I have talked a lot about the band I am in and my recent learning of the bass. It really had to do with the aftermath the untimely passing of my father because it hit me very hard. My situation was different from my siblings because I lived in the home we all grew up in so I didn’t get to leave the whole scene after the funeral. I was right in the middle of everything that was my Dad and it was not easy.
The morning he died, my best friend Jeff was the first person to come to my house and he brought a case of this beer called Raging bitch IPA, my favorite. Over tears and beers, we talked of what we would do in the future. Being so close to death forces you to see the finiteness of life and, for me, it was a wake up call to start finally playing music. That day we started cleaning out my basement which became our jam space and Jeff started playing guitar and singing after drumming his whole live so we could have a band.
As maudlin as the beginnings were, we are now a whole band after playing one show as a duo and then picking up a lead player and George Harrison on drums. I am very lucky to have such a fine instrument as the one above for my first. This is a ’58 reissue Fender Precision Bass that is exactly what I am currently playing. This wasn’t the guitar I learned on, however.
That would be that beast except mine, which was given to me by my former rock star neighbor Fred Dodge, was so badly warped that the E string would stay in tune for about ten minutes before needing to be tweaked. It was a good learning vehicle, though, because it was hard to play and you had to stretch to get a good sound out of it. It was easy because I could pick it up wherever and start playing it as I had no amp. Also, you had to hit the strings hard to get a loud sound and this would come back to bite me in the ass when I got an electric and would constantly make horrible noises when I hit the strings too hard. This is a help now that I know when you do need to hit them hard and when not to.
After months and months of thwacking away at this guitar, I saw an opportunity for me and my courageous friend Jeff to play music for some of the folks who hang out at Skip’s and some other friends at a local keg party. We had no songs of our own and a handful of covers which didn’t sound good and about two months to get to a point where we could play. Jeff, in his infinite wisdom said “Dude, you need to buy a real fuckin guitar”. His favorite song at the time was this diddy by John Hiatt about not smashing guitars. Christ, I didn’t even have one to smash yet.
I went to the same music store as my brother did for his Telecaster, this hippie spot up in the woods of our home state. The best part of the story is that my mom had gone up there, having known the man for some time, and put some money down for me to use on this big purchase and even selected one she thought I’d like. I knew I wanted one like Geddy Lee, the classic and ubiquitous Fender Precision bass that so many play and we will discuss more, but not which one or even if I wanted to spend the eight hundred dollars on a real one. I walked by the guitars and picked up the ’58 reissue, admiring the ill-looking tobacco sun burst and knew this was my axe. The hippie shopkeeper laughed and said “Your mom has good taste, she picked that one too.” Thanks mom.
(Although this jam is not huge on bass, there is a Roger Waters edition P-bass….more on him later.)
There are probably more Fender P Basses and their imitators being played than any other bass in the world. Although not the first electric bass, it was the first widely used and praised instrument of its kind. Born out of necessity because double basses were huge and not always easy to play, the P for precision owing to the fact that with obvious frets you could always play in key rather than being close with a stand up. I just learned that….very cool.
One of the first people well known for playing it was a player by the name of James Jamerson who played on something like 90% of all Motown recordings. Lucky Tubb told me a story about the bassist but didn’t know his name. The actual story is that Marvin Gaye wanted Jamerson to play on “What’s Going on?” so badly that he went to several bars looking for thenotorious lush. According to three different things I read, he then played the bass line flat on his back. You were close, Mr. Tubb.
The first few looked like the Telecaster but about 1957, they went for more of a Strat look and the legend grew more and more. I look back to Roger Waters who I think is an influence on every aspiring bass player because he himself has admitted to not really know what he was doing when the Floyd first came out. He means a lot to me personally because one of my “aha” moments when I was first really trying to learn the bass was one Saturday night when I watched a three hour Yes concert film followed by a one hour Pink Floyd documentary that talked about the seminal Dark Side of the Moon album. I watched as he played the bass riff for “Money” and thought “shit, I could play that”. The next morning I learned the main riff for that song and the riff to “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes because it was also the day I figured out how to read tabs.
It’s these little moments that give you the spark to keep on plugging away. Learning an instrument is hard and it takes more time than you can even imagine as I am sure anyone who plays knows. Once I got my Fender P, it kick started my playing even further because now I could play with my sound and make it loud. It is a smooth guitar to play, especially compared to a broken Takamine. This axe has given me the drive and confidence to push forward with my playing and now sometimes people actually pay us to play. Are we rock stars? Not yet, but who knows.
So what next, where do I go with my own music playing? Well as I briefly mentioned earlier, Geddy Lee from Rush is one of the most famous players of the Fender Precision Bass and seems to only get better as he gets older. Further more, who can sing like that? Even if you don’t like the sound, which my lead singer Jeff vehemently dislikes, you have to be able to respect that he can do it and that he has such a unique style. Will I have be like Geddy Lee? Maybe, but I’d much rather find my own style which takes years and years of playing. I am certainly up for the challenge. I will write about my amp soon, a very interesting 1977 Fender Studio Bass Amp, but for now I leave you with one of the best jams from a Canadian power trio ever.