Author Jacob RyanJacob Ryan is a Special Guest Writer for Bass Musician Magazine. The interview was held at The Tracking Room Studio in Nashville, TN.
For just over four years now, I’ve been calling Nashville home, so it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that I’ve been meeting a lot of musicians. Of course this is Music City, so I was bound to run into a shiftless artist or two … and some real talents as well. In an effort to cover my new city, and its’ real-life scene (not the one you hear on the radio or see on TV) I’ve decided to start a series of interview write-ups with area people, and artists of interest.
One such character worthy of note is Todd Ashburn, a gifted session bassist originally from Winston-Salem, NC. We met at a restaurant we both frequent, a place where we often spent time talking about sports, music, life and even some philosophy. Recently, during one of these meeting-of-the-minds, he mentioned to me that in the early 2000s he played for a pretty shreddy band called CANDY PIG. Back then CP was starting to see some success, playing with the likes of Social Distortion, Danzig, Marilyn Manson, Korn, and, most randomly, Vanilla Ice. They were also lucky enough to catch the eye and ears of a major record label, Atlantic Records. However, not all that glitters is gold, and early success wasn’t enough to keep CANDY PIG solvent. He now makes his living backing up other amazing musicians in the studio.
Knowing I’m an aspiring music journalist, Todd asked me out to hang during one of his session gigs, at the world famous Tracking Room studio. I’ve hung out with players at countless makeshift home rigs, but this was my first time in a legit, real-deal major league studio. Watching through the glass, I was super impressed with Todd’s skills slapping da bass, and was eager to talk shop with him during a break in the action. He stepped out of the massive recording room at the studio, where he’d been playing with Steppenwolf/Rod Stewart’s axe man, Danny Johnson, TOTO band member Buddy Hyatt and hit songwriter/vocalist John Flynt Adams, all of them cracking up about something or other they’d said during the recording session. We stepped out for a drink and some conversation.
(Jacob Ryan): Well, it must be pretty bad ass to play with rock stars like Danny Johnson of Steppenwolf and Buddy Hyatt of TOTO!
(Todd Ashburn): Yeah… I would have to say that DJ (Danny Johnson) and Bud (Buddy Hyatt) have the most tasteful licks of any guitarist and keys player that I have worked with here in Nashville … I love those guys. They are also great songwriters. The dude singing, Johnny Flynt, has some serious pipes. Man can sing. I’m lucky to be able to work with such talented people here in Music City.
(JR): Very cool man. You definitely have a Les Claypool feel to your playing, has he been a major influence? Any other bassists/musicians you really vibe with?
(TA): Thanks man, I get that a lot about Les. I am a huge fan of Les Claypool. Especially the “Tommy the Cat”, “Mud” and “Jerry” stuff. He’s better than me. I have hung out with him on a couple of occasions. Honestly, we talked more about fishing than playing bass. I would say Fleas early Red Hot Chili Pepper stuff was groundbreaking as well and it has influenced me along with Geddy Lee. Also a big fan of Robert Trujillo and Louis Johnson, who are wonderful people as well as incredible bassists.
Todd on the couch taken at The Tracking Room Studio main board / engineer room
(JR): You’ve told me before about your successful rap/metal/funk band CANDY PIG, how did ya’ll get your start, and what was the ‘industry’ like for you?
(TA): It was around 1993-1994, and I was dealing with the passing of my totally and willingly supportive father, Clint Ashburn. I needed to vent, so I started to write/play some very aggressive thumpy, slap-style bass lines if you will. I was living in Charlotte, with my girlfriend at the time, and she introduced me to her best friends boyfriend … sounds like a song title for sure. His name is Jimmy Hamblin. We quickly became best buds and started writing and jamming together. He brought his awesome energy and rap style vocal to the stage and the recordings. That was the start of CANDY PIG. We later recruited a dynamic duo from Dallas, TX — Brooks Kaplan, a music school standout with crazy funky guitar licks and tones, plus Scott Sailer, “the admiral of funk”. Both were extremely talented musicians out of the Dallas’ metal scene.
Brooks came up with the design for the logo, and was also the marketing and managing side of the band. He was multi-talented. A good friend by the name of Lincoln Baugus (R.I.P) was also a huge part of getting CANDY PIG off of the ground at that time. He put a lot of heart and soul in, truly believing the band would make it, even though we had limited success at first. Every band has friends like Lincoln who are there for you when you need them and they don’t want anything in return. He was an awesome dude; a true friend.
Anyway, after the additions, CANDY PIG was officially a band. The name was coined by — I can’t remember if it was Jimmy, Brooks, or another very talented musician friend who was hanging with us at that moment Scoot Pittman — after Jimmy received some mail by mistake to his front door. It was supposed to be delivered to his neighbor; a lady named Candy Pig. We all loved that name, so we went with it. We recorded our first demo, played, and toured heavily with that lineup.
Brooks sent out our demo and press kit to the Ticketmaster Showcase Battle of the Bands through Rolling Stone magazine, and we were one of only 25 bands to be chosen out of over 2,000 entries. Eventually The Verve Pipe won, they had that popular song “The Freshmen” that came out shortly after on RCA Records. We finished closely behind, and played a couple more high profile showcases, which lead to talks with major labels, but we weren’t able to sign a deal. The band took a hiatus, and then Brooks, Scott, and Jimmy left. Chuck Craig, Heath Harris and Lance Oglesby were recruited soon after and the Pig was reborn. Chuck and Lance were my two favorite musicians in town other than Brooks and Scott. Heath was a star in the Atlanta music scene. Lance and Heath toured and recorded a demo or so with us then there were some more line-up shuffles. Chuck was friends with a couple of guys that he new from school and around the same town by the names of Scott Brown and Johnny Carver; Scott on guitar and Johnny on the mic. Johnny with his vocal/rap skills, stage presence and overall vibe was special. He is one of those guys that you knew was a star when you were in the room with him. He brought a ton of additional label interest to the band. Scott Brown on guitar who also gave CANDY PIG a sound and vibe/flavor that was absolutely incredible. He came up with so many genius guitar licks it’s silly. We recorded our debut record, 43, which caught the attention of Clutchdog Records of Nashville. President and CEO Stephen R. Drummond liked what he heard, and his label released the record, which was on mainstream rock and alternative radio stations. The single “Slump Vibe” was a particular rotated song on these stations. Chuck eventually gracefully bowed out and we recruited Dan Lawlor, a friend of Chucks’, who was a session drummer, touring with a national recording artist, and also in a popular local Charlotte band that was going their separate ways at that time. This was the final lineup.
About this time, a local celebrity program director/DJ for one of the biggest alternative rock station in the South, 95.7 WXRC the Rock (out of Charlotte) took notice of us and pushed to have our music played even more on the hard rock and alternative markets. His name is Anthony Michaels and he is a hardcore motivator and extremely gifted in marketing. Anthony really put CANDY PIG on the national map. While he was pushing us on the radio and promoting our live shows he was also offered several major record label jobs. He chose Atlantic Records and brought us with him. Johnny, Scott, Dan and myself were in the studio recording an album for Atlantic Records, Essence of the Groove, but it was never released. The band dissolved shortly after. Wow, that’s like the “Book of Pig” right there! Sorry for rambling.
(JR): No worries, I enjoy the behind the scenes stories, and it’s always nice to show people some love. So with the various line-ups, you toured a lot, with some big name acts too, how was that experience?
(TA): CANDY PIG was very fortunate to play with a lot of major alternative acts of that time. We lived the life, and had so much fun, funking, slamming, sweating it out every night on tour. Our crowds were crazy rowdy! It was an intense time in my life.
After the Atlantic Records thing fell thru I took a break from music for a couple of years. Not long after I was reunited on the telephone with some Nashville guys that convinced me to move, and I did. Been loving it here ever since.
(JR): Nice. So what kind of bass are you playing today, and what other instruments do you mainly play, in your session work or otherwise?
(TA): This right here is a Spector L5C five-string, with rounds for my growl and punchy stuff. I also play an old Fender Precision with flats, another old Fender Jazz with flats, and a Music Man Stingray with rounds. I mostly use the Spector and I switch the round strings to flat strings for a warmer tone as needed. So you need lessons or what man?
(JR): Not ready to trade in my laptop just yet, but thanks! Maybe when my bank account erupts and I can afford one of those sweet Spectors… then I’ll give it a shot.
After some more small talk, I thanked him for his time and let man get back to work, tickling his bass strings. If you want to hear more from the Pig, have a listen to their last record, Essence of The Groove, right here. On the drive home I thought about how lucky I am to live in a city so rich with creative talent, how there are thousands of stories in Music City just like Todd’s … and how exciting it is to try to tell as many of those stories as humanly possible. Stay tuned for more reports on the real Nashville.