If Oteil Burbridge was a superhero (and some say he already is), he would likely be one of The Avengers.
Photo, Jay Blakesberg
He is a team player, always bringing a strong and essential element to any project, while still letting his musical personality and bass-superpowers shine through.
As a fellow bassist, it has been inspiring to watch his musical journey over the years, as his reach has grown and evolved. From his time with the legendary “Allman Brothers”, to founding the eclectic band, “The Aquarium Rescue Unit”, to filling stadiums with “Dead & Company”, Burbridge appears to be on a long, epic, musical-odyssey.
This Friday, January 31st, “Oteil & Friends” headlines ‘Denver Comes Alive’ in Denver, CO with his project of supergroup-musicians. I am excited and honored to have this amazing and groundbreaking bassist in this month’s edition of ‘BASS2BASS with FREEKBASS’.
You’ve been an actor, as well as a musician, in your career. Do you feel that this experience has helped you play with different bands, as you would play different acting roles?
For instance, are you a different character in the Allman Brothers, then you are in Dead & Co. or Aquarium Rescue Unit? Or do you stay planted firmly in the character, “Oteil Burbridge”?
Yes in some ways acting helps because in acting you have to adapt, be flexible, see things from different angles. But it doesn’t really apply across the board. Every band has a different story from a different time and place. Just like each individual song. But the Allman Brothers story and the Grateful Dead story both intersected with my personal story at a certain point in time so there is that continuity from band to band.
In that sense, it is not like acting for me personally. I had to learn both of their stories (and I still am) but because we share some of the same heroes there are major parts of my story that are already in harmony with theirs. Now I know of some studio musicians who pride themselves on being chameleons and I think that’s cool too. I just went a different route of wanting a sound that people would know was me almost immediately.
Photo, Katie Friesema
With your extensive touring over your career, what venues have you found are the most bass-friendly, in terms of sonics and sound?
A lot of the smaller places. In my opinion, they’re friendlier to all the instruments if you don’t fall into the trap of wanting to play too loud. And that’s a trap I can fall into myself easily sometimes when you’re trying to hear your amp over a PA system that has many times the watts that you do and a sound man who likes it loud. But I never heard Jaco as clearly as I did at Blues Alley, this small jazz club in Washington, DC where I grew up.
The Fox Theater in Boulder has consistently been my favorite place to play sound-wise for decades now. Never had a bad show there. It always sounded like the whole place was a sweet spot. My bass has always sounded the most like my bass there. So many times I hear the sound coming out of the PA and I wonder how did it get so far away from what my bass actually sounds like!
What bands would sound cool and/or fresh with switching bassists between them? For instance, Jaco playing in Rush and Geddy in Weather Report.
How about Lemmy with Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden with Motörhead?
You play 4, 5 and 6-string basses. If you had to choose only one of the three, or bring to the ol’ desert island with you, which one and why?
I would probably bring my banjo actually because I am more of a beginner on it and it is new and different. It’s something that puts me in a better mood within just a few minutes of playing without fail. It’s one of my top 5 favorite meditations. But if it had to be a bass and I could only have one it would most definitely have six-strings on it since it already has the four and five within it. I get all three with six.
What superhero would be the best bass player?
That’s easy. Star Child!! Bootsy Baby Bubba!
Visit Oteil Burbridge online at oteilburbridge.com