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ERB Legend Bill Dickens – Bass Musician Magazine, December 2016 Issue


ERB Legend Bill Dickens – Bass Musician Magazine, December 2016 Issue



After Anthony Jackson with the 6-string and Jimmy Johnson on the 5-string started in the mid 70’s, adding strings to the standard 4-string bass in the early 8o’s Bill “The Buddha” Dickens was one of the first bassists in the world to continue with that incipient trend. Later in the mid 90’s he invented the 9-string bass and for that reason, along with his spectacular technical skills on it, he has achieved a well-deserved reputation in the ERB field.

Please tell us about your musical background and that crucial moment when you decided to move into the ERB field.    

It started back in the early 80’s when I was using Ken Smith basses.  He used to loan me a different 4-string bass every time I visited New York, performing at Fat Tuesdays on  tour with Ramsey Lewis. One time when performing I heard Anthony Jackson was playing at the old Brecker Brothers Club, 7th Avenue South with Steve Khan and Eye Witness. Anthony was playing his signature bass, the Smith Jackson Contrabass. I saw him play for  3 nights and I was totally blown away with what he could do with those 6-strings.

Ken came out to see me at Fat Tuesdays.  When Ramsey gave me a solo I played, Willow Weep For Me, the song Ramsey    usually played for his solos. It so moved Ken that he traded the bass I was borrowing for a very special bass. He actually wouldn’t let me peek at it until I was alone back in my hotel room although he said it cost $10,000.00.

When I unzipped the bag it was a 6-string. I was shocked and called him saying there’s no way I can afford this. He said he was so moved by my solo that he was giving it to me at a highly reduced price,  because I deserved it.

I used that bass on the Classic Encounter album with the London  Symphony featuring,  Ramsey Lewis, myself and Frank    Donaldson.  So, Anthony and I were the first to make extended range basses popular. I still have one of  the last contrabasses in    existence.

ERB players deal with ‘haters’… what would you say to them?

The road hasn’t been easy;  they may have slowed me down but they haven’t stopped me.

I broke thru many barriers by making guest appearances on major TV shows, recording on hit records for other people, being a recording artist for Ropeadope Records and filming, “I Am Your Keeper,” as a co-­star with my ERB. And… let’s not forget, The Day The Bass Players Took Over The World video with, Victor Wooten, Oteil Burbridge, Steve Bailey and Dave Pomeroy.

In your opinion, what are the benefits and downsides of playing with an ERB?    

The benefits are that, when playing with smaller bands and the guitarist takes a solo I am able to cover the chords. An ERB also enables me to cover lead parts with my band.  The downside is that, although many guys play ERB’s they are still not the instrument of choice; most bassists still play 4 and 5-strings.

How do you take care of the string-muting and string-spacing issues?    

I use a Gruv Gear Fret Wrap and have custom spacing on my Basses.

Tell us how your extended range bass has evolved through the years.

Here are some customizations that I have had done:

  • I added front and back ramps between pickups. The   front   ramp   is   so   my   thumb   won’t get  stuck    in    the    strings and the back ramp makes it easier to play with my fingers.
  • 2  – 13 pin plugs connected to 2 Axon guitar synth modules.
  • Custom electronics and pick-ups designed by, Bill Bartolini and myself for my signature bass by Conklin Groove Tools.
  • I invented the 9-string bass with Bill Conklin.
  • My basses have been sold everywhere from, Guitar Center to Sam Ash, Walmart to Amazon.
Photo, Lisa Baker

Photo, Lisa Baker

Tell us about the evolution your ERB playing technique has experienced through the  years.  

Everything I did on a 4-string I played on a 6.  Then everything I played on a 6, I put on a 7 and everything I put on a 7,  I played on a 9 – but, on lower and higher strings.

What do you think was the turning point in your career as a bassist and what do you consider your main contributions to the bass scene?  In other words what do you consider your legacy?    

I will be remembered for playing things people didn’t believe were humanly possible, like my five-finger technique, which can be very intense and is juxtaposed to the acoustic ballads I play and the strong groove lines.           

What would you say to those young musicians who are considering at this moment going into the ERB world but are still not quite sure about doing so?    

You should start with a 4-string, master that then progress consecutively adding one string at a time.

Please let us know about the specific elements of your gear.    

This is what I have in my pedal board:


  • Infinity Looper
  • Echolution 2 Delay
  • Infinity Foot Controller
  • Echolution Foot Controller
  • Gate Keeper
  • War Hog Distortion
  • Bass Envelope Filter
  • Philosopher Bass Compressor

Mission Engineering: Expressionator Multi-­Expression Controller

Eventide: H9

Morley: Cliff Burton Signature Fuzz Wah

Digitech: Whammy

Roland: Expression

I use various configurations of Aguilar Amps and Cabs – attached is a photo

Finally, what do you see as the possible evolution of our instrument?    

The possibilities are endless.  As long as kids keep an open mind about the Bass, our instrument will continue to evolve.

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