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Soul Survivors: Blues, Soul & R&B Bass With Don Campbell / Jerry Jemmott: Still Finding the Pocket



Meet Don Campbell –

You may not know his name, but you surely know his work. Legendary soul and rhythm and blues bassist Jerry Jemmott – a studio veteran and road dog for the likes of King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Nina Simone, B.B. King and on and on and on – has carved out a large place in American popular music.

Jemmott grew up in the Bronx, New York, studying jazz at an early age. But buying an electric bass and hearing James Jamerson lay down the low-end pavement on “Shotgun,” turned his musical life around. After a stint with Lionel Hampton, he went to work for soul saxophonist King Curtis, and quickly found himself in the thick of the blues, soul and R&B of the late ’60s and ’70s, as a progenitor of the Muscle Shoals sound, and very nearly an Allman Brother.

We caught up with Jemmott at his home in Mississippi, where he still plays actively, running his own band, Souler Energy, and working as a sideman with Greg Allman.

What is it about blues and soul and R&B that drew you in as a player?

The audience that it attracted. The dancing, the singing, the fine women. The location, the environment. All these things are attractive to a kid who, by now was, this was about 1964, so I was 18 years old. Before that I was basically a jazz musician. The only thing I wanted to play was jazz. That’s all I played, basically.

What music did you first hear R&B and blues and soul-wise that sucked you in?

I heard the radio. I wasn’t that much into it. What attracted me basically was the ability and the idea of playing that music for a particular audience. That’s what attracted me to it because before that I was playing at typical social functions, where they’d have like five or six bands, and people partying from like 9 o’clock until 4 o’clock in the morning. The band I played in played a little bit of everything. They had a calypso band, and other bands. I was playing with a band called Smiling Henry and the Rhythm Makers. That was my first band. Cool name, right?

We played local ballrooms where they’d hire five or six bands, in addition to playing nightclubs. So I got a chance to see music performed. This was when I was 12 years old. But for rhythm and blues, I just liked the way people responded to the music. The musician’s I was playing with when I happened to make the switch, they were into this Miles Davis persona where they wanted to be real cool and ignore the audience. So I just decided I’d had enough of it. Ironically this was when I was playing with cats close to my age. They had this kind of attitude. Before that I was usually playing with cats that were older than me. I was usually the baby in the band. They were more responsible people. They played music the people wanted to hear.

So I was a little pissed and I decided I was going to pick up an electric instrument. So that’s what I did. That’s what drew me into it basically. And then playing it. What got me going was hearing James Jamerson playing “Shotgun.” That’s the first line that I learned that attracted me. I’ve been playing “Shotgun” ever since, really, in some form or fashion. That’s what got me into it as a player. As a listener, I learned to enjoy the music and of course you have to listen to learn to increase my vocabulary and understanding the forms. So it was basically wanting to please the audience that got me into this form of music.

Based on what you studied playing jazz and then moving into blues and R&B, what skills did you bring to the party, both playing live and then working your way into the studio? What did you have that other players didn’t?

Groove. Skills. Technique. Knowledge. And creativity. These are the things a jazz musician will have to learn to do. Sometimes they might get stuck in one groove, and all they can play is in four and straight ahead and in one style, but usually the good ones learn to play everything. It’s funny, I read an article, one of your questions led me to think about musicians, and I read the biography of one of my favorite musicians, Idris Muhammad. His story is very similar to mine, but he just played and he was pulled into the circle, whatever circle he was pulled into, he was able to play that type of music.

I digress. I’ll get to him later.

Back in the day as you were coming up, how did you prepare for a session?

Back in the day, the excitement of the idea of going from studio to studio was what led me to want to become to studio musician. With the idea I had, the excitement for me was not knowing what was coming, because I have stories from the age of 14. When I was 14, I was playing the Alfred Wade big band and Richard Dugan was one of the trumpet players. Frank Mitchell was in the band. Phillip Villa was in the band. Cary Pippos, Tommy Lee. I’m trying some of the cats that were in the band. hey were all young. They were close to my age as opposed to the other gigs I was working. This was a non-working band basically. This was a rehearse-to-play arrangement.

He was really the cat. Richard was like 16. I was 14. But he lived upstate New York and he could drive in New York City. He was a white kid and he had a receding hairline. He looked like he was about 30, but he was able to get Byrd to land the Five Spot and he’d come back with these wild stories about the cats he met, and I learned about studio work, studio musicians. How these cats, Ernie Royal, Clark Terry, Snooky Young, Bill Tenton. These guys were going from studio to studio making records and I said, wow, I want to do that.

The excitement was not knowing what we’re going to encounter so there was no separation of this being sensical and that’s what really lured me to that idea of being prepared for anything that attracted me to becoming a studio musician. Back in the day, there was really no preparation of it and just being up on my game basically which was I had a good set of chops in playing upright bass so it was a matter of coming up with an idea. I guess being flexible was the key.

Some days I would get bored and I didn’t know who I’d be playing for, what the situation was. I would just show up and that morning I would decide to play as many notes as possible that whole day. Then the next day I’d do reverse. I’d try to play as few notes as possible. That’s how I prepared. That’s all the preparation. It was the mental thing I would put myself into. I remember get dressed, going to the session, and I mean, I loved the work. I lived to do it. I remember I showed up at one session one day and Ray Alonji, the French horn player, said, Jerry, hey, what’s going on down here? And he was pointing to my shoes. I had on one black shoe and one brown shoe.

I got dressed in the dark. This is a one-time gig. Drive in the car.Go through the parking lot and walk to the session. I’m not looking at my shoes. It was that kind of excitement. I couldn’t wait to get there.

Who were some of these sessions for, the early sessions that you did?

The early sessions back in 1964, 1965, they were for local producers, local labels whose names I don’t remember. The most significant one during that period was with Nina Simone in 1965. That was my earliest. I had some dates with J.J. What was is name? J.J. Jackson. He had me in the studio as an arranger and actually one of my early dates was as an arranger because I was still doing live gigs. That’s where I met Idris Muhammad who was actually at that time he was Leo Morris. This was back in 1964. Well, when first started electric base is when I started playing with him.

He was something else. He was always something else. His first lesson he went to that he had that he paid for, the only one he had, the teacher had him play about four or five things and then he said, “Listen kid, if somebody tells you you’re good, just let it go out one ear and out the other. Now give me my two dollars.” He never forgot that. All during his career, he never thought of himself as being anything special, but everybody, once you heard him or played with him, you knew he was special. But it was implanted in his head that he wasn’t going to let that get to him. It would go in one ear and out the other.

Was there a session where you finally felt like “I’m a studio musician, I get this and this is going to be my life’s work?”

Well, I wanted it to be my life’s work from the time I was 14 when I heard about it, but then life came in and I was sidetracked with family. I kind of lost the dream. I was just doing gigs and I was tapped to work with King Curtis. King Curtis called me to work with his band and he offered me studio work. My eyes lit up. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have joined his band. I would’ve been content to just work at the bank in the daytime to support my family and then work five gigs at night during the week which I had done – that’s all I knew from junior high school. I was always working three, four nights a week, so I had even more money and more stability because sometimes it was two nights a week, sometimes it was three or four. You know, the life of a musician.

I got a day job for a couple years and in 1967 when he called me, I wasn’t really keen about leaving my day gig and doing these gigs and the studio work, I really didn’t know much about him, because I’m coming from John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly and Ben Webster. This is my frame of reference. I knew of him but I still wasn’t really into the style of music. I was playing it. I was playing at it. I enjoyed a little bit of studio work and was getting my feet wet but as far as old time playing rhythm and blues, I never thought of myself as being that well to even do that. Playing live on stage as opposed to the studio. It’s a different set of circumstances playing live before an audience and playing the studio. I can get more into my thing in the studio and focus more. Creating music as opposed to just knocking stuff out which I’ve been doing since I was 12. Knocking stuff out.

In the studio, I got a chance to arrange and compose my part. A lot of times there was no music and they would call me to create a part. Of course, after awhile I got pissed off about that because I wasn’t making enough money doing that. There’s an upside and a downside to everything. Especially when you’re young, you want to experience.

What was the question?

We were talking about coming up and figuring out when you were going to make it your life’s work and slip it into that studio thing.

At 14, I thought about it, but when I started doing it, I left Lionel Hampton’s band. That’s when I decided, no more of this road stuff. I’m going to stay in New York and become a studio musician. That was the defining moment. After that King Curtis called me to do sessions.

How long were you with him?

From April until July of 1967. I was working with Gates and Lionel Hampton from July to August. After he fired me, I was going to stay in New York and tough it out. Things didn’t work out. He made amends later on, 20 years later I think, sometime late in the 1970s, I was playing with him and Bette Midler. We did a show and I was hired to play the bass, so we got a chance to patch the bridge up between us. I was young. I had a little attitude I guess. We came to a disagreement and that was it. So I left the band. I came to New York and ironically, King Curtis called me and said, “You don’t gotta be in the band anymore. Just make my records.”

And I left his band because he had recorded “Memphis Soul Stew” and he didn’t use me. I was pissed. And everybody else in the band was using me for their sessions. Melvin Last, he had stuff going on. Who else? Ronnie Miller was doing stuff. When “Memphis Soul Stew” came out and I heard the record, we got to play it and I was on it, I left the band.

At any rate, so things worked out. At that point, I decided to be a studio musician. I would’ve done it, continued doing it until I got injured in 1972 and that was it for me.

How did you get hurt?

I was in a car accident. That took its toll. I was the driver, so I had a lot of guilt going on and the mental thing screwed me up, the physical thing also. I still have to live with the injuries. Mental thing I’m cool with hopefully. My wife will tell me different, of course. I can look and tell myself too, but it’s been interesting recovering from that and then everybody else has to deal with the circumstances in their life. Nobody escapes life.

After King Curtis, that led to other fairly high profile studio work?

Yeah, that’s what really put me on the map, doing the Atlantic dates. When you go from one studio to the other – I was working between Atlantic, Columbia, and Jerry Ragovoy and doing jingles. I was doing commercials and film and doing some Broadway gigs. I had my hands full. In those days, that was the time when the studios were happening. They kind of died out in 1975, so I caught the last end of it, the fat part actually. To hear people say doing that era of music, 1960s and 1970s music, it was the best music ever made, and I was really fortunate to be part of it.

Staying on the studio for a minute, was it tough to go from a Thad Jones and Mel Lewis session to an Aretha or an Wilson session or did you just soak it all up?

Oh no, that was the joy. That’s what I lived for was to be able to do that and be called for that. That was one of the best highlights of my career working with Thad and Mel and I worked with both of them doing jingles and doing record things. They heard me play. They knew what my stuff was about, so it was really one of the honors, highlights of my career to be asked to play on their recordings. That was what I lived for.

Then traveling down amongst the shows, that was part of that whole gunslinger mentality that I had as a studio musician, because for me, that what it was about. Dealing with the unknown, coming in, laying down what you had to do in those three hours or four hours. The pressure, the concentration, the focus, the excitement of producing a product then hearing it later on the radio or somewhere. That’s part of the thrill. It’s one thing to write a song but whether anybody’s going to hear it or not, sometimes that doesn’t happen, but when you’re recording, the possibility is increased many fold. Especially when you record it with a name act. Some artists you record with you never even hear the stuff. Some stuff we did we didn’t even know who the artist was. We just played tracks. We just made up parts. We never even heard vocals sometimes. Some sessions were like that.

So to do the regular Aretha sessions, King Curtis sessions, Wilson Pickett, the name artist sessions, those were really exciting, because you knew it was going to be released at some point. Some stuff never even gets released and some stuff they would record they would put in the can. You might not hear it for maybe two or three years, but that’s OK. It eventually comes out.

Over the years, as a bass player myself, one of my thrills is working with drummers I like that I can lock in with, and I just wanted to find out from you who some of your favorite drummers are that you’ve worked with or that you just admire? What is it about them that attracted you to them?

I made a list.

And why are you attracted to those particular drummers?

Herb Lovelle was my favorite drummer in the studio. He just passed away a month ago. He was incredible. He had quite a career. My whole trip in the studio was the cats I would listen to coming up as a kid from when I started listening to jazz at the age of 10 and started playing from the age of 11, started working at the age of 12. All the cats I listened to, I ended up working with in the studio. These are guys they hired to play in the studio, but they were flexible. They could play any rhythm, any style. The horn part, the string part. I played with Harry Lakosky. It was mind-blowing. I played with Ron Carter, George Levivier, Richard Davis, Bill Hinton. Being around that caliber of musician, it has to do something for you.

As far as drummers go, there was Herb Lovelle, and prior to that at the studio there was Charles “Honeyboy” Otis. He’s from New Orleans and of course I mentioned before Idris Muhammad, who was actually Leo Morris when I met him. These cats were so flexible and so loose. They all, Herb, Charles, Idris, Arrow Corn, he was also from New Orleans. I find in general New Orleans drummers. Charles Kohlmeyer. That’s his name. I had a guy in my band, kid in my band. I had to let him go, but he was a great drummer. He was from New Orleans. Steve Barrios. People know him for playing in Latin bands, playing trumpet, but he was my first drummer when I went out on my own. Great drummer, great musician.

Steve Jordan, Omar Hakim, and of late I’ve been playing with Derek Martin, Little Richard’s drummer. All these cats have the same kind of thing. What I like about them is they’re flexible. They’re not stuck playing what they know. They will create a part instantly on the stop, as opposed to coming in and laying down something, what they play, and you’ve got to work around them. Which is cool. I can do that too. That’s part of the challenge.

Gary Chester was another great drummer. He was flexible. All the cats I worked with, they were flexible. My favorite drummers – the ones that were flexible.

Do you keep up with the modern stuff that’s going on in blues and soul?

Now that I live in Mississippi the home of the blues. Are you kidding? I’m inundated with it. It’s like coming back to something I never knew about. I didn’t know the blues. You have to remember, Don, because I’m a jazz player, I had the mindset to play anything and being a studio musician I had to put myself on the line to play something creative. They would call me generally, I mean, you could look in the union book and get somebody to play bass and write a part out for them, but in my case, they wanted me to play what was in my head and it wasn’t necessarily truly blues. They were making a record. They wanted something unusual, something different, so that was what my career was based upon. Calls like that. I really wasn’t a blues cat. I did stuff with B.B. King. I didn’t even know who B.B. King was. I knew the name, but I could never identify the name with the sound.

The first time I heard him the studio you know what I said? I said, “Damn, he sounds like Ray Shinnery who was a B.B. King imitator. That was my frame of reference. They didn’t want the boompy doomp a doomp. They didn’t want the shuffle. That’s all he played was a shuffle, but I knew by that time they wanted me to play something different, so I had to make up something different to go up with his boopa doompa doompa groove, because that’s the only groove he played. Or bah bah bah, the straight eighth groove. It’s either the triplet, the shuffle or the straight eighth-note shuffle, you know, the rock type. That’s cool. I wasn’t going to change him. I was there to lift him up. That worked out really well as history will show.

Yes, indeed. Do you remember that session doing “The Thrill’s Gone”?

Oh, Herb Lovelle was the contractor. He was the one who said put the strings on the “The Thrill is Gone.” He was actually the producer. Herb and Lenny Gaskin, they worked as a team for years. They did Bob Dylan. They did all the dates with Dylan. They were him, Leonard, and Paul Griffin, they were back and forth between, they was there. They had been there. He was the one who had the ears. In fact, all those cats had ears. Paul and Herb were the ones who got Jerry Wexler to go get Aretha from Columbia, because her contract was up. They let him know what was going on. That’s how she got to Atlantic because of Paul and Herb. These cats were on the inside. They knew the deal.

So when Bill Simpson got the call to produce a live gig, he met Herb doing the Bob Dylan stuff and saw what he was doing with Bob Dylan and Leonard and we got the call to produce B.B. He did a live thing where B.B. did his own thing, but they didn’t have enough time. They said this was something in the studio. That’s what the company said, so Bill got the call to be the producer and what Bill does, he calls Herb and Herb calls me and Paul Harris and Hugh McCracken and we got it on, but Herb was calling the shots.

A song that will live for all time.

Yeah. B.B. will tell you the same thing. He’ll tell you that’s the best band he ever played with.

Are there artists out there now that you truly admire for what their doing?

I love music. If it’s got a beat, the melody’s good, the story’s good. Back to your question about the blues, there’s a local blues artists, one of my drummer’s partners, I think his name is Dexter Allen. He gave me his CD just a couple days ago and I put it on today. I got some fresh meat right here. So you listen to the radio and down here, the music, the depth of music is incredible, not only the radio, but the musicianship down here in Mississippi. I mean the brothers down here they be playing everything, and people come out and dance. They sing. It’s really rich and they’re used to hearing good music. The blues, they love the blues down here, so basically, the blues is telling a story. That’s to confirm but that’s my feelings about it. I was talking to him and he said it was just about telling a story.

You have a different audience now. Different instruments. Different strings of music coming through, so the blues it’s evolving. The music is changing, but something about the basic blues and the basic rhythm and blues. Now, rhythm and blues is something else. Rhythm and blues can be almost anything when it comes down to it. It changes. They use jazz progressions. Blues uses basically just blues progression. You might hear a little horn thing here but you stick with the blues, it’s kind of simple and everybody, they know where it’s going. Rhythm and blues, you don’t know what you might here. It’s more of a mind-altering experience, whereas the blues are more comfortable. It’s more accessible and people want to be taken for a ride, so if it’s in the concept of the show, you want to have blues material in the within the contents of your show, because it’s something everybody can relate to. The blues will be here forever.

My take on the current scene? Down here it’s alive and well. It’s alive and well down here. You hear it on the radio. You hear it when you go out. When I lived in New York, I didn’t go out that much but when I had to play. It’s a distant memory, believe me.

How did you end up in Mississippi?

My family did civil rights work back in the 1960s and they ended up coming back here and revisiting and got some property down here and it got too much for them to handle at one point and they asked me to come down and take over the house, which I did for two years, and now I’m in the process of moving. We decided to turn it into not a retreat, not a group, something to do project work and have people stay here from out of state. They have other plans for the house now and they got to pay the mortgage now. So we’re in the process of looking for a house as we speak. That’s why I’m calling you when I’m calling you. I try to do things on time. Much about playing, the groove is about being on time.

Back to the Muscle Shoals days, how do you describe that Muscle Shoals sound and what created it? Was it just a rare thing in time that it happened?

Not only Muscle Shoals, but Herb Lovelle. I keep going back to Herb, and I was really fortunate to know him as a friend, as opposed to just being in the studio, because a lot of people you run in and you run out. You remember their name, but you don’t have any social contact with them. But in the last 10 years, we’ve had a lot of contact and he would tell me stories about something went on and filled in some dots. So this is a really profound question you’re asking me about, because the Muscle Shoals came from the result of Jerry Wexler and Jerry Ragovoy being friends and Jerry Ragovoy as a songwriter, he’d make a lot of demos and he would send them over. He’d try to get his artists on Atlantic records.

What he would do is send his stuff over to Jerry and they were made by cats like Herb, Bernard Purdie and Chuck Rainey, myself, Richard Chi, Hugh McCracken, Cornell Dupree, and he would send this stuff over to Jerry and Jerry would send the stuff down to Rick Hall. He got the idea if he could get the guys to play like this and have them work for half scale! He could make some money and lower his overhead. So they would work all day for the same fee, and a lot of places in Memphis. They had good musicians down there.

One of the greatest bass players ever, Tommy Cogbill, he was there. He was actually, I found out recently, he actually was a guitar player who was a heavy bebop player. Tommy to play, the way you hear it, Tommy had sharps and he had ideas and he was very flexible, so when you see it, you hear the stories and go alright. He still played bass. He didn’t play bass like a guitar player, that’s for sure, but he was a heavy bebop guitar player.

So him hearing the ideas we had and he was able to make sense out of it and that’s how the Muscle Shoals sound began. Tommy, Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins, (Bruno?) Odem, and I think one of, I think it was Marvin. One of them was Marvell Thomas, I think, Brooklyn. He played keyboards.

Then Wexler started sending me down there, me and Duane. To answer your question of how this came, they had the idea, they got the sophistication thing from New York and then it wasn’t as slick and didn’t need to be as slick. It was a little looser, but they had more time to work with this stuff. You came to a session, you’re knocking stuff out in three or four hours. They’d spent all day on one tune. That’s how you get the Muscle Shoals sound. After awhile they got doing it faster. Didn’t take all day to get it done. They got a formula. They got people together who played the music. But it developed over a period of time.

Same thing happened with Motown. The first record they had was “Dancing in the Streets.” Barry Gordy’s sister came to New York and bought tracks from one of the local publishing company they had come in contact with, and that’s when “Dancing the Streets” came about. Herb Lovelle and Bernard Purdy are both playing drums on it. They had a track with no words. They had a lot of stuff like this. It was Leiber and Stoller who knew what they were doing. It was cranking stuff out, cranking stuff out. They went and ask if they had any tracks and they sold them the tracks. So that’s how they got to Motown.

I hadn’t heard that before.

Well, then you’re hearing it from the horse’s mouth. Herb is no longer here but he was there and Bernard’s still here.

I talk to him every now and then. He comes through Portland. You see him once in awhile around here.

That’s right. I think he has a band up in Portland, among other places.

Yeah, And I think a girlfriend or something.

That’s how the Muscle Shoals sound got started. People communicating – Jerry Wexler, Jerry Ragovoy, Rick Hall. You get a network. You get a team. Nobody knew this at the time this was going, but this is what happened.

It stands the test of time too, which you can’t deny.


Absolutely. Would you rather play technically perfect or in the groove, in the pocket?

That’s a good question and my answer is always with taste. Whatever it takes. What is technique used for? To promote an idea, and it has to be promoted at a specific point in time to be tasteful, for one thing. Technique supports the pocket. Mental technique, mental perfection is what really makes this happen as opposed to the physical. It’s more of a mental application of the abilities, at the right time and the right place, right volume. My sound I mixed myself. You don’t play everything at the same volume. It’s a trade up. You compensate. You make compromises. Technically, I’d just rather make good music. My idea is to get it on the first take. That’s when it’s fresh.

It’s a combination of you want to make it as tightly perfect but you want it to feel right. The main thing is the feel. That’s what Roland Kirk said to Dutch Reese when he first played with him. He had heard about Rahsaan. He was playing at the Apollo. I’m quoting his story now. He heard about this man who played three horns at the same time. Well, he wanted to go see it. He went down at the Five Spot and he was so enthralled he asked the drummer could he sit in, and so he sat in and Rahsaan turned around and said, “Who’s that playing drums?” He said, “Leo Marks.” “Keep that beat. Keep that beat.” And he played the whole set.

That’s how the first take. You hear something the first time, you want to keep on doing it. So you want it get it on the first take, so the things is be prepared and go in and do the rundown and when the recording light comes on, you want to get it on the first take.

So you want to do things you can do on the first take. You want to do something that is within your reach and then you’re going to over extend that idea at some point thinking you’re going to take a chance at some point and hope that you are able to pull it off, because you never know what’s going to happen, but you’re going to have to play. When that light’s on, somebody’ll play something that’ll change your part completely. Especially if you’re not reading a written part. If it’s a written part, that’s another story, but if you’re creating, you want to get it on the first take. If it’s a written part, it don’t even matter. You keep on working at it, they’ll fix it in the mix. Don’t sweat it. That’s the technology.

That’s very common too. That relaxes you. You can punch in. You can do this. You can do that. But the idea is you want that first take. You want to get it on the first take. It has to feel good, sound good. That first take is a monster.

Did you ever surprise yourself in the studio and nail a first take?

Oh yeah. Oh hell, yeah. Don’t ask me to do it again, either! It’s like, man, if you blow that first take and it’s like everybody else is popping. It’s like a plane crash. It’s serious. I remember this story about this pilot of the plane that crashed in February 12 was iced up and the pilot did the natural thing but in the situation, he didn’t have the training to do the abnormal thing which would’ve corrected the situation. He was pulling the nose of the plane up because it’s going down fast and the power stalled out, as opposed to pushing forward. It’s a technique but it requires repetition or getting used to do it to do it naturally. He did what was a natural thing and plane crashed. The people are gone, but that’s training. You want to be prepared and I practice things that are impossible to play and so I’m prepared to play it if it comes into my head. I’ve always had that mindset, technically, to play things that were difficult, so if I ever came across the need to play it, it wouldn’t be difficult for me. You have challenges though. You have to challenge yourself and everybody has different challenges.

How has your playing changed over the years, or has it?

Oh yeah, it’s changed a lot. It’s gotten better, actually. You do get better with age. People playing 30 years look forward to the next 20. Really. It gets better and you get into a better position to play where you don’t have to play as long and endurance is no longer the factor and hopefully you’re making more money while you’re doing it. It works out that way. I’ve seen other people’s career and the longer you play, you get smarter, you don’t work as hard and you get paid more. It plays out. It’s gotten better. It’s gotten more focused. It’s all about the music. It’s not so much the playing. It’s more like it’s more about the music really making a good musical statement.

Tell me about a couple of these bands you’ve got, Souler Energy for one and then I want to talk about your stuff with the Gregg Allman Band as well.

Souler Energy’s been around since 1978. I started the band in 1978. I work under that title basically. Anything I do is Jerry Jemmott and Souler Energy. I’m doing a Soho gig and it’s billed that way. I always bill myself that way. I’m never by myself in that sense. So I’ve had a lot of different configurations of the band and basically, the only difference in Souler Energy and other bands is they play all of my music. And they play the hits I played with other artists. I play about five or six of those in the course of a night which might be two sets. Now I’m a six-minute maximum. That’s basically what I do.

It’s mostly original material and right now it’s kind of in hiatus, so to speak. I’m not pushing anything. There’s no demand for me to appear anyplace right now. I don’t have a hit, so that happens. I’ll crank it back up again as a group situation. I’m looking forward to it. I’m hoping my books will spark that flame and people will want to see me play with my group.

I’m expecting that to happen, so for me it’s about getting my books, my educational products up on line. That’s what my focus has been for the last, oh gee, about 35 years. This is my 35th year of working on this book. It’s now an e-book and I have a series of books planned. Planned to put out hopefully with the help of Warner Bros. That’s a regular large entity because it was too much of a project to do myself. And I’ve gone it alone long enough. It’s good to get help.

As far as Gregg, we have a ball. We have great shows. It’s a great experience. You ask me one question and I skipped over, but something about playing with Aretha, King Curtis. Oh yeah, this is the same question. When I was with King Curtis’s band in 1967, we were riding around in a station wagon. When I was with Aretha in 1971, on the Fillmore dates, we’d ride in an airplane, so the whole scope of the situation changed as a result. The music had moved up four years. It was a different group completely, working in that environment. My only road experience was actually with King Curtis and Lionel Hampton. After that, went back in the studio, because Lionel Hampton had a bus and we would do one-nighters. That was hard. King Curtis had a station wagon, a U-Haul and an El Dorado and a Mark IV. He was living in style. We rode in the station wagon with Norman, but that was cool. No problem with that.

Worked with Gregg, great touring like that with the tour buses and that. All the amenities that go with it. It was a good gig. Good leader. Good boss. Good man. He’s overcome a lot of difficulties. I happened to come along at the time when he was overcoming. It was his seventh year of being sober I joined the band, so it was good.

Did he approach you about joining the band or did you talk to him first?

It’s funny. I have a friend of mine. This is going beyond the interview. Probably gone past our time too, but a friend of mine wanted me to, him and Oteill [Burbidge] who was the Allman Brothers’ bass player, they go back to college days, and they had the vision to bring the older musicians to get with the younger musicians. They had this vision and my soon-to-become friend, so I was playing with a group in New York called Betty Dylan, basically the white rock group, and I had been working with them for about eight years off and on, and I hooked up with the band that became Betty Dylan.

My soon-to-become friend, Jack, he saw me playing. He saw my name on a poster and he says, “Jerry, I thought you was dead. You’re still alive?” So he sought me out and we became friends and we started doing things like did a gig with me and Bernie. We did a thing with one of his festivals. He was producer also, so we did the festival and one thing led to another and then I had a birthday. He threw a surprise birthday party and he invited the brothers to come down to the party and then I went and hung out with him and Melvin Sparks, actually. He tricked me into coming down to B.B. King’s and turned out to be a birthday party for me and Melvin. That week we celebrated going to different places that Melvin and I, people we’d play with, like Lou Donaldson, Grayboy Allstars, B.B. King, Allman Brothers. I hadn’t played with the Allman Brothers, but I played with Duane.

I came and sat in and then Gregg called me in a couple of weeks to join the band. Then at the same time he tells me the story that when the Allman Brothers first got together, Duane had called them. I had a conversation with Duane and we had both gotten tired of running back and forth to Muscle Shoals and doing that thing. That’s the last time I saw Duane, that was the last time right before when we stopped going down there. That’s when I saw him at the airport. I did work with him after that with Herbie Mann, which I had forgotten about.

I said, “Man, I’m going back to New York. I’m just going to do jingles, Duane. I’m tired of doing these things that are blowing my brain.” You’re still not getting paid enough so let’s do jingles. I asked what he was going to do and he said, “I’m going to start a band with brother, and I said, cool. That was it. So you fast forward 38 years and I’m talking with Gregg and he’s all back in the day, when I first came around and started chewing the fat. He said when Duane called him to come start a band, he was in California, and he told me he had this great bass player with long fingers who was going to be in the band, and when he got there, he had to hitchhike to get there. He said, “Where’s the bass player with the long fingers?” Well, man, he’s up in New York. He’s making some money doing jingles.

So you almost could’ve been an Allman Brother?

Yeah. Well, you know, I am occasionally when I come and sit in with them.

How do you personally keep growing as a musician? Do you have tricks for doing that? Do you just keep yourself engaged and moving forward?

Getting into education has been an emphasis to prepare other people to play music. It’s actually to be fresh. I’m expanding. I have something I quote – the logic emotes reality and that’s the wisdom to bring any phenomena into existence using different methods. That’s what keeps me going. I play something one way. It’s like playing a scale on one string, then playing it on two strings. Then you play the same scale on three strings, then you play it on four strings. I use the same concept. If I hear something I’ll play it three or four or five different ways and say, ah, this is the way, but I’ll play the other ways just for the heck of it. Just for the execution. Just for the process of being able to do it, because you never know. My head, being an improviser of what’s going to come into my head, I’ve got to be able to grab it and go on to the next. My playing can’t be defined by what I’m able to do technically or mentally. It has to be defined by what I’m able to reproduce at the moment. So I familiarize myself with playing things different ways, different tempos, different feels, whatever it’s going to take to make it sound different before I know. That’s how I stay fresh.

I listen to other people. I listen to people more now. I never listened to people before but the singers and the instrumentals. My favorite instrumentalist is Erroll Garner. Him and my favorite composer was Charles Mingus, so between the two of them, they keep me humble. I could never play as good as Erroll. I will be as good as Charles, but they keep like this is where it’s at for me. Between those two, basically.

Do you stop and think about your place in popular music? I’m thinking about this in terms of me idolizing what you’ve done in your career. Do you stop and think about what you’ve done all of your career?

Not really, Don. It’s like nobody told me not to listen. I never thought of myself of being that good and I was always striving, because the people who were my heroes were so crazy innovators that I never put the time in, never had the mindset or the patience, I would say, to put the time in like they did. Or to put it this way, even better, I don’t have that natural ability that some people have. Music is hard for me. I’m tone deaf. I’m legally blind. And my ability to focus is very bad. I’ve had to overcome those obstacles to get to where I did. So for me it’s always a measure of like trepidation and excitement. I’ve never thought of myself as being great. I’ve never been that great technically. I’ve never been that great anyway, but I’ve just been fortunate to be among good people at the right time who elevated me and I was able to elevate them and be there for them. Really a lot of good fortunate in this. Not so much the technical thing. It’s more about the person.

Not that I’m a great person, but I’ve been fortunate. I’m looking at myself as really being truly fortunate.

Well, you’ve been a source of inspiration for a bunch of us bass players out here on the West Coast.

Well, I hope to keep it going. I’m not stopping.

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Bass Videos

Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison



Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

Ian Allison Bassist extreme

Most recently Ian has spent the last seven years touring nationally as part of Eric Hutchinson and The Believers, sharing stages with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix, Rachel Platten, Matt Nathanson, Phillip Phillips, and Cory Wong playing venues such as Radio City Music Hall, The Staples Center and The Xcel Center in St. Paul, MN.

I had a chance to meet up with him at the Sellersville Theater in Eastern Pennsylvania to catch up on everything bass. Visit online at

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Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias



Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

Checking in with Bergantino Artist James Tobias

James Tobias, Bassist for psychedelic, Reggae-Rock titans Audic Empire shares his history as a musician and how he came to find Bergantino…

Interview by Holly Bergantino

James Tobias, a multi-talented musician and jack-of-all-trades shares his story of coming up as a musician in Texas, his journey with his band Audic Empire, and his approach to life and music. With a busy tour schedule each year, we were fortunate to catch up with him while he was out and about touring the US. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Dallas, Texas and lived in the Dallas area most of my life with the exception of 1 year in Colorado. I moved to the Austin area at age 18. 

What makes the bass so special to you particularly, and how did you gravitate to it?

I honestly started playing bass because we needed a bass player and I was the one with access to a bass amp and bass. I played rhythm guitar and sang up until I met Ronnie, who I would later start “Audic Empire” with. He also played rhythm guitar and sang and we didn’t know any bass players, so we had to figure something out. I still write most of my songs on guitar, but I’ve grown to love playing the bass. 

How did you learn to play, James?

I took guitar lessons growing up and spent a lot of time just learning tabs or playing by ear and kicked around as a frontman in a handful of bands playing at the local coffee shops or rec centers. Once I transitioned to bass, I really just tried to apply what I knew about guitar and stumbled through it till it sounded right. I’m still learning every time I pick it up, honestly. 

You are also a songwriter, recording engineer, and a fantastic singer, did you get formal training for this? 

Thank you, that means a lot!  I had a couple of voice lessons when I was in my early teens, but didn’t really like the instructor. I did however take a few lessons recently through ACC that I enjoyed and think really helped my technique (Shout out to Adam Roberts!) I was not a naturally gifted singer, which is a nice way of saying I was pretty awful, but I just kept at it. 

As far as recording and producing, I just watched a lot of YouTube videos and asked people who know more than me when I had a question. Whenever I feel like I’m not progressing, I just pull up tracks from a couple of years ago, cringe, and feel better about where I’m at but I’ve got a long way to go. Fortunately, we’ve got some amazing producers I can pass everything over to once I get the songs as close to finalized as I can. 

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass.

I honestly don’t know what my style would be considered. We’ve got so many styles that we play and fuse together that I just try to do what works song by song.  I don’t have too many tricks in the bag and just keep it simple and focus on what’s going to sound good in the overall mix. I think my strength lies in thinking about the song as a whole and what each instrument is doing, so I can compliment everything else that’s going on. What could be improved is absolutely everything, but that’s the great thing about music (and kind of anything really). 

Who were your influencers in terms of other musicians earlier on or now that have made a difference and inspired you?

My dad exposed me to a lot of music early. I was playing a toy guitar while watching a VHS of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble live at SXSW on repeat at 4 years old saying I wanted to “do that” when I grew up. I was the only kid in daycare that had his own CDs that weren’t kid’s songs. I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and The Doors when I could barely talk. I would make up songs and sing them into my Panasonic slimline tape recorder and take it to my preschool to show my friends. As I got older went through a bunch of music phases. Metal, grunge, rock, punk, hip hop, reggae, ska, etc. Whatever I heard that I connected to I’d dive in and learn as much as I could about it. I was always in bands and I think I kept picking up different styles along the way and kept combining my different elements and I think that’s evident in Audic’s diverse sound. 

Tell me about Audic Empire and your new release Take Over! Can you share some of the highlights you and the band are most proud of?

Takeover was an interesting one. I basically built that song on keyboard and drum loops and wrote and tracked all my vocals in one long session in my bedroom studio kind of in a stream-of-consciousness type of approach. I kind of thought nothing would come of it and I’d toss it out, but we slowly went back and tracked over everything with instruments and made it our own sound. I got it as far as I could with production and handed it off to Chad Wrong to work his magic and really bring it to life. Once I got Snow Owl Media involved and we started brainstorming about a music video, it quickly turned into a considerably larger production than anything we’ve done before and it was such a cool experience. I’m really excited about the final product, especially considering I initially thought it was a throwaway track.

Describe the music style of Audic Empire for us. 

It’s all over the place… we advertise it as “blues, rock, reggae.” Blues because of our lead guitarist, Travis Brown’s playing style, rock because I think at the heart we’re a rock band, and reggae because we flavor everything with a little (or a lot) of reggae or ska. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio Systems?

Well, my Ampeg SVT7 caught fire at a show… We were playing Stubbs in Austin and everyone kept saying they smelled something burning, and I looked back in time to see my head, perched on top of its 8×10 cab, begin billowing smoke. We had a tour coming up, so I started researching and pricing everything to try and find a new amp. I was also fronting a metal band at the time, and my bass player’s dad was a big-time country bass player and said he had this really high-end bass amp just sitting in a closet he’d sell me. I was apprehensive since I really didn’t know much about it and “just a little 4×10” probably wasn’t going to cut it compared to my previous setup. He said I could come over and give it a test drive, but he said he knew I was going to buy it. He was right. I immediately fell in love. I couldn’t believe the power it put out compared to this heavy head and cumbersome cab I had been breaking my back hauling all over the country and up countless staircases.  

Tell us about your experience with the forte D amp and the AE 410 Speaker cabinet. 

It’s been a game-changer in every sense. It’s lightweight and compact. Amazing tone. And LOUD. It’s just a fantastic amp. Not to mention the customer service being top-notch! You’ll be hard-pressed to find another product that, if you have an issue, you can get in touch with the owner, himself. How cool is that? 

Tell us about some of your favorite basses.

I was always broke and usually working part-time delivering pizzas, so I just played what I could get my hands on. I went through a few pawn shop basses, swapped in new pickups, and fought with the action on them constantly. I played them through an Ampeg be115 combo amp. All the electronics in it had fried at some point, so I gutted it out and turned it into a cab that I powered with a rusted-up little head I bought off someone for a hundred bucks. My gear was often DIY’d and held together by electrical tape and usually had a few coats of spray paint to attempt to hide the wear and tear. I never really fell in love with any piece of gear I had till I had a supporter of our band give me an Ibanez Premium Series SDGR. I absolutely love that bass and still travel with it. I’ve since gotten another Ibanez Premium Series, but went with the 5-string BTB.  It’s a fantastic-sounding bass, my only complaint is it’s pretty heavy. 

Love your new video Take Over! Let us know what you’re currently working on (studio, tour, side projects, etc.)

Thank you!! We’ve got a LOT of stuff we’re working on right now actually. Having 2 writers in the band means we never have a shortage of material. It’s more about getting everything tracked and ready for release and all that goes into that. We just got through filming videos for 2 new unreleased tracks with Snow Owl Media, who did the videos for both Love Hate and Pain and Takeover. Both of these songs have surprise features which I’m really excited about since these will be the first singles since our last album we have other artists on. We’ve also got a lot of shows coming up and I’ve also just launched my solo project as well. The debut single, “Raisin’ Hell” is available now everywhere. You can go here to find all the links

What else do you do besides music?

For work, I own a handyman service here in Austin doing a lot of drywall, painting, etc. I have a lot of hobbies and side hustles as well. I make custom guitar straps and other leather work. I do a lot of artwork and have done most of our merch designs and a lot of our cover art. I’m really into (and borderline obsessed) with health, fitness, and sober living.  I have a hard time sitting still, but fortunately, there’s always a lot to do when you’re self-employed and running a band!

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore



Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore

Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore…

I am always impressed by the few members of our bass family who are equally proficient on upright as well as electric bass… Edmond Gilmore is one of those special individuals.

While he compartmentalizes his upright playing for mostly classical music and his electric for all the rest, Edmond has a diverse musical background and life experiences that have given him a unique perspective.

Join me as we hear about Edmond’s musical journey, how he gets his sound and his plans for the future.

Photo, Sandrice Lee

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Billy The Kid: Tapping Into Sheehan’s Eternal Youth!



Bassist Billy Sheehan

By David C. Gross & Tom Semioli 

BS: Billy Sheehan
DCG: David C. Gross
TS: Tom Semioli 

“When you find one door, open it up! It leads to another world…” 

William Roland Sheehan needs no introduction to bassists, nor hard rock aficionados – however such perfunctory salutations are required for the uninitiated. 

A virtuoso (tap, shred, effects maestro – you name it) who plies his craft in genres loosely termed as metal, prog-rock, and heavy-prog, Sheehan is actually a musical polymath. Though he’s most commonly associated with the numerous high-profile voltage enhanced ensembles he’s been an integral part of – namely Sons of Apollo, Talas, Winery Dogs, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Greg Howe, Niacin, and Tony MacAlpine to cite a very few – Billy digs everything from classical to jazz to synth-pop to electronic to flamenco to Tuvan throat singing – and then some. All of which is reflected in his work on stage and in the studio – which incidentally, has been going strong for six decades and counting.

With age comes wisdom. We caught Billy in the midst of Mr. Big’s farewell sojourn with his signature Yamaha Attitude bass in his lap. Note that while we were setting up the Zoom connection – Billy was working scales and warming up despite the reality that there was no show scheduled that evening! Sheehan explains why said collective is taking its final bow. Not to worry, the Buffalo-born bassist has much more work to do. In fact, you could say that Billy’s just getting started. 

TS: Someone once sang “I hope I die before I get old…” Yet when we take a look around us at a few of your peers and heroes such as Tony Levin and Ron Carter just to name two– they’re going stronger than ever. Reflect on the young Billy Sheehan and the 21st Century Billy Sheehan. What’s changed? What is the same? 

BS: As you grow you become more focused. I don’t want to say that I’m more mature, because that has other implications! 

As a musician – and I think this is true with all artists – we maintain our 16-year-old sensibilities for life! It’s healthy to maintain a youthful exuberance.  I’m thankful that I still have it. Somehow that was built into me. 

I’m still excited about getting up in the morning and working on my bass playing every day. I’ll be driving in my car and a musical idea will suddenly hit me and I have to get home to pick up my instrument.

Perhaps it’s because we can devote more time to things at this point in our lives. Hopefully, we’re not running around trying to get our lives together and we have more stability. That can lead to a new personal Renaissance for the over 50s players. It’s a great time to be alive at my age. 

DCG: Do you think the snow in Buffalo helped you develop into a virtuoso player?

BS: Absolutely! (laughter) I remember the Blizzard of ’77! I couldn’t leave my house. The snow was up to my chest. I think we went something like 60 to 90 days with the temperature not getting above freezing. I had my little apartment, my little bass, my little heater – so what else could I do? 

I learned the Brandenburg Concertos on bass…well, not all of it, just chunks here and there. However, the adversity you get from your environment can be an advantage, like it was for me – I was isolated. I was on my own with no interruptions. Back then I was free – no kids, no girlfriend. I froze but I think it paid off! 

DCG: There is one bass tip you gave me – not personally, it was in an interview – regarding strap length. The advice was to simply grab a piece of leather, sit down the way you practice, put the leather on you, stand up, and that is the optimum position for your bass!  

BS: Of all the fancy stuff I’ve tried to show people I’ve received more response from the strap length than anything else. 

But it’s really important. I’m sitting here with my bass practicing. When I stand up to play live, I need it to be in the same place. You need to maintain the angles of your hands, fingers, and arms. If you get up to play and the bass is lower nothing seems to work. 

DCG: That’s because you’re not using the muscles you’ve developed during practice. However you do want to look cool on stage, and the low-slung bass is the ultimate rock star aesthetic.

BS: Right, which is why we should invent a strap with a button on it to instantly lower and raise the bass! (laughter)

Note: Billy proceeds to model different bass lengths – chest level for progressive rock, and under his chin for what Sheehan terms as ‘the jazz bowtie.” 

TS: You came to prominence in a decade known as the 1980s which to my ears was a golden era for bassists. Our instrument was able to adapt to the new technologies. The improvements in recording and pro audio allowed bass notes to be heard rather than a low rumble lost somewhere in the mix. 

BS: It was a great decade. There is a constant evolution going on. It goes from artist to artist. One artist hears somebody – let’s say Oscar Peterson hears Art Tatum – and suddenly we have this amazing confluence of both styles together. I learned from many of the players that came before me – it’s a long list – everybody imaginable – and some not. Consequently, I stood on their shoulders. 

Today there are people who are standing on my shoulders! There is a whole generation of players who are doing what we thought was impossible – or couldn’t even imagine. And that’s a great thing. We see that happen in all the arts.

In music, more than anything, we notice a significant ascension in skills. Some other art forms go off into abstractions whereas in music, there is a real technical, definable and quantifiable ability to play a string of notes in time, in tune, and righteously. That has gone way, way up to me. 

I have a huge collection of music. I often focus on one particular brand of music – for example: garage rock from the 1960s.  There is rarely a bass in tune! Not even close – sometimes a half step off! Why nobody noticed it, I’ll never know! 

As we progressed, it got much better – more in tune, in time. 

My first concert was Jimi Hendrix. I went to see him play and I got up close and took a few photos. That was as close as I ever got to him. Now on YouTube – you can see his fingerprints as he’s playing. You can see the iris in his eyes. You can watch and learn everything. I think that is a great advantage to a new generation of players. 

They are fortunate in ways that we never were in that there are amazing documents of the musicians that came before them. So now the shoulders are even wider to stand on! Before that the best we could do, as you guys know, is listen to a record and go ‘I think it’s this (Billy renders imaginary riff)! I’m not sure…’ We find out later that we were either right on the money or somewhere in between. 

TS: However, ‘getting it wrong’ sometimes develops your individual style. Even if I couldn’t get John Entwistle’s line perfectly, I came up with something else that is unique to me. 

BS: Very true! You had to improvise and try to figure out how they did it. As a result, we have the ability to play stylistically. And the mechanics can be wildly across the spectrum of innovation. 

I traveled to Japan years ago to participate in a huge bass clinic. There were 3000 people in the auditorium and about 10 players on stage. One bassist played this complicated piece that I had recorded. And he did it exactly, but his technique was nowhere near the way I played it. It was amazing and it taught me a lot. He took a left turn and still landed in the right place. Awesome! 

As you both know, there are a million factors that go into this.  There are many paths to express yourself, and to be the way you want to be. 

TS: Growing up in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s – we heard pop music on the radio with such extraordinary players as James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey, Louis Johnson, to name a few. Aside from metal, alternative, country, and funk – there hasn’t been a bass on hit tunes – even with such contemporary R&B artists such as Rhianna, Cardi B, and Beyonce – how do we get our instrument back into the mainstream? 

BS: I think it is cyclical. That sub-sonic, sub-harmonic pre-programmed thing – you know where they pump the bass line, or make a midi-file of it – is very popular now. And sonically – it is bassier! It’s more precise, and right on. 

That is the style that people’s ears are used to right now. They are also acclimated to auto-tune vocals. When they hear a natural vocal, which 99% of the time is not in perfect pitch, it throws them! Nowadays every note lands perfectly on that ProTools grid. The vocals are tuned to perfection, there is not a slightly flat or slightly sharp note to be found. 

I think the pendulum will swing back at some point. People are going to want to hear more humanity. They gravitate to something slightly out of time or out of tune which gives the music authenticity. Like taking a breath – we all do not inhale and exhale at the same rate. Our hearts do not beat at the same rate! I believe that there is an analogy there for music as well.

At present, we are in the perfection stage. There is beauty to that too. I don’t put it down. There’s not much about music that I do not like. Millions of love this type of music, and I acknowledge it. Who am I to say? There are a lot of cool things to think about. Especially in electronic music that was coming out in the 80s and 90s – artists such as Prodigy, Fat Boy Slim.

DCG: Yes, it was very experimental. 

BS: I loved that right away. There was a Stacey Q song ‘Love of Hearts’ with the coolest synth bass part. I remember sitting down and my challenge to myself was to work that out on a bass guitar. I tried to play it as rock solid as the programmed track. Sometimes it’s good to go with ‘man vs. machine!’ and try to match up to that studio perfection. And that goes for any musician, not just a bass player. You have to push yourself in different directions. When you find one door, open it up! It leads to another world… 

DCG: The older we get the more we appreciate things, and even in new music -which may not speak to us per se – there is something to be learned. For example, Justin Timberlake commented that he commences the songwriting process with beats as opposed to traditional chord changes and melodies – which is how our generation hears music. 

BS: This is true. And when I was young, I remember the older generation saying ‘What is this Jimi Hendrix stuff you’re listening to, it’s not music!’ 

And now I see a lot of young folks at our shows – especially Winery Dogs and Sons of Apollo – so there is somewhat of a generational hand-off going on today. 

My mom was big into the standard singers of her era; Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin, and similar artists. I am big into Sinatra!

DCG: What is your favorite Sinatra record?

BS: That would be Live at The Sands! Of course!

DCG: Mine is Frank Sinatra Sings for Only The Lonely. 

BS: That’s a good one! Live at The Sands is a compilation of five shows. It is a collection of the best parts of five nights…

DCG: Quincy Jones did the arrangements! 

BS: Right! I found recordings of all the other shows! That’s the nature of my collection. I always search out the impossible. I also have the rehearsals for Jimi’s Band of Gypsys before they ever performed. It’s amazing to hear different versions of those songs. 

Getting back to your comment on the components of music from this generation to the previous ones– I think it’s harder to go from the standard verse-chorus-bridge to a flat beat and vocalizations without any real pitch. That is a big jump. 

Yesterday I was discussing the chord changes in Beatles songs with a colleague of mine. For me, the greatest song ever written is The Beatles ‘If I Fell.’ How elaborate they were. I remember learning Everly Brothers songs on guitar and then the Beatles came out and it changed everything. I recall thinking ‘How does this even work?’ That was a jump back then, now what is happening is an even bigger jump because there were still harmonic relations between new and older music. 

But that does not mean that the new way of doing things for some artists cannot be crossed over.  Again, I appreciated a lot of new stuff. The computer-generated stuff, I’m not crazy about it because many of my friends are musicians and I like to hear them playing instead of programming. Yet there is a real beauty to electronic music. 

I was way into Wendy Carlos (composer/recording artist who was a 1960s electronic music pioneer and worked with Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog Synthesizer) back in the day. There was a great record by Mark Hankinson entitled The Unusual Classical Synthesizer (1972). I love the work of Japanese synthesist (Isao) Tomita – he wasn’t doing rhythmic Bach and Beethoven – he was doing Debussy on synthesizer which was mind-blowing to me. His record of Debussy Snowflakes Are Dancing (1974) – is full of lilting, emotional pads and colors. Just incredible. 

I’m also a big fan of world music – though that is a title that is too often misused. Bulgarian choir music intrigues me.

DCG: How about the Tuvan throat singers…

BS: Oh yeah, that is not human! Unbelievable. And they’re all in a room singing… I am also a huge fan of Indian music especially violinist L. Shankar whom Frank Zappa referred to as the best musician he ever knew. 

And it’s all available now…

TS:  You bring up the topic of streaming music – and a question to all the artists David and I speak with. Given the nature of the platform, which is song-oriented, is the album format still relevant today? 

BS: To some of us, the format is still relevant. When I’m on tour we sell lots of vinyl. The 1985 Talas record came out on vinyl and we have a hard time keeping up with it. The pressing plants are backed up from six months to a year in some instances. 

I saw one columnist comment that he didn’t know if people were actually playing the records as much as they enjoyed holding them in their hands! 

Who knows, there may be a time when the grid goes down and everyone is going to have to get their bicycle out, or their generator and get a turntable going again! 

DCG: Tom, how do you make a musician complain? 

TS: Give him a gig!


BS: That’s true! The internet has brought on the age of complaining…

TS: Musicians complained that the record labels were unfair gatekeepers. When MTV came along – a platform that gave massive exposure to scores of artists – yourself included; musicians once again complained that it favored only the visuals as opposed to the music. Now with digital technology, musicians can go directly to the consumer. 

BS: For lack of a better word, things are more ‘democratic’ now. You can accelerate your promotion. For example, I am on a laptop now and I can record an entire symphony orchestra and do the movie soundtrack along with it. Then I can go online and sell it. That has leveled the playing field quite a bit. Before, you could only do that if you had a big budget – you’d have to hire a studio, engineers – it was cost-prohibitive in many instances. You can even do it on an iPhone! 

So, to me, that’s a good thing. 

I’ve heard of this parallel with this, perhaps you will concur with me; when desktop publishing first came out the reaction was ‘Oh no, there will be so many amazing books we won’t know what to do anymore!’ However, the same number of books still made it to the top of the list – despite the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people writing via desktop publishing. 

And I think the same situation exists with music. Despite the population of the world making music, there is still going to be stuff that gravitates to the top. So, I don’t think it is so wildly different from when there were gatekeepers as you say. 

So that’s a good thing. You can be one click away from a billion listeners. That is amazing. The bad thing is, so are a million other people! 

DCG: As I said to Tom yesterday, in 100 years, I don’t think people will be reading. 

BS: I agree, and that it sad to see. Because similar to music, you can use your imagination. There is a fantastic book entitled This Is Your Brain on Music (written by neuroscientist Daniel Joseph Levitin, first published in 2006) – and I had a conversation by email with the author. 

The creativity that you must have in your mind when you’re reading a book – if a passage reads ‘snow is falling, smoke is coming from the chimneys…’ you can see it and smell it in your mind. You create a cinematic scenario. Whereas in a movie, it’s all spoon-fed to you. 

TS: The latest kerfuffle in the music business in 2024 is the use of artificial intelligence. What say you of AI?

BS: I am a purist in a lot of ways. When people ask me for advice about getting into the music business I tell them three things: 

1. Get in a band. 

2. Get in a band with songs… 

3. Get in a band with songs that you sing!

Run the numbers of every bass player, every guitar player and so forth and those three steps are the most successful. AI does not necessarily fit in with that. I have yet to wrap my head around AI to have a solid opinion about it.  In general, I am leaning towards humans, humanity, and people thinking up things. 

People thought up AI, it didn’t think up itself. And it’s all on a computer which is made by humans! I see the urge to create a robot world where everything is done by robots. But unless somebody programs it…it ain’t gonna happen. So there is that human element that is still essential.

Until we get robots that can program, then they’ll be some self-replicating, and then we’ll wind up with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator of some sort!  That could happen. Science fiction has predicted many things that came to be! 

I prefer the Everly Brothers to AI. If and when the whole world goes to hell, we can still sit around a campfire with a guitar and sing songs. 

TS: Let’s talk bass for a change. David and I have a credo that states ‘it’s not a real bass until you drill holes in it.’ David now favors custom instruments, though he still loves to tear up a perfectly good bass and rebuild it in his own image every now and then. I prefer to modify my Fender basses. What was your original inspiration to create the legendary ‘wife’ and other basses? 

BS: For me, the Fender Precision bass is the bass. Ninety-nine percent of everything has been done on that instrument or some variation thereof. 

This (Billy holds aloft his Yamaha Attitude bass) is very P bass-ish. When Yamaha contacted me to make a bass and endorse their instrument – Fender was at a low point. They were changing ownership, there were shifts going on in the company, and their instruments weren’t that great. I’m going to say that was the mid-1980s.

Yamaha came along with quality control second to none in my opinion. I am glad went with them and I will always be with them. 

The P bass is undeniable. Before my first P bass came into the store – that was Art Kubera’s Music Store on Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo, New York – they let me take home an Epiphone Rivoli bass – or the Gibson version of that, which had the big, fat chrome pick-up right here beneath the base of the neck.  It had a super deep low-end resonance. 

I played for a few days, and when my bass came in I played it and it sounded great but it was missing that sound from the Rivoli. It was a super deep low sound like I’d heard on ‘Rain’ by The Beatles – which may have been Paul’s Rickenbacker or Hofner. 

Notes From An Artist Notes: Paul’s aforementioned instruments both featured pick-ups beneath the base of the neck and body! 

Paul Samwell-Smith of The Yardbirds, who used an Epiphone Rivoli – was a big inspiration to me and he had that deep sound.  

I loved the P bass but I wanted those sounds so I figured ‘Hey, I’ve got all this space right here, why don’t I dig a hole and put a pick-up in there!’ I didn’t know how to wire it, so I made two outputs and ran it into two channels of my amplifier. We’re talking 1970…1971. When dinosaurs roamed the earth!

Then I got a second amp – one was for all the harmonics and high-end content and then the super low deep end on the other. That really helped me in a three-piece band. We didn’t have a keyboard or rhythm guitar, so I had something that sounded guitar-ish and keyboard-ish but there was always bass underneath it. I never lost that low end. And that is basically the formula I stuck with. 

Then I found out later on – of course, I did not invent it, I came up with it on my own – all the others did too, that all the early Alembic basses had duel outputs for each pickup. Rickenbacker’s Rick-O-Sound had both pickups going to two places. 

I’d read that John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin took his Fender Jazz bass and split the pick-ups into two amps. John Entwistle did stuff like that as well. Chuck Burghofer,  who played the iconic bass part to the Barney Miller show theme song had a Gibson EB-0 pick-up on his Precision bass! A lot of players used that for the same solution to the same problem. 

If you really want to extend the low end – that neck pick-up is really where it is at. And that’s how I got to where I am on my Attitude bass. The Attitude neck is modeled after a 1968 Fender Telecaster bass – it’s a big fat baseball bat! It’s meaty with a lot of sustain. And that’s my story sad but true! (laughter)

TS: The great Mel Schacher of Grand Funk Railroad modded out his Fender Jazz with an EB-1 pickup at the neck – that’s how he attained his signature tone. 

BS: One of my favorite players!

TS: Since our show commenced three years ago as The Bass Guitar Channel David and I have debated the merits of the extended-range bass. You’ve always been a four-string guy. I last saw you with Sons of Apollo with a double neck bass – with both in four-string configurations. 

David and I spoke with Jerry Jemmott, the legendary bassist who, as you know, was a great influence on Jaco Pastorius. He maintains that Jaco would have continued with the four-string had he lived to see the advancements in extended-range five and six-string instruments. He also stresses that it was the limitations of the four-string that were a major factor in Jaco’s style – it prompted him to be more creative within those so-called restrictions.  Your thoughts?  

BS: I’ve already got enough death threats from five and six-string players! (laughter) 

I refer to the five-string bass as a ‘flinch.’ You have a guy sitting at home playing a four-string, it’s not really working out for him. He’s not playing in a good band… he’s not happening. So he thinks ‘I’ll go to five-strings!’ 

DCG: Oh Jesus!!!! C’mon Billy…

BS: Well, that’s really not a true blanket statement… (laughter)

Really, if you want to play five-string, God bless you, go for it! Go for however many strings you want.

When I posted my double-neck on social media, there was a ton of vitriol! Hostility! Attacks! I got feedback such as ‘You should play a five-string, that’s just wasteful!’ 

Hold on, I played a double-neck for a lot of different reasons. First of all, they are tuned differently. On the Mr. Big tour, we had to lower the keys on many songs. We’re not like we used to be vocally. Some of our songs are a whole step lower – so I’d have to switch basses, which would interrupt the flow of the performance. With the double-neck, I have every tuning I need right here. 

It seems like nobody could figure that out, especially the five-string. The double-neck is a fantastic instrument, it feels good, and it’s perfectly balanced for me. Standard tuning on the top neck, BEAD on the bottom. All my notes are where I want them to be. 

I agree with Jerry, I think Jaco would have stuck with the four-string. Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen played four strings. Monk Montgomery… There really is no limitation on a four-string. 

I can bend my Attitude on the G string to a high G. I can go really low with my de-tuner. I can bend the low D to a low B! So I have almost the same range as a lot of extended ranges basses right here.

I remember being in a band with Steve Vai and I had one low B note in one song, so I simply hit the de-tuner! Where there is a will there is a way! 

If you want to play a 90-string bass, I’m with you! The insistence that we all have to play the same bass with the same tone with the same everything – and if you don’t – you’re out of the club! I can’t hang with that. 

TS: You’ve collaborated with so many virtuoso guitarists – Steve Vai, Tony MacAlpine, Ritchie Kotzen, Paul Gilbert, and Michael Schenker to select a scant few. Who are the players, past or present, whom you would like to work with the most? 

PS: Sadly we lost that guitar player, and I don’t think I am qualified either: Paco de Lucia! He was tops on my list. Also I have to add John McLaughlin to the list. I am a huge Mahavishnu Orchestra fan. I am a big Billy Cobham fan too.

You mention guitar players, but I am more of a ‘drummer’ guy! I got to see Cobham in Dreams before the Mahavishnu Orchestra with the Brecker Brothers on horns for $1.50 at the University of Buffalo. He blew my mind! 

I love Dennis Chambers. Playing with him changed my life. 

DCG: Tell us how you approach working with guitar heroes.

BS: I like to work ‘with’ guitarists. I do what they need to have done. In the past when I played with Steve Vai, I removed myself from the equation. My approach was ‘What does Steve want? What does he need?’ In some ways, it takes the burden off me to be continuously creative. I strive to play accurately and righteously and make him happy. I don’t want him to even think of the bass while he is doing his thing. 

He is free and I am providing that big foundation – think of it as 18 inches of steel-reinforced concrete! With Paul Gilbert in Mr. Big, I always make sure there are big fat notes underneath him while he is soloing and I get the heck out of his way! I want to hear him too!

Bass is primarily a supportive instrument. Most anybody will agree to that I believe. The instrument does its own things too; sometimes its really woven into improvisation, sometimes it’s the foundation.

The problem I have with some guitarists is that if I move harmonically – they get thrown off because they cannot play over changes. Even if I am in the key of E minor, if I do some movement in the key other than the root, they are completely lost. I tell them not to worry, we are still in the same key! 

If you listen to Bach, what he does in the left-hand affects the sound of the right hand. The moving notes create intriguing counterpoint which are essential components of music and harmony. 

Depending on the guitarist, I’ll move around all over the place. Within reason of course! I give them the option to go where they want to go, and not to work because I’ll follow you! I will instinctively get out of the way when you need me to. Lock in with the drummer and I’ll jump in when it’s time. This way we create an interchange – an improvisation. Again, think Bach with the left hand and the right hand. You hit one note, you hit another, and something changes! That is harmony. It creates a third tone in a way.

When you can do that as a bass player it leads to more harmonic complexity in a good way. 

That’s not to say that Cliff Williams in AC/DC isn’t a genius. He’s pounding that beautiful open E string while Angus is doing his thing and it is glorious. Amazing. Same thing with Ian Hill of Judas Priest – he holds the whole band together. 

TS: And on the topic of drummers, Michael Portnoy and you have two remarkable bands that are completely different: the prog-rock collective of Sons of Apollo, and the blues-based Winery Dogs. 

BS: Winery Dogs is straight-up rock with a lot of improvisational stuff. Sons of Apollo is more of a progressive arranged style – the parts are the same – they are written into the song, much like classical music. As you can hear, there is not as much free form moving in Sons of Apollo. 

Sometimes I have this ESP thing going on with drummers. I remember one time I was setting up in a little club to do a jam and drummer Ray Luzier of Korn – we are dear friends and have a production company together – I had my back to him and I was plugging in my little amp. The lights were down and while we were playing Ray just hit his bass drum – boom!  at the exact moment when I hit my E string – boom! We spun around and looked at each other and said to each other ‘how did you know!’ (laughter)

When a drummer goes chicka-ta-ba-ba-do-bop, I play chicka-ta-ba-ba-do-bop! You can really incorporate motion in the bass into a useable, uncluttered thing if you are really locked in with the drummer. That’s something I tell young players all the time. 

Start on the bass drum – when the drummer hits the kick – the bass player hits a note. Same with the accents. Then later on if you want to do it you can play lower and higher octaves with the bass and snare drum – ala The Knack on their hit ‘My Sharona.’ There are so many hits constructed on that way of doing things: ‘Gimmie Some Lovin’ by Spencer Davis – there are many examples.

If you want to get adventurous you play along with the tom-tom fills! That’s my thing. I build my basslines more on drums than guitars. 

TS: Moving from Sons of Apollo to Winery Dogs is just another day at the office for you…

BS: Fortunately, I grew up in a time where my bands’ setlists were wild. Like everyone else, I started off in copy bands. My groups played everything from The Tubes –‘White Punks on Dope,’ to King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man,’ to Three Dog Night’s ‘Joy to the World,’ to Grand Funk Railroad…all this diverse stuff. A broad array of styles. 

When you’re playing in a bar band, you never know who is coming through the door. Some audiences like to hear complex music, other audiences want to sing along with ‘Jeremiah was a bullfrog… was a good friend of mine!’ 

It was good training for me to get in a situation where I could jump from genre to genre – somewhat convincingly I hope – and still manage to stay on my feet.

TS: Playing Top-40 was a boot camp experience for me as well. We had our disco set, slow dance set, dinner standards set… how is Mr. Big doing on your 2024 farewell tour.

BS: We’re doing great, we’re selling out venues, the feedback has been fantastic. We’re having a ball. And it’s a real farewell tour too – not a fake farewell tour! (laughter)

We want to cross over the finish line standing up rather than crawl over it with a walker and an oxygen mask with backup singers and running tracks! We are still actually singing and playing! I’ll be 71 next month (March 2024) – I am the oldest in the band. Not everyone ages the same, it can be difficult to get up there for a two-hour show. 

DCG: Doesn’t it strike you as funny when you go from being the youngest member of the band to being the oldest?  (laughter) 

BS: My timeline has shifted! I feel great. I still feel like I’m 16. I recall that after the pandemic when I first went out with the Winery Dogs, I felt like an MMA fighter! Get me in the octagon, let’s go! I was dying to play, and we hit it hard. Then I went back to Mr. Big, then back to Winery Dogs again… twice to Japan…two or three times to South America… all within the span of a year. 

I’m still ready to go, it’s all good!   

Note: Our complete conversation with Billy Sheehan will be available in an upcoming book: Good Question! Notes From An Artist Interviews… by David C. Gross & Tom Semioli 

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Bass Videos

Interview With K3 Sisters Band



Interview With K3 Sisters Band

K3 Sisters Band Interview…

It is very rare when I talk to a band where all the members play bass. The K3 Sisters Band is a perfect example of a group where Kaylen, Kelsey and Kristen Kassab are all multi-instrumentalists and take turns playing bass.

Hailing from Texas, these three sisters have been playing music since they were very young and have amassed an amazing amount of original music,  music videos, streaming concerts, podcasts, and content that has taken numerous social media platforms by storm. On TikTok alone, they have over 2.5 million followers and more than a billion views.

Join me as we hear the story of their musical journey, how they get their sound, and the fundamental principles behind these prolific musicians.

Here is the K3 Sisters Band!

Photo, Bruce Ray Productions

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