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Bassist Tim Paul Weiner – Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) by Brent-Anthony Johnson

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Bassist Tim Paul Weiner - 1

Bassist Tim Paul Weiner on Why Is Music Important…

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Tim Paul Weiner (pronounced “WHY-ner”). My friends call me Tim-Paul, or “TP”. I’m an electric bassist, songwriter and composer. I am originally from the Midwest… But, I’ve been living in Boston since 2000. I’m a Berklee College of Music Film Scoring/Bass Performance graduate, and I have a Master’s Degree, in Modern American Music, from the Longy School of Music at Bard College.

Who are your primary musical influences?

I would say my biggest musical influence is Miles Davis. Next to him, it’s Jaco Pastorius and John Coltrane. But, I got hip to both of them through Miles. One of my professors (and good friend) theorist, Peter J. Evans, hipped me to using the analogy of influences as rhizomes – with their chance roots all stemming back to a main source. This analogy is a great way for me to visualize – tracing back through influences and where they all started and what influences blossomed from them-sort of like tracing a family tree… But, with musical milestones! In my musical journey, I can almost trace all my jazz influences eventually back to Miles! Miles is the whole deal! He was the guy who played acoustic bop and then went on to modal music; then electric rock and funk-influenced, groove-based music, and then pop music… and he did all of it at the highest level! Miles achieved some of the most iconic jazz recordings in history. He was a purist at times. Then, he’d throw all the conventions aside when he needed to create something new! He was a true maverick! At one point, he was a bop icon – using only acoustic players. Then, one day, he said, “screw it!” and made music with some of the best electric jazz musicians in the pantheon of jazz music.

For example, take into consideration the album, Kind of Blue. I got turned on to John Coltrane by listening to that record! Through Coltrane, I got turned onto acoustic bassist Jimmy Garrison. Through Jimmy Garrison, I got turned on to Jimmy’s son, bassist Matt Garrison! Matt’s music changed everything for me! His playing and writing opened up so many doors to what could be done on the electric bass…much like when I first heard Jaco Pastorius. Sure, I definitely would’ve heard of Matt outside of this particular rhizome. But, his rhizome would lead directly back to Miles – through his dad and Coltrane! It is interesting to see, in my experience, how much of my personal musical formation relates back to Miles.

Through listening to Miles I got hip to Herbie Hancock, (which hipped me to bassist Paul Jackson), Chic Corea, (which hipped me to bassist Stanley Clarke), John McLaughlin, (which hipped me to bassists Kai Eckhardt, Jonas Hellborg and Hadrien Feraud).

Then, there is Bill Evans, (which hipped me to bassist Scott LaFaro), Joe Zawinul, (which hipped me to Jaco), Mike Stern, (which hipped me to bassists Tom Kennedy and Richard Bona! Then, of course, I need to mention (bassists) Marcus Miller, Darryl Jones, and Michael Henderson, and all of those influences have led to countless other influences as rhizomes themselves.

In addition to the bassists listed above, I grew up in the 80’s so that time period was very musically influential.

A partial list of bassists who have influenced me and continue to inspire me would be Larry Graham, Mark King, Paul Denman, Brian Bromberg, Doug Wimbish, Mark Egan, Oteil Burbridge, Janek Gwizdala, Tony Grey, Steve Jenkins, Victor Wooten, and all the cats who I studied with when I was in school. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for those folks!

What are you listening to musically, in the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?

I’ve always listened to other instrumentalists and been able to take something away from listening to them. Lately, I’ve been honing in on some of my favorite contemporary jazz guitarists, and how they approach standard tunes and chord voicing. Guitarists Tim Miller, Adam Rogers, Jonathan Kriesberg, Pat Martino and Peter Bernstein are the players I’m listening to most recently. I’ve always been intrigued with alternate voicing on piano and guitar, and how the same chord voiced differently can change the feel of a tune, or tone of a passage or inspire a new harmony that can be superimposed and used to improvise over it.

Ironically enough (from the other side of my brain), I have a guilty pleasure: I’ve always been a fan of electronica – especially Lounge and Chill-Out!

Sometimes I just want to relax and get in a vibe and keep it steady while I’m working on something or working out, cooking, or driving. I’m a huge “ostinato guy”, and sometimes I don’t want to analyze or visualize music. I just like the drone and the pulse of it… and much of electronica’s wheelhouse is built around the ostinato. I do prefer electronica with some jazz harmony, and a lot of the production is pretty interesting to me in how they create different densities, and build up layers and take away layers to manipulate the dynamic.

The music can be very sparse and very dense at the same time, and songs and grooves seem to blend organically from one to the other. So there’s no resolution… just a constant flow. I really dig that, and I really dig the electronic-live, human interaction!

When I first started seriously getting into playing, I was greatly influenced by Doug Wimbish and his group Tackhead. They had a lot of this electronic-human deal going on back then, and they used a lot of this same layering, building and taking away layers to create tension and release – which, has always been a big part of my writing. I’ve definitely been trying to incorporate the dense-yet-sparse approach in my writing, and I’d eventually like to reflect more of that “flow” live, with my group, the Evoke Ensemble.

How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?

A musician’s personal musical voice on their instrument is a reflection of all of the musical influences they’ve gathered throughout their life. Whether, they’re self taught and learned by ear (as I was before I went back to school later in life)… Or, whether they’ve spent a lifetime formally studying music from a young age, we’re all a product of our influences. As for myself, and for many of my peers, the inherent function of the bass as a supporting role will always be there – particularly when you are being employed by someone else to play. At the same time, bassists today are expected to go above and beyond what is expected of most other instrumentalists. We’re expected to do our supportive role 98% of the time. But, at any given moment, we need to be able to become a lead voice; improvise with a certain degree of sophistication, manipulate the harmony, play chords, artificial harmonics, slap, tap, have a handful of face- melting chops, play unison Be-Bop lines with the facility of a horn player, or play completely contrapuntal rhythmic lines (sometimes while actually singing)! In addition to what I just said, we’re often expected to all that on a completely separate, additional instrument: the double bass! We’re, sort of, expected to keep all this in check and only unleash it 2% of the time… and only at someone else’s discretion! This isn’t a complaint, mind you, it’s just an observation that illustrates how awesome an instrument the bass is, and how far it’s come in the last 30-years! It is really cool to be a bass player today!

We’re the only ones in an ensemble who are constantly playing, besides the drummer! The difference is that the drummer may-or-may-not know (and isn’t expected to hear) what an auxiliary augmented Lydian scale is, in order to improvise with it! That’s a joke… but, not really!

As far as my gear… I’m a Fodera artist and I play Aguilar amplification. My main instrument is a custom 34-inch scale, Fodera Imperial 5 String Elite. It is a neck-through bass guitar with a mahogany body, walnut heel block, 3-piece Ash neck, Ebony fingerboard, Ebony ramp, and a Hawaiian Koa flame top, with Seymour Duncan, vintage, dual coil pickups. It is unapologetically the best bass for me to express my craft! I truly support what the folks at Fodera. They have done and continue to make the best possible instrument they can. I’ve been an endorsee since 2006 and they’ve been nothing if not World-Class in what they do. They literally treat you like extended family! At this writing, they are in the process of making a 6-string bass for me that should be done sometime in the spring of 2015. I really dig the single cutaway shape… So, the new bass is another Imperial Elite. The differences are a shorter scale, and a different wood configuration. I’ve been drawn to the fretted 6-string lately because of the range, timbre and chordal possibilities which work well in both aspects of performing and for writing my own music. It has opened up to a whole other world for me!

My other bass is a Fender 70’s re-issue Jazz Bass, which I put Bartolini pickups in and added a Gotoh bridge to. I had never owned a Fender bass until about four years ago, because I had never found one that was comfortable for me to play. One of my students let me play their Mexican Fender Jazz and I really dug it! So, I started looking into them. I chose the Fender 70’s re-issue J because I love the vintage look. I also got the instrument because I’ve always been drawn to Fender basses… and every bass player needs a Fender, right? Also, I don’t like to travel with my Fodera – especially these days with all the reports you hear about airlines and how they treat instruments! The Bartolinis replaced the original J pickups because I was looking for a more sophisticated sound than the originals offered. To my ear, the original pickups sounded very “rock”… not that that’s a bad thing. It just wasn’t what I was looking for. I replaced the bridge because the one that came with it wasn’t great and I needed more sustain. I do fantasize about having the real, vintage Jazz Bass like most bass players… but I’m really happy with my J-Bass.

Bassist Tim Paul Weiner - 2

Describe your musical composition process.

My musical composition process can come from just about anywhere! Mostly, I write my music on the bass. I’m also an advocate for singing what I play on my instrument. If I can hear something in my head, and am able to translate that to my bass, it’s more cohesive of an idea than if I’m just noodling and stumble across something. Although, sometimes, that can be magical as well! Even though I’m not a great pianist, or guitarist, I write on both piano and guitar. Sometimes being out of your comfort zone can ignite inspiration! When melodies or bass lines have just popped into my head, I use the voice memo app on my phone and file them away until I’m near an instrument. Back in the day, I kept all my ideas on cassettes, and I had an old boom box with a cassette recorder and I would record the bass line and play the melody. After recoding, I would begin transcribing the idea onto paper. I basically do the same thing today. Now, technology allows me the freedom to stop at anytime and record an idea that’s preserved and recallable.

For the last few years I’ve incorporated a looper into a part of my compositional process, because I can perform what I hear in my head on my bass better than I can on another instrument. This process is more intuitive for me, to perform all the parts on my bass and then transcribe them to other instruments, than vice-versa. I also use Digital Performer to flesh-out and demo my ideas more thoroughly. I can have a great A section, and then remember a B section from another idea, and then copy and paste that info into the original idea. That process has led to a song’s growth more often than not. I also see that Garage Band is becoming more sophisticated. I learned DP while studying Film Scoring at Berklee, and it basically does the same thing Garage Band does… and I already know how to use DP!

I transcribe all of my ideas by hand and then plug them into Finale. It’s a good way for me to keep track of things and commit to an idea. Loading everything into Finale can be tedious! So if I’m at that point, I know the piece must be a keeper. In 2012 I released my first solo album, Groove for Peace with my group, the Evoke Ensemble. All of the tunes on that album were written on bass and/or piano.

How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?

My immediate environment is directly affected by music, as I work at Berklee College of Music. Because of this, most of the decisions I’m making are related to a music performance or affect a musical situation. I’m also an active teacher in Boston, so I like to think I am influencing the next generation of bassists in a positive way. I’m an active performer, as well, and I play in about a dozen different groups – including being the house bassist for two churches on the Massachusetts South Shore. My daily environment is surrounded by music! Working and living a few blocks from Berklee, New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory and Boston College, you can see how the culture is affected by music just walking around! Boston is alive with music, from the impromptu student street musicians, the buskers on the subway, to walking down the street randomly hearing people practicing anything from opera, flute, piano, guitar, to full band rehearsals.

Down a few blocks from where I live is the Hatch Shell, which is where they broadcast the Boston Pops live July 4th concert and fireworks. During the summer, I take my kids for walks down by the river where the Hatch Shell is located and we’ve seen everything from nationally touring acts to local community orchestras. Newbury Street is the trendy shopping street in town and it’s about 2-blocks away. Finally, all summer long there are Berklee cats jamming anything from bluegrass, full-on funk, singer-songwriter music, and a capella groups. There are also a few really talented street percussionists who perform on buckets, and pots and pans around town that really get a decent crowd going. I’m walking distance from Wally’s Café, one of the last remaining true jazz clubs from that earlier jazz era, and some of the top musicians in town are there every night of the week. Not to mention that Symphony Hall and Fenway Park are each a mere few blocks away. There are big-name concerts throughout the summer every year like The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Jason Aldean, and Sir Paul McCartney… just to name a few. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out at night walking my dogs and caught myself listening to what felt like a private concert from a few blocks away.

There are several high-end hotels within a few a few blocks where all the stars stay. Being so close to Berklee, I’ve passed so many musicians and heroes of mine just walking around the neighborhood! Some memorable people I’ve seen are Stanley Clarke, John Patitucci, Steve Smith, John Clayton, Bobby McFerrin, Stu Hamm, and John Williams! They’re just getting in and out of cabs or walking through the same crosswalk as me. It’s really wild, and also surreal at times!

What would you be, if not a professional musician?

My whole life I’ve been a creative person, and art has shaped me since I can remember. I went to art school, in Los Angeles, right out of high school on a scholarship as a fine artist. But, I dropped out after a year to play music. I also worked professionally in a kitchen for a long time… while playing music at night. Cooking and being around good food has always been a huge, and wonderful, creative part of my life. Though, I couldn’t see myself doing it for a living anymore. I actually have a food blog where I post recipes and anecdotes! But, cooking for a living eventually made me grumpy. I’ve been working so hard my whole life at being a well-rounded musician that I don’t want to think of having to do something else!

What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?

The biggest sacrifice is what I think most musicians and artists sacrifice… and that would be: following a trusted life path, living a normal existence, and being close to family. My journey took me away from all that. Even so, I wouldn’t trade being a musician for the world! I have no regrets. To me, being an artist is intrinsically one of the most rewarding and fulfilling lives a person could lead. Artists give us our culture. They reveal our human inadequacies, and they bring people closer together, and they heal our suffering. Art is a large part of what makes our lives worth living. I’m lucky and grateful to be a dad and husband and to have been able to start a beautiful, healthy, immediate family, later in life. In our home, music and art is a large part of our everyday lives. Thank goodness for technology, as it’s much easier to keep in touch with family and still feel close. I still miss my small town roots and being around my big family, and the security and simplicity that comes with that lifestyle.

Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?

I long for the halcyon days of all-day practice sessions, but they are long gone. Most of my practicing, when I have time, is spent on improvising – maintaining my chops, working on sight reading, and transcribing. Playing over changes and learning new heads is always something I try to fit into my spotty “routine”. Rhythm Changes, Giant Steps, and Inner Urge are tunes I never stop studying. Taking different approaches to these tunes and tunes like them is what I like to spend time on. Transcribing other players’ approach to licks… as well as figuring out my own! Be-Bop heads, and the Omni Book, are also something I’m continuously working on.

I’m always learning new tunes for folks that I play with, and for students. That’s where most of my transcribing comes into play these days. I think reading music is a lifelong task, especially if you’re like me and didn’t start reading music at a young age. I try to spend some time on that as much as possible – even if it’s just opening a real book at random and reading through a melody. Sometimes, I read through a bass clef book, or magazine, and reading though written lines. My practice time has turned into what I read about Wes Montgomery’s practicing situation, when he had a day job and a family. Any practicing I do is at a whisper – as I’m either doing it in the morning before anyone else is up, or late at night, when everyone else is asleep. I use the free Amplitude app on my phone, which isn’t ideal, but is a beautiful thing. I like to think Wes would’ve dug it!

What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?

I believe that the best musician is not only the best for obvious reasons, but also because of their innate ability to empathize with the human condition, and through their art evoke emotions within us with grace and humility. Artists who can expand their field and open our eyes through creating something new and vibrant while still paying homage to the past. I feel like I am in constant pursuit of that path.

Bassist Tim Paul Weiner - 3

How important is it to understand the Language of music?

I’m ambivalent about the whole “understanding of” the language of music. Not formally studying obviously doesn’t take away from someone who is innately talented and just because you can graduate from a music school doesn’t make anyone a great musician by any means.

For me, studying music formally through a graduate level was a personal commitment to myself. I come from a background of academia, my dad and both of my brothers are surgeons and scholars and at the top of their field. I think that influence might’ve had a lot to do with my decision to study formally. After struggling to find my way artistically, I really needed to focus and commit to honing my craft! The only way I saw to do that was to put all my eggs in one basket and apply to the best school in the world that could allow me to study that intensely as an electric bass player. It was the best decision I could’ve made! But, I understand that doesn’t make me any more of an artist than the guy finding his way around his instrument in his basement at his parents’ home. That WAS me, at a point in my life! I just had a burning desire to embrace the academic part, and to try to understand what it was I was actually doing and hearing musically. I wanted to immerse myself in my instrument and music as a whole and study formally. That has made me a better musician, artist, teacher, learner, person, and its made me a more fulfilled individual. I now know so much more about myself, my strengths, my fears, and how strong the power of my will is. After graduating and working for a few years, I wanted to get back into teaching formally, and I wanted to seriously study improvisation on another level. I sought out some improvisation gurus around town and one of those folks was Charlie Bonacos, a legendary improviser and teacher in the New England area, who has taught so many of my friends and musical heroes. Charlie had a two-year-long waitlist at the time! But, he assured me that if I put my name on the list, he’d call when the next opening was available. I called every few months to check my status and he graciously gave it to me. After a year of being persistent, he told me that he was faculty and taught improvisation at a conservatory in Cambridge called Longy, and that if I applied and got into the jazz program there (which was called the MAM program, or Modern American Music program) that I could formally study with him and I wouldn’t have to wait out the dreaded waitlist! I didn’t have the confidence to apply at the time and ironically Charlie passed away suddenly before I ever got to study with him.

About a year later I remembered our conversation and cold-called Longy. I talked with Peter Cassino, Charlie’s friend who co-founded the MAM program, and we set up on audition. My pursuit of knowledge manifested itself into two degrees and two student loans! All kidding aside… having these degrees has opened doors that would’ve never been available to me, and it opened other doors I never even knew existed.

How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?

It’s a lifelong process. I think my brain is still processing Jaco’s version of Donna Lee! Sure, I learned how to play it a while ago. But, to be able to understand where he’s coming from with that recording is something I’ve been trying to get just a tiny grasp on for 20+ years!

Some influences only come out through practice, repetition and muscle memory. We have to assimilate it and dilute it into our own playing so we don’t sound like a carbon copy. I think that’s some of the hardest aspects about being an artist! Other influences seem to be acquired through osmosis. It’s the intangible aspects that just become a part of us, somehow. We strive for our own voice on our instrument, but we learn from our heroes and want to emulate their sound, technique, or their approach. One can only do that by immersing themselves in that artist’s music. It’s a fine line between emulating someone’s sound and actually combining it with other influences and using it to contribute to your own sound. I think we all struggle with it in the beginning. It just takes time and the humility to realize that we need to move on if we get to that point where everyone tells you you’re great… while at the same time saying you sound just like so-and-so. People are programmed to compare our music or sound with someone else. It’s just a human quirk, and I see it happen everyday! I’m even guilty of it myself! I’ve had album reviews where my music was compared to folks I never really listened to, or someone I hadn’t even heard of. I think those types of comparisons, although strange at first, are some of the biggest compliments as it means you’re doing something right by assimilating all of your influences and using them discriminately enough that you aren’t just regurgitating information.

Musicians spend their whole lives absorbing influences… whether they are emotional influences, artistic influences, using sounds, voicing, fingerings, scales, songs, progressions, or tones. Acquiring specific instruments, amplifiers, strings, and/or effects is a very similar process. All of it is impossible to quantify. All these things, and many more, marinate and boil down over time, eventually into hopefully, ones’ own voice. 

Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?

I think certain types of music are definitely commercial. That is they are created – to be nothing more than a commodity-to be bought and sold, and to make a profit from. I get that. I just don’t particularly care for that kind of music. At one time I did – because I grew up listening to pop music, or the music that was on the radio: Kiss, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, the Stones, David Bowie, Journey… you know, completely commercial Album Oriented Rock-sold to the masses. That music was different from today’s pop music, whereas it was curated by “evil” record companies! But the talent was visceral and raw, and the music was original and played by human beings – not machines and plug-ins, and there was a craft involved… not a formula.

I didn’t start listening to jazz until I was in the jazz band at my high school. I didn’t know anything about jazz, except Kenny G and Chuck Mangione, because those were the dudes that got airplay. My jazz band needed a bass player, and word got out that I owned a bass, and I had a pulse. I was listening to Ella and Billie Holiday, because someone turned me onto it when I was young, and outside of my jazz friends no one knew or cared for it. Then a romantic comedy came out at the theater, and one of the love scenes features an Ella song! A year later, every one has an Ella Fitzgerald CD in their player! Is that a bad thing? Hell no, I don’t think so! It’s putting jazz in the public limelight. It’s putting real, raw talent and harmonic sophistication and style back in America’s ears, and it’s giving America back its heritage. If that’s a bad thing to some folks than so be it. Yes, it becomes commercial, (again) but I don’t think that negates the quality of the original recordings, or the style. People associate being commercial as “selling out” like it’s a bad thing. Again, it doesn’t diminish what you’ve done to get to that point. In some cases, it gives artists the resources to grow as creative forces. Or, even more so, it influences another generation to take it and create something new and vibrant, contributing to the art form.

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Interview With Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes

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Interview With Bassist Erick Jesus Coomes

Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes…

It is always great to meet a super busy bassist who simply exudes a love for music and his instrument. Erick “Jesus” Coomes fits this description exactly. Hailing from Southern California, “Jesus” co-founded and plays bass for Lettuce and has found his groove playing with numerous other musicians.

Join us as we hear of his musical journey, how he gets his sound, his ongoing projects, and his plans for the future.

Photo, Bob Forte

Visit Online

www.lettucefunk.com
IG @jesuscsuperstar
FB@jesuscoomes
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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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Bass Videos

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

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Features

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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