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SA Bassists With Martin Simpson: An Interview with Dereck Walstra

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Meet Martin Simpson –

For this issue of Bass Musician Magazine, I thought I’d introduce you to a completely different musician than the usual Session Musician’s and sidemen that I’ve been interviewing for the last two years. Dereck Walstra is also a top notch Pro bassist but concentrates his efforts in running a very successful tribute band. I spoke to Dereck earlier this year and this is what he told me.

How long have you been playing music, Dereck?

I have been playing different musical Instruments since the age of 11. I started on my mother’s kitchen pots and pans and then promoted myself to a bass drum – I couldn’t afford anything else! Like other youngsters at the time, I used to listen to a lot of music on our radiogram (in those days it was the latest radio technology) and soon found out that I had a good ear musically for different genres and styles of music. My parents had divorced and my mother wasn’t getting much support from my father, so she struggled to support my brother and I, so as much as I’d wished for a piano and piano lessons, that was out of the question. But what had started on kitchen utensils and a cheapskate bass drum later led to me playing bass professionally in bands for about 20 years.

How did you get started professionally?

My first real break came in the early 1970s. A colleague’s daughter was a music teacher, of classical music, and so I bought myself an expensive guitar and started my lessons with her. That nylon string guitar cost all of R12, 00, by the way, which was a lot of money – I had just started my first job as an apprentice earning R90, 00 a month – but it was worth every cent, because it opened up a new world to me: I came to believe that I had the potential to be a really good musician and soon learned that I had the ability to compose and write my own material. And, of course, with that came the idea of being a rock star some day – probably every musician’s dream, but over the years I learnt, as all musicians do eventually, that life is never that simple: you need more than skills and a dream to make your living from music.

Do you come from a musical family?

No! Not that I know of … I think my mother was concerned when it became clear that I would leave the safe world of salaried work for the uncertain and erratic world of music.

Who is your favourite band / solo artist?

My favourite groups in the early 70s were Pink Floyd, Golden Earring, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. These musicians inspired me and over the years they have helped me to keep going, to not give up on the music industry. To this day these groups, as well as great solo artists like Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and T Rex and so on, remain my favourites.

What are the amps and instruments you currently use?

I’m using a Hartke VX3500 amplifier and an original American 1976 Fender jazz bass.

What instruments would you play if money were no object?

I would not swap my instruments for any others in the world. Reason? I know them inside out and often I think they know me! I feel comfortable with them and, really, the instruments that feel right in your hands and sound right to your ears, those are the ones you want as a musician. Instruments don’t make the player any better, no matter what make of instrument it is (within reason, of course, standards and quality of sound being equal). My advice is: if you feel comfortable with it, stick to it! My instruments really are an extension of myself and my personality.

Have you ever tried fretless bass guitar?

Yes, I have tried fretless bass guitar that previously had frets and been modified into a fretless bass, A fretless bass has and precise sound which sounds awesome but not for me, I play rock music and would imagine the fretless suited for various genres of music I found it a little difficult in the beginning mastering the clear tones but spending a little time on the fretless, mastered it.  You have to be an experienced bass player to play the fretless bass to appreciate the distinctive, precise smooth sound, anyone attempting to play the fretless should start off on a fretted bass guitar it does make playing easier

What do you think of bass guitars that have six or more strings?

I owned a Cort B5 Artist 5 string bass guitar,  the 5 string bass does have it’s advantages over a 4 string – one of them when you have to drop ‘D’ and is a pleasant bass guitar to play and experiment at a lower tone than the average 4 string bass  Regrettably I sold it as I could not get accustomed to the 5th string  (incidentally the  Cort B5 Artist is an amazing bass to own)  it had a rich low tone sound and suited 100% the type of rock music we perform  I’m rather sorry to have let it go and now that I miss the tone and 5th string, would love to have a second chance and will most probably appreciate it even more than before. As for the 6 string bass guitar – the neck becomes a little unmanageable for my short fingers

I guess there are bass players out there who experiment with 5 and 6 string basses and just can’t seem to get enough and will go for the optimum number of strings a bass can handle – for now though, I’ll stick to the 4 string bass and hopefully, in the future, find another Cort B5 Artist

Have you tried double bass?

There has always been in my mind, the thought of playing the double bass. But no, I have not attempted to play a double bass yet. Of course, I would definitely take advantage if such an opportunity should come knocking on my door.

What have you been doing the last five years or so?

I was fortunate to be able to perform with amazingly talented musicians in original/cover jazz, blues and rock bands. A project I embarked on in 2006, a Pink Floyd tribute project, has turned out to be the most exciting and rewarding music project I have ever worked on.

Watching shows and keeping track of the work of rock legends such as Roger Waters and Guy Pratt in action has been immensely inspiring. I never stop wanting to learn from the greats and so, no matter what my personal circumstances may have been these last few years, I’ve persevered and worked hard on improving my handling of the bass guitar and on creating a similar style of playing but one that is also my own and unique in some way. It is difficult to judge one’s own mastery, so I will probably never feel that I’m anywhere near the class of my idols, but that’s what I want, to play that well, to sound that great, to be respected for my art. And I have to say, the feedback has been very positive, which helps me to keep working towards higher and higher levels. This has certainly always been the case, but even more so the last five years, especially since I’d started building up a bit of a fan base. Feedback greatly influences a musician, so I’m happy that people enjoy the music that I play and it’s only natural for me to want to keep improving.

Have you made any recordings you could recommend people listen to?

I was part of a friend’s studio recordings for two CDs that received limited air play. That was a lot of fun and I learnt a lot, but I have yet to do recordings of my own. Watch this space, though! Hopefully that opportunity is on its way anytime now…

The low point in your career so far? Any regrets?

A huge regret is that I discovered the bass guitar at such a late stage in my musical career – had to learn to play a new instrument all over again! – But it has turned out well. I’ve never looked back since picking up the bass guitar. There have been low points, of course, breaking into the music scene can be disheartening and disillusioning, life can get very tough financially, but I don’t believe a stop-and-start approach solves anything – I just keep going no matter what, I guess. So far no low point has been low enough to make me reconsider my choices. It’ll always be me and my music, as the bottom line.

And what has been the high point for you?

Oh, without a doubt my Pink Floyd tributes. I had the privilege of being ‘approved’, of being judged good enough to play Pink Floyd professionally. Both EMI Publishers and Gallo Publishers, the SA managers of Roger Waters and Pink Floyd materials, granted me the necessary permissions to use the copyrighted music of Roger Waters and Pink Floyd, which means that I am South Africa’s official Pink Floyd tribute representative. I was also given permission to use the name ‘Welcome to the Machine’, which was wonderful, as well as the banner artwork created by a graphics artist in America.

What are your goals now?

I am always working towards getting people to recognise the fact that South Africa, like other countries of the world, has its very own and very good  Pink Floyd Tribute Band. I am always working on taking the band and the whole tribute process to higher and higher levels in South Africa. Audience recognition is a crucial part of that; you need your fans. And additionally, in the near future, I hope to see my new project, called ‘Legends of Rock’, taking off and developing into something really worthwhile, in the same way the tribute band did.

As I’ve said, I like to dream big – and of course this includes my performing some day as a bassist alongside Pink Floyd right here in South Africa. That is my ultimate dream, but a close second would be the opportunity to play with any of my favourite groups, like the ones mentioned above.

How many song’s are in the band’s repertoire?  Obviously you must have everything from ‘Dark Side’ and The Wall but what else are you covering?

Depending on the venues and whether it’s strictly a Pink Floyd tribute night we can carry and entertain the crowds with Pink Floyd music up to 3 hours of non stop entertainment,  However our set list does some times change depending on the mood of the venue.  We have 36 songs in our repertoire and still adding to the list

Included in our play list are all the Floyd favourites going way back to the early 70’s. All songs played by Welcome to the Machine come from ‘Meddle’ (1971), ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ (1973), ‘Wish You Where Here’ (1975), ‘Animals’ (1977), ‘The Wall’ (1979), ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ (1987), “Division Bell’ (1994) and there’s more to come in the future.

What is your definition of a tribute band?

My personal definition involves the great audience expectation that the tribute band delivers as close and as perfectly as possible, the sound and feel of the original musicians and their original material. I think a tribute band’s audiences expect to hear exactly that which they have come to appreciate and love as the fans of the original and usually great artist.

You have been doing this for many years, Dereck. Any advice for other tribute bands starting out?

Audiences can be unforgiving, really tough to please. If a tribute band/artist cannot deliver a tribute precisely, and if it cannot live up to the expectations both of audiences and of the musicians it is tributing, then don’t even try. Other alternatives include creating your own style of originals/covers and getting really good at that. Become a ‘normal’ band/artist, by all means, play just whatever grabs you – or just go out there and play a lot of rubbish if it makes you happy – but if you don’t have the drive and dedication to perfect your renditions of someone else’s original music, save yourself the time and frustration of calling yourself a tribute band, because you will not make it and you will probably be open to some serious criticism, which is never easy. Unless you’ve willing to work hard and to put in years and years developing yourself as a tribute band, don’t expect applause or accolades, because you simply won’t get that! As I said above, audiences can be unforgiving.

Tell us a little bit about the Pink Floyd Tribute band?

SA’s Pink Floyd Tribute Band, ‘Welcome to the Machine’, is a Johannesburg-based six-piece band, established in 2006, that has gone from strength to strength. At the moment we are working with some of the most talented ‘old school’ musicians around, among them long-standing musical genius Eddie Gilbert who has travelled the world and the seven seas as a saxophonist and keyboardist. He has been performing since the early seventies, so his experience and all-round skills levels cannot be topped, but very fortunate for us he is also a top-notch music director, all round an absolute master of music.

Eugene is our vocalist. His harmonies on guitars are plain amazing, and he brings his own unique experience of projects completed with popular bands such as Toto and many well-known individual artists locally and internationally. He is very involved in our sound engineering/mastering and recording.

Our drummer/percussionist, Ashley Moss, has worked with many well-known groups and solo artists across South Africa, so he is well known in the industry and by lovers of live music around the country.

Then we have Michael and Andrew, on lead/acoustics and vocals. They are two of my favourite up-and-coming young musicians anyway, so it is great that they have chosen to dedicate themselves to the music of the 70s rock era. Michael dos Santos, lead guitarist/acoustics/vocals and harmonist, is often described as the David Gilmour of South Africa. Andrew is a third-year engineering student and a hugely talented and multitasking musician who fits in perfectly with the rest of us, to the point of taking over the keys in Eddie’s absence and falling in smooth as silk on the saxophone.

To me, each member of ‘Welcome to the Machine’ – SA’s Pink Floyd Tribute Band – is irreplaceable. We searched long hard to find the right musicians, and we worked long and hard to get to where we are now. Losing even a single band member would be a huge loss and set us back a great deal. That is why it was so important for us to overcome differences, and to keep overcoming differences as they arise, in order to be a closely-knit group of creative individuals with exactly the same vision.

Why would you say the SA Pink Floyd Tribute Band has been so successful?

I’d say the band has been very fortunate over the years in rising above personality conflicts and other difficulties (finances can be a huge source of conflict in the early life of a band, trust me!) and we now enjoy a close working relationship and there’s always an excellent shared understanding of where we’re headed with our music. We’re all totally dedicated and have a passion for the genre of music we perform – this has helped tremendously in keeping the band together over the years. It is undeniable that the majority of bands simply cease to exist because band members are unable to overcome difficulties, especially difficulties that come to the fore when creative personalities have to work together towards a common goal. In the case of the SA’s Pink Floyd Tribute Band, which is in itself a very specialised project quite unlike original music projects, it took us a very long time to find exactly the ‘right’ musicians to fit into the band and into my vision of what we needed to achieve. On top of that, once the search for musicians was over, it took us years to develop and grow our sound to the level we’re at now. It is Pink Floyd, after all, and perfection is required!

Bear in mind that the kinds of bands/musicians who are honoured by having tribute bands play their music … these are some of the world’s greatest musicians who have made some of the world’s greatest music. That’s why they are tributed in the first place. Emulating their sound and giving an audience a feeling of what it might be like to see a live performance of the original masters is no easy accomplishment – that is why there are so few of us who make it, who are successful at being exactly what they say they are, in our case not only a great tribute band, but South Africa’s only sanctioned Pink Floyd Tribute Band.

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Bass Videos

Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

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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 ianmartinallison.com/

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Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

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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 distrokid.com/hyperfollow/jamestobias/raisin-hell

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!

Follow James Tobias:

jamestobiasmusic.com
Facebook.com/james.tobias1
Instagram.com/ru4badfish2
TikTok.com/@jamestobiasmusic
audicempire.com 

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Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore

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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

Follow Online

facebook.com/EdmondGilmoreBass
instagram.com/edmond_gilmore/
youtube.com/channel/UCCYoVZBLXL5nnaKS7XXivCQ

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

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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!

(laughter) 

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 www.NotesFromAnArtist.com 

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Interview With K3 Sisters Band

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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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