Bass Player For Life
I recorded music last night and I got pretty nostalgic because I revisited my original identity for a few minutes. Here's how that first came about: I got an electric guitar fairly early in life, and even played a gig at the tender age of 11 or 12 - I'm not sure which. Anyway, it was early, but I wasn't that great at it. I didn't take to it the way you're supposed to if it's meant to be. There were two other guitarists in my town who were terrific friends so I ended up switching to bass and joining their band. When I got my hands on a bass, the world became clear. Why pick away at some tiny little string with a little piece of plastic? You could get your hands on the bass and really get into it. I loved throwing the strings around, and I was a happy boy. Life was going to be easy.
Hey, I was good. There's no point in denying it now. I couldn't play guitar like the records but I could cover any rock bass line I heard. I would also throw in an occasional lead guitar lick on the bass for good measure. Life was like a movie and my path was clear. Incidentally, my idea of a great bass line involved all the traditional rhythmic foundation stuff, plus I liked the melodic high parts mixed in. One example would be "Ramble On" from Led Zeppelin. That has one of the best bass lines I've ever heard. Plus there was a Simon and Garfunkel song that had a major influence on me. It was the bass line from "The Only Living Boy in New York". I also really admired Jim Fielder of Blood, Sweat and Tears. By the time I was in college I was a professional-caliber rock bass player, who could have worked in any rock band that needed a bass. By the way, guitarists are everywhere, but good bass players were in much shorter supply, so my future was set.
Eventually I ended up in a trio of congas, harmonica and bass. That's it. We had to scramble to pull the sound off, and I would take a solo in virtually every song. One night I was at somebody's house and I was playing the piano to "Compared to What" along with the record and my wrist stretched. This would lead to a lifetime of problems - essentially my wrist was blown. I could no longer handle bass strings. Maybe for 5 minutes at a time, but when the wrist stretched it would take literally months to tighten back up. In short, I was screwed.
I switched to guitar and continued as best I could. It's been about 30 years since it all went down but my primary identity is still that of a bass player. I'm not whining about it - that's just what happened.
Last night I decided to play a bass line on the low strings of the electric guitar, and it was all still there. I just cranked the bass EQ and it sounds almost like a real bass. Hearing it back was quite a trip. My style exists as a complete product somewhere in my brain like a software program that is never used.
Of course, bass playing has evolved. The thundering thumb-slap technique has taken over, and the Jack Bruce school is less a factor. So my style is old school but it's legit. I asked my wife to come down and listen to the bass part last night - something I don't usually do. I told her the simple truth: "Do you hear the spirit in that line? That's left from when I was a bass player. See, I wasn't always a loser."
She heard it.
So last night was sort of emotional. I got to visit the real me, and I plan to do more now. It's ridiculous to struggle through these guitar parts and then nail a bass line off the top of my head, but that's how it is. All these years later, a bass player is still my core identity. Sure, I make a living writing comedy but let's call that what it really is: A joke. I'd trade it all in a heartbeat to be able to throw the strings around again.