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A Lesson in Carl Radle’s Style

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A Lesson in Carl Radle’s Style

Reader Submission: Rob Collier, May 2011… The Hand That Rocks the Radle
With bass virtuosos, session super-heroes, and low end innovators from Jamerson to Jaco getting most of our attention (and deservedly so), there will always be players who are overlooked and/or taken for granted. Though Carl Radle’s name was a frequent sight in album credits and musician polls in the 1970s—and he is generally considered one of the great sideman stalwarts of that era—his playing style is rarely discussed in print.  Best known as Eric Clapton’s bass player throughout the ‘70s, Radle’s straightforward, supportive grooves made him a favorite of the likes of George Harrison, Leon Russell, Dave Mason, and Delaney Bramlett.

Radle had a no-nonsense style of playing that was utterly devoid of flash.  He favored short, repetitive bass patterns steeped in gospel and rhythm & blues.  At times he displayed McCartney-esque melodicism, creating lines that rivaled the song’s vocal melody for its catchiness.  But first and foremost, Radle played to support the song.  If that meant quarter-note roots for the entire song, that’s what Radle played, and he made it groove.

At the request of Leon Russell, Radle moved from his hometown of Tulsa to Los Angeles in the late 1960s.  Russell introduced Radle to Delaney Bramlett, through whom Radle met Eric Clapton.  With the rhythm section of Bramlett’s band, Clapton formed Derek & the Dominoes.  Together they recorded the iconic Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs as well as being the backing band on George Harrison’s masterful debut All Things Must Pass.  This period from 1969-1972 was Radle’s most prolific and will be the focus of this discussion.

“Keep On Growing” from the Layla album shows several important aspects of Radle’s style.  His line on the chorus is a very simple and repetitive arpeggiation of an A-D chord progression (example 1).

Radle seldom makes any variations on this pattern.  Even when the band vamps on this two-chord groove for the last two minutes of the song, Radle sticks to this line with a few extra ghost notes as his only embellishments.

The chord progression in the verse is also A-D, but here each chord is a full measure instead of a half-measure.  Again, Radle sets up a one-measure groove and sticks to it, not even altering it when the chord changes.

Thus, the bass line acts as a sort of pedal point.  The repetition of the line against the changing harmony creates a lot of tension which is (temporarily) released in the fourth bar with the G-D-A cadence.

During the bridge, Radle helps the song “open up” by playing longer phrases that move through the changes melodically.

The contrast between the moving line of the bridge and the short repetitive patterns in the rest of the song creates a large-scale tension/release that mirrors the tension/release that occurs every four measures within each verse.

Radle shows off his McCartney influence with one of his most melodic bass lines in “Bell Bottom Blues”, also from the Derek & the Dominoes record.

In the pre-chorus and chorus, he holds down the bottom end while providing a beautiful counter-melody to the vocal part.  The B on the downbeat of the ninth bar of the example is an unexpected choice, but contributes to making this one of Radle’s most sing-able lines.

Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen featured a who’s who of session players.  When Leon Russell was put in charge of assembling the musicians, there was no question as to whom he would call for the bass chair.  With an 11-piece band (not counting backing vocalists), Radle’s lines don’t cut through on the recording the way some of us would like, but you can always feel them moving.  In “Sticks and Stones” Radle lays down a solid gospel/R&B groove.  The accents on the “and” of 2 and 4 in the chorus really make this line move.

The chord progression in the chorus is moving back and forth between Bb and F (IV-I, a very common gospel progression).  Here again, Radle varies his groove relatively little.  He plays the same pattern for every Bb chord.  On the F chord, he has two basic patterns that he alternates between.  (Both are given.)

Carl Radle first connected with his future Dominos bandmates while playing with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends.  Their live album, “On Tour with Eric Clapton” is the group’s most widely known, though arguably not their finest work.  Still, the band is energetic and Radle’s playing is outstanding (not to mention crystal clear on the recording!).  In “Coming Home,” Radle has two main patterns that he plays in the song—one during the guitar riff

…and one during the verses.

Each is a two-measure groove that he rarely embellishes.  The syncopation in the middle of the groove on the verse keeps propelling the line to the next downbeat.

Radle went on to play on almost every Eric Clapton record in the 1970s.  His premature death in 1980 at age 37 left a void in the bass community.  Radle’s stripped-down, no-frills approach to playing is an in-your-face reminder of what a rock bass player’s primary goal should be: to make the song sound good.

Rob Collier earned his DMA in Composition at the University of Maryland and has taught theory and music technology courses at Chatham University, the University of Louisville, and the University of Maryland.  He is currently an active bass player and bandleader in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Bass CDs

New Album: Jake Leckie, Planter of Seeds

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Planter of Seeds is bassist/composer Jake Leckie’s third release as a bandleader and explores what beauty can come tomorrow from the seeds we plant today. 

Bassist Jake Leckie and The Guide Trio Unveil New Album Planter of Seeds,
to be released on June 7, 2024

Planter of Seeds is bassist/composer Jake Leckie’s third release as a bandleader and explores what beauty can come tomorrow from the seeds we plant today. 

What are we putting in the ground? What are we building? What is the village we want to bring our children up in? At the core of the ensemble is The Guide Trio, his working band with guitarist Nadav Peled and drummer Beth Goodfellow, who played on Leckie’s second album, The Guide, a rootsy funky acoustic analog folk-jazz recording released on Ropeadope records in 2022. For Planter of Seeds, the ensemble is augmented by Cathlene Pineda (piano), Randal Fisher (tenor saxophone), and Darius Christian (trombone), who infuse freedom and soul into the already tightly established ensemble.

Eight original compositions were pristinely recorded live off the floor of Studio 3 at East West Studios in Hollywood CA, and mastered by A.T. Michael MacDonald. The cover art is by internationally acclaimed visual artist Wayne White. Whereas his previous work has been compared to Charles Mingus, and Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet with Charlie Haden, Leckie’s new collection sits comfortably between the funky odd time signatures of the Dave Holland Quintet and the modern folk-jazz of the Brian Blade Fellowship Band with a respectful nod towards the late 1950s classic recordings of Ahmad Jamal and Miles Davis.

The title track, “Planter of Seeds,” is dedicated to a close family friend, who was originally from Trinidad, and whenever she visited family or friends at their homes, without anyone knowing, she would plant seeds she kept in her pocket in their gardens, so the next season beautiful flowers would pop up. It was a small altruistic anonymous act of kindness that brought just a little more beauty into the world. The rhythm is a tribute to Ahmad Jamal, who we also lost around the same time, and whose theme song Poinciana is about a tree from the Caribbean.

“Big Sur Jade” was written on a trip Leckie took with his wife to Big Sur, CA, and is a celebration of his family and community. This swinging 5/4 blues opens with an unaccompanied bass solo, and gives an opportunity for each of the musicians to share their improvisational voices. “Clear Skies” is a cathartic up-tempo release of collective creative energies in fiery improvisational freedom. “The Aquatic Uncle” features Randal Fisher’s saxophone and is named after an Italo Calvino short story which contemplates if one can embrace the new ways while being in tune with tradition. In ancient times, before a rudder, the Starboard side of the ship was where it was steered from with a steering oar. In this meditative quartet performance, the bass is like the steering oar of the ensemble: it can control the direction of the music, and when things begin to unravel or become unhinged, a simple pedal note keeps everything grounded.

The two trio tunes on the album are proof that the establishment of his consistent working band The Guide Trio has been a fruitful collaboration. “Santa Teresa”, a bouncy samba-blues in ? time, embodies the winding streets and stairways of the bohemian neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro it is named for. The swampy drum feel on “String Song” pays homage to Levon Helm of The Band, a group where you can’t always tell who wrote the song or who the bandleader is, proving that the sum is greater than the individual parts. Early jazz reflected egalitarianism in collective improvisation, and this group dynamic is an expression of that kind of inclusivity and democracy.

“The Daughters of the Moon” rounds out the album, putting book ends on the naturalist themes. This composition is named after magical surrealist Italo Calvino’s short story about consumerism, in which a mythical modern society that values only buying shiny new things throws away the moon like it is a piece of garbage and the daughters of the moon save it and resurrect it. It’s an eco-feminist take on how women are going to save the world. Pineda’s piano outro is a hauntingly beautiful lunar voyage, blinding us with love. Leckie dedicates this song to his daughter: “My hope is that my daughter becomes a daughter of the moon, helping to make the world a more beautiful and verdant place to live.”

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Bass CDs

Debut Album: Nate Sabat, Bass Fiddler

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Debut Album: Nate Sabat, Bass Fiddler

In a thrilling solo debut, bassist Nate Sabat combines instrumental virtuosity with a songwriter’s heart on Bass Fiddler

The upright bass and the human voice. Two essential musical instruments, one with roots in 15th century Europe, the other as old as humanity itself. 

On Bass Fiddler (Adhyâropa Records ÂR00057), the debut album from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and bass virtuoso Nate Sabat, the scope is narrowed down a bit. Drawing from the rich and thriving tradition of American folk music, Sabat delivers expertly crafted original songs and choice covers with the upright bass as his lone tool for accompaniment. 

The concept was born a decade ago when Sabat began studying with the legendary old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky at Berklee College of Music. “One of Bruce’s specialties is singing and playing fiddle at the same time. The second I heard it I was hooked,” recalls Sabat. “I thought, how can I do this on the bass?” From there, he was off to the races, arranging original and traditional material with Molsky as his guide. “Fast forward to 2020, and I — like so many other musicians — was thinking of how to best spend my time. I sat down with the goal of writing some new songs and arranging some new covers, and an entire record came out.” When the time came to make the album, it was evident that Molsky would be the ideal producer. Sabat asked him if he’d be interested, and luckily he was. “What an inspiration to work with an artist like Nate,” says Molsky. “Right at the beginning, he came to this project with a strong, personal and unique vision. Plus he had the guts to try for a complete and compelling cycle of music with nothing but a bass and a voice. You’ll hear right away that it’s engaging, sometimes serious, sometimes fun, and beautifully thought out from top to bottom.” 

While this record is, at its core, a folk music album, Sabat uses the term broadly. Some tracks lean more rock (‘In the Shade’), some more pop (‘White Marble’, ‘Rabid Thoughts’), some more jazz (‘Fade Away’), but the setting ties them all together. “There’s something inherently folksy about a musician singing songs with their instrument, no matter the influences behind the compositions themselves,” Sabat notes. To be sure, there are plenty of folk songs (‘Louise’ ‘Sometimes’, ‘Eli’) and fiddling (‘Year of the Ox’) to be had here — the folk music fan won’t go hungry. There’s a healthy dose of bluegrass too (‘Orphan Annie’, ‘Lonesome Night’), clean and simple, the way Mr. Bill Monroe intended. 

All in all, this album shines a light on an instrument that often goes overlooked in the folk music world, enveloping the listener in its myriad sounds, textures, and colors. “There’s nothing I love more than playing the upright bass,” exclaims Sabat. “My hope is that listeners take the time to sit with this album front to back — I want them to take in the full scope of the work. I have a feeling they’ll hear something they haven’t heard before.”

Available online at natesabat.bandcamp.com/album/walking-away

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Gear News

New Gear: Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass

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New Gear: Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass

Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass…

Esopus Guitars is proud to announce the new “Tailwater” bass guitar, from legendary bass luthier Stuart Spector. This 32” scale bass is handcrafted by Stuart using the only finest woods and components at the Esopus Guitar workshop located near Woodstock NY in the Catskill Mountains. 

From its fully carved spruce top (the top is carved on both its exterior and interior surfaces) with a thumb rest that is elegantly carved into the top, to its custom-made Fishman piezo pickup and super hard Carnauba wax finish, every detail of the Tailwater is part of creating the ultimate playing experience.

The Tailwater bass features a fully chambered spruce over alder body (15.5″ lower body bout width, 2.25″ body thickness measuring from the peak of the carved top) that delivers a super comfortable tonal tool for all your low-end needs.

Each Tailwater bass is hand-signed and numbered on the back of the peghead by Stuart Spector. A very limited number of Tailwater basses are handcrafted each year at the Esopus workshop. 

“I am proud to present the Tailwater bass, a bass that I have spent the last three years perfecting. The Tailwater is a culmination of all of my 45 years of experience, knowledge, and passion for bass guitar crafting. I am so eager to hear what fellow musicians create with this exciting new instrument.” -Stuart Spector

Direct Pricing : $4995.00 plus options. 

For more information about Esopus Guitars and Stuart Spector’s handcrafted instruments, visit www.EsopusGuitars.com.  

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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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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @officialspector @bqwbassguitar @brute_bass_guitars @phdbassguitars @ramabass.ok @tribe_guitars @woodguerilla_instruments @mikelullcustomguitars @jcrluthier @elegeecustom

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