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State Of the Union Address …And More, Dave Pomeroy: July 2022 Issue



Dave Pomeroy - Bass Musician Magazine - July 2022 - header

Interview With Dave Pomeroy…

By David C. Gross and Tom Semioli

Dave Pomeroy - Bass Musician Magazine - July 2022

Photos: Cover & Header, Jim McGuire | Header, Mickey Dobo

DP: David Pomery
DG: David C. Gross
TS: Tom Semioli

DP: We’re bass players, we just want people to feel good! In fact, that’s my whole approach to life! 

DG: Bass players have great leadership qualities…

TS: We’re the only players on the bandstand and in the studio that know all the changes! 

DG: There’s something inherent about being the connection between rhythm and harmony that gives us a ‘leg -up’ on everyone. Singers will look at us. Band members ask us ‘what are the chords to the song?’ The guy who hangs out with musicians – the drummer – will want to know something. (Laughter) We bass players have an interesting perspective…

Few musicians have had an impact on their peers and the music industry in the 21st Century than bassist David Pomeroy. 

If it were just for his work as an A-list Nashville session player and sideman – we’d afford Pomeroy legendary status. In the country music realm, his recordings and stage work span Keith Whitley, Emmylou Harris, Alan Jackson, Earl Scruggs, Alison Kraus, Reba McIntyre, Chet Atkins, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Lorrie Morgan Waylon Jennings, Keith Urban, Kris Kristofferson, and Earl Scruggs to cite a very, very scant few. 

Add to that the list of rockers, jazzers, folkies, and permutations thereof anchored by Pomeroy – such as Peter Frampton, Richard Betts, Mark Knopfler, Sting, Tom Rush, Janis Ian, Steve Winwood, Lee Ritenour, Eric Johnson, Don Henley, Neil Diamond, Sheryl Crow, Mose Allison, and Bonnie Raitt among many others, nary a second goes by wherein Dave’s bass artistry is not being heard on record, radio, film and television soundtracks, podcasts, playlists somewhere on planet Earth. 

An individual with an activist bent for his fellow musicians, Pomeroy became President of the Nashville Musicians Association, AFM 257 in 2008, and was unanimously re-elected in 2011, 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2020. Jokes David “nobody wants my job!” 

A master negotiator, Pomeroy is bringing the music industry as we knew it into these uncertain modern times – creating contracts and agreements for streaming, home recording, publishing, and such overlooked revenue sources as the use of studio tracks on stage. First elected to the International Executive Board of the American Federation of Musicians – and re-elected again in 2013, 2016, and 2019 repeats Pomeroy “nobody wants my job!”

And in his “spare” time, David helms his own imprint – Earwave Records. Among his releases include his all-bass and vocal solo albums. Pomeroy’s DVD release The Day The Bass Players Took Over The World and All-Bass Orchestra are essential viewing for players of all genres and levels. 

David has penned articles aplenty for Bassics, and Bass Player. His profile appears in such historical references as Studio Bass Masters (Backbeat Books) and Michael Visceglia’s A View From the Side

DG: Dave, if I’m too provocative, just let me know! In the 1970s I was a New York City session player. In fact, I was fortunate enough to be Will Lee’s sub for a while. I was one of the few “rock and rollers” that could actually read music. That gave me a leg-up on the competition. I liked doing studio work, but my first love was playing live. When I got out of Berklee circa 1972-73, I go down to the union hall which was the Roseland Ballroom, and I got my card. Things were changing. What the union was giving and advising young musicians was no longer applicable. Meaning ‘okay so I’ll do a Holiday Inn jingle, then at night I’d end up at The Other End or the Rock and Roll Café (two prominent NYC rock venues in the 1970s) playing a gig for $100-150.00. And in the back of my mind, I’d remember one of the older AFM people saying ‘ya better have your card with you! Because they’re going to come down and check on you!’ 

In fifty years, I’ve never been carded! Outside of some Broadway theater work, and some session work, and even on record dates, I was not being paid through the union! 

Take us back.  Where did the MU stop being applicable to the modern musician and how is it now applicable? 

DP: Great topic. I didn’t know anything about the union, or that there even was one when I moved to Nashville. One of the older musicians that I met early on simply told me ‘ya need to go down and join the union!’ I didn’t ask why. I just did it. 

A lot of the disconnect happened back in the day, as you refer to, because the union limited itself by only concentrating on the really big stuff. If you were in New York, it was all about Broadway theater, the Lincoln Center Orchestras, and so on. It was not about Greenwich Village and the jazz clubs – which I always felt was quite unfortunate as I learned more about it. 

In Los Angeles, a lot of the focus was on big-budget films, with big orchestra soundtracks, and live television, which was also part of the New York scene. But here in Nashville, from going way back to the 1950s, there’s always been a focus on recording. And not in particular major label recording. That’s because Nashville organically built this community of songwriters who wanted these country artists to record their songs. As such, a demo session culture emerged. This is where people like myself learned how to be a studio musician.  

And if you were lucky, one of those songs got picked up or the producer would say ‘hey that’s a cool bassline!’ Who’s that? And then you’d get hired for more work. Those things happened all the time.

I think the stereotype of the union as ‘big stuff or nothing’ and ‘we’re going to intimidate you into doing the right thing!’ has never worked in Nashville. And it works less and less anywhere else. Because of Tennessee being a right to work state, or as we call it ‘a right to work for less state,’ meaning you can negotiate down all you want! – no one has to be a member of the union!!!

So we have created this culture – and when I say ‘we’ I’m going back to the 1950s when RCA and Decca came to Nashville and said ‘we’re gonna make money on hillbilly music’ – but instead of hiring suits to run the label, they hired Owen Bradley who was a piano player, arranger, and producer; to run Decca records, and famous guitarist Chet Atkins to helm RCA records. They basically said ‘okay big companies, you can come here but these are our friends, and we’re gonna be working with them on Saturday night on a gig so we’re not gonna screw them over in the studio. We’re going to do everything on a contract.’

And the labels agreed. That action created this culture that we call ‘The Nashville Way.’ Which means that the music business does not have to be win/lose.  It can be win/win if everyone involved is honest and respectful. 

We have been able to preserve the best of that culture and branch it out. Frankly, the first time I got involved in the leadership of the AFM was when the union’s business agent was hassling me over playing small club gigs with my own band, playing our own music. We had a following and we were making enough money to make scale. It was a situation where we were playing for the door receipts and the club made the money at the bar.  And that’s standard when you’re playing original music. Very few venues, unless you’re famous and successful, are not going to pay you a guarantee. 

But the union kept hassling me and for a while had me forging contracts with the club owner’s signature on them – just to get him off my back. 

However, I didn’t want to do that anymore. So in the 1990s I stood up at a meeting and said “hey I want to talk about playing for the door. I’m forced to forge a contract while I’m trying to teach two of my kids to tell the truth! And I don’t like lying! The problem is not how much money we are making, the problem is that there is no union contract. So, what are we gonna do about this?’ 

They made me the head of a committee. We met and wrote a bylaw that said “when playing original music in a listening room the bandleader can be the employer.” This bylaw fixed a problem that hundreds of people from running away from the union because they did not want to be hassled trying to get their own music heard which was a ridiculous concept. 

That was the beginning of my involvement. Fast forward to the mid-2000s – when we had national leadership problems with the AFM. It was old-school all the way. They were not acknowledging the changes and they were not managing their money very well so they decided to come after some of the back-end residuals of recording musicians – of which at that point I was a full-time recording musician. We stood up and said ‘hey this isn’t right!’ So we started asking more questions and learned that our leadership here had been duped into thinking that somehow I was being dictated to by LA and New York telling me what to say to the Nashville leadership. That was a completely ridiculous theory that had no basis in truth. 

As we got more frustrated with our local and national leadership, it was one of those things where you go ‘isn’t somebody going to step up and tell grandpa that he can’t drive the truck anymore. We’ll take him anywhere he wants to go but he’s gotta give us the keys!’ We were able to pull that off in 2008 much to the surprise of the national leadership. A year and a half later at the national convention, we were able to get Nashville, New York, and Los Angeles on the same page. It was a palace revolution! We voted out the national leadership and I became a board member in 2010. I’m also in my fifth three-year term as a national board member. We’ve been able to implement a lot of the changes we made in Nashville and bring them to the national stage. 

Things such as having a scale for overdubbing at your home studio.  It’s not an hourly rate, it’s a per song rate that you can negotiate. And there’s no maximum – if you’re a famous player you can command x dollars per song. You can do that and put it on a union contract and pay into your own pension – which they’d also told us we weren’t allowed to do! We wrote language that read “employer agrees that musician may make pension payment on behalf of employer! And they went “yeah sure!” After twenty-five years of telling us we can’t do that it was that easy to fix. 

We also came up with a scale for when artists use tracks from their records on tour. The old adage was “oh nobody would do that!” Oh really? Look at the drummer when he counts to four and hits a button – they see what you hear that is not on stage! Thus, we created a formula while working with a couple of artists that were agreeable – to pay musicians whose work was being used on stage on tour. We’ve been able to pay out more than a half-million dollars who are sitting at home while their tracks are being used on stage. 

DG: That’s fantastic! 

DP: Think of it as a case-by-case problem-solving approach. I refuse to buy into the old-school mentality that things can only be done one way. If anybody’s paying attention, the music business has changed rather drastically. We have gone from being the hillbilly cousin to being on the cutting edge and getting musicians paid for things that they never dreamed they’d get paid for. Which I love doing – it’s almost as much fun as playing the bass!

TS: Musicians are adapting to the digital – which has devastated a lot of us. Witness sampling, digital recording, and home studios virtually wiped out all the commercial studios in New York City. It also had an adverse effect on our instrument – the electric bass. It’s cheaper to program a bassline rather than to hire an accomplished bassist. In the analog age, we had to master our instrument. Bassists had to nail the track in one or two takes not only for economics, but not to wear out the tape for the vocal, horn, string, and solo overdubs. 

DP: Absolutely. There’s still quite a bit of live section recording going on in Nashville. There’s also a whole new breed of these producer / multi-instrumentalists who do 60 to 70% of the tracks on a record and just bring in some specialists here and there – or maybe two guys will do the entire record on their own. We’ve been having to educate this multi-instrumentalists / producer that even if you don’t get paid on the front end to be a player on this record you’re producing, because you’re getting paid to be a producer – anytime that record goes somewhere else if you’re not on the contract as a musician you’re only going to get the sliver of money you’d make as a producer. And you’re leaving money on the table. If their song goes into a film and they’re not on the union contract, they’re not going to get compensated. Sure, they may get some producer money, but it’s not the same thing as being a union musician on a union contract on a union-covered film. Those musicians share one percent of the back end – but once that movie leaves the theaters – that is, if it even gets to the theaters these days, that revenue coming through the musician’s secondary markets fund pays out 80-90 million dollars a year! 

For musicians that play on a successful soundtrack, that can be a game-changer. 

With some exceptions, we’re all making a living from a variety of small revenue streams rather than I have this one gig with this one artist. Or I’m a session guy – I don’t do anything else. Those days are long gone.    

The union is educating musicians in this new world. Even though your not making a record in the traditional way, and you’re not getting paid upfront as a musician – don’t screw yourself over! 

The simplest way is to file a union contract with every recording. Especially now with streaming where often there are no record credits – because there are no physical records or CDs. 

With every session that’s filed with the union, there’s a pension contribution that adds to your social security. You can’t track stuff on All Music Guide, and Wikipedia – but a lot of that stuff is conjecture. With filing a contract – it’s all clear and accurate you have proof – it’s what we call the digital paper trail. 

Even during the Pandemic, we did eight million out the door in 2020, and nine million in 2021. A typical year for us would be between 10 to 12 million dollars.  And that’s not all major label stuff. That includes independent artists doing what we call ‘limited pressings’ contracts where you can get a better deal and if you reach 10,000 copies – which is getting more and more rare – then you have to do a little ‘bump’ for all the players. Though if you’re at 10,000 hard copies in the digital age, you’re pretty happy about that. 

In terms of the way things have changed, it reinforces the need to have documentation. I’ve had a million meetings with people to discuss metadata – wherein you bury that information into the track – everybody is going to know who’s on it. We’ve talked about doing this with the labels for decades, but with all due respect to the good people at the labels, that makes it way too easy for them to have to pay everybody. As expected, they’ve been avoiding that. As far as I can tell. 

There are ways to recreate it. The way they do album credits now is also problematic. On an album that might have been cut by ten different producers you see drum credits with five different names, guitar with seven different names and so forth – so there is no way to figure out who played what. 

We remember the days when each track had individual credits. I was an album cover junkie – which is why I love chasing this stuff down. The documentation is more important than ever because it is such a scattershot of information. But the ability is there.

For example, take the Shazam app where you ask the name of the song and you get an immediate response that tells you what song it is. Well, it also should tell you who played on the album but that hasn’t happened – yet.  But it will! And again, this is a situation where a label will say ‘here’s some money, go make an album and give it to us when you’re done’ – and they don’t realize until later that they should have documented the credits in a better way. Because what happens is, that when one of these songs becomes a hit – it gets played on a television show. Now, the television show knows they have to pay everybody who is on the record. And if the producer left himself off – he’s not going to get paid even though, legitimately, he has a right to be paid for his work as a musician. 

We educate musicians, and producers. When we ‘clean up’ two or three things for somebody, the light goes on in their head! If you do this on the front end it’s a lot easier. 

We’ve done everything we can to make filing a contract as painless as possible. And to make sure that it’s done the right way. If you’re doing something for a film, you’re not filing it as a record date. Because that’s a different contract with different parameters. Especially when it comes to the back end – which is mailbox money. 

You know we’re almost conditioned as musicians to think ‘oh that’s just for songwriters and producers and stuff…’ But we do and we should get paid! 

We’ve got legislation in front of congress right now called The American Music Fairness Act that will fix this. The bottom line is, that there are hundreds of millions of dollars owed to American musicians being held overseas because we’re not paying musicians overseas their tens of millions of dollars. It’s like an 8 to 1 ratio. In the United States, we make the majority of the world’s popular music. But other countries don’t want to pay us because we’re not paying their musicians. 

TS: We’re living in an age wherein the listener no longer purchases music. Streaming is now the predominant delivery service, and as much as vinyl is making an aesthetic come back, we’ll never put the toothpaste back in the tube because there is no tube anymore! Music is free on YouTube, it’s free on Spotify or you can splurge for $9.99 per month for a commercial-free subscription. This is an existential crisis for recording musicians.

DP: It certainly is, and we’ve had to make adjustments in all of our agreements to allow for streaming. We have a couple of different funds that were primarily funded by record sales – and we’ve had to make changes in those funds. For example, we’re getting a percentage of foreign streaming royalties for the American labels. To get that money and split it up into individual pieces for all the people involved would be a daunting task – but we were able to take a certain percentage of that streaming revenue and put it into these funds to keep them going.

There’s no question – the whole Spotify debate – there’s a big difference, and people don’t understand this: there is a difference between interactive and non-interactive streaming and how that is dealt with financially. And it was all when they first passed this stuff back in the early 1990s – and somebody looked at this stuff. 

With interactive, if you tell the service that you enjoy the music Pink Floyd then they’re going to lead you to other artists that are similar to Pink Floyd.  Somebody along the way must have thought ‘wow, that sounds too expensive, let’s give them a lower royalty rate!’ And not understanding that robots are doing that programming. And there isn’t a real significant additional cost. I’m sure that the founders of Spotify looked at interactive versus non-interactive ….so… some of it is intentional and some of it is a consequence of technology and people looking at it and making decisions based on that. 

The demise of record sales made many of our traditional business models either go completely away or have to be readjusted. And we have made changes and we do get musicians percentages of back-end, which is the equivalent of record sales residuals – but no question, it has been quite an adjustment and it’s still in progress. And it probably always will be. 

TS:  Many of my colleagues are indie artists and the money they make from streaming services is not enough to pay for a hamburger at our local diner – granted we live in New York City and restaurant prices are much higher than in other parts of the country. Given that, are we returning to the days when to be a working musician is to be a performing artist. Most musicians, other than the big stars, cannot make money off recorded music. The expenses of creating, producing, and promoting recording music will not reap dividends. It’s a loss leader.  

DP: Right, now recorded music is now just part of the formula. It’s part of merchandise. One of the things that I refer to a lot – and this sounds like an oxymoron – is the ‘Grateful Dead business model.’ Which was relentless touring not tied to a new album or a radio hit, giving your fans total access as they did, allowing bootlegging of shows and tape trading – then selling them the t-shirt. So now it’s sell them the t-shirt and the special vinyl edition! 

Unless we’re talking mega-stars, it is difficult. One of the things that we’ve done is to adjust our recording rates to where there are affordable rates for artists who know they’re not going to sell a million records. 

We created the category of ‘Low Budget Master’ rate when the artist submits a budget in advance and it’s less than $100,000.00 – which used to be considered not spending any money at all, we see indie labels making great records for $25,000.00. When you get studio musicians who are rehearsed and very efficient, you can make a great record in two or three days. 

Look, with record sales tanking, and that revenue never to be replaced by streaming revenue which is considerably lower – it is a huge challenge. This shift has brought back the reality that live music is the one thing you can only simulate but not really experience through a computer. Now, with the return to live music, touring is making money for the artist which, in most cases, dwarfs their record sales. It’s all about the merch, the meet-and-greets, and special fan experiences. 

No question, it’s a drastic economic shift to multiple small revenue streams. 

TS: Young musicians ask David and me for advice, and among my recommendations is not to invest in the production of hardcopy music. Put it out on streaming services, YouTube, and similar platforms. In my view, recorded music is now relegated to a promotional tool in the marketplace. The last two generations of fans have not purchased music – the stats of record sales don’t lie.

DP: I hear you; old habits are hard to break. I still like to go to record stores. At the same time, it’s easier to go ‘Hey Siri, play such-and-such a song on Apple Music. I’m always happy to pay for music – live shows, merch… it has value. The resurgence of vinyl, as esoteric as it is, does speak to that behavior of ‘I want this special thing…. something tangible that you can hold in your hand.’ 

But I also recognize that I am an old dude compared to people who are streaming everything.  

TS: On that note, let’s talk about the record label you founded – Earwave. You’ve released over a dozen albums, you created the “All Bass Orchestra” – note to our readers, do not try this at home! What have you learned from sitting on both sides of the desk? 

DP: My records are all million sellers – there’s a million in my cellar! (Laughter) It has been a very interesting experience. As I made the transition from being a touring musician to trying to break into the studio scene, I always liked doing my own stuff on the side. Not only as a creative outlet, but also to create some notoriety in a different area, and in some ways putting out all bass records is not the greatest strategy for getting normal bass session work. 

I became known for playing this electric upright bass – and I’d hear ‘man we were going to call you up but we didn’t want fretless bass on everything.’ What! I have other basses too! People tend to put you in a ‘bag.’ And I went through that from the moment I came to Nashville. It was like ‘oh he plays too much!’ And then I got a gig with Don Williams at it was ‘oh he does not play enough!’ And if they saw me in a blues band it was ‘look, he’s a blues guy….’ We started a world music group then I was ‘a weirdo world music guy…’ 

I was like ‘what song are we playing? I’m gonna play what’s right for the song!’ For me, the experience of doing my own stuff on the side did get me involved in the union in the sense of ‘why are you guys messing with me…I’m doing these little gigs for my own enjoyment and for our band to get paid – and you guys really didn’t have anything to do with this.’

Having that perspective of putting out a record and hoping for the best. Selling them at gigs. All of those things gave me a perspective – more so, that when somebody’s on the other line I’m not like the union guy barking ‘well son, that’s just not the way we do it around here!’ 

I’ve been there – explain your situation! Because I’ve been a touring guy and a studio guy and my own artist label / producer I think it’s given me and the ability to interact with different people without coming from just one place. For me, it was an artistic outlet more than anything. If we made some money – great. The Christmas stuff we’ve done has all been for a wonderful charity here in Nashville called Room In The Inn that works with homeless people in a very enlightened way. We’ve done twenty-plus years of Christmas concerts and albums for them – raising almost $500,000.00. To me, that’s the power of music.  

Putting out my own stuff allowed me to explore different things musically. Ironically, some of the weirder musical decisions I made wound up having a positive effect on my mainstream career.

I was greatly inspired by Eberhard Weber – fronting his own band along with the sound of his upright bass. More so than the Jaco sound, Weber was decidedly ‘trombone-ish.’ Back before there was a Bass Player magazine – you remember the days when Guitar Player magazine would throw us bass players a bone – I saw this photo of Weber and it looked like an upright bass designed by Harry Fleishman. I called Harry and asked him if he’d ever heard of Weber, and he had, and could make me a bass. As luck would have it, I was on tour with Don Williams, and we were in Denver where Harry lived, and he brought one to my hotel room.  I played just a few notes on the instrument and knew immediately ‘that’s the sound!’ 

Don was kind enough to loan me half the money (total cost $2500.00) – it was the most expensive thing I’d ever bought up until then. It cost more than my car! I spent three or four years learning how to play it. I played upright as a kid, then gave it up for electric when I was about 13 years old. I got my chops together playing simple Don Williams music. 

I started getting more sessions around 1987. An album came out that I played on by a singer named Keith Whitley. He had this certain ‘envelope’ to his voice where the notes would kind of expand and this bass just fit it beautifully. It was a mirror image of his voice. So I’m playing it and nobody is saying a word – and I ended up playing this bass on every song on the album (Don’t Close Your Eyes – RCA) with the exception of one or two songs (with bassist Larry Paxton).  They told me that they didn’t want that fretless sound on the songs! Shows you how you can quickly get typecast!

The album blew up. One of the songs, “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” was a huge hit. It has a lyric at the end of the bridge where Keith sings about the rain really coming down hard and everyone stops and I do a slide down the E string. And when the song garnered airplay and attention, my phone just started ringing off the hook! I had one engineer call me into the control room ‘bass player c’mon on in here for a minute… listen to that, there’s something wrong with your bass!’ And I replied ‘there’s nothing wrong with it, I’ll play a Fender if you want!’ 

So when I talk to young kids about the music business, I always say ‘listen to your heart… your gut… God… whatever you want to call it. Listen to it because if you don’t – it might stop talking! And the best decisions I’ve ever made musically – including moving to Nashville, getting that weird bass, and starting the All Bass Orchestra – are all things that made absolutely no sense from a logical standpoint and ended up to be three things that had a tremendous effect on my music career. And my life!  

DG: Getting back to Eberhard for a minute, I was inspired by him since I heard the album Colours of Chloe (1973 / ECM). There are so many players who sound like Jaco, James Jamerson, Jack Bruce, and so on… but there is nobody that sounds like Eberhard Weber. His resonance almost ‘whines.’ It’s crying all the time. He was a cellist as a young player. He played the cello tuned to fifths, he was a big fan of Red Mitchell, yet he played the upright in fourths. And I wonder if some of his sonics he was seeking came back to that. He’s also one of the only bass players that prints his delay and reverb. He did not overdub – because that is his sound! No one composes like him either. 

DP:  For me, the big three in the chronological order I discovered them are Jack Bruce, Charles Mingus, and Eberhard. Of course, I love Chris Squire, and John Entwistle, growing up on the whole British Rock invasion. My dad was in the military and we lived in England when I was a child from 1961 to ’64. I got a two-year head start on The Beatles before the Ed Sullivan Show (Note: The Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan Show was in February 1964).  

You know, with The Beatles, I saw it as an oil painting. I couldn’t separate out what Paul McCartney was doing. Especially listening to the records. However, with Cream, even when I saw them on television, I could see who was doing what. So I saw Jack Bruce and I thought ‘I want to do what he is doing!’ Jack was writing the songs, he was singing, and he was playing bass. And he’s kicking the guitar player in the butt – all night long! That’s what I wanted to do! 

Eberhard opened my mind. I had already discovered Chick Corea, and Stanley Clarke – I love the first couple of Return to Forever albums when Stanley was playing upright with Airto and Flora Purim. The fusion thing got out of hand after a while. I loved the Jeff Beck side of that with rock coming to jazz with Blow By Blow (1975) which to me, is one of the great records of all time with Phil Chen on bass. 

Those players really influenced me, but Eberhard always stood alone. I met him when he played in Nashville in the early 1980s. I snuck backstage and spoke with him briefly. I told him how much I loved his compositions and his reply was ‘the melody always comes last’ – and that stuck with me! 

No question Eberhard was unique and very underrated. The only other bass player to me that is as underrated as Weber is Kenny Gradney from Little Feat. I saw them recently and he looked so good that I thought the bass player was a replacement! I’m thinking ‘that guy is nailing Gradney’ and at the end of the show, I realized it was him! The latest configuration of Little Feat is really really good. Kenny is one of those players that you could never really give enough attention to. Perhaps that’s because Little Feat never really fit into a category. 

DG: If we go back to the 1950s, we have “real” country music. Then in the 1960’s you still have “real” country music but then this guy Billy Sherill (producer, arranger, composer known for generating commercial hits for several country artists) came in and started homogenizing the genre with the Johnny Paychecks and some of George Jones’ recordings. Then you go into the 1970s and 1980s and now we get rock and roll and the country music of today is really not “real” country music. Am I right or am I wrong?

DP: You’ve brought up a very interesting subject. The “homogenizing” which became known as the “Nashville Sound” because they were trying to compete with pop music with the strings and the background vocals. 

I was fortunate enough to get to know Chet Atkins at the end of his life I interviewed him, and I had to ask him “what was the Nashville Sound to you?” And he responded, “that was the sound of us trying to keep our jobs by selling records!” The other time I asked him and he just shook his pocket full of change and said “that’s the real Nashville sound! (Laughter) 

But I think the evolution goes in cycles and what happens is that the music that you think is country music still exists, and there are still people making that type of music, but it’s now in the Americana and Bluegrass categories. Country music as a genre has been influenced by all these different sounds and the audience has gone with it. As the country music audience got younger the audience was more open to those new sounds. 

One of the interesting turning points in the late 1980s and early 1990s was when there was a resurgence with artists such as Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, and Keith Whitley among others. Then Garth Brooks came along. And Garth had done something new in country music and I saw it firsthand. I knew him before he was famous. He was the first country singer to take the rock and roll front man attitude.  Whether you want to compare it to Black Oak Arkansas, or Robert Plant. That (shouts) “hey Cleveland how ya’ doin? Are you ready! We’re gonna have fun tonight!” No artist had ever taken that stance in country music before Garth. 

We did a year on the road in 1990. Garth Brooks did twenty minutes. Don Williams (with Dave Pomeroy on bass) did an hour. And Reba McEntire did seventy-five minutes. And in his twenty minutes, Garth would wear the crowd out in a way that I had never seen before in a country setting! Thankfully with us, Don Williams was an artist who was very laid back and all about people listening to the lyrics and believing every word the way he sang it. So it was the perfect setup for Don. The audience was exhausted and dazed, and Don would hypnotize them. And then Reba would come on and do her country-pop thing. 

But I guarantee you, that crowd, for the next few years, the day after they attended a Garth Brooks show were lined up at the record store buying his albums! Garth’s songs have held up – I just saw him do a stadium show here in Nashville (2022) – which has allowed him to break all the rules in country music that has nothing to do with radio. To me, Garth represents the transition of presenting country music in a much more “in your face” kind of way. And the genre absorbed what he does. And that attitude has opened up country artists to new audiences. Younger audiences are not burdened with preconceptions of what country music is, and what country music is not. 

TS: My theory regarding the “new” country music is that artists such as Lucinda Williams, Keith Urban, Ryan Adams, and Steve Earle all grew up around rock and roll in the 1960s, and 1970s. Garth Brooks was a Kiss fan in his teen years, so naturally, those influences materialized in their music and their performances. Just like the generation before with artists such as Willie Nelson were influenced by folk and blues. It seems to be a natural progression in all genres of music. Jazz fusion artists of the 70s and 80s were influenced by rock artists of the 60s, and so on. 

DP: Absolutely! 

TS: One of the turning points in Nashville had to be when Bob Dylan came to town to record Blonde On Blonde (1966) and later Nashville Skyline (1969). Bob made it cool to be in the South. Hence the Rolling Stones started recording in Muscle Shoals. It was “hip” to be country!

DP: Yes, Dylan coming to Nashville was a huge turning point. What we call the “A-Team” – the original group of local studio musicians were not hillbillies. They were jazz musicians who could play anything. Guys such as Wayne Moss, and Charlie McCoy who worked on those Dylan records had the approach of “do your thing man, we’re right here with you. That gave a certain credibility to Nashville that the rest of the world just did not understand. 

Nashville has always had lots of different kinds of music. It’s just that the success of country overshadowed a lot of other genres of music here. In the early days of that country success, the city was…embarrassed! Nashville was known as “the Athens of the South” before it became “Music City.” It was an education-oriented place. Part of that was Fisk Jubilee – in the late 1800s the Jubilee singers were touring the world singing Gospel music. Rumor has it that when they performed in Paris and sang for the Queen, one of the royal minions proclaimed “you sound so wonderful that you must be from the ‘city of music.’ And some historians cite that as the first time the term “Music City” was used to refer to Nashville. 

There has always been this diversity in Nashville. And I think that Dylan crystalized it. For Blonde on Blonde the credit to where everything was recorded was obscure, however with Nashville Skyline came along, Bob was transparent and proud to be making records here. It was definitely a game-changer for the city. 

So the attitude became “hey what kind of records do you want to make? We can do it all! 

TS: Let’s talk music education. We’ve talked with bassists such as Benny Rietveld (Santana, Miles Davis, Sheila E), Michael Manring, Leo Lyons (Ten Years After), Ron Carter, Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, John Lennon), George Porter Jr. (The Meters), Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Quiet Riot), Harvey Brooks (Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Michael Bloomfield), and Jim Fiedler (Blood, Sweat & Tears) among others, and they’ve all stressed the importance of education. 

With the bass instrument – every note we play affects harmony and rhythm. With digital technology – mastering an instrument isn’t always necessary. Is education still important for a bass player?

DP: Great question and I’m sure you’ll get a different reply from everyone you ask. I myself will confess that my sight-reading was never great. It was okay. I came from the era where you just memorized everything. I played along with records until I learned the song. Very rarely would we pull out a chart. Or look at the sheet music. 

DG: You also had the number system. 

DP: Right. When I first arrived in Nashville and wandered down to lower Broadway and I was playing a song I’d never heard before. The singer was flashing these numbers with his fingers behind his back and I thought ‘what’s he doing!’ 

And one of my bandmates whispered to me ‘it’s the numbers man!’ And I responded ‘numbers? Isn’t that gambling? Running numbers? What are you talking about? Of course, I had to learn, and even then I would still try to memorize. And one of my best friends, a top-session guitarist who was a few years ahead of me in the studio curve, busted me. ‘Hey man, quit trying to remember everything. You need to learn how to read and write these number charts.’ Man, I thought I was getting away with it. So I did the work and learned. 

The beauty of the number system is in a couple of things. In the land of guitars and singer-songwriters and their capos, you’ll have a chart written in E and all of a sudden the bandleader says ‘hey let’s take it down to Db.’  Whoa, you have to transpose on the spot with standard notation. With the number system, you just put the “1” in a new place. And if it’s a minor key, you do the relative minor. Most of the time you write the minor keys as the “6” being the “1.” 

Basically, the number system is do-re-mi. It was a revelation to me because I still got to make up my own basslines – which I am way better at than reading a bassline that someone wrote out. Fortunately, that weakness of mine became a strength because of the world I was in. 

Regardless, I still maintain that you cannot learn enough! 

Even now I go back and look at the fake books and The Real Book to make sure I do not forget where it all came from. I do those things as mental exercises. Nobody puts a written notation chart in front of me these days. 

Theory is real important. It is important to understand it. From a conceptual point of view but also from a contextual point of view. For example, if you’re in a blues band, you don’t necessarily need to learn Fugue lll but at the same time, you never know where you might end up. Education for some people has become very competitive and folks like to argue about the different ways of getting an education. 

For me, it’s whatever works for you. Learn what you need to know for where you want to go as a musician! Don’t kid yourself. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. As a musician, you want to work on your weaknesses. If there is something you can’t do very well, don’t wait for the next time somebody asks you to do it. Work on it now! 

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Guy Pratt, Not Your Average Guy – May 2024 Issue



Guy Pratt, Not Your Average Guy - May 2024 Issue

Guy Pratt, Not Your Average Guy – May 2024 Issue

For me, the bass is like this poor dutiful, loyal kind of wife.  I go off and have my affairs and run about town, then I always come crawling back to her… Guy Pratt

By David C. Gross and Tom Semioli

Photo Courtesy – Cover Photo, Paul Mac Manus | Promo, Tarquin Gotch

Most rock and pop devotees know the individual names, likenesses, and other “intimate” details of their beloved ensembles.

Everyone has/had their favorite Beatle… darling Rolling Stone… preferred Led Zeppelin, their chosen who’s in the Who – etcetera. 

And even in those instances, the enigmatic lead singer and swaggering lead guitarist garner the most consideration in the public eye. Aspiring drummers, keyboardists, and bassists will naturally gravitate to their said instrumentalists. Civilians could care less.   

In the case of the singular artist, it’s all about the headliner, and quite frankly, that’s just how the nature of rock celebrity works. It’s the name on the ticket that counts. 

On rare occasions, the second banana gets peeled: Mick Ronson spidering beside David Bowie, Steve Stevens rebel yelling in the service of Billy Idol, Scotty Moore twangin’ with Elvis Presley, and Steve Vai shredding alongside David Lee Roth, to cite a select small number. “Very few are chosen and even fewer still are called…” to quote Warren Zevon who piled his craft with guitarist Waddy Wachtel in tow. 

Rarer still are the sideman/session bass players who somehow catch the slightest edge of any spotlight. Motown legend James Jamerson Jr. was not recognized until long after his passing by way of the 2002 Paul Justman documentary Standing In The Shadows of Motown which was a surprising box-office success and consequently spurred on similar films such as The Wrecking Crew (2008) Muscle Shoals (2013). Even then, these studio cats’ time in the sunset as soon as the film credits rolled. 

Other bassists in the strictly accompaniment arena catch a notable wave by the nature of their unique contributions to international hit songs – witness Pino Palladino with Paul Young (“Every Time You Go Away”). Studio ace Will Lee (for whom David C. Gross oft subbed), gesticulating in proximity to charismatic bandleader Paul Shaffer, was visible to millions in his four decades with Late Night with David Letterman, and The Late Show with David Letterman. Rarified air indeed. 

Which brings us to Guy Allen Pratt. Born in 1962 in a place called Lambeth London, Pratt came to the instrument in the funky 1970s when bass, thanks to improvements in audio and recording technology, could actually be heard on the radio and on hi-fi record players of the day. Rather than prattle on about Pratt’s formative years, we highly recommend his hysterical autobiography My Bass and Other Animals (2007) Orion books.   

David and I love talking to our record collection on Notes From An Artist. Guy not only talks to his record recollection on his podcast Rockonteurs with co-host Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet fame but he’s played with them! You (lovable) bastard!

Guy’s credits on stage and/or in the studio span David Gilmour, Roger Waters-less Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Tom Jones, Iggy Pop, Icehouse (of which he was a band member), Kristy MacColl, Robert Palmer, Gary Moore, Debbie Harry, Johnny Marr, Robbie Robertson, Peter Cetera, Tears for Fears, David Coverdale- Jimmy Page, All Saints, The Orb, and Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, among others. Impressed, you should be!

If you’re a listener to Notes From An Artist and Rockonteurs – and you should be – you will immediately recognize the simpatico synergy between the two shows. David and I don’t have the piles of platinum discs that Guy and Gary have earned over the years, but we’ve been there and done that – the tours, sessions, the travel, the good deals, the mostly bad deals…

Hence our interview with Guy was not the typical linear podcast that one normally experiences with the obligatory introduction, tastefully imbedded product plug and follow-up, anecdotes, and farewell until we meet again.

Nope. Not even close. From the get-go, our discussion was enjoyably out of control. Akin to caged animals let free in the wilderness, the three of us came out chomping at the bit – with unbridled enthusiasm, one-upmanship, blotto bravado, and many joyful verbal collisions (“taking the piss” if you will). 

Much like the popular Jerry Seinfeld TV series Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee – note that Guy also performs stand-up (or sit-down) comedy – we were chuffed to talk shop and then some sans the usual (and necessary) constraints of the radio/podcast format. 

You have been warned. Here are excerpts from our free for all! 

NFAA TOM: Let me introduce our audience member to Guy … 

Pratt abruptly interrupts the prolog when he spots David’s custom Ken Bebensee six-string bass replete with a pinkish hue complimented by neon pink DR strings behind Gross at the onset of our Zoom chat.  

GP: Whoa, what is that? It looks like some sort of psychedelic Ampeg bass!  

NFAA DAVID: No! This is my six-string bass designed by a guy named Ken Bebensee with obligatory pink strings. You know, it takes a tough man to wear pink! 

NFAA TOM: Non-binary strings? 

GP: I don’t know that it does! Pink was a big 1950s color. Black and pink in particular. It was a big punk thing too. The Clash wore black and pink. Elvis wore black and pink. 

NFAA TOM: Good observation Guy. 

NFAA DAVID: The strings are great on stage because they glow under the lights which is very cool…

NFAA TOM: …much like the bass player. 

GP: Tom..that’s a bass behind you as well (Pratt eyes Tom’s 1981 Steinberger XL – placed strategically to compliment David’s instrument) 

NFAA TOM: Yes I set this out for our Johnny Marr interview …I know he’s a big fan of Steinberger instruments.

 NFAA DAVID: It used to have a headstock…

GP: Johnny is definitely not a fan of those basses..

NFAA TOM: Yes I knew that factoid from reading your book My Bass and Other Animals. I’m using irony here…

GP: That’s why I bought ‘Betsy’ (“Betsy” is Guy’s nom de plume for his 1964 Fender Jazz Bass once owned by John Entwistle. Pratt purchased this instrument at the behest of The Smiths guitarist whose penchant for traditional instruments is well known. Marr felt the modish graphite Steinberger – which Pratt preferred – was not suitable for his post-Smiths aesthetic.) 

NFAA TOM: You started Rockonteurs podcast with Gary Kemp during Covid lockdown, circa 2020, yes?

GP: This is the funny thing, we started it before Covid. The idea came to us being on the tour bus with the Saucers (Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets band). I needed to while away the hours on our first European tour. In those days the buses still had DVD players. I brought along a box set of The Old Grey Whistle Test (a popular British television show which aired from 1971 -2018 featuring performances and interviews of music artists hosted by Bob Harris). 

With Nick, I watched hours of 1970s rock TV. And Nick would be sharing all sorts of great personal stories about the people who were on the show. I had the idea of doing a show asking the people who were there – the artists. Before we could broadcast it we figured we’d get ten episodes together. 

Gary and I went through our address books and we managed to get ten mates who agreed to be on the show.  Back then, you had to go to a studio in London, you had to have a whole set up and everything like that. But then lockdown happened and suddenly the world went Zoom! You could have shit audio, and most important is that you could speak to anyone anywhere at any time. So we started before, but it was the lockdown that made us. How long have you guys been going?

NFAA TOM: David and I started off as The Bass Guitar Channel during lockdown three years ago (2020), and then we thought why the hell are we just talking to bass players? 

NFAA DAVID: Boring old farts! 

GP: Right! 

NFAA TOM: We were mutual fans of each other’s websites – David has the Bass Guitar Channel, and I host the website and video series Know Your Bass Player. Of course, even under the banner of Notes From An Artist – we do favor bassists. Our guests include Bill Wyman who has been on the show twice, we’ve had Ron Carter on a few times. Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, Quite Riot), Gerry McAvoy from Rory Gallagher, Benny Rietveld from Santana and Miles Davis, Jim Fielder from Blood Sweat & Tears, Harvey Brooks (Bob Dylan, Miles Davis)…

We’ve actually shared quite a few guests with Rockonteurs – Richard Thompson, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Colin Blunstone (The Zombies), Steve Hackett (Genesis). David and I consider ourselves the American Rockonteurs – or Mockonteurs! 

NFAA DAVID: You’ve played with Johnny Marr, David Coverdale, Nick Mason…

NFAA TOM: Many times, when David and I listen to podcasts hosted by non-musicians, we feel this angst, frustration, and even homicidal rage because the interviewers haven’t lived the life of a musician…I feel that we do which are peer-to-peer interviews, are very special. 

NFAA DAVID: It’s very niche, but it can appeal to a broader audience. 

GP: Yeah, yeah, yeah! It all depends on how you do it. Gary and I love to geek out. But this is the thing that I learned from years of doing my stand-up show, and that is you can’t appeal to just bass players. Half the guys have brought their missus. And they don’t want to be there. So you’ve got to do it in a way that makes sense for people who don’t really know or even care.  

NFAA DAVID: One thing we learned very early on – it was the first time we had Ron Carter as a guest – we did not bring up Miles Davis. And you can understand that. He’s going strong in his 80s and five years of his life were with Miles. He’s done so many other things besides Miles…

 GP: That’s hip, that’s cool! That’s seventy-five years’ worth!

NFAA DAVID: …so forty minutes into the interview… in his head, he must be going ‘no Miles? No Miles?’ We ended up getting Miles stories that no one had gotten before. Same thing with Bill Wyman. We didn’t mention the Rolling Stones once!

NFAA TOM: We read in your book how you made your bones as a bass player. Bernard Edwards noted, “That kid has a vibe!” Robert Palmer called you “the kid with the riffs!”

GP: Make that the kid with the ‘riff’ I just had one riff! 

NFAA TOM: We’ve had some of your peers on the show such as bassists Lee Sklar (James Taylor, Jackson Brown, “The Section”), and Rudy Sarzo, and they never intended to be studio musicians – they preferred being in bands. What about you?

GP: It wasn’t really a proper profession. You got into rock and roll and you were in a band. It didn’t really exist. There were names you saw on Steely Dan records as part of some sort of unattainable Olympus. I wanted to play with people whose music I loved. And if I could help them make music, that would be even better. 

I think I had it too easy for too long. Then I got to the wrong side of thirty and thought ‘What’s my manifesto?’ I’ve gone on and ticked off other boxes.

For me, the bass is like this poor dutiful loyal kind of wife, while I go off and have my affairs and run about town and then always come crawling back to her…

NFAA: Guy, you came to prominence in the 1980s – the decade dominated by electric bass! 

GP: It was the best decade to be a bass player! Absolutely! In the world I was in – which was the current cool music of its time – everything from Bryan Ferry to Scritti Politti or whatever in British music – it was no longer about guitar. Guitar was small. Guitar played polite minor 7th chords – unless you were Johnny Marr. In fact – guitar was Johnny Marr! 

It wasn’t David Gilmour or Jimmy Page. It was all about slapping. And also the bass seemed to be really responding well to technology. With instruments such as the Steinberger… 

NFAA TOM: Your contemporaries were Pino Palladino, Paul Denman from Sadem, Norman Watt-Roy, Darryl Jones…Neil Jason 

GP: Don’t forget Tony Levin!

NFAA TOM: Yes, you shared many a gig with Levin. 

NFAA TOM: Talk about the influence of Mark King of Level 42 with his slap style on British players. 

GP: Oh God yeah, he was a hero. There is footage on YouTube of my first production rehearsals with Pink Floyd when I first started playing with them in 1987. I have no idea how someone could sneak around with a camera back then – they were so huge. We were in a 747 airplane maintenance hanger at Toronto Airport – and you can hear Gary Wallace and me playing ‘Love Games.’ That’s what we did.

NFAA TOM: And you had to hold the bass high on the body – like a bow tie! 

GP: Holding the bass that was a ‘New Romantic’ thing – which was done just to be as un-rock and roll as you could be. Literally holding the instrument under your chin…

When I look at that first Floyd tour – my bass is positioned a little higher than it is now.

NFAA TOM: Ergonomically – playing the bass too high is a problem – because you could tip over! Plus it’s a strain on your shoulders and upper arm.  As we age, we develop pot bellies, so we need to lower the bass. 

GP: It was quite funny with David (Gilmour) because he is much more svelte now… I would sneak to have a go on David’s guitar – I’d put it on and it would be down to my knees! 

NFAA DAVID: On the topic of bass positioning – what I learned Billy Sheehan was to sit down with your instrument in your lap– get comfortable, then stand up and take a simple piece of leather and measure – and that’s your position!

GP: Brilliant! That’s way too grown-up and sensible! 

NFAA DAVID: I could never understand Dee Dee Ramone playing with his bass near his ankles!

GP: But it looked fantastic! At the end of the day, are we musicians, or are we playing rock and roll?

NFAA TOM: There is actually an ergonomic reason why he did that. When you position your bass in the middle of your body – as most players do – you are using your forearm muscles. To play rapid eighth or sixteenth notes you need to use your wrist.  Hence if you position the bass low beneath the hip – you work your wrist muscles. 

GP: You’re absolutely right! Remember when the Boss Chorus came along and made everyone think they could play fretless? I am absolutely guilty of that! (Makes the sound of a chorus pedal) Rrrrrrrrr. Rrrrrrrr. Rrrrrr. Is that an E or an F? Who knows there’s a lot of chorus on it!

NFAA DAVID: It does not matter! 

David C. Gross shows off his modified Tony Franklin fretless Fender bass aptly dubbed “The Franklin – Stein.” Gross had the instrument finished distressed, swapped out the Fender pick-ups for Lindy Fralin P-J configuration pups, and also replaced the Tony Franklin signature back plate. David notes that he shuts down the J bridge pick-up when playing the instrument. Gross notes that since he posted this bass on social media, Tony Franklin – a constant presence on Instagram and Facebook – has not spoken to him! 

GP: I’m personally baffled by Precision fretless basses. To me, the Jazz seems to be the obvious fretless model because it needs a ‘bite’ with a pickup near the bridge. The person who would disagree with me is David Gilmour – who is a very fine fretless player. I think he used a Charvel fretless on ‘Hey You’ (Pink Floyd The Wall 1979). 

NFAA DAVID: With me, it’s more comparable to my six-string as I prefer a big neck.  Particularly a P neck with a C shape is the right one for me. Tony certainly got the neck right!

GP: For the Saucerful tours I play basses I’m not familiar with! The one thing I do with that band is try to be authentic. There’s no point in trying to copy those parts – in a lot of instances you can’t even hear them since they were mixed low on the original records most of the time. From ’67 to ’70 Roger played a Rickenbacker then in ’70 he switched to the Fender Precision. So I play Rickenbackers and Precisions which are not my first choice. 

With the Precision I know it’s not the instrument – it’s me! Precisions are fabulous but it’s like certain Italian knitwear – I love it on other people! 

As for the Rickenbacker – I just can’t really play it. But they make me play great for this gig because I kind of need to have one hand tied behind my back. And I have to play with a pick – so there’s no danger of me getting funky anywhere! 

NFAA DAVID: I remember when Magical Mystery Tour (The Beatles, 1967) first came out. Those photos of Paul with a Rickenbacker looked great! 

GP: Yes, it is a fantastic-looking instrument… but I never understood why it became a ‘prog rock’ bass with Chris Squire. Because it’s not a hi-fi-sounding instrument. 

Getting back to Precisions – I think it all comes down to ‘What was the first bass you picked up!’ The first bass I played was a jazz-style instrument…

Pratt proceeds to jump out of his skin and show off the instrument that began his life’s journey ‘My dad gave it to me …it’s a Grant Japanese model– it was sunburst – I can never figure out why the black color followed the contour of the neck – then when I shaved it down I discovered it was plywood!’ 

GP: It’s that jazz profile which is all I’ve ever wanted…  Then when I got Betsy – that his the most perfect profile neck I’ve ever come across. 

NFAA TOM: And that’s the profile on your signature Betsy Bass available at The Bass Centre 

Pratt hoists a Bass Center Betsy in his favorite hue – burgundy mist. 

GP: It’s the best-selling bass they’ve ever had! I used this Bass Centre bass at a cancer charity gig the other week (November 2023) with Andy Taylor and Robert Plant. So how’s this for a ‘box tick’ – I’m one of the few people, apart from John Paul Jones to have played “Black Dog” with Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant! 

NFAA TOM: The big I am! Let’s talk about Betsy – you added a Badass bridge…

GP: The Badass is an option… I use the cheap one! The secret to that bass is the EMG pickups. People don’t usually put EMG pickups into an old bass…it has the lovely, settled, resonant wood. Stick active EMGs into an old bass and…boom! It’s fantastic! 

NFAA TOM: David, you can compliment the burgundy mist Betsy bass with your signature neon pink strings!  

Pratt proudly displays the original Betsy bass guitar once owned by John Entwistle of The Who. 

GP: Here’s the old girl!

NFAA TOM: Is that the “My Generation” bass?

GP: No, John never played this bass. Owning a bass that belonged to John Entwistle is like owning a pair of shoes that belonged to Imelda Marcos!

NFAA DAVID: John owned a very conceivable bass in several colors.

GP: The rumor I heard was that Fender made three full sets of Burgundy Mist guitars in 1964. And John owned the full set- a Precision, Jazz, Telecaster, Stratocaster, Jazz Master – he had everything. Which was priceless, but he had to sell them all in a hurry. So I purchased this bass through the legendary guitar tech Alan Rogan. 

The conversation drifts on to the punk era which Pratt experienced as an impressionable teenager. 

NFAA TOM: We didn’t get the Sex Pistols until late in their career and then of course, the band broke up in the USA following a show in Texas. That band must have had an impact on a young Guy Pratt. 

GP: Oh totally! If you discovered rock and roll at that point like I did, it made an impact. But the stuff I loved were the bands that survived. I loved The Who – Pete stayed totally cool throughout punk – no one was going to touch Pete! Twelve years before punk, Pete was smashing guitars on stage. No one was ever going to do anything as punk rock as that!

I liked Bruce Springsteen who became great friends with Joe Strummer. There was this thing that there were five bands – they were these people who were rich and over thirty years old, which we couldn’t relate to as teenagers. 

What was so brilliant about punk – and it’s the reason why the 1980s were so brilliant – was the ‘do it yourself’ aspect of punk. In England at the time the attitude was if you don’t like a band – start your own band. If you don’t like what is in the newspapers – start your own newspaper! 

When The Buzzcocks heard about the Sex Pistols they booked them to play at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. They played and there were about fourteen people at the show. And those fourteen people were Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Mick Hucknell, Tony Wilson, Steven Morris, Ian Curtis…basically the 1980s!

NFAA DAVID: I’m surprised that The Damned never broke in this country. They were another “fake” punk band that was brilliant.

GP: I know what you mean. They were like The Monkees of punk. And I say that as someone who adored The Monkees when I was a kid. 

NFAA TOM: Talking about your history of session work… when we are in the studio oft times we are required to either read a lead sheet or a written out note-for-note chart. According to your book, Madonna asked up to create a bassline that made your (anatomy deleted) hard!

GP: She was terrifying!  

NFAA TOM: In your book, you detail how you forgot that you played the iconic bassline to “Like A Prayer” which bolstered your career. 

GP: Right! I had a vague recollection of that session. It’s weird because I remember all the other stuff. I was bloody scared! I know I’ve played with Pink Floyd at this point, and other major artists but I still have this terrible imposter syndrome. I’m basically a West London punk rocker, I shouldn’t really be doing any of this! 

NFAA TOM: But you’re “the kid with the riffs!

GP: That’s “riff” again – singular! I only had one! I used it up a long time ago. 

It was a band session, and the players were amazing; Jonathan Moffat (drums), Bruce Gaitsch (guitar)¸ Jai Winding (keyboards), Patrick Leonard (keyboards), Bill Bottrell (engineer) – incredible.

And Madonna was so good – she was so ‘on it.’ She sang a guide vocal. She’d give me notes – and they were proper notes. They weren’t like ‘Can you make it more purple?’ She gave me understandable musical things that she wanted me to do. Or not do. 

“Like a Prayer” was just me, her, Pat and Bill. I don’t know why I was there. I was thinking because they have the synth on it – that’s all they’d need. There might not have been a plan to put a bass on it. I was in there to simply double some of the verse stuff. I was playing every fourth note or something. 

At the end, it was one of those ‘let go nuts’ takes. ‘We’ve got the take we need, let’s just do one more for fun.’ I don’t remember it because I wasn’t taking it seriously. As if I could do that!

Sometime later she invited me down to the mix – I’d come back to California to do the Toy Matinee album and I went down to the studio and she said (in Pratt’s impeccable Madonna Ciccone voice appropriation) ‘Come and sit next to me!’ 

There was this last really loud play through and I was absolutely stunned. It is an amazing song. The hooks, the arrangement, everything! On that track, there is always something to keep you interested. On that song, you’re always thinking … What now, what now?’ 

Then the bass thing happened at the end. ‘That sounds like me but it obviously isn’t…’ because that’s way above my pay grade! Pino gets to do that! Tony Levin gets to do that. Mark King gets to do that. 

Guy Pratt does not get to do that! Which is why I said to Madonna ‘That is the greatest record you’ve ever made… who played bass on it?’ 

(Pratt in Madonna mode) ‘You, dummy!!!!!’

NFAA DAVID: I think your Michael Jackson story is more bizarre. 

GP: The funniest thing about that story is when I got the call to do it. It was a period of my life that was so insane. I’d done the Toy Matinee record, and I had to leave before the end of making it to fly back to Europe to do a Pink Floyd tour – we went to Moscow and did that amazing gig in Venice. Then I had to fly straight back to Los Angeles to start the Robbie Robertson album (1987). While I was doing Robbie’s album – I did other songs for Madonna such as “Hanky Panky.” One day in the studio I get a call from engineer Bill Bottrell. 

“Hey Guy, what are you doing?” I responded ‘Well, I’m working with Robbie.’ Bottrell: “I want you to work on this Michael Jackson song…” I said ‘Okay.’ “Can you be here by six?” Pratt: ‘We don’t usually finish until 6… I’ll have to ask permission!’ 

So I went to Robbie ‘Listen, is there any chance I can go early tonight?’  Robertson: “Oh why?” Pratt: ‘I’ve been asked to do a Michael Jackson session!’ And Robbie blurted out “What am I supposed to say to that!” 

Pratt to Bottrell: ‘Why me Bill?” 

Bottrell: “Michael heard ‘Like A Prayer’ and he wants that!” 

So I thought ‘Great, he obviously wants full balls-out Octave pedal madness! 

I turned up at the studio and Michael had supposedly just left. And they play the track (Pratt sings) ‘What about sunlight…’ And I think to myself ‘Really!? What the hell am I supposed to do with this?’ 

Luckily Steve Ferrone came in. However was in the worst possible key – Ab! With an Octave pedal that is not good. As a rule, you don’t go below D. In fact, D is the optimum key. Now with modern technology, you can do anything, though I don’t like any of the new Octave pedals unless I’m doing a sub-swell. 

For me, it was the Boss OC-2.  Boss was actually talking about doing a Guy Pratt edition of the pedal. 

NFAA DAVID: Take that Pino! 

GP: Yeah! Look I nicked it from him – I make no bones about it. “Tear Your Playhouse Down” and “Give Blood” are the best examples of Pino with the OC -2. 

NFAA TOM: When I first heard those tracks, I had no idea they were pedals.

GP: Right because at the time there was no internet. When I first heard “Tear Your Playhouse Down,” I thought ‘it sounds like a synth but it obviously isn’t… but how did I find out it was an Octave pedal? Who do I ask? I didn’t know Pino!’ 

Do I go up to people and (yell) ‘Tell me tell me’ and leave a trail of bodies all over London?  But I did find out…

NFAA TOM: Guy as you are an album artist primarily, we ask all of our guests who work in that format the question “Is the album format still relevant in the age of streaming music?” What say you?

GP: No they are not. Albums were the length they were because Deutsche Grammophon worked out that it was the length of one movement of a symphony. Since that was the format, that’s what record players were made to. So we got used to the album format. Which then became this completely invented format where track listing was everything. From track one on side one, to track one on side two…what is the last track on side two? 

Basically, it became a play in two acts. Then the compact disc came along, and that concept was gone. There is no end of side one…there is no end of side two… 

Any sort of restriction that is imposed upon you – especially as an artist, is a good thing. That’s why plays are like plays, and films are like films.

It’s good to have these invented laws. Now, there is kind of no point! If you want an album to be 400 songs, it can. That’s why I find it interesting – that amongst a lot of the kids – their preferred format is the EP. Four songs. It’s not the tradition of ‘extended play.’ It’s four songs. 

Back in the day, EPs were when artists argued about what was going to be the B side! 

NFAA TOM: Or make an extra dollar off additional songs… 

GP: Right. 

NFAA TOM: Interesting that you mention the term “restriction” because David and I interviewed legendary bassist Jerry Jemmott and asked him that had Jaco Pastorius lived would he have moved on to the extended range bass – five-string, six-string. David and I were convinced that Jaco would have added more strings, yet Jemmott maintains that it is the restrictions of the four-string that made Jaco great.

GP: I don’t think Jaco would have played a six-string. 

NFAA DAVID: When you play an extended range – five or six – and I know you’ve tried that – your left hand tends to move horizontally rather vertically. 

GP: Yes, that’s what Jack Bruce said – and he preferred five-string. But when you think about it the top note on a Jazz bass…


GP: Yes and it’s a note I actually use in a chord at the end of the song “Saucerful of Secrets” with Nick Mason. The point being, that note, why would you need anything higher than that on a bass guitar?

NFAA DAVID: Well, the idea to me was never doing the ‘diarrhea of the hands’ soloing. My brother-in-law was Ian MacDonald – and when he left Foreigner, we started a band. He bought me a Chapman Stick. 

GP: Ah I was about to bring those up!

NFAA DAVID: I wanted to go low, not higher. 

GP: Yes, I get that. But with Jaco’s facility, I don’t think he would have gone there. I don’t think Hendrix would have gone beyond the Fender Stratocaster. Look at David Gilmour. No one has done more to expand the horizons of what a guitar can sound like, but it’s still the black Strat.  

To me, Jaco’s sound is still so space-aged, modern, and high-tech, and it was just him – what else was he going to do? He already had the future in his fingers!

NFAA DAVID: When it comes to Jaco – yes he was a great player, but it all comes down to his compositions. He was a brilliant composer. Just like Charles Mingus. A great bassist, no doubt. But when you think about Mingus, you think about his compositions. 

“Three Views of a Secret,” “Portrait of Tracy,” who, outside of Percy Jones, would have thought of it? 

NFAA TOM: According to Anthony Jackson, with whom David studied…the true bass guitar is a six-string. As we discussed this with another Anthony Jackson disciple, your colleague Dave Swift (Later…with Jools Holland). If you place the electric bass next to an electric guitar and an upright bass, clearly the electric bass is a member of the guitar family. Leo Fender, who focused on the marketing aspect of his business, made the bass four strings to appeal to upright players who were weary of hauling the cumbersome doghouse!

GP: I had a Fender six-string bass, but I thought of it more as a baritone guitar. Wasn’t it interesting in The Beatles Get Back film that they had one laying around the studio and that’s what John Lennon picks up to play bass tracks. 

NFAA DAVID: Jack Bruce was playing a Fender six-string with Cream! How did he do it?

GP: Right! So let’s go back to the Chapman Stick – which was everywhere in the 1980s. Alphonso Johnson, Tony Levin…and I was thinking ‘Oh my God I’m going to have to learn this thing…’ So I nearly bought one. And I thought I just did those four years in my bedroom; I don’t know if I could go back and do them again. Because that’s what it would take. Then I realized – especially Tony – that he’s only playing two strings on it! 

NFAA DAVID: That’s absolutely right! You know what made me decide to get rid of the Stick…aside from how many years it would take to master it? I didn’t want to stand up with the Goddamn thing stuck in my pants!

GP: Exactly! Years back Tony Levin told me that he transcribed Stravinsky’s “Firebird” for the Stick. And I thought ‘We’ll I was never gonna do that!’ 

NFAA TOM: What’s on Guy Pratt’s bucket list?

GP: The boxes keep getting ticked! There’s only one person I would really like to play with. But… it’s a total Catch-22. 

I would love, love, love to do something with Peter Gabriel. But if I do something with Peter Gabriel, that means Tony Levin isn’t doing it – and I always wanted to be kind of… Tony Levin! So I guess I don’t want to play with Peter Gabriel…

More Bass Player interviews are available in an upcoming book: Good Question! Notes From An Artist Interviews… by David C. Gross & Tom Semioli 

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Bass Videos

Brian Bromberg, Paying Tribute to Scott LaFaro – April 2024



Brian Bromberg, Paying Tribute to Scott LaFaro, April 2024 - Header

Brian Bromberg, Paying Tribute to Scott LaFaro, April 2024…

Brian Bromberg, Paying Tribute to Scott LaFaro, April 2024

Brian Bromberg is one heavy-hitting bass player and I am in awe of his talent as one of the few individuals who is equally proficient on electric and upright bass.

You might remember our conversation back in 2018 when he released his powerhouse Funk album. Brian’s “A Little Driving Music” album is a staple on all our road trips and his Jaco and Jimi Hendrix tribute albums are mind-blowing… and I could go on and on.

Now, Brian has taken on the arduous task of producing an album paying tribute to the late, great, Scott LaFaro. He teamed up with pianist Tom Zink and drummer Charles Ruggiero and Brian delivers a commanding performance on upright. The entire album is a masterpiece and a real treat to listen to track after track.

Join us as Brian shares the details behind this project and more.

Photo, Michel Bocandé

Visit Online
FB @BrianBrombergBassist

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Leland Sklar, Over Half a Century of Bass, March 2024



Leland Sklar, Over Half a Century of Bass, March 2024

We all have enjoyed Leland Sklar’s Bass lines for over half a century.

You might remember that we had him on our cover back in 2017 and did an update when he launched his book “Everybody Loves Me” in 2020. It was exciting to hear that The Immediate Family had got back together in the studio to work on their own music in 2019 and are now up to two albums.

Just last December, Magnolia Pictures released a documentary titled “Immediate Family” where we got a behind-the-scenes look at the massive contributions Danny Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel, Ross Kunckle, Leland Sklar and Steve Postell have made in countless songs that are the very essence of our daily personal musical soundtracks. Seeing the astronomical roster of performers they have supported over many years is very eye-opening. It is a must-see for any music lover!

Now, I am thrilled to bring you a special chat with Leland Sklar where we go more in-depth into the bass side of his musical journey.

Photos: Header, Rob Shanahan – Cover Photo, Jay Gilbert/Chris Schmitt

Skin In the Game – 
from new album Skin In The Game

The Toughest Girl In Town – 
from new album Skin In The Game

Fair Warning – –
from the self-titled album The Immediate Family

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Bass Videos

Ricky Phillips, STYX Bass And More – February 2024



Ricky Phillips, STYX Bass And More, January 2024

Ricky Phillips, STYX Bass And More…

This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

I have always been a huge Styx fan. Their music kept me awake during countless nights studying and gave my imagination a place to escape when I had a moment to take a break. 

I had the immense opportunity to chat with STYX bassist Ricky Phillips for our August Cover in 2017 and follow his projects as time passed. Now, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to catch up with Ricky as he has been super-busy over the past six years. 

Join me as we take a deep dive into the band’s most recent album “Crash the Crown” and EP “The Same Stardust”. Ricky shares some insights into the herculean team effort behind the scenes and the musical process that keeps them ever so busy and how he has updated his sound. 

Without further ado… Here is Ricky Phillips!

Photo: Jason Powell

“Crash of the Crown” lyric video

“Reveries” lyric video

“Save Us From Ourselves” lyric video

“Sound the Alarm” lyric video

“Too Much Time On My Hands” Zoom video 2020

Visit online:
FB & IG @styxtheband

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Bass Videos

Jeff Pilson, Foreigner Low End – January 2024



Jeff Pilson - Bass Musician Magazine - January 2024

Jeff Pilson, Foreigner Low End – January 2024…

Those of us who were around back in the 70’s remember how certain songs on the radio resonated with us. It turns out that many of these iconic melodies came from Foreigner and they were part of our personal soundtracks! 

After all these years, the band is going as strong as ever with Jeff Pilson firing away on bass midstream into a 2-year farewell tour. 

I am excited to be able to bring you all the details about Jeff’s musical Journey, the farewell tour in progress, how he gets his sound and his plans for the future.

Cover Photo: Krishta Abruzziini / Video Photos: Krishta Abruzzini, Karsten Staiger, Gina Hyams

For more news on FOREIGNER and upcoming Farewell Tour dates, fans can visit:
Also on FB @officialjeffpilson

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