Even before I started playing bass, my record collection included albums like "Rocks, Pebbles and Sand" by Stanley Clarke, and "Champions" by Jeff Berlin's Vox Humana. These were albums I'd bought primarily because of the bass playing on them. Bass-driven music can have an incredible drive to it, it can really thunder along. Geddy Lee's playing in the Canadian rock band Rush is a case in point - even before I started playing myself I could tell that there was a stunning level of proficiency involved in what he was doing.
The interest in Motörhead helped, too: listen to any Motörhead album and you'll learn that very quickly. If you look behind the image, Lemmy's actually a very innovative bass player. Knowing the sheer power required to play bass like a rhythm guitar convinced me very rapidly that the man has superhuman abilities!
Once I started fooling around on the guitar, I guess it was only a matter of time before I decided I ought to have a go at bass playing, too.
- Jaydee "Roadie Supernatural" 4-string, fretted
- Ibanez "Blazer" custom 4-string, fretless
- Ibanez RG9-BK
- Chapman Stick, 10-string, fretted
- Zoom G3 effects processor
- Boss BF2 Flanger
- Boss CE2 Chorus (Stick lead side)
- MXR Distortion plus (Stick lead side)
- Yamaha R100 reverb
- VOX Venue 100 watt 1*15 bass combo
- Marshall JCM800 100 watt stack, twin 4*12 cabs (Stick lead side)
This is the first bass I bought - an Ibanez Blazer, bought at a jumble sale. It had been somewhat mutilated by its previous owner, as the frets had been ripped out with a pair of pliers and the resulting holes being filled in with Tetrion!
After a visit to Roger Giffin of Giffin Guitars in Kew, it now sports a proper ebony fingerboard and a Schaller bridge, and with roundwound strings on it, it's one of the best sounding fretlesses I've ever heard - I'd never part with it voluntarily.
The next bass I bought was a considerable step up in just about every way - a Jaydee Supernatural. Unlike the Ibanez, it's "active" - in other words the bass contains electronic circuitry to amplify the output signal.
Over the years I've tended to gravitate towards lighter strings - the Jaydee in particular is much easier to play with lighter gauges and it doesn't knacker your hands quite as much when you play it for extended periods.
After a recent trip to Intersound Guitars for some TLC it's playing very nicely once again.
I do still occasionally play in public, although the last time I played bass live was a while ago - a few of us got together during the Jubilee street party we held in 2002 for a bit of a jam session, and though we made most of it up as we went along, it was great fun!
Notice the 40-pint container of Brand Oak Bitter from the local brewery - the Wickwar Brewing Company. That may also have something to do with why the day went so well...
I'm not kidding about the Marshall stack, by the way, although I use it for my guitar playing rather than bass. It generates sound pressure levels high enough that I've blown empty crisp packets off tables at thirty feet. I'm amazed I still have any hearing left whatsoever.
These days I also use one of my electric guitars to record the bass parts I need. Since I moved into Extended Range Guitars territory with a new Ibanez RG9-BK I've hardly touched my basses. With a Zoom G3 providing some interesting effects processing I'm really pleased with the results.
There's another instrument that I use for playing bass that isn't a bass at all. The Chapman Stick is still an uncommon instrument even though I've been playing one for over thirty years. I've put together a separate Chapman Stick page if you want to know more about it.
When bass players start talking about slapping and popping, don't be alarmed. They're particularly funky ways of plucking the strings to get a more aggressive sound.
As you may have guessed from the Jaydee, it got to the stage after I'd been playing for a while where I hankered after the Level 42 sound. I wanted to be able to play ludicrous numbers of notes to the bar just like Mark King. I shut myself away in the back room with my bass amp and a pair of headphones, and tried to figure out how it was done.
Initially it was one of the most frustrating things I've ever played. I'd see all the flash players on TV hammering on and pulling off without any effort whatsoever, but try as I might my hands wouldn't produce the same noises. Then, one evening in the space of about five minutes, something clicked. There was no gradual shift - one minute I had no idea how it was done, the next I was snapping and popping with the best of them. It's still one of the strangest experiences I've had, but it makes the point: keep practising, because things might click for you in the next five minutes.
From there I started listening carefully to how bass players approached what they played. I sat down and worked out as many bass lines as I could by as many different players as I could. But beyond that, I had to learn the importance of playing to a regular beat. Along with the drummer, it's the bass that drives the tempo of the music. After all, those guitarists are more interested in being self indulgent, and the keyboard player will either be making silly noises or playing "Jump." Hey, been there, done that. So how do you learn to keep a regular beat? Well, practising with a drum box going in the background is a good idea. I found that, after a while, you develop an ear for a steady tempo. In fact, it becomes fairly obvious when you're listening to a live recording and the music speeds up. No wonder click tracks are so popular!
Apart from being the title of a Mark King solo album, influences are very important in shaping your playing style. Aside from the Level 42 bassman, I particularly admire the playing of Geddy Lee, Tony Levin, Billy Sheehan, Nick Beggs, Matthew Seligman, Jeff Berlin, Stu Hamm, Jonas Helleborg, Les Claypool, and - of course - Lemmy. They have all shaped my playing in one way or another.
I've put a page together with some information on the musicians who have had a great effect on me - you'll find it on my groups page.