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Stringed instruments and keyboards have been around hundreds of years. Drums go back to the dawn of man. The electric bass guitar is less than sixty years old. A virtual ‘baby’ of an instrument. Before electric bass, there was the upright, but really, the two instruments have far more differences than things in common.
In Jim Roberts’ fantastic book “How the Fender Bass Changed the World”, he makes the point that when the bass went electric, and therefore louder, it changed the way drummers played, and this “new” rhythm led directly to Rock and Roll.
The nice thing about playing such a nascent instrument is that the innovators have been here during, or shortly, before our lifetimes. We’ve witnessed the electric bass growing up, and we are writing the new rules every day.
As a form of music, the blues abides by a certain set of rules and guidelines. The scope can be broad, and I’ve written about the “Big Tent” before, but a big part of being a blues bassist, is recognizing what is expected of you in a given situation, and adapting, chameleon-like, to the wishes of others.
For instance; I’ve played on occasion with The King of North Beach Blues, Johnny Nitro. Johnny plays Texas style, and has for years. When I play with Johnny, I know he wants long, legato notes. Full Quarter notes, one running into the next. Big, fat and smooth. “That’s the secret to playing blues bass” says Mr. Nitro.
Conversely, earlier this year at a festival gig, Chicago Guitar slinger Nick Moss complimented my “clipped Quarter notes.” Nick likes tiny spaces between the notes; like dividing a Quarter note into 8 32nds, and playing the first 7 and leaving a hole where the 8th one lands, before starting the next note. It’s a “jumpier” feel, more rhythmic and bouncy. I’ve always thought of it as a “Chicago Feel”, so Nick complimenting my playing was gratifying on a couple of levels!
For a while now I’ve been working on and off on a Blues Bass book; “How to”, and “What for”, and “Says who?” type stuff. I’ve been thinking about the history of Electric Bass in Blues. I know quite a few of my friends on Facebook are blues bassists, so I have a question for you; who are your influences? Who did you listen to when you were learning? Who do you consider the ‘Founding Fathers’? I’m talking specifically about Electric Bass here; I know Willie Dixon is the man when talking about blues bass, and I know he played a little electric, but it’s not what he’s known for.
My own story is one that caught me by surprise; a few years ago, I was on a festival in Austin, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who’s rhythm section that day was Double Trouble, featuring bassist Tommy Shannon. I’ve written about sharing a trailer and trying not to let that little inner star-struck voice out. It’s not that I had listened to a lot of SRV; I really hadn’t. When I listened to Tommy play, I was stunned by the fact that, to me, I sounded just like him. I knew what he was playing, where he was going, and it all made perfect sense.
Apparently, I learned a lot about blues bass from Johnny Winter albums from the 70’s, and while my playing developed all these years, Tommy’s lines from those early days formed the foundation of what I still do today!
Now I want to hear your Electric Blues Bass stories. You don’t even have to be a bassist. Just have an opinion, or at least a good story!