Meet B.A. Johnson
When I was first asked by my friend Jake Kot to write a piece about the importance of music, I wasn’t sure how to go about the task. So, I began a period of “free-style rambling” that slowly coalesced into a stream of thought that seemed viable enough to share with our readers at Bass Musician Magazine! I also thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to create a new series for the magazine in which I would ask the same questions to members of the writing team and other notable bassists in our community – in order to compare answers from influential players, across the spectrum of genre, and over a period of time! HMMM… This might be more fun that I bargained for! That said the daunting task of interviewing myself remained. So, here are my thoughts on the subject…
Who are your primary musical influences?
Wow. Uh… do you mean today?! (Laughter) As far as bassists are concerned, I would like to site Michel Alibo, Jaco Pastorius, John Patitucci, Jimmy Haslip, Richard Bona, Otiel Burbridge, MeShell NdegeOcello, Matthew Garrison, Tony Grey and Janek Gwizdala as the bassist I find myself listening to most often this past decade. Wayne Krantz, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonius Sphere Monk, Steve Khan, and a bunch of others round out my “favorite musicians” list.
Having said that… I have to say my earliest favorite tunes were “All Right Now” by Free, and “Turn Down Day” by The Cyrkle! I love RUSH, Yes, and a lot of rock in addition to Sly & The Family Stone, EW&F, Mandrill and what became the fallout music of black society in the 1960’s through the mid-1970’s. I really dig MeShell because her approach reminds me most of that time in musical history. Another favorite group that reminds me of that time-period would be Aquarium Rescue Unit. I’ve always really dug that fusion of American musical genres that produces its own genre! Living Colour struck a chord with me… But, it also reminded me to re-listen to the Bus Boys, Mother’s Finest, and Rare Earth!
Americans have a memory problem, it appears… America is the home of blues, rock ‘n’ roll, folk, bluegrass, R&B, soul, funk… and jazz!
The “British Invasion” of the 1960’s handed “race music” back to white teenagers who weren’t being allowed to listen to it due to societal stigma and racism. Now, we have groups like Sixun handing American “jazz fusion” back to us – because in the US there’s no place to play, nor hardly a means to make a living as a musician in this country! America has never felt the need to cherish its contribution to the world’s musical lexicon. Very sad.
Music, American music, is a cultural facet we simply cannot afford to lose! What happens after there’s nothing to see but big-screen TV’s and pool tables? Jazz Clubs are nearly non-existent, and the Blues Bar is swiftly following suit. American Idol is how the average American understands music and musicianship.
How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?
Man, I love to sing via the structure and function of the basses! In my dreams I sound like a great singer – like ARU’s Paul Henson with Michael McDonald’s range! (Laughter) I also love the sound of Anita Baker’s voice! Anita, Tony Bennett, and Bobby McFerrin (talk about range and depth!) are those singers I find myself most typically attempting to emulate when soloing!
Bobby McFerrin’s “BangZoom” CD changed my life! I sat with that disc for an entire summer and learned every vocal phrase and bass line. Jimmy Haslip kills on that disc!
I still play my weathered, old Fender J bass on sessions! But, I’ve been blessed to play my fretted and fretless Vinciguerra Custom Shop “BAJ Signature” 6-string basses for the past several months! I also have a beautiful Status Graphite S2 fretted 6-string. All the 6’s are tuned from low F# to high G, omitting the high C string of the typical contrabass guitar format. I converted to that tuning a couple years ago, and I’m very happy with how that’s affected my approach to the bass guitars. I also truly love my Sturnal acoustic contrabass. So much so, that I’ve named her, “Hattie Belle”.
Learning basic music theory, studying piano, and spending time with some of the music I’ve studied, over the years, has helped me in every aspect of my life! Like most people, I am comprised of guilt, debilitating failures, and embarrassment! (Laughter) Music has helped me cope with how difficult life can be! Along the way, the study and practice of music has deeply shaped the way I see the world, politics, the arts, and people in general.
Music also provides me with a great deal of hope, and I would be a complete wreck without the loudly playing musical soundtrack of my life that accompanies me on a daily basis! Humorously, each of my closest friends has also confessed to having a “life soundtrack”! I’ll often stop and ask them, “what’s playing right now?” as we chat about random topics. It’s very telling to learn what someone else is thinking, musically!