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.