It would be completely understandable if Mr. Andrew Gouche came across as conceited, pompous, and arrogant. He almost single-handedly created gospel bass playing. The list of gospel greats he has recorded and shared the stage with is easily a mile long and includes names like Rev. James Cleveland, Andraé Crouch, BeBe and CeCe Winans, and the Hawkins Family. With these gospel luminaries, Andrew has played for thousands while touring the world. In addition to gracing gospel music with his unique sound, Mr. Gouche has pushed open the door between gospel and R&B, allowing him and countless other church-bred musicians to, in his words, “take over the music industry”. His own R&B discography includes time spent as the bassist for Gladys Knight and acting as the musical director and bassist for Chaka Khan. Andrew has also shaped the rap industry, playing on notable recordings for Snoop Dogg, Coolio, Warren G, and others.
Adding to his credits, Mr. Gouche earned a Grammy for his work on Mary Mary’s album “Thankful”, where he received full writing and production credits for the amazing version of “Wade in the Water” that appears there. His playing earned the notice of luthier Michael Tobias, who, after a long relationship, recently released the Andrew Gouche Signature bass. When Andrew is not touring, a capacity crowd anxiously waits for his weekly Sunday night jam to begin at a L.A. club. The expectation of his soon to be released solo records has musicians all over the world chomping at the bit.
Oh, and he so enthralled Prince with his playing that Mr. Gouche was hand-picked to work on Prince’s current recordings and tours.
It was with this understanding of Mr. Gouche’s magnitude in the music industry that I reached out for this interview. I fully expected that I would need to work with a manager to find an appropriate time to talk with Andrew and I was prepared to trim my question list down to accommodate any size sliver of time that was given to me. Defying these expectations, Andrew called me personally and left a voicemail that simply said, “Hey, this is Andrew Gouche, I would love to talk with you, give me a call back!”
This was my introduction to learning that Mr. Gouche is completely devoid of any snobbery or vanity. He is a bass master with astonishing technical abilities, inventive artistic sensibilities, and an amazing history; however, talking with Mr. Gouche reveals a grateful, humble, and jubilant spirit. Mr. Gouche and I spent an hour and a half talking while he was in Minnesota for rehearsals with Prince. During our conversation, he repeatedly turned the focus away from the praises and honors that others want to heap on him, instead talking about how blessed he was to have any gig. He spoke about his notable history with passion, mixed with a sense of awe and gratefulness. His faith was weaved into every story and clearly has provided a firm foundation throughout his remarkable career. Mr. Gouche would have every right to be conceited or self-important, yet what comes through can only be described as the power of soul.
This power comes out when he talks, immediately making the other person feel like they are talking to an old friend. He has shared this strength by mentoring countless others, including a 12-year old bass player that he discovered and thought deserved one of his basses. His energy permeates every ounce of his music, which flows and fills the air with joy, gratefulness, and praise. It is the power of soul has made him one of the truly great bass players, with an amazing history and a boundless future.
Let’s start with current events and talk about the Prince gig.
Last year when I was Musical Director for Chaka, Prince did 21 shows in LA and the first ones we did were in North Carolina, and we opened up for him. After the first show we did in North Carolina, he complimented me. Then after that, I always noticed him watching me. The last shows we did last year were in Copenhagen, Denmark. During our set, he walked out with his guitar and asked me if it was okay if he played with us. What was I going to say…no?!? It was the New Power Generation music festival and there were like 50,000 people out there for two days in a row. He came out with us on “Sweet Thing” and he jammed with us. It was really cool. That was October and in December, I got the news I wasn’t working with Chaka anymore. The week after, his keyboard player called me and said, “Prince wants to know if he can have your number, he wants to call you.” I was like, “Yeah, give it to him.” Maybe a week later or so, he called me on the phone and said he had some things that he was doing in 2012 that he wanted me to be a part of. I was like, “Great! “
In January he flew me out here to Minnesota – it was 9 below! I realized later on that he was flying me out because it was an audition. They flew me out here for one day, and I did some stuff in the studio with him and Michael Bland, who was the drummer for the New Power Generation back in the day when they were doing “Diamonds and Pearls” and all that stuff. Incredible drummer!
Three months later they said, “He wants you to come out”. We rehearsed for a week and then I didn’t hear from him for another 2 months. Then in July, he hit me again and I came out here and we rehearsed for literally 2 months. Then we did some shows in September. It’s funny because this year has gone by so fast! We did some shows, then went home for a month, then went back to rehearse a little bit more, and then we did Jimmy Kimmel’s show and 3 shows in LA, which brings us to where we are now. That was about a month and a half ago. I just got back here and we are rehearsing for I don’t know what! It’s better to just not ask.
What is that process like, because who knows how many songs are in his catalog?
There’s more than you’ll ever know! I’ve learned over 100 songs and I don’t know half of his songs. Now I’m in the process of learning – he has a new record coming out. It’s funny, I did a lot of recording and I didn’t realize that some of the stuff I was recording was going to be on the record. Yesterday when I got the music, I was like, “Oh yeah – I played on this!” I’m actually playing on a couple of songs, maybe 2 or 3 songs on this new record – I think 2.
It’s cool and what I like about him is that he really appreciates music and he appreciates musicianship. You know, Prince is very hands-on with everything concerning his music. When I initially came for the long rehearsals we did, I said, “You know, whatever you want me to do, just let me know.” I would never like to try to come in and impose my will on his gig, because a lot of these songs just are what they are. People know me for, I guess, my creativity playing songs. Most of the situations that I’ve ever been in in my life I could pretty much have free reign on what I was doing. Except when I was with Gladys Knight, back in the 90’s. Because those songs – “Midnight Train to Georgia” is “Midnight Train to Georgia”. Just like with Prince, “Purple Rain” is “Purple Rain”. He said to me, “ I just want you to do your thing. If there’s something specifically that I want you to play, I’ll tell you.”
Before Prince, you were with Chaka Khan. Prior to that gig, you were working steadily in the gospel and R&B worlds and you hit a point where you took 9 years off to stay at home. I’ve heard that you lost the love of playing in the situation you were in?
Well, yeah, I saw it coming.
You saw the potential to lose the love of music coming?
Yeah. I know a lot of guys who just stop playing music. This is what we do from our heart. I think the worst thing that can happen to a musician – we all remember those days when we were playing jams in our garage on Saturday and we’d play all day long. Then one day, somebody pays you. “Wait a minute! So I can get paid for doing this too?!?” Then your whole focus and reason for doing it shifts and it becomes about the money and that’s what happens to most guys. The music business, honestly, can suck. When you’re on one of these high paying gigs, you’re riding high. Of course – it’s great then! It’s just like any other field, like, for every guy that you see in the NBA, there’s a million that never made it that far. The high paying gigs are so few when you look at how many musicians there are out there. I was on a gig that I literally hated. I was like, you know, I didn’t start playing music to feel like this. I’ve said it a lot of times, that’s there’s no worse place that you can be than when you’re doing a gig that you hate because you need the money. I just said that I didn’t want to do that anymore. That’s when I left and I came home and I started doing my own thing, which I had never done in my whole life.
I did a thing on Sundays called the Prayze Connection – it was like a jam, not really, but it was a club gig on Sunday nights. It was crazy, because I remember the first time we were getting ready to do it we were only going to charge 5 bucks to get in. I thought that nobody would come, so I said, “I’m not going to charge, I’ll just let it be free.” Of course the first night you couldn’t even get in there! I realized that until you experience something, you don’t know. So I do what I do – people come to my gig I do on Sundays, it’s just some little club in LA, and a lot people say, “Dude, one thing I can see is how much you love what you’re doing”. I love to play, I’m playing with who I want play with, and I’m playing what I want to play. Things just work themselves out.
When I was watching some video footage of you the other day, I couldn’t help but think two things: first, you appear to be truly joyful, beyond happy, when you play. Second, I got a sense of gratefulness in your playing.
You’re absolutely right. I’ve been around long enough – I’m 53 – so every day to me is a gift. You get my age and you start knowing a lot of people that have died. Then guys my age are not generally on these gigs, because this is such an image and youth-oriented industry. All the primo players come to my gig on Sunday and it’s so funny, because they always go, “I can’t believe you can still play like that!” It’s like anything else, if you work out, you stay in shape. But for me, I’ve just been blessed because I do what I love to do and people gravitate to it. It’s exactly what you said – every day to me is a gift. Like even this gig that I’m doing now [Prince], it didn’t have to be me; it could have been anyone. A lot of people could do this gig and kill on it! That’s the way I look at it.
When I do my thing on Sunday, people come in there faithfully and we have a lot of new fans and followers. It’s funny, the demographic of my audience – it’s all different ethnicities – it’s so cool to me. That’s what the music is – it’s transcends all barriers and I love that. I’m playing with people I love to play with and it inspires me. For a lot of years, I’ve been the one that people have been pulling from and I was getting burned out. I was blessed to come into contact with some people – my keyboard player, his name is Eddie Brown, this dude is 28 years old and my son is 7 years older to him! This kids inspires me and he makes me play better.
I play better than I’ve ever played because I never get to that place where you’ve “arrived” and you can’t learn something. When you get to that place where you think you know it all, that’s when you become one of those old dudes sitting around talking about all of the gigs you used to do. Talking about, “These youngsters, they don’t know nothing!” I’ve always said I never wanted to be that guy. So it’s funny that I’m meeting new people every week at my gig from everywhere. Like some Indonesian pop star – I didn’t really realize who she was until I looked her up – she came to my gig! Three weeks ago Maroon 5 was at my gig! People are hearing about it. The same thing happened when I was doing the Prayze Connection back in the day. When it started out, it was a little club that sat 250 people. Every Sunday we averaged 350-400 people! It was literally so packed we had to stop letting people in. Since I worked with all the gospel artists, anytime any major artist was in town they’d come to my gig on Sunday. Like Fred Hammond, Walter Hawkins, John P. Kee came twice…like literally everybody came!
My life has been weird because people ask me stuff about who were your influences, who did you study under? I learned to play in church. When I first started, there were no gospel bass players.
It was really you and Joel Smith, right?
Exactly. I didn’t know Joel until I was about 19 or 20, somewhere in there, then I actually wound up playing with the Hawkins family. Marcus [Miller] even asked me, “How do you play songs like that?” I told him that when I came up in my field, there was no precedent, so I just did what I felt. One thing I always said was that I never wanted to sound like anyone else. I don’t know why, I don’t know where that came from. There were bass players like Stanley Clarke; I could play “School Days” and all of that stuff, but that was not the music that touched my heart, so I didn’t gravitate toward that. I just did what I felt. I played from the heart.
Since there weren’t bass players in gospel music, how did you start?
I started out playing with Rev. James Cleveland, singing in the choir at his church, then my mother got me a bass for Christmas when I was 14. The bass player that traveled with James lived in New York, so there was no bass player at the church. He used to just let me sit over on the side and try to figure out the songs. By the time I was 20, I went overseas, I went to Japan for 6 months and did that whole thing twice. Then I lived in New Zealand for 14 months, and when I came back in ’80, I was 21 and something happened with James’ bass player. I wound up starting to work with him and working with him is what put me in contact [with others]. We went up to Oakland to Walter’s [Hawkins] church for something and that’s when I met Walter. I just flat-out told Walter, “Man, I love your music and I would love to play with you guys”. And…they called me and I wound up playing with them! It was crazy – at one point I was playing with James Cleveland, the Hawkins Family, the Winans, Andraé Crouch, and the Jazz Crusaders, all at the same time.
The first gospel records that I ever bought were when I was in New Zealand. The one thing about when I was there was that I missed church so bad. I actually went to a Baptist church in New Zealand and it was just horrible! I found an outdoor swap meet/flea market and they had a gospel section and they had “Andraé Crouch – Live in London” and Hawkins Family cassettes. I played those things until they wouldn’t play anymore. I used to listen to those songs and I would just imagine what it would be like to know those people and to get a chance to meet them one day. Then I wound up playing with them!
When I was in Israel with James, Andraé came up to me and he said, “Man, I really love the way you play.” I was like, “Yeah right, Andraé Crouch loves the way I play!” Then he said, “ I would love to work with you.” I’m just star-struck! He took my number and about 2 weeks after we got back from Israel, Bill Maxwell, who is the drummer and produced all the records called me and said “Andraé wants you on his record”. So I’m in the studio and I’m sitting there going, “OK, that’s Bill Maxwell, that’s Harlen Rogers, (Harlen Rogers played all of the keys on those records), that’s Hadley Hokensmith, (Hadley played guitar on those records).” From looking at credits I’m putting faces with all of these guys. “OK, that’s Joe Sample!” Joe Sample was on that session. “That’s Andraé Crouch!” It was crazy because the first day I was there I couldn’t play. I literally couldn’t play…everything I tried to play was just horrible! Then end of the day I thought they would just say, “Ok, thanks”. At the end of the day Bill said, “Ok, be back tomorrow at 10”. I realized later on that they knew that I was nervous and they were giving me a chance. The next day I came back and I fixed all stuff that I didn’t play right.
I never forgot that and when I’m hiring people, I’ll see something in somebody and I’ve given a lot of people a chance. It’s funny, over the years, because a lot of times you really don’t think about that stuff while it’s going on. Three years ago they gave me this big tribute when I turned 50 and I got to see and hear all of the stuff people got up and said. People who are giants in the music industry were talking about one moment or one little thing that happened that I didn’t even remember, but that was a pivotal moment in their lives…man, it was a trip! I was always conscious that someone gave me a chance and I always try to do that with people too.
You have great humility about you, but do you ever think about being one of the most influential bass players that blazed the initial trail for so many others? Do you ever reflect on your name recognition?
I’ve become more reflective as I’ve gotten older. The one thing that struck me when I turned 50 was that, more than likely, I’ve lived longer than I’m going to live. As you get older, you start reflecting and you start wondering. I hope I’ve done the right thing; I’ve tried to do the right thing. I’ve heard it a lot nowadays, but I didn’t focus on it.
My first Tobias bass I got from Mike in ’87. I saw one of his basses in New York at Rudy’s Guitar Shop and the guy told me that the company was in LA. I remembered that I used to drive by and see that place, Tobias Guitars, all of the time. I went in there and I knocked on the door and the guy cracked the door and I said, “I just got back from New York and I saw one of your basses and it blew me away.” When I told them my name they knew who I was and they let me in! Mike was at the counter working, doing something to a guitar, and Bob Lee, who was the first person to ever work with Mike, showed me basses up on the wall and he was telling me about them, talking about woods. He took one down and let me play and when I started playing Mike turned around and came over and introduced himself. He offered me a deal on one, which to me was incredible!
Then the crazy part was when started working with Andraé Crouch and I had done a bunch of records, Mike started getting all of these orders for basses. Then I was with BeBe and Cece (Winans) in ’88 – ’90, when they were really, really big. We would go on a yearlong tour and every city that I would go to somebody would hear that bass and call up Mike and order a bass.
I remember that I had never gone to the NAMM show until 2000 and it is always in LA – I was born in LA! I remember that I used to imagine what it would be like to go the NAMM show, because I always heard about it. The first year I went, I’m walking around and I’m like, “I’m going to get some endorsements!” I did a little press kit thing and I was going to give it out to people. So, I went to the NAMM show and I wanted to get a string endorsement and I liked Dean Markley strings. So I’m going to go to Dean Markley booth and I was 5 feet from the booth and the guy behind the counter was like, “Andrew Gouche!” And I was like, “Ok, for real?” They knew who I was! They just started talked to me and I had a string endorsement.
Since you now know that you have name recognition, what are you focused on now, regarding your legacy?
I’m thinking about what I have to do, like finishing my records, which is first and foremost on my priority list. You get my age and you start to get that sense of urgency. You realize the window is still open, but it’s kind of shut a little more now. I don’t want to look back on my life and think, “I wish I would have done this”. If three people buy my records, at least I did them and that’s what I’m trying to do now.
One is the gospel record that I did years ago and I tried to do everything myself, but I was so hands on with it that I was never satisfied with the way it sounded. I had to get it out of my hands. Somebody else is mixing, because if I try to mix the record I’ll never be happy. It’s funny because one of my good friends was like, “Give me the record, just give it to me” and I had gotten to the point where I said, “This guy is a great producer and he does a lot of stuff, I’m just going to put it in his hands.”
Then there is my instrumental record, which is not really instrumental, because I’m not a soloist per se and all of my songs some vocals on them. I’m playing lead lines on bass but I’m not doing a bunch of (mimics crazy lead) soloing because I don’t play like that. These records will be out in 2013. It’s just gotten to a point where I got tired of telling people that they were coming out. I’m now at a point where it doesn’t have to go gold or anything like that, I just want to say that I did them. That’s what I’m concentrating on now.
I’m sure they are going to be amazing!
There are people all over the world waiting for me to do a record. Those are the messages that I always get, “When is your record coming out?” It’s funny, because I see people doing records and it makes me more determined. I’m like, “They did It and that’s the difference between me and them – they did it and I didn’t do it!” I literally just got tired of telling people about my records because I sound like a broken record, because I haven’t done it yet, all of these years. That’s what matters to me – accolades are cool, but I’m not motivated by that. I have a Grammy in my house and a lot of people don’t even know that.
I believe you reap what you sow but we never reap where we sow. The Mary Mary record thing fell into my lap, the Prince thing, even the Chaka thing. When she called, I didn’t even know that she knew who I was. It was weird because her manager called and said, “Chaka’s been looking for you. She wants you to be her musical director”. Chaka saw me play with Karen Briggs, who is an incredible violinist who played with Yanni. Chaka saw me at a club we were playing at. Immediately that night she asked me to go on the road with her. This was during the time I wasn’t going on the road anymore and I told her I didn’t do that anymore. Then in ’06 when Chaka’s manger called, my kids were a little bigger and I just felt like I was ready to do it again. And in the capacity they hired me to do it in – they hired me as musical director.
When you talk about playing on records or being hired by different people, it is always because of the “Andrew Gouche sound”. I wonder if by not being defined by a precedent in gospel bass, where you didn’t just learn the left hand of the organ part, allowed you to start to play melodic, vocal-like lines?
That’s because – you really hit the nail on the head – I’ve played with the greatest singers in the world. In James’ church, James had the best singers; his choir was full of incredible soloists. Then he had the greatest piano players. That’s what I listened to and it really influenced the way that I play. When I was first playing my mother decided she wanted me to go take some bass lessons, so I go and the guy starts asking me how I’m doing what I’m doing. I only went like twice and I said this is ridiculous! But that’s what it is, I gravitated to and I was really influenced by the singing and by what the piano player was doing. I used to always ask, “What’s that chord?” That’s why I know chords now. I have perfect pitch too, so I’m very conscious that, even though I may play a lot of things, I’m always playing notes that are in chord. My playing is unorthodox, when you look at the standard of what people do.
When I would go do a session, a gospel session at least, the first thing I would ask them is “What are the words to the song?” because you‘re going in and cutting the music first. The words of the song, to me, influence my approach to how I’m going to play it. I used to trip people out by saying, “What is this song saying?” I’m thinking about what the song is saying.
Do you think that the gospel thought process and the connection to the sentiment of the song is what you carry forward to non-gospel situations?
I think so, because at the end of the day, the people that call me don’t call me because they want a bass player, they call me because they want Andrew Gouche. That’s what happened with Prince. Gospel musicians have taken over the music industry. 99% of the cats that are doing all of the major gigs are all church boys. You can’t put a technical term on it; they say it’s just the Holy Ghost, man!
I remember when I went to Japan with the Hawkins Family. Japan is a Buddhist country, but those people were coming up to us after those shows saying, “I’m happy! I’m happy!” It reaches people and a lot of times they can’t explain it and they say, “It’s just something about those guys”. I think that’s what it is more than anything – I mean, I hear a lot of people that hate the way I play! They talk about how I play too many notes and my whole style is too much, but some people like chicken, some people like fish. I had to become comfortable with that, that no matter what you do, not everybody is going to like you, so that can’t be your focus. As long as you do what you’re doing from your heart then you’ll be satisfied, you’ll never go wrong. You’ll kill yourself trying to please everybody and I don’t do that – I don’t care! Prince called me because he liked what I do. Anybody could play “Red Corvette” and any of those songs! It’s funny, because the other bass player is still here. [Prince] has this thing now where there are 3 different things going on. You know, the person who has been playing with him for the past few years, she’s playing guitar while I’m playing bass.
I look at my life and it’s a trip, because literally everything that I hoped and wished for has happened. I haven’t done as much as a lot of people that I know, but God’s blessed me so much in everything, from my wife, my family…and I think it all ties together. I just believe that how you live affects everything, so I always try to do the right thing. Doing the right thing has worked for me, so that’s what I do. You’ll see some scoundrels who are really blessed, but I can’t even focus on that, because I don’t have to answer for anybody else, I have to answer for myself. So that’s what I concentrate on.
God just blows my mind; He’s done it for years. It’s funny, right when you get to that point, “what’s going to happen?” and something happens. That’s what’s happened for me. I believe that you do the right thing and God will bless you. You can’t explain it, it’s beyond our understanding how He works. I just try to do the best I can do.
It really does blow my mind. I still remember the very first thing I learned on guitar and I remember when I first started and I never imagined doing the stuff that I’m doing: having a signature bass and all of that. I love Mike Tobias, he’s one of the greatest cats that I’ve ever known. He actually approached me about the whole signature bass thing.
Along with the signature bass, what other gear are you using?
Epifani amps and those are my two things. I use the 902, which they don’t make any more. The Epifani rig, when I played it, I was like, “This is my rig!” The sad part is that it’s a small company, so I can’t get it everywhere I go. The cool thing with this gig is that we can just have one and put it on the truck. It’s weird, on this gig I have a bass tech. I’ve never had a bass tech before. One day he caught me changing my own strings and he was like, “No, no! I’ll do it, I’ll do it!” I was like, “You have enough stuff to do!” My whole life I’ve never had a bass tech and I’m still not comfortable with it, it’s still weird to me. I’ve heard of cats that even on a local gig, their tech will bring their stuff – I’ve been schlepping my own gear for years! To have a tech…it’s cool, but a lot of it is surreal.
Even when talking about the dream gig things, like having a bass tech, I can still sense that you’d be happy only playing one night in a small club.
Yes, but as a husband and father, you always want to feel that you are providing for your family and all of that kind of stuff. Something always happens. Something will come up. My plan was to go out there and whatever happens, happens. God was good before you got that gig. I‘ve lived my whole life like that. There’s been some times when I couldn’t see my way out of a situation and then something would happen, right when it was the most desperate time. Now I don’t worry about stuff like that!