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Gear/Artist News: Bergantino Welcome New Artist, Bassist Johnny Lee Middleton

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Gear/Artist News: Bergantino Welcome New Artist, Bassist Johnny Lee Middleton

Bergantino Audio Systems is proud to welcome Bassist Johnny Lee Middleton to our family of artists.

Originally hailing from St. Petersburg, FL, Johnny Lee Middleton comes to us by way of world-renowned bassist and entrepreneur, Beaver Felton, CEO of Florida’s Bass Central.  Beaver, being an ultra-talented, professional player, knew that Johnny would be a great fit for Team Bergantino.  We had a chance to sit down with Johnny to chat about all things bass and his journey through the bass universe.  

Photo, Brenda Bowman

– Johnny, you’ve known Beaver Felton for over 40 years. How did you two come to meet?

When I first started playing, I would sneak into clubs to see bands play, and Beaver was in one of the best bands in the Tampa Bay area at the time. He was the best bass player around, so I was a fan of his band called Hoochie. When I started gigging out, we would run into each other and he was always nice to me, which was cool because he was the baddest guy in town. We have stayed in touch over the years, and he is my go-to guy if I have any questions about gear.

– Tell us how you started on your bass journey?

I started on trumpet, and in the ninth grade, I joined the jazz band and they set the bass rig behind me. After the first class, I asked the teacher if I could try the bass, and he said yes. He gave me a printout of the notes on the neck of the bass guitar and let me take the jazz bass home. The bass player was a trumpet player as well, so we would switch during the performances. I formed a band called Mariah with the drummer and guitar player from the jazz band and have been in a band in some shape or form since 1978.

– Who are your biggest musical influences?

When I was starting to play, my sister’s boyfriend left some Black Sabbath records at my house, and when I played them, it was life-changing as I had grown up on country music and pop radio. Geezer was my first as well as Phil Lynott and Geddy Lee. I grew up on ’70s music, so all the music of that era influenced my life as a musician.

– Tell us about your band, Savatage, and how it came to be?

I joined Savatage in 1985 when I was 22 years old. They were already signed to Atlantic, so I replaced the original bassist. I rehearsed with the guys for four weeks, and we were off to London to record my first record with the band. It was quite an experience as we were in Trident Studios in the heart of London hanging with the guys from Iron Maiden, Lemmy, and the crew at the St. Moritz, which was a hangout across from the studio.

– How did Trans-Siberian Orchestra emerge? 

In 1995, Savatage released an album entitled Dead Winter Dead, which is a rock opera about the war in Bosnia. On that record, we recorded a song called “12/24 Sarajevo,” which is an instrumental track consisting of our version of “Carol Of The Bells,” which our producer Paul O’Neill wanted on the recording but the band did not. After some heated debate, Paul won and a DJ in Tampa Bay picked it up and started playing the song, and it just exploded from there. We really couldn’t do a holiday recording under the name Savatage so Paul started TSO and the rest is history.

– How does the music writing process work in TSO, and will you tour this year?

I am not involved in the writing process when it comes to TSO. Paul O’Neill and Jon Oliva, Bob Kinkle, and Al Pitrelli are the guys that are behind the writing process with TSO. We have two TSO touring groups, so when it comes to recording, everybody pitches in so there is not a bass player or a guitar player; it is a combination of players with Al Pitrelli being the MD when it comes to guitar/bass parts.

– Tell us about some of your favorite basses.

As far as basses go, my all-time favorite, and the bass that has recorded every Savatage and TSO note, is my Brooklyn Spector Serial # 511. It is on its third set of frets, third bridge, and second set of machine heads. The pickups have grooves in them from wear and tear, and the mojo is off the chain. Paul O’Neill loved it so much he actually located the guy who made the bass and had a replica made. It took some time, but Paul actually had the guitar replicated. Since it is a studio-only bass, I tour with a few Fender Jazz and P Basses and a new Spector X bass I recently received from Spector. It looks like I may be bringing a Spector or two out this year with TSO, so I am excited about that. I also have a Lakland, which was owned by Duck Dunn as it was the prototype for his Lakland model. It had super dead Labella flats on it and smelled like a pipe when I opened the case for the first time. It plays and records like a dream. That would be at the top of the list as well.

– What tone do you strive for in live performances, and how does it fit in the mix?

With TSO, I use the D’Addario flat wound chromes on all my Jazz and P basses as the tone sits better in the mix and flats seem to almost act as a compressor in arenas by tightening up the low-end boom I was getting with round wounds, not to mention the fret wear I was getting on my vintage guitars. When you have two keyboard players, you need to stay out of the way or it turns into a mudfest, so flats work great for that gig. When it comes to Savatage, it is a completely opposite setup with round wounds and active pickups for more of a punchy tone with the majority of the songs recorded with a pick on the Spector. I learned how to play as a finger player and never played guitar before playing the bass, so I hate playing with a pick. I had two acrylic fingernails put on my picking hand to get the attack of the pick with the punch of the finger to avoid playing with a pick, and it worked really well on the last two Savatage recordings. 

– What are you working on now?

Right now, I am working with Whiskey Stills and Mash out of Hiawasse, Georgia, when I am not touring with TSO. We are a power trio that is a regional band playing originals and covers in the North Atlanta /North Georgia area. We released a CD last year that did well, and we are working on another one now. I really love this band because it is back to where you started and everything is raw. With TSO, everything is perfect, and when you dig it out in the clubs and opening slots for national acts, nothing is perfect. The guys in the band are great players, and we really have a great time. Our new CD will be out around Nov. 1st. 

– Tell us about your experience with Bergantino.

I was looking for a rig that I could use in my studio as well as to gig with that is easy to transport and loud enough to use in a live setting. I called my guys at  Bass Central, and Bergantino was first on the list so I started my research. After hours of browsing the internet, I chose Bergantino, and I’m glad I did as this rig has everything I need. It works great as a studio rig and can handle volumes needed for live gigs. 

Gear/Artist News: Bergantino Welcome New Artist, Bassist Johnny Lee Middleton

– What settings do you use with the Bergantino Forté HP, and how do they benefit your tone?

My settings on my Forte’ HP vary depending on the guitar and the tone needed to fit the song/project I am playing. I am a big fan of the VRC compression and hi and low pass filters as well as the overdrive.  I love the Bluetooth pedal option, and the stock firmware works great for me for what I am doing at this time. It sounds great in a live situation at a louder volume as there is clarity and thump with no break-up at volume, which is what I was looking for. I like the grit of the overdrive and the ease of using a Bluetooth connection from the pedal board to amp.

– You are also using the NXT112 and NXT 210, which we commonly refer to as the “322.” How does that setup complement what you’re trying to project on stage?

I think the 322 is a very versatile rig as it gives you the option of running a small rig to a full-on rock and roll rig that is easy to transport. I have the option of running a 12″ speaker or two 10″ speakers or both! What more could a working bass player want? It works really well in a live rock band setting as every note seems to be audible and nothing is lost in the mix. I have had quite a few house engineers ask me about the rig as they were impressed with the tone out of the DI but not familiar with Bergantino. I have just scratched the surface with this gear and can’t wait to add different firmware and see where it goes.

Please share with us what you do with your off time.

As far as my time off the road goes, I am a full-time beekeeper and own an apiary in the Smoky Mountains. I raise honey bees from my locally bred stock, and I catch wild honeybee swarms as well as sell honey, queen bees, etc., online and locally. I run about thirty hives, so it keeps me busy when I am not on tour, and I really love working honeybees as it is complicated and physically demanding, which is a lot like being a pro musician. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to be successful, and that is what life is all about. 

Follow Johnny Lee Middleton:

facebook.com/johnnylee.middleton
facebook.com/TSO
facebook.com/savatage

Visit Bergantino at bergantino.com

Bass Videos

Interview With By the Thousands Bassist Adam Sullivan

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Interview With By the Thousands Bassist Adam Sullivan

Bassist Adam Sullivan…

Hailing from Minnesota since 2012, By the Thousands has produced some serious Technical Metal/Deathcore music. Following their recent EP “The Decent”s release, I have the great opportunity to chat with bassist Adam Sullivan.

Join me as we hear about Adam’s musical Journey, his Influences, how he gets his sound, and the band’s plans for the future

Photo, Laura Baker

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IG &FB @bythethousands
YTB @BytheThousands

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Gear News: Bergantino Welcomes Marc Brownstein to Their Family of Artists

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bassist marc browstein

Bergantino Welcomes Marc Brownstein to Their Family of Artists

Bergantino Shares: The innovative bassist/sonic explorer/DJ Marc Brownstein discusses his life of touring with Disco Biscuits, the current tour with the new album “Revolution in Motion, and more!

By Holly Bergantino

Marc Brownstein is the king of “Trance-Fusion” – a subgenre that his band Disco Biscuits has been in the center of for the past two decades. As a founding member of the band from their days at UPenn, Marc has quite the experience under his belt, and each tour has gotten more and more exciting. Disco Biscuits is currently on tour with their new album Revolution in Motion, a full multimedia experience accompanied by a 25-minute animated film that tells a story of intergalactic travelers finding their way on Earth. 

D. J. Brownie! What made you want to be a musician and start playing bass and who drew you to it? 

I was drawn to music after John Lennon was assassinated. I was raised in NYC and the city was just going crazy. I was 7 years old at the time and my thought was, wow why is everyone freaking out so much, this guy must be really special. And so I started to check the Beatles out and that was the beginning of my journey with music.  

A question from one of your fans and fellow bass players Karina Rykman: “How do you keep your bubble of positivity intact and thriving”?

Well it’s funny she should ask. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the run of positivity we are experiencing now began right at the beginning of tour at the beginning of January 2023 when we had Karina opening for us for a week. I can say that her positive energy on tour definitely left its mark on the rest of our tour. Some people are so naturally happy and positive that it leaves you feeling that way, sometimes permanently! 

Besides the bass guitar, what other instruments do you play? 

I dabble with piano, guitar, and I can make my way around a drum kit if I get into it for a few weeks. I’ve played flute and saxophone as well at different times. I also play the double bass. But I would say Piano is my second instrument at this point. I play everyday. 

What is your favorite (and least favorite) thing about touring? 

The best part of touring is the 4 hours on stage with the band. But also getting to visit so many great places all of the time. That’s the silver lining.  The only thing I don’t love about touring is missing my family. 

Tell us about your first music teacher. What lesson did you learn from this person and still use today? 

My first music teacher, Mrs. Koslov, 2nd grade, I just was at her funeral a few weeks ago. I eventually became best friends with Mrs Koslov’s son and we stayed in touch for my whole life. She taught me a lot but really she was the one who gave me the courage to perform. My first public performance ever was a piano version of Eleanor Rigby. 

What was the first bass you had? 

This is tough. I think I had a standard Ibanez jazz style bass first. Within a year or two I got an American Fender Jazz bass. 

What are the basses you have and use now? 

My main bass is an Elrick 5 string by Rob Elrick. I also have a Q5 Modulus and an Alembic 5 as well. Oteil (Burbridge) sent me a Roscoe custom 6 during the Pandemic that I like to play. I also have a Sire Marcus Miller, a newer American Fender Jazz bass, a custom Ibanez SDGR, an Ibanez BTB and an Elrick 5 string Fretless bass which is my main bass at home. 

Who were the musicians who inspired you and what qualities do you admire about them? 

I was deeply influenced by Phish when I discovered them in college. I admired their ability to mesh jazz, classical and rock Improvisational styles. I was very inspired by classic jazz musicians. Miles. Monk. Coltrane. Dexter Gordon. Cannonball Adderly. Mingus. This is the generation of musicians that laid the groundwork for what we do now. 

You studied and started the band Disco Biscuits at UPenn. Tell us more about the origins. 

The band just sort of linked up in the quad (dormitory) and we started to set up our gear and jam for fun. Within a short time I realized the guys I was playing with were really talented and so I applied to the New School for jazz and went and spent a year crash coursing music at a high level so I could return to Penn and start a band with them. 

You have a new album “Revolution in Motion,” that you’re currently touring on. How is it going? 

The tour has been amazing. It’s one of the best tours we ever had in our career. We sold out more than half of the shows and are receiving really great feedback across the country. 

I watched the video on YT for Revolution in Motion. The Choreography, production, color, cartoon characters, and theme were so much fun. Space aliens and psychedelic art, pop ups like a comic book, and you in your alien jump suit with your baseball cap were amazing. Loved! How was this collaborated?  

We have a co-writer on this project named Joey friedman. He conceived of the concept for the album and he had a very specific vision for what the visuals would look like. He spent hours and hours with the animators (Blunt Action) and the AI animator (Todd Kushnir) working through each iteration to make it come to life in the way that it was conceived. 

How would you describe the music you create for Disco Biscuits? 

We always hoped that the music we created would be the weirdest and craziest music of all time but we describe it as Trance-Fusion, which was a name that was drawn from jazz-fusion, the mixing of jazz with rock and roll instruments. We found our own sound by mixing trance music with rock and roll instruments, hence the genre title. It was renamed jamtronica many years later by the folks over at SiriusXM who started a radio show called the Jamtronica show to highlight acts from our scene. I was the host of that show for the first 3 years. 

Describe the creative process when you write new music. 

These days the creative process is a team effort. Usually we start by combing through improvisational sections of music from the tours to see if we can find any melodies or chord structures that are song worthy. When we find it we bring it into our DAW (ableton) and creating a grid. This is easy for us because we often play to a time clock on stage. From there we start building out the structures of the new piece of music while Joey and maybe me or Aron or Jon will start working on some lyrical concepts. Within an hour or two we start to record some of these initial lyrics and melodies and Jon usually starts to adapt them and tweak them to make them comfortable for him to sing. Usually within a few hours we are able to walk away with a very advanced demo of a new song. It’s been an extremely fruitful experience that has left us with albums worth of the best material we’ve had in decades. 

The lighting for your shows is amazing. Who does the lighting design work and choreography for the tours? 

Our new LD is known as Herm, but his name is Alex. We know him as Herm though. He came to us from the band Twiddle at the beginning of this year and has totally revitalized the visual elements of the stage show. He’s a really great fit and we feel grateful to have been linked up with such a massive talent. It was luck and timing and some might call it fate. 

How would your bandmates describe you? 

My bandmates would probably describe me as energetic and talkative and headstrong but also they might notice that I’ve become really good at going with the flow and backing their creative instincts. They may further describe me as anxious and nervous but may also notice that these elements have been remediated of recent. Mostly I think they would describe me as loyal and dedicated. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio systems? 

I was first introduced to it by Ed Grasmeyer who I know as Mike Gordon’s tech in Burlington. I was playing a show at Nectars and needed a backline and Ed came and set me up with the ForteHP2 and I was blown away by the tone. I then noticed Karina Rykman was using Bergantino as well and that’s when I started to think I needed to get in contact with the company. Karina was opening for the Biscuits on Boston and that’s where I had the chance to demo the forte hp2 in the context of the biscuits stage show. I haven’t looked back since that night. 

Tell us about your experience with the Forté HP2 on the tour? 

There are so many things that I can say about it but the most notable is that I’m not struggling to hear the frequencies that I want to hear on stage anymore. I used to have to boost the bass everywhere. In an EQ pedal, on the preamp on the actual bass. But every time you add a little of those low frequencies in those other places you risk degrading the tone of the signal. With the Forte HP2 there is a punch button that gives me exactly the frequency I’m looking for. 100 hz. 4 db. It’s perfect. 

Did you think Jim talked too much when you met him in Boston? 

I will never notice when someone talks too much because chances are I’m out talking them. 

What’s your process for dealing with performance anxiety? 

I used to self-medicate for this purpose but I was recently in touch with a psychiatrist who has helped me regulate my own chemical imbalances and I have found that my performance anxiety isn’t really an issue when I have the proper amount of dopamine in the system! 

Imagine that you’re at a party and it’s a little stale. What’s the “party trick” (or hidden talent) that you’d bust out to liven the place up? 

Before the app existed I was known as a real life fruit ninja. I take a big knife and people throw fruit from across the room and I chop it in half in mid-air. It’s not the safest party trick anymore because I lost vision in my right eye a few years ago and I’m not as accurate as I used to be! 

What hobbies do you have outside of music? 

I love sports. I love reading. I love word games. I love gardening. I love hiking/running/moving. My biggest hobby was snowboarding for many years but I’ve grown injury prone and stay off the mountain these days. 

What is the most trouble you ever got into? 

Well, I managed to stay out of trouble until college. But before weed was legalized I had a series of run-ins with the law and spent a night in the clink in Amherst Mass during my freshman year fraternity pledge trip. Luckily this isn’t an issue anymore for those of us who don’t drink or smoke cigarettes but prefer a little of the wacky tabacky to cool down. 

What is the message you would give to your fans? 

Well I give them so many messages all the time but the most important one that I try to remember to keep constant is a message of gratitude. Thank you so much for sticking with us through thick and thin, through ups and downs, for decades now you have allowed us to live our dreams and have the most blessed lives possible. 

How do you feel social media has impacted your music? 

Social media is a double edged sword. It has allowed us to create a strong community where everyone feels like a family but for someone like me who gets addicted to things easily, I really have to be vigilant with practice and writing and other aspects of my life not to spend the whole day scrolling and wasting the time away. 

What is your favorite song of all time? 

Right now my favorite song of all time is probably a short and beautiful little ditty by Labi Siffre called Bless the Telephone. I would suggest everyone take the 1:29 to listen to it and feel the bliss. 

What did I miss for a question that you would like to share? 

Bass players don’t really get to play solo shows, at least not my style of bass, so I’ve had to learn how to DJ in order to perform by myself at times and I would suggest coming out to see a DJ Brownie show at some point. 

Last one! Describe your perfect meal! 

I love to eat great meals. I’m partial to Asian foods but the perfect meal to me is one slice of pizza from Freddie and Peppers on 72nd and Amsterdam in NYC. PERFECTION. 

Follow Marc Brownstein:
Instagram: @marcbrownstein
X (formerly Twitter): @marc_brownstein
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marcbrownstein4
www.discobiscuits.com

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Curly Hendo

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Interview Wity Bassist Curly Hendo

Bassist Curly Hendo…

Hailing from Sydney, Australia, bassist Curly Hendo has been super busy. Starting with dance from a young age, Curly took up bass shortly after and has been going strong ever since. She has collaborated with numerous acts worldwide and is an in-demand session/touring bassist and musical director.

Join me as we learn about Curly’s musical journey, how she gets her sound, and her plans for a very bright future.

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Artist Update With Bassist Derek Frank

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Artist Update With Bassist Derek Frank

Bassist Derek Frank…

Many of you will remember the last time I chatted with Derek Frank was back in 2017. The main thing that impressed me was how busy Derek was and how he juggled playing with many huge acts.

Now, I am happy to hear that Derek launched a new album last March titled “Origin Story” where he digs deep into his roots and pays homage to Pittsburg.

Join me as we get caught up after all these years and hear the details about the new album, how Derek gets his sound, and his plans for the future.

Photo, Stephen Bradley

Visit Online:

www.derekfrank.com
www.instagram.com/derekfrankbass
www.youtube.com/derekfrankbass
www.facebook.com/derekfrankbass

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Graham Stanush

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Interview With Bassist Graham Stanush

Bassist Graham Stanush…

Return to Dust is keeping Grunge alive and well! They have a new self-titled album that went out on May 3rd, 2024 and will be super busy promoting this project in the near future.

Graham Stanush is the bass powerhouse driving their sound and adding vocals to the mix. Join me as we hear all about Graham’s musical journey, details about the new album, how he gets his sound and their plans for the future.

Visit Online:

linktr.ee/returntodust
instagram.com/returntodustband/
twitter.com/Returntodustbnd
youtube.com/@returntodustband
tiktok.com/@returntodustband

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