Bruce Thomas Pushed Rock To A New Era: August 2022 15th Anniversary Issue
By David C. Gross and Tom Semioli
Interview with Bassist Bruce Thomas…
Though they were promoted as upstarts, novices, and ‘punks’ during the UK “new wave” era of the 1970s, artists such as Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, and The Pretenders were accomplished musicians – and their simpatico band members were among London’s finest. Enter bassist Bruce Thomas. Well-versed in blues (Peter Green considered him for the bass chair – Fleetwood Thomas anyone?), jazz, 50s rock, folk and permutations thereof, Thomas was Elvis Costello’s anchor during the artist’s seminal years. His basslines were the hooks that pushed rock into a new era that continues to resonate nearly a half-century later. Though he no longer toils for the former Declan McManus, Thomas is an accomplished author, session player, and armchair philosopher. David and Tom caught up with the ‘main Attraction’ and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer from his home somewhere in rural England…
To rock bass players who came of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s Bruce Thomas was the main Attraction!
As in Elvis Costello and The Attractions. He is among the outstanding bass players of Britain’s golden era of singer-songwriter “pub rockers” – which somehow got categorized as “punk.” What Jack Bruce and John Entwistle were to your grandpa’s g-g-generation, Bruce Thomas was to your dad’s (blank) generation. He is a must-hear player for every rock bassist regardless of their chosen genre.
Akin to Norman Watt-Roy (Ian Dury & The Blockheads), Graham Maby (Joe Jackson Band) and Andrew Bodner (Graham Parker & The Rumour) – Bruce Thomas exuded a forceful melodic style and sound that made him instantly recognizable.
A master of the instrument, Thomas caught the attention of Guitar Player magazine when Elvis broke in the states during the Jimmy Carter Administration.
Note: in the era before the creation of Bass Player the aforementioned publication would toss an editorial bone to us bottom enders with a feature or two on bass players. One such feature affected this writer (Tom Semioli) circa ’78 when GP, mostly disdainful of the punk rockers (the best of whom were classic rockers with fresh haircuts and thin ties), dared bassists to play along with an Elvis Costello platter (or cassette) and render conventional root / fifth passages rather than Thomas’ adventurous motifs only to discover that Elvis’ songs were – shall we say “lacking.” Try it at home readers!
Outside of his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tenure with the former Declan McManus, Thomas anchored seminal sides with Suzanne Vega, and The Pretenders to cite a few; jammed with Peter Green, was offered the bass chair in Pink Floyd, learned a valuable lesson in rock stardom from Pete Townshend, and has penned autobiographical, biographical (Bruce Lee,) and fictional tomes worthy of your exploration.
Much of our conversation was based on Thomas’ tome Rough Notes, published in 2016. His new autobiography is entitled The Open Road which is available on his website www.brucethomas.co.uk
Says Thomas: My earlier memoir Rough Notes is about my life and time as a working musician. While The Open Road has more tales from the tour bus it’s also about what happened in between… and the time of my life!
BT: Bruce Thomas
DG: David C. Gross
TS: Tom Semioli
TS: Bruce, recall your first impression of the art form that is rock and roll.
BT: My first impression of the art form you speak of was when I stayed at my grandmother’s house as a young child. I had to give my parents a break I guess…so every summer I spent a couple of weeks with her. Every year the was a fair on a patch of waste ground in her neighborhood.
It was usually country and folk music, but one year they started playing America rock and roll singles. Songs such as Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash.” But then came that ‘bomb drop’ moment when I heard ‘that’ voice bellow “wop bop a loo bop a wop bam boom’… and I thought who is that!? And the DJ informed me ‘that’s Little Richard, son.’
And you know, I’ve never heard a better rock and roll voice since that moment.
TS: Fast forward a couple of years later at Stockton On Tees wherein you witnessed Beatlemania.
BT: Yes, but the first band I ever saw was The Shadows with Cliff Richard, so that would explain why I had a fiesta red Precision bass with a tortoiseshell scratchplate!
DG: Jet Harris!
BT: Right! And if there’s a cooler bass than that, I have not seen it yet!
DG: We interviewed Rick Wills (Foreigner, Peter Frampton, David Gilmour) a few weeks ago…
BT: He’s a mate…
DG: …and he brought up The Shadows as well and how important they were to him.
BT: Yes, we’re nearly the same age (Thomas was born in 1948, Wills ‘47). The Shadows were a tremendous influence both musically and aesthetically.
TS: Akin to many British bass players of your generation, namely Jim Rodford (The Kinks, The Zombies, Argent) and Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones), you built your own instrument. Tell us about the signature “Bruce Thomas Garden Shed Bass.”
BT: It was hardly a ‘signature’ model! It was scratch-built and virtually unplayable. The frets were not filed on the edge, so I’d rip my fingers when I played it up and down the neck. I thought the dots on the neck were for decoration, so for a long time, I was playing with an 11-fret octave! I could have been playing some form of Egyptian music for all I know.
DG: You were playing micro-tones!
BT: Yeah, that’s it! With the frets at an angle. I was way ahead of the game there…
TS: When you purchased your first Fender bass at Hamilton’s you proclaimed, ‘now I am a bass player!’ It set you back 50 pounds which was a lot of money back then.
BT: Right, I bought that one used. I distinctly remember that a new Fender was 216 pounds, which today would be about 1000 pounds or $1500 in American dollars. Quite the investment! Whoever owned it first likely failed on the payments. That was my famous Attractions bass.
TS: Among your earliest bands was The Roadrunners with Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) – who was also a bassist, was he a good player?
BT: At the time we were all ‘rudimentary riffers doing the same rhythm and blues set list as all the other local beat groups were. We were pretty ‘pentatonic’ I’d say! I would not be insulting Paul if I said he was a much better singer than a bass player.
TS: At that point in your life, you had the choice of pursuing a career as a commercial artist at the Evening Gazette …or as a professional musician.
BT: My plan was to come to London to work on the Sunday Times as a graphic designer. But two of the guys in the band wanted Paul Rodgers to be the singer and move to the front. Somehow, we emerged as the best local band and we did what all other popular local bands did – we rolled the dice and moved to London to see if we could ‘make it’ as professionals. And three of the four of us did.
TS: When you moved to London your local paper published a photo of the band, how was your first taste of ‘fame’?
BT: Great. My mum loved it, and I recently found the clipping. The headline was “Local Band Seeks Fame and Fortune!” In fact, I have her huge box of my press clippings and I don’t know what to do with it! Perhaps I should have a Facebook competition!
TS: By way of a “musician wanted” advertisement in Melody Maker you had a very influential meeting with Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer. Green talks to you about ‘putting the notes together’ – what was he trying to impart to you?
BT: I auditioned for the original Fleetwood Mac. Green and Spencer came to the house that I was sharing with a drummer. The rest of The Roadrunners had gone off for the day. So the drummer and I jammed with Peter and Jeremy for a couple of hours.
Peter was very kind and he said ‘boy, you have all the right records… such as B.B. King’s Live at the Regal. But I think it’s a bit too soon for you…’ He was right. I literally turned pro only three months previous. I was impressed with him. He didn’t just pack up and say ‘forget it kid!’ We did play together for a while. I’ve seen his original Fleetwood Mac more than I’ve seen any other band.
I joined the band with Peter Bardens called The Village. Bardens was a keyboard player who’d had Mick Fleetwood in his original band. Peter Green came up and jammed with us at The Marquee in London and later played on a solo album of Bardens, which I also played bass on. All told I probably played with Peter three or four times. There’s no one who comes within a million miles of the depth of feeling that he can get out of a guitar. There was just something totally special about him. He was not a musician – he was a shaman. Peter said he had to stop playing the guitar because it was breaking his heart… The sound was not coming from the guitar, it was coming from the depths of his soul through his guitar. That’s all I could say!
DG: I couldn’t agree with you more…people back then used to attribute his sound to the pickups and other gear…
BT: Well I consider him a ‘tone master.’ And that wasn’t just by accident. He really knew how to work his guitar on a technical level…and he’d make the most of a ‘mistake’ if you like. You know, now there are a million videos on YouTube on how to reverse a pick-up and do some of the things he did…and you see people trying to play like Peter. There are some pretty good approximations. Some of them come very close, and many are reverential and sincere. Peter was a ‘one-off.’ Like your own favorites such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk…and even Donald Fagan, I’d put him in the same bracket as musicians that are just ‘a little bit special.’ Peter is my main man and always will be.
DG: I was fortunate to see him in a club setting when Fleetwood Mac came to New York City…
BT: That was the best way to hear him. When he left the original band he got into more of a Jerry Garcia thing with long jams…and even cut an improvisational album (The End of the Game / 1970). His gigs at the time were like that too – no set lists. Just jams for hours and hours. Peter was one of the few guitarists who you could listen to in that setting.
TS: When you joined the band Village, you switched to a six-string bass. Was that move inspired by Jack Bruce, who was playing the same instrument at the time?
BT: Yes. I had the P bass since that was the ‘classic’ instrument. Though I did not realize it at the time. I’ve had something like 45 to 50 basses over the years, though it may seem like I only had one or two when you see all the videos with Elvis. I was changing on a weekly basis, trying to discover my sound. I was putting Guild pick-ups on a Fender… Gibson pick-ups on a Fender…doing all sorts of things. That was standard at the time – lots of experimentation.
TS: Looking back, the electric bass was a relatively new instrument back then…
BT: Right, so there were really no rules. Now, I’m not a fan of basses with more than four strings…I’m not a fan of basses where if you were to remove the neck and put four legs on them they’d make a nice coffee table. (Laughter) My line is ‘I have an 88-string bass and I call it a piano’!
DG: I am interested in hearing about your signature bass (London Bass Centre – British Bass Masters Series – The Bruce Thomas Profile Bass)
BT: My Attractions P bass got stolen in Los Angeles. I couldn’t replace it, so I decided to build one from scratch. My friend Barry Moore runs the Bass Centre in London said to me ‘well if you want to build one, somebody else might want one. We did a great job of recreating the original and in some instances, on improving it. It’s not as though I look at the original bass as a talisman – it was a good instrument, but it was replaceable. I’d reshaped the body and the neck, rewired it and re-sprayed it. This is not a phony vintage instrument – it’s true to the spirit of my Attractions bass.
Barry started looking for the best manufacturer he could find, while I set about recreating the right body shape and doing test paint mixes in various shades of ‘faded red’. But the most important thing was getting the neck profile right to give maximum playability.”
“After a bit of experimenting on my part and many meetings with Barry, we had samples built in factories across Europe and the Far East and we worked on everything from entry-level basses to the elite bespoke instruments. One day we were sent a bass that stood out a mile from anything else we’d seen or played. Although getting the right bass was our only consideration, it turned out that this one was also one of the most affordable.”
Even with The Attractions, I used a Wal bass, and a Danelectro in various instances. The P bass was perfect for the so-called ‘classic’ period of The Attractions. It figured prominently on all the gigs and records, but from about 1990 I used a Danelectro in the studio as many American producers prefer them for recording.
DG: I recall seeing Eric Haydock with The Hollies, and he used a Danelectro on stage which sounded fantastic.
BT: Yes I remember seeing him as well, and he used a six-string too.
DG: If you think about the six-string guitar back then, it was really a Jaguar-style baritone guitar.
BT: Yes it was.
DG: Did you play the six-string with a pick?
BT: I don’t think I’ve ever used a pick except for effect – such as on the song “New Lace Sleeves” (Elvis Costello and The Attractions / Trust 1981). On the riff of that tune, I wanted a percussive tone. Even when I started learning, I used my fingers. It was tough to play the six-string with my fingers as the strings were very close – which is probably why I didn’t have that instrument for a very long time.
Nowadays for me, the major consideration for an instrument is weight. If it’s made out of Styrofoam, that’ll do me!
TS: You cut records with Quiver, and you toured with Pink Floyd, T.Rex, The Who…you’d did session work with Al Stewart…what did you learn from these experiences that helped you in your career?
BT: Good question. Back then it was easier to access people who were considered ‘inaccessible.’ It was very informal. You could go to local clubs to see many of the biggest bands at the time who were coming through. The Who, Cream, Spencer Davis with Steve Winwood… I think they were paid about 70 pounds a night! The smaller groups earned 40 pounds. You could go backstage and chat with them. One night one of The Roadrunners picked up Eric Clapton’s gold-top Les Paul and played it – to which the curmudgeon Giger Baker yelled at us ‘have you got permission to do that!’ ‘Of course,’ we replied! You couldn’t imagine that sort of thing today.
So I asked Pete Townshend one night ‘have you got any tips for an aspiring musician?’ And he responded ‘yeah, take lots of drugs!’ Later I met Pete at the Paul McCartney Rockestra ‘supersession’ – along with David Gilmour, Hank Marvin…for me, it was like a summation of everything that inspired me at the time. And Paul of course, as I had seen The Beatles when I was knee-high to a grasshopper! Suddenly there I was with them.
That was a seminal moment in my life. I don’t know if it was peculiar to me, but I’ve had several ‘seminal’ moments in my life where I think ‘ah right, that’s a chapter!’
DG: Sir Paul had a profound influence on your professional life…and you eventually got to work with him.
I just watched a television special of Paul McCartney at The Cavern. Interesting that he has all-American musicians now. Paul knocks out the Eddie Cochran song that got him in The Beatles, then he plays “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Hello Goodbye.’ And it reminded me ‘bloody hell, this guy has got it all!’ If it were just the melodies, just the songwriting, just the bass playing, just the singing…he’d be deserving of all the accolades. But the fact that he did it all… there are no words to describe it. Then I realized why I picked up the bass: Paul McCartney! At the time we also had Jack Bruce, John Entwistle, Duck Dunn, James Jamerson… if you didn’t have enough inspiration there, I don’t know where else you’d get it.
DG: You mention the song “Hello Goodbye” and I think that is one of the most “complete” McCartney basslines. It’s akin to a Bach fugue.
BT: I agree, it’s one of his most musical bass lines. And of course, there is his amazing bass part to “Something.” Now, David, I made some notes before this interview, and I saw that one of your recent social media posts was on the diminished scale. Now I’ve never had formal lessons nor have I read books.
I figured it out by the seat of my pants. So for a long time, my career was only ‘riff-based’ pentatonic scales. I had a kind of epiphany where I realized that if you play ‘four frets and three frets’ that’s a major, you play ‘three frets and four frets’ that’s a minor, then ‘three frets and three frets’ that’s a diminished, and ‘four frets and four frets’ that’s an augmented. Then I worked out why the chords are called 6th and 7th. Then I figured out that you didn’t have to play root notes all the time. You could play 3rds and 5ths rather than root notes, and that way you could construct a bass line that went over the chords without sticking to the root. First thing I did was start on the G string and play a descending bass line and it would evoke Albinoni or Bach as you referenced, and then I realized what McCartney was doing. And it all really came together with me when I started playing with Elvis as he was composing classic pop songs. Suddenly, I could construct proper bass lines…
“There are really two schools of bass playing. The European classical tradition of Paul McCartney.. by way of Bach. And the American rhythm and blues-based pentatonic riff approach. It’s best when you mix and match them. On the song “Everyday I Write The Book” I played arpeggio inversions of the chords. On the song “Party Girl” – I worked out an ‘exercise.’ Whatever the first chord was, I’d try to find the highest note on one string that fitted with either the root, the 3rd or the 5th…then slide down to the lowest note I could find on the next chord…then slide up to the next highest note that fit the next chord. It’s an up and down glissando passage … which sounded a bit like someone tottering around drunk! It was an epiphany to me that I could create a bass line ‘musically’ …or ‘artistically’ to fit in with the mood of the song.”
I can’t read music. I use the Nashville number system – I recently discovered why a relative minor is called a relative minor… So if you want to play blues to a melodic thing in the key of C, you don’t fiddle around in the key of C, you do something in the A minor. All of that is the sum total of my musical knowledge.
DG: Well, it certainly worked out for you!
BT: What you can’t underestimate is just singing the bassline to yourself and then finding where the notes are… A lot of the time, I hear the bassline in my head and simply work it out on the instrument.
DG: Your line on “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” and “Pump It Up” are pure grooves with upper register countermelodies.
BT: I’ll tell you where both those lines come from. “Chelsea” came from touring with The Who. They did “My Generation” every night, and as you know it modulates from A to B – and then it gives way to all sorts of drum fills thrashing away and power chords while John Entwistle plays a repetitive figure. And I thought ‘Bm / A / G …. I can do that! So my bassline to “Chelsea” is taken from the coda to “My Generation.”
“Pump It Up” is a composite riff. We were touring with Richard Hell & The Voidoids, and they had a song entitled “You Gotta Lose” which I thought had nice notes. We also used to do a version of The Everly Brothers “The Price of Love” – which has a melodic bass riff. So I put the rhythm of “The Price of Love” with the notes of “You Gotta Lose” but I needed another bar so I thought –‘what’s the best riff ever? That would be The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” There you go! That was ‘thought’ out, or ‘felt out’ if you like!” I probably just did it, but later I thought ‘ah that’s where it came from!’ Often times you realize later what you’ve stolen!
DG: We just interviewed Carmine Rojas, and he revealed that the inspiration, for lack of a better word, for his bassline on David Bowie’s “China Girl” was derived from the marimba part on the Rolling Stones classic “Under My Thumb.”
BT: We all do it… here’s a good one. The song “Charm School” (Punch The Clock / 1985) that bassline was a lift from Level 42! It’s not a straight lift…at the time we were doing that album I was using the Wal bass – I was going for a more modern sound. We’d done country, we’d done soul, we’d done rock…so it was an attempt to be more contemporary, but I wasn’t going to go ‘thunder thumbs’ with slap. However, I can pinch a few of the notes and get a few ideas.
TS: On all your records with Elvis, it appears that you were afforded a free reign to play countermelodies, and a variety of rhythms….
BT: Well nobody ever said ‘don’t play that!’ I got the feeling that when Nick Lowe was producing that if there was any consternation in the ranks, Nick took the position that ‘this guy knows what he’s doing!’ A couple of times Nick turned to me and said ‘I don’t know how the hell you do it, but it’s great!’ Occasionally someone would say ‘did you really mean to do that?’ And I’d respond ‘yes!’
On the song “Tokyo Storm Warning” I used a “Maggie’s Farm (Bob Dylan) riff that repeats. But when it goes up to the next chord, I use a pedal tone that sounds weird, but then it’s supposed to be as it’s a weird song!
TS: That record, Blood & Chocolate (1986) has a lo-fi aesthetic.
BT: Absolutely – we were all in the same room on one mic!
TS: You mention Nick Lowe, a fantastic bassist…your era of “punk” or “new wave” players was quite impressive: Andrew Bodnar with Graham Parker & The Rumour, Norman Watt-Roy with Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Graham Maby in the Joe Jackson Band…Colin Moulding with XTC…Bruce Foxton of The Jam..
BT: Yes there were a few around!
TS: To my ears, they combined a love of American rhythm and blues with the melodicism of Paul McCartney and John Entwistle.
BT: I wasn’t the only one doing it I guess! Why give them publicity! (laughter)
DG: Tom and I look at Jaco Pastorius as the line of demarcation: there is pre-Jaco and post-Jaco. The pre-Jaco era was based on Willie Dixon playing the changes, and post-Jaco is about showing off your chops. We grew up on radio in an age where you heard Duck Dunn and James Jamerson every day.
BT: I’d seen Jaco Pastorius when he was in Wayne Cochran & The C.C. Riders. We were doing a gig in Davis California and our hotel was a resort and they were the ballroom band. And I didn’t realize it until much later. Now I consider him one of the four cornerstones of bass playing. The four being McCartney, Entwistle, Dunn, and Jamerson – with Jaco somewhere in the middle. I watched someone doing an analysis of one of his bass passages recently – I think it was one of the things he did with Joni Mitchell. It took about three-quarters of hours to explain it. I think it would take about 2000 years for me to understand it to the point where I was satisfied that I understood it.
I got what he was doing in the first chord…the inversions, the melodies, the technical basis of it, and how to play it at that speed. And I thought…he’s just played my whole career in one measure!
Fair play! I get that it’s not just what I refer to as ‘lamp-post climbing.’ He’s not whizzing around the fretboard to impress you, everything he plays is based on solid musicianship of a highly sophisticated and competent nature.
And I can see why Jaco Pastorius, to some people, had the same effect on them as Peter Green had on me. I completely get that. But I’m just not technically competent for a David C. Gross lesson let alone a Jaco Pastorius tutorial! I’m just happy with what I did and that people like it.
TS: Jaco exploded on the scene in 1976 with Ian Hunter’s All-American Alien Boy, Weather Report’s Black Market, and a year earlier with Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life. Your peer Norman Watt-Roy cites Jaco as a huge inspiration. Soon after, fretless bass came into vogue with Pino Palladino, and the various players with Roxy Music, Spandau Ballet. Was Jaco as influential in the UK as he was in the USA?
BT: Yes, he was very influential over here. I had the fretless for a while. As did Alan Spenner. There was a guy I liked who played one of those weird Steinberger basses… Jamaaladeen Tacuma – he had a similar approach. Jaco to me is like Larry Carlton, that is, someone who had total command of the instrument. Sometimes they’re almost ‘too good’ to follow. That’s why I like Donald Fagan (Steely Dan) so much. He makes chord work accessible to me. I don’t know what he’s playing, but I know it works, and I know it’s clever and sounds really good. I know that it’s a more accessible version of Thelonious Monk. I love Monk as well – he really pushed the boundaries. Again, I don’t know what he’s doing but I know it sounds good.
TS: Aside from Elvis, you were an accomplished session player. What was your approach when you were called to play on an artist’s record?
BT: One of the things I like to do is put the bass on last. At first, I’ll do a guide part, then I go back when all the vocals, guitar solos and other overdubs are finished. I like to put the bass on last because it does not just bind the drums, and rhythm instruments. The bass binds the kick-drum to the vocal, and those are the two things melodically and rhythmically I try to bring together. The bass is the spine of the entire song structure.
With The Pretenders, I didn’t get on too well with Chrissie Hynde. She said to me ‘you’d be doing yourself a favor if you didn’t go above the fifth fret!’ She wasn’t very keen on my symphonic approach.
TS: Why would you tell Bruce Thomas not to be Bruce Thomas?
BT: Maybe she didn’t realize who I was! I did a straight part for her…just like her previous bass player. Actually, it was better when I followed her advice.
Mitchell Froom summed it up quite well. There are functional bass parts and creative bass parts. He would tell me ‘the verses are functional …but when you get to this section, be creative.
I have done sessions where people have sent tapes from America and I’d send them back four parts only to have them respond ‘we can’t use any of it…you play all right then you just go off on one!’ So I’ve suffered through that.
It usually goes best when you work directly with the producer. I did a couple of albums with Susan Vega that I am really pleased with – and those sessions were very much under the auspices of Mitchell Froom.
TS: That’s also Paul McCartney’s approach as well, he prefers to put the bass parts on last.
BT: You’ve actually hit the nail on the head. When we did Imperial Bedroom Beatles recording engineer Geoff Emerick suggested that to me. Even in the days when The Beatles only had four-track, they’d bounce everything down to three, and have one track open for Paul. And that’s why Paul could go off and do creative things.
He explained that since they didn’t have the multiple tracks as we do now, what they did was if they had any good bass parts they wanted to keep, they’d put it on to a stereo tape and then fly it in to the one track – so in a roundabout way, they did have the facility to multi-track a bass part and edit it down to one really good one. And that’s how you can do all sorts of bass improvisations on tracks.. such as “Hey Bulldog,” and various stuff on Magical Mystery Tour where the bass goes on a little adventure. I thought that was a great idea. And it also gets you off the hook of having to play things live and make mistakes!
There was a thing that engineers used to have to do when you were overdubbing, and it was a bit rough—it was called a ‘punch in’ and ‘punch out.’ They hit ‘record’ and ‘stop’ and try not to clip any notes… those days are long gone now.
DG: On that topic, comment on how digital technology such as ProTools has changed the game. Is it necessary to be proficient on any instrument – do you have to pay your dues working the clubs and developing your craft?
BT: Good question! I did some things with my nephew who is a DJ – it was electronic dance music. There were some things where I didn’t even play bass! There is a program called Recycle where you can access James Brown drum parts and bass parts and mix and match them to make new grooves and riffs. I recall asking him how many instruments he’d use on one track – five tambourines, four basses, two snares… just to get a certain feel. And I’d think there’s over 200 tracks on this! All independently mixable! You have all sorts of effects, virtual amplifiers… after a while you think ‘this is just ridiculous!’
I remember when the Fairlight Digital Synths came into existence, and Peter Gabriel owned the first one in the UK which cost about 60,000 quid! Now you can do it on a 200-quid laptop!
It’s a different world. I guess that’s why the blacksmith shop in my neighborhood does not do much business anymore!
DG: Tell us how you got started writing about Bruce Lee. That was after your tenure with Elvis, yes?
BT: It’s started in the hiatus between the first ten years and the second three years – back in the 90s. I was basically just a session player during that period and I took up Kung Fu as a result of being mugged one night. My teacher showed me a few Bruce Lee films which prompted me to find out more about him. So I started to write about him to learn about Bruce and for people like me who didn’t know anything about him. It was a great opportunity to take other people on the same journey as mine. Kind of like I did with the signature bass! It’s that idea that if I have an interest in something, somebody else might share that interest as well.
DG: Do you find that certain philosophical things that Bruce was involved in effect your career as a bass player, and your lifestyle? Bruce was quoted as saying “learn what you need…and leave the rest.”
BT: I certainly appreciate the things he did, but I don’t take him as a ‘guru’ – I take him as a kindred spirit. I’ve been into Daoist philosophy from Bruce Lee, but I’ve always had an eye out for many things.
A Japanese designer whose name I cannot recall said something that resonates with me “there are two ways to do it; you can learn what you need to know then do it, or you can do it and figure it out later…” My approach was the latter. I’m not sure if Vincent Van Gogh had many art lessons.
DG: Or headphones! (laughter)
BT: And not many earbuds either! I actually went to a Van Gogh exhibition recently, he was so far ahead of the game, it must’ve been difficult to be him! The difference between seeing his work in an art book and in real life is light years away. I saw a page from his diary and I focused on his penmanship – it spoke volumes. Somebody once said to me – and it’s true – ‘you watch a musician come on stage and put their instrument on – guitar, bass, sit behind the drums… and before they play a note – you know if they’re any good or not.’
Stay tuned for part 2 of this fascinating interview when we talk to Bruce about his new book “The Open Road.”
NOTES FROM AN ARTIST with David C. Gross and Tom Semioli What happens when two road warrior musicians walk into a studio with a renowned peer? Or a legend, or two, or three? Tune in as bassist, author, and educator David C. Gross (thebassguitarchannel.com/) and bassist, journalist Tom Semioli (knowyourbassplayer.com/) host Notes From An Artist. Insightful, intriguing, and informative, Notes From An Artist brings you behind the scenes with individuals who forged a timeless musical canon – spanning rock, jazz, funk, blues, folk, country, and permutations thereof. Listen to stories and anecdotes hitherto untold and relive more than a few chronicles that have become lore with a fresh vision. It’s the soundtrack of our lives. Celebrate the past, live in the present, and anticipate the future – take Notes From An Artist
Listen to the Notes From An Artist Radio Show on Monday nights at 8 PM ET www.cygnusradio.com or through our Notes From An Artist podcast available on all major podcast players