In Memoriam: Rick Turner

Rick Turner, one of the greatest and most influential bass and guitar builders of all time died yesterday, aged 78. He was a very dear friend, and I’m still trying to come to terms with the idea that he’s gone, but I wrote this this morning on Facebook, so am reposting it here.

I’ve been trying to piece together the timeline of my friendship with Rick Turner. I’d read his column in Bass Player for years, but we first connected, as did so many other bass players, via The Bottom Line – the legendary email discussion list for bassists from the 90s. Rick started posting in early 1998, answering questions and in his usual prescient way pointing out in a discussion about the gender and racial imbalance in bass magazines, that if you don’t like the way someone else is doing things, do it yourself and post it online.

I dearly wish I had my email archive from back then – looking through my photos from NAMM in 1999 and 2000, it’s clear that I made connections with a whole load of bass builders and companies through TBL and then visited them as soon as I got to NAMM. Doing a little detective work, I can see that the two portraits of Rick and I here with the Renaissance fretless were taken on the first day of NAMM (I didn’t have a razor with me and I’m clean shaven 😉 ) – I took the one of him, he took the one of me.

In my head, I’d always thought I did my trip up the coast to SF in 1999, but reading through the version of my website, I saw that my first year I just flew in and out for NAMM. Did a handful of interviews for Bassist (including Leland Sklar) and went home. I can tell a lot of this from the photos too because in 99 I was clean shaven but after meeting Rick that year I grew the soul patch that I still have. It’s never had any other association in my head to anything other than copying Rick…

So in 2000 I extended my California trip after NAMM and arrived in LA intending to get a train up to SF from LA (ha!!) I told Rick about this and he initially tried to work out if it was possible, then helped me plan a totally different itinerary involving a rental car and the need to learn VERY quickly to drive on the opposite side of the road (and an unbelievably lucky turn of events that meant I found the Michael Manring and Trey Gunn gig at the Last Day Saloon without a map!). Rick helped me sort out where to go, routes between Modulus, Zon and his factory, even tried to hook me up with a visit to Alembic, and then invited me to stay. Which meant I got to meet his then-wife Jessica and their child Juniper, and thus began an annual trip to visit the family after NAMM, to hear new music (I bought SO many records at his insistence), to hear stories, to find out new facts about Geckos and whatever other creatures Juniper was discovering at the time, to go into the classroom with Jess to talk to her students. Over the years, Rick would come out to my shows, to house concerts at Bob’s or shows at the much-missed Espresso Garden with Michael Manring. He’d stop gigs in the middle to tell me how special he thought it all was, including one amazing speech about the individuality of intonation and how much he loved mine. He’s the only person ever to turn round at one of my gigs and tell the people talking to ‘shut the fuck up’. When he heard Lo and I play together he talked about her skills as an independent entity, not as ‘my wife’ or ‘the singer’ but about her guitar playing and songwriting.

In California I have SO many friends. Amazing, lifelong friendships, people who went the extra mile to impact my life in many, many ways. But in those formative years of the 00s I had two families – The Turners in Santa Cruz and Doug Lunn and Vida Vierra in Santa Monica. Places of sanctuary where there was always a spare bed or couch, always a place to decompress, to not be ‘on’ but to be fully myself. Now Rick and Doug are both gone, incredible figures in my life who taught me so much, encouraged me in ways that kept me doing what I’m doing at times when I might’ve ended up going a more conventional route.

That Rick was the co-inventor of graphite necked basses with Geoff Gould, pioneered so much in bass electronics, custom design, piezo pickups, and that he made my beloved Renaissance bass (and that’s officially the first time I’ve ever spelt Renaissance right without spellcheck) was all secondary to the friendship, support, encouragement and love he showed me over the years. We’d been planning a holiday together here for years – initially a canal boat trip, then a visit to Warwick castle (Rick was short for Warwick) and a trip to Scotland. I’m absolutely broken that neither happened.

Rick was arguably the most important figure in the development of the bass guitar after Leo Fender. He knew more and shared more about building instruments than anyone, inspiring generations of luthiers. I got to play the guitar he built for Henry Kaiser to take to Antarctica and it blew my mind. Lindsey Buckingham is still playing his Turner Model 1 guitars to this day – one of the most iconic guitar designs in history. I once played one of his absolute top spec steel strung acoustics and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to switching instruments away from bass. I’ve never felt any instrument resonate like that.

I’ve heard from people over the last few days some of the things that Rick had told them about me, times he’d complimented me or used me as an exemplar regarding fretless playing. I knew it was happening through the years thanks to all the people he would connect me with. I spent an absolutely magical day once with Evelyn Glennie, after Rick had built her a marimba pickup and in the conversation had been talking about looping, with Rick telling her that there was no-one else better to talk to about what was possible. A bunch of you reading this are friends here purely because Rick introduced us either at NAMM or online. He was in my corner to a degree that’s incredibly rare and my life is different because of it.

I’m now approaching the age Rick was when we met – he was 56, I was 26, and I hope I can offer a tiny fraction of the encouragement and support he gave to younger luthiers and musicians, the respect with which he spoke to people, the time he took to make people feel special and like their absurd solo bass plans weren’t so ridiculous after all.

RIP Rick, I still can’t believe you’re gone. x


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