Saturday, April 13, 2013

Build on a Solid Bass

OK, lots of ugly happening on the planet lately; North Korea is pissed at the world again, Margaret Thatcher passed away, the Country Music Awards were on TV, gay marriage and gun rights are dominating US politics...there has got to be something we can do to escape--and by golly there is!

If you want to have a sound foundation, you have start with a solid bass...pun intended.  For a long time I believed if I was ever going to be in a band I could always play the bass--and then I saw Chris Squire play with Yes in "The Round" in much for trying to do that...

Squire is one of a very few elite bass players that have elevated the instrument to a level worthy of royalty.  When I think of great players I think of the aforementioned Chris Squire, Tony Levin, Jaco Pastorius, John Wetton, Jack Bruce, Geddy Lee, Keith Emerson, and Roger Waters.  I am absolutely sure I left some great names off my very short list and for that I apologize...I guess.  I will admit that my guilty pleasure is watching Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads play...and before you "Beatle Freaks" scream blasphemy, I believe that while Paul McCartney is a well known bass player, he is better known as a song writer.  Even when the Beatles broke up and he formed Wings and went solo, he did not do anything that put the bass guitar front and center.

Many bands have  a bass player out of necessity; few bands make it big without one...The Doors being a noted exception.  Still other bands build around the bass.  Chris Squire played in Yes like he was lead guitar and did things I can only dream about...and if anyone elevated the bass to a level of royalty it was Tony Levin.  His work with King Crimson, Liquid Tension Experiment, and Dream Theater alone make him a charter member of rock royalty.  He also has this little gig known as The Stickmen that is to music what Dom Perignon is to champagne.

Certain bass lines always evoke fond memories too...of course everyone probably knows the opening bass line to Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" when they hear it, and the opening riff to "Love is the Drug" by Roxy Music always grabs me by the listeners...and you can't forget "One of These Days" by Pink Floyd.

I still have my vinyl copy of "Fish Out of Water" by Chris Squire.  I remember sitting in the third row at the Providence Civic Center back in '78 watching Yes perform and Squire was into one of his famous solos...and then this little trap door in the stage opened and Squire gently passed his bass to a roadie under the stage and retrieved another--and I thought to myself (and possibly out loud) "I  !!@*&?%$!!  want that job!!"  I actually tried to look up Yes and Chris Squire--this was before Al Gore invented the Internet--so alas, I was unsuccessful in my early quest for a future in Rock 'n' Roll.

Good bass players elevate playing to an art worthy of listening to as the focal piece of the band.  Geddy Lee is able to not only play the bass at an amazing level, he also plays keyboard and sings lead for Rush.  His style is unique and he plays like he is on fire at times...

Jaco Pastorius was absolutely amazing.  He was one of the best session musicians of his time, and played with Weather Report among others.  He was never guilty of being shy or introverted--often claiming to be the best in the world.  One of my favorite quotes of Jaco's when stating how good was, "I ain't bragging, I'm just telling the truth!"  Unfortunately fame claimed him much too young...

So dim the lights and enjoy the clip below.  Keep telling yourself it's only a bass--how hard can it be to play?    Then grab the bong and keep dreaming...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Human Element

While checking the latest in world news recently (my daily dose of hopelessness), I discovered that two giants in the music industry have joined that "Great Gig in the Sky."  Alvin Lee and Peter Banks both passed away; leaving a void in the music world I will surely miss.

Both were unique and took different paths in their careers.  Alvin  Lee seemingly came out of nowhere and made his name at Woodstock in 1969.  Born in England, he played in bands in Germany and England.  His band "Ten Years After" came about in 1968, and Alvin's lightning fast guitar playing on "I'm Going Home" at Woodstock--which was captured on film and made its way into the documentary movie--pretty much made him a household name.

Peter Banks rose through the ranks of rock guitarist on a much different path.  The original guitarist for Yes, Banks played on the band's first two  albums, but was on the outs when the band toured to promote the second album, "Time and a Word."  In 1970 Banks was replaced by Steve Howe, and Banks went on to record with many other musicians and bands.

Two different paths, two successful careers.  Two very different, well respected, hard playing guitarists.  I understand that things change; life has cycles and the clock never stops clicking off those precious seconds/minutes/hours/years/decades...I may not like it...but I get it.  The music world has changed too; neither Alvin nor Peter died of drug overdoses and Mick Jagger will turn 70 this summer (marinate on that last one awhile).

On a more somber note, neither guitarist got much press when they passed...probably their own misfortune for not dying of alcohol poisoning or drug overdoses.  Cirrhosis and high speed car crashes are much more newsworthy than a heart attack or cancer I guess.  I mention these two guitar players here because they played during a time when rock 'n' roll was still growing and learning.  Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones had all either made their mark and were well on their way to building their wings in the R&R Hall of fame.

Bands like Yes and Ten Years After were in their infancy and about to leave an indelible mark  no one could have imagined.  I appreciate and respect guitarists like Alvin Lee because they are artists in the same manner as a Picasso--they stand out and make you notice them.  Banks, on the other hand, was more of a Salvador Dali; the finished product made you think about music in a way you had not before you heard him play.

I remember the first time I saw the Woodstock documentary.  Two performances stood out for me; Santana's "Soul Sacrifice" with a kid named Michael Shrieve and his amazing drum solo, and Alvin Lee tearing it up on "I'm Going Home."

For Banks it would be "Astral Traveler."  Time and a Word is an album that true prog fans appreciate not only for what it was, but also for who was playing.  Listening to Banks play with Squire, Kaye, and Bruford  makes me wonder what could have been if egos did not get in the way and the man who named the band was not asked to leave.

So we fans are left here to enjoy the life work of two great guitar players.  Two different styles, two different methods, two different careers--and many a very appreciative fan.

 "R.I.P."  sounds too passe, even insincere..."Rock On" sounds I will simply say this; I was fortunate enough to have listened to two of the early greats in the world of rock 'n' roll.  I never had the opportunity to see either one perform live but I feel no less fortunate than if I had.  Music lives on, legacies stand on their own, and vinyl does not lie.  So please enjoy one more listen...

Dim the lights and please...and no standing in the aisles....