherwise I would have shot myself a long time ago!!’

How did the group develop such a distinctive sound?

‘In the early days of the band, I think we had a feeling that we had to do something different from other bands, so we had a load of do’s and don’ts – don’t do fusion, don’t have a back beat. And then we spent a lot of time avoiding music that may have sounded borrowed. But now we’ve finally got to the place were we can play Happy Birthday and it’ll sound like us. So we can now do a tune like the opening track on Imaginary Day that sounds sorta Chinese, maybe a bit like Gamalan Indonesian music, but it still sounds like us.’

Live, on the standard, ‘How Insensitive’, you take the first solo that I’ve heard you play. Is this a new area for you?

‘For years I took some really bad solos, and then we started doing this tune and I began applying myself to soloing again. That’s the next thing to think about. Not just soloing, but maybe making a solo record. I’ve spent so many years not paying any attention to it, but now that I’ve finally started to do my homework, I’ve found a real satisfaction. I’ve managed to get beyond the plateau that I was on. I’m moving forward as a soloist, so maybe now’s the time to do my own record.’

What have you been studying?

‘Well, I’ve finally begun to realise that at the technical level – playing melodies and chord scales, playing faster, higher – that you need to be able to do it 20 times faster than you’ll ever need to in a song! My problem was that the fastest the highest the hardest that I ever played was in this little solo during the gig. I was always trying to reach so far over my head and it didn’t really work.

‘So I realised that I had to put in the time, getting my technique up to speed. Same with the chord scales – there is a set of musical materials that you need to know – with this chord, this set of notes are your primary musical material – you can do other things, but you need that reference point.

‘These are the things that beginning sax or piano players learn very easily, but bass players don’t seem to take to so well. Fancy bass soloists tend to learn a bunch of hot licks but often don’t learn the fundamentals of music. So I’m finally taking the time to learn what the chords are and be able to play them at soloing speed!

‘A great bass solo has to be a high quality melody that would sound like a high quality melody if it was played on another instrument. You’d go, “well, it’s down kinda low on the piano, and he’s playing a little slow, but that’s a great melody!” Most bass solos on any other instrument would sound kinda weak.

‘I have a million miles to go, but that’s what I aspire to, that’s what I’m going to work on for the next 20 years. I’m sat up there playing for myself and for the audience but I’ve also got Pat and Lyle, two of the finest melodic improvisers around, sat right behind me! I’m not going to get a smile out of them by playing fast, but my playing good strong melodies.”

Pat Metheny on Steve Rodby:

When you’ve played with the most highly respected bassists on the planet, the must be something pretty special about the guys that you keep in your band for 15 years. Here’s what Pat has to say about Steve –

‘The kinds of things I need in any musician who is going to be in the group, regardless of their role in the band, is a certain musical insight that includes, but hopefully transcends, a deep sense of what has happened on their respective instrument, particularly over the past 60 or 70 years of popular and improvised music, combined with the musical skill and vocabulary to sonically render their conception of what just what that history implies into a personal sound. Steve Rodby has the ability to do just that and so much more, and that is what makes him the perfect bass player for this band. His background in classical music combined with his extensive jazz playing and studio work has made him an exceptionally well rounded player with a genuine musical curiosity that transcends style. His relentless pursuit of just the right part, played with just the right intonation and sound are well suited for the basic musical aesthetic that our band aspires toward.’

Tags: bass ideas · journalism · tips for musicians

Loop-Fests and non-music-specific music communities

October 18th, 2007 · Comments Off on Loop-Fests and non-music-specific music communities

It’s Loop Fest season again – firstly the daddy of them all, the Y2KLoopFest in Santa Cruz (Y2K7 this year). But this year, Andy Butler is doing a low-key thing in Norwich, which looks like fun. There have been others in Germany and other places in the states – generally smaller affairs, but seemingly most enjoyable.

Rick Walker, the organiser of the Santa Cruz fest, has done an amazing job of turning it into An Event – taking what was originally a way for he and I to do a show in Santa Cruz back in 2000 (with Michael Manring, Max Valentino, Scott Drengen and another guy who’s name completely escapes me, sadly…) and turning it into an annual event that this year has big name headliners in the form of Arild Andersen and Henry Kaiser.

A lot of the momentum for this came out of the rather-wonderful-and-at-times-all-too-serious Looper’s Delight community; a mailing list of people using looping in their music. Lots of great friendships have come from the list, and some fab collaborations (for me, I doubt I’d ever have played in California outside of the NAMM show if it wasn’t for the connection with Rick, and I also met the fabulous Luca Formentini on there too, with whom I’ve recorded a duet album that should be out some time next year).

I’ve always been a little uneasy about the idea that looping is its own genre – it clearly isn’t, any more than ‘repetitive music’ is a genre, or ‘german music’ or ‘music by freakishly tall people’. It has certain characteristics, but those are more to do with the limitations in the imagination of the user rather than any stylistic quality inbuilt in the technology. (though, thanks to the ever-wonderful Robert Fripp’s role as part-pioneer part-populariser of looping as a performance medium, a HUGE number of the loopers around are guitarists doing soundscapes, to varying degrees of success)

But that’s no bad thing – what Rick understood years ago is that audiences like a peg to hang their hat on – it doesn’t matter if it’s a loop fest or an acoustic music fest or a celebration of the music of italy or an electronic music fest – it gives the person marketing it an angle. My own hyper-sensitivity to being pigeonholed means that I bristle at the idea that what I do is defined by the technology, or that there’s some style attached to the instrument (as though solo bass is also a style or genre), but for the audience, it’s just an in road, an opening, a narrowing of focus that allows them engage with what we do, and crucially gives the media something to grab hold of.

Rick has managed to get press coverage for some pretty esoteric music, and even get the clearly-mad-mayor-of-Santa-Cruz to declare each festival day as ‘international live looping day’ (I have a mayoral proclamation hanging on my wall from the inaugural one, that most people think is some kind of weird ironic home-made christmas present. :o)

The point being, these are good things. The role of the curator is to make sure that whatever weird set of assumptions people come to these events with, the music they hear is great. There’s no such style as ‘loop music’ but that doesn’t mean that you can’t put together a coherent program of excellent music featuring looping musicians. The line up at Rick’s fests has gone from being a bunch of bassists who loop at the first one, though a period when it was largely about loopists getting together to ogle each other’s gear, to a place where he’s booking internationally known musicians (albeit from pretty esoteric scenes) for a festival of quality music. Hat’s off to his tenacity, long may it continue.

As I said a couple of weeks ago here looping is no longer a gimmick that will cover the lameness of your music but it can still work as a hook to get people through the door to hear great music.

BTW, It’s also Bass-fest season, though thus far, for the first time in years, I’ve not been invited to play at any of them… we’ll see if that changes, but it might make a nice change to be doing normal gigs at this time of year rather than playing to rooms full of bassists… They are generally enjoyable events, though meeting the people involved is mostly more interesting that listening to a lot of the music…

Tags: bass ideas · looping · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

Tony Levin – international man of myth-stories…

July 19th, 2007 · Comments Off on Tony Levin – international man of myth-stories…

Went up to Hitchin to see/hear Tony Levin play and talk this evening. I’ve met Tony a number of times (the first being when I interviewed him for Bassist magazine back in the late 90s, and was introduced to the ideas behind the free improv of the King Crimson crowd by him and Trey Gunn, which directly shaped the ideas for the Recycle Collective so many years later…)

Anyway, it was lovely to see Tony and catch up a little without the din of NAMM or some aftershow party going on, and was even better to hear him talk about his career, his music and the people he’s played with. There’s this assumption that bass clinics are all about clever playing, but there are certain guys – Tony, Lee Sklar, Anthony Jackson, Chuck Rainey, and a bunch of others, who have so much experience, have seen so much – and no doubt made lots of mistakes along the way – that hearing them speak is of at least as much value as hearing them play. In Tony’s case, he’s also a fascinating composer, so it’s great that he played a couple of things, as well as demonstrating some Peter Gabriel lines, but hearing him talk about what happens on sessions, what it’s like working with certain people etc. – it’s an insight into the workings of the industry that few of the people there would get on a regular basis. All in all a fab evening, and an audience full of old friends, acquaintances and audience members, with quite a few people coming up and saying they’d seen me play with Michael the last couple of times he was over… all good stuff.

Tags: Musing on Music

Two gigs that didn't really live up to their billing.

July 18th, 2007 · Comments Off on Two gigs that didn't really live up to their billing.

I’ve been to two ‘cool’ gigs in the last week – I’m not really one for cool gigs, preferring to avoid things that are either a) over-hyped or b) feature drums (the latter being due to my deep loathing of overly loud music…)

Anyway, last week I went to see Mogwai at Somerset House, and on Monday to see Squarepusher AKA Tom Jenkinson with Evan Parker at the QEH.

the Mogwai gig was OK. just OK. They played well, Somerset House is a great place for a gig, but… but none of it really went anywhere – I REALLY want to love Mogwai. There are bits about what they do that I really like. I love the big guitar sounds, I enjoy the fiddling around with odd time signatures and displaced beats etc. But it seems like their fear of turning into some sort of post-rock answer to Pink Floyd stops them from adding any BIG tunes to their stuff. So you get a handful of notes played over the wall of guitars on keyboard, or heavily processed voice, but it never goes stratospheric… or rather is very rarely does – the last two tunes they did before the Encore were getting there. Some great moments in those. So a good gig, but as they say on the interwebs it was all a bit ‘meh’.

And then to the QEH – I must preface this by saying that Squarepusher is without doubt one of the most interesting, iconoclastic and influential electronic artists in the UK, if not the world – his records are full of amazing compositions, incredible production, fascinating harmony and the maddest most sublime rhythmic programming you’ve ever heard. AND, most importantly in this context, some breathtaking bass playing. Really really amazing bass playing. Crazy fast funky magical bass playing.

This gig was, unbeknownst to me, a ‘solo bass gig’. The first set was just Tom and a 6 string bass. Before it started, I REALLY wanted to like it, I was hoping it was going to blow me away. But half way through the set, I was already drafting this blog and trawling through what he was doing desperately trying to find something positive to drag from it to contrast with the overwhelming impression that it was utter nonsense. A load of largely poor executed arpeggios – a range of techniques, few of them done particularly well, rattled off like a NAMM show demo by a kid with ADD.

I genuinely have no idea what Tom was aiming for. I have no idea what part of his strange and wonderful and clearly at times baffling musical world he was exploring with this, but one thing I’ve heard him say in interviews was writ large over the whole gig – he claims he doesn’t listen to much other music, avoids influence. And in the case of this gig, that’s exactly why he sounded like a solo bassist of about 15-20 years ago, making all the same overly twiddly ‘we can be as fast and wanky as guitarists’ mistakes that everyone else made back then, without attaching anything musical to it. Perhaps if he’d allowed himself to listen to Michael Manring or Jonas Hellborg, Trip Wamsley or Victor Wooten, it might have given him insight into some other musical paradigm possible with solo bass. But it really did absolutely nothing for me at all. I would LOVE to know what he thought of it. The audience – possibly the friendliest crowd I’ve ever come across – gave him a rapturous reception, to my utter amazement. Were they huge Squarepusher fans that would have applauded if he’s just taken a dump on the stage? Were they bass players easily impressed by a bunch of fairly sloppy overly fast arpeggiated chords? Or did they love it? Did I completely miss what he was trying to do? I’m guessing not, given that I’m pretty much slap bang in the middle of his target audience – a huge fan of his usual output, and someone who’s been interested in and exploring the whole idea of solo bass for nearly 20 years.

So the second half? Well, it started with out of the most remarkable bits of soprano sax playing I’ve ever heard, from Evan Parker – Evan has been a mainstay (and driving force behind) the UK free improv scene for 40 something years. A true giant of the instrument. And tonight he proved why. The piece was a technical, sonic and mesmerising tour de force, making a completely unprocessed soprano sax sound like at least four instruments intertwined. unbelievable.

And the evening finished with a free duo between the two of them, which was much better than the first half – Tom delved deep into the canon of well used free improv techniques, but that’s a good thing – he’d done his homework for sure, and created some lovely textures and interesting rhythms, whilst listening to and reacting to Evan’s glorious sax playing. It rescued the bass part of the evening for me, but I’m still baffled as to what on earth the first half was about…

Today on the tube, I put on his album ‘Go Plastic’ on the iPod. Yup, it’s incredible. Amazing stuff. He really is a genius. I then listened to the London Sinfonietta playing one or two of his pieces, and that too was great.

I hope he keeps going with solo bass, cos when he gets it right, I’m sure it’ll be amazing, and as with everything else he does, it’ll be unlike what anyone else has done with it. But on the strength of this show, I hope he does the rest of the exploration either behind closed doors or in a workshop setting…

Tags: Musing on Music

New Video of me playing at NAMM…

February 6th, 2007 · Comments Off on New Video of me playing at NAMM…

just found these two YouTube Videos of me doing the Looperlative thang at NAMM, uploaded by the lovely and talented Kim Flint. Enjoy –

Tags: Music News