Featured Bass Interview – Black 47’s Bassist Joe Burcaw
When did you start playing bass and how did you progress to where you are today?
I first picked up the bass out of necessity when I was thirteen yrs. old. I was the typical teenager who had the garage band and aspirations of making all of the young girls lust for my skills. We had parted ways with our original bass player, and by default I took over the position after originally starting out on guitar. My formative years were spent up in my bedroom (much to my parents chagrin) jamming for hours at a time to the first 4 Duran Duran records and beyond. I was obsessed with John Taylor’s playing and in my mind, I was the 6th member of the band. I was self taught up until I entered college in the early 90’s. I did take a few lessons at the local music store in my hometown, but it wasn’t until I started taking music courses at school that I truly came into my own as a bassist and musician. not only was I studying how to read and write musical notation, but I was also digging my teeth at becoming a live performer on the club circuit surrounding my university. I was only 18 years old playing every week in a cover band (with older students) who became pretty popular around campus. we named the band after a Duran Duran song entitled “Hothead Evolution”. This experience really gave me a taste of what was lying ahead years down the line. I cannot stress enough how important it is to play with musicians who are more experienced and seasoned, it will enrich your musicality, and push you to achieve higher levels of proficiency.
Black 47 started around 1989, and you joined the group in 2006. How was it coming into a group that had been established for so many years as a new member, both in live performances and in the studio?
The transition was absolutely seem less. You have to understand that I was a semi accomplished session player on the new york city downtown music scene. I had 15 years of recording, touring and gigging under my belt before I got into the band, so I was more than ready to step into the bass position with 47. The only adjustment I needed to make was keeping into consideration that the horn/pipe section takes up a hell of a lot of space sonically speaking, so the sound spectrum can be pretty dense at times. I had to really tweak my playing so that I wasn’t over playing and interfering with their place within the mix. Also, I had to make it a point becoming a solid anchor between the kick drum and rhythm guitar. That was missing from B47’s sound for quite some time, so I made it my mission to bring it back.
Black 47 covers many diverse styles with their music, how do you remain as proficient in all the different genres, especially with how well you do from genre to genre?
If you were to dissect each member of the band, you would see a kaleidoscope of vast and varied musical experiences that have been brought to the B47 “genre plate”. Larry comes from the show band/folk singer song-writer world, Geoff graduated from the royal music academy concentrating in classical composition, Freddy graduated from New England conservatory as a jazz performer, Joseph was a traditional Irish player, Hammy was a rock/r&b session artist and I had a background in neo soul-funk and jazz. With this smorgasbord of influences you can now understand why we sound the way we do in and out of the studio. Nothing is out of reach when we improvise. That sets us at a much higher skill set than most of our peers within the Irish circuit. No one is doing what we do, and the extreme level of musicianship speaks for itself.
Now that black 47 has decided to disband after 25 years, what are your plans for the future?
The moment we had the discussion that 2014 was going to be our “swan song” year was the moment I jumped on the phone to begin networking for myself beyond B47. I have set up some great musical situations waiting for me once we pack it in for good at the end of this year.
In no specific order: Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, John Taylor, Sting, Geddy Lee, Muzz Skillings, and Bernard Edwards. These particular individuals have positively altered my way of thinking about music, and have shaped me into becoming the musician I am today.
Gear ? Endorsements?
I use DR strings and Markbass amplification “exclusively”. I am a gear junkie, but that would take up way too much time to discuss at this juncture in time. 🙂
As a former and current fan of the band Black 47, I would highly recommend going out to a show and see us live. It truly is a music experience not to miss! On a side note, I have a private door to door/skype teaching service called, “Bearclaw’s bass lessons”. For lesson inquiries please visit: (www.joeburcaw.com).