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Slap Basics With Doug Johns: Bass & Drums as a Duo

Meet Doug Johns –

If you’re familiar with either of my CD’s, you probably know I love that big band sound – full horn section, Hammond organ, drums (percussion, guitar, synth, two bass guitars)… The more the merrier, right?

Well, that line-up isn’t always feasible when it’s time to go on the road in support of your latest CD.

If the budget is there, there’s nothing better than touring with the same instrumentation as your recording. But, let’s face it, in these budget-conscious days, it’s a tough task to take a 10 or 12-piece band on the road. Obviously, it’s much easier to justify doing a one-nighter somewhere in a far-away town when it’s just two guys. Sometimes, compromises have to be made in the instrumentation/band members.

But this doesn’t mean you have to compromise the music.

My drummer, Chris Ceja, and I have been touring in support of our music over the past couple of years as a duo. It has taught us a lot about composition, entertaining, and technology.

It’s important to understand that a great song, played or sung with just one instrument as opposed to a full orchestra, should sound just as beautiful – because it’s compositionally a great song first. The goal here is to let the notes out of our souls, into the air, and connect with the souls of the people listening.

But no matter what, when it’s just you and one other cat on stage, you had better learn quickly how to entertain the audience. As bass players, we can easily blend in to the background with a full band. That ain’t gonna fly from an entertainment standpoint when it’s just bass and drums on stage.

On the other hand, the technology side of it is an ever-changing entity that can really enhance the solo or duo performance. But, you have to be careful not to rely on technology for “the show.” As you’ll see in the accompanying video, Chris and I touch on some of the neat tools that help us sound bigger than a bass/drum duo.

We’ve sampled some of the horn stabs from my CDs – along with keyboard and guitar lines – to bring some surprises to our set. Loopers have been around forever, and they’re a great layering tool for multiple parts – again, resulting in a bigger sound and a more entertaining show.

But, I think it’s important to stress that we have always approached our duo with the mindset that if all our toys (samplers, loopers, etc) break down right before we hit the stage, it shouldn’t affect the music itself. In other words, we always make sure the music is there first! Then, we’re able to use the technology to simply enhance the groove.

To sum it all up, there’s nothing like a big band that’s tight with the music… But it’s just as cool to hear a killer solo or duo tearin’ it up on stage. Give it a try sometime – you might be surprised at the purely musical approach of the duo setting.

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