Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hey Mr. Bass Man, Now I'm A Bass Man Too

So last night was the big British Invasion shindig down at the Cinema Bar. This is one of those nights where a bunch of musicians get together and trade off on a particular thing at this musician-friendly dive bar on the west side, and after spending a lot of time watching the musicians from the audience, it was cool to be invited to be a part of it. In fact, much to my surprise, I think I wound up playing more than anybody else did with the exception of the drummer and guitar player (the very talented Stephen Patt, who was the de facto music director for the evening), I got to do a couple of songs on my own (two Elton John numbers, since I knew the dearth of keyboard players meant no one else was going to go there), played some mellotron patches for Mark Davis, did guitar for Rich McCulley, and played bass on a very cool freakbeat number for Susan James by a '60s artist I'm not familiar with named Sharon Tandy, with a very impressive backing by Les Fleur Des Lys, British contemporaries who I had heard some stuff by. Check this out:

Anyhows, my little turn on the bass went fine I guess, because after I'd done all I was scheduled to do Steve came up and asked if I was going to be hanging around. I said sure, and he asked me if I could play bass for the closing set. I did, and it was a blast. I wound up being up there for about an hour, functioning as house bass player for the remaining acts, following the changes, reading charts, and just holding things down, even adding a harmony when I knew the tune. I haven't played much bass live over the years for various reasons, and in fact I only just learned how to play with my fingers during recording for GO WEST, and I played bass on most of the Adam Exler album. Since going pro, I hadn't really tried very hard to get bass gigs for myself just because I'd never actually sat down and done it...there's a lot more to being a good bass player than just playing the notes in time. There's also the ability to b.s. well when you get lost, because if the bass drops out the entire band falls apart. You don't know how good you are at making a vague rhythmic sound on the bass while you're trying frantically to find the root until you're onstage in the thick of it and you absolutely have to do it.

Anyway, I had plenty of opportunities to test these skills last night and I found out I'm just fine at it. It's the first time I did a whole set on bass in years (Nelson Bragg: "I've never seen you play the bass." Me: "I know how. Just no one ever asked me before"), and it is so much more fun to play bass with your fingers than with a pick. It really locks you in to the music, and roots're not a guitar player playing bass anymore, you're playing bass. It's also good that I've been doing so much bass in the studio lately, because that's a much more exacting environment than playing live, so it was a lot easier than I thought.

Bass also suits how I feel about music really well, because it's such a fundamental, background instrument. It's the "do your duty" position in the band. If you have a huge ego, chances are you will be a bad bass player. If you want to be a bass player, you have to care about the groove and the music first and foremost. And that's the right mental place to be.

And as a pleasant reminder of my four-stringed excursion last night, my right forefinger has a huge blister on it. But seriously, I live for this stuff now. Making a living as a full-time musician has forced me to step out of my comfort zone and try my hand at all kinds of things, and I love the challenge and the learning of it. There's nothing I like better than being onstage with a bunch of seasoned musicians and my job is to keep up. And the best part is, it gives me one more potential avenue of work, and I need all of those I can get!

It was a great night of music -- kudos to Bill for setting it up and all the acts that played and made it such a friendly and fun evening -- and lots of fun for me getting to try out different roles and also helping other people sound better. That's my favorite thing about sideman work -- focus on the fundamentals and on the music and on the communal part of being a musician, and ironically, I got way more props from the crowd for just doing my job than I usually do when I'm the front guy. I think that's really cool. Having said that, ironically, the one instrument I didn't wind up playing last night was the drums, and the only potential work to immediately follow out of the evening was a possible fill-in drumming gig! How weird is that?


  1. Thanks for introducing me to a lovely female vocalist from the 60's. I found a review of a retrospective concert Ms. Tandy did a few years ago, which said "Sharon simply radiated enjoyment, absolutely loving the opportunity to be singing again". The entry referred to "Blue-eyed Soul", a genre associated with someone we know. And the video from the 60's showed her with the typical hairdo of that era, held in place with industrial-strength hair spray. In case you're wondering, I had never heard of her until you posted this--she was probably better known in England.

  2. Add to Sharon Tandy--I just ordered her CD from Amazon. Thanks again for bringing her to my attention. (But Evie is still my fave!)

  3. The Sharon Tandy CD arrived, and I finally had time to listen to it today. Yes, indeed, she can sing! And some of the musical backing really cooked. Apparently her records were never released on this side of "The Pond"; at least she's not listed in my record price guide book, which has all sorts of obscure artists' discs. The CD includes extensive notes, including an autobiographical section by Sharon herself. Her story is a bit more exotic than Evie's, but I see some parallels.