My regret as a bass player
So here's a thread I could only start late at night after one of my gigs...
When I was a kid just starting on bass in the 70's, I didn't want to be someone who sat in the back pounding out roots. Still don't, either. I wanted to sing and I wanted to play my ass off. When it came to bass player influences, back then I was all about John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Mel Schacher, Bootsy, Ronnie Lane, Gary Thain, Louis Johnson, Mars Cowling...all the players who demanded attention be called to their great bass playing. Later in my teens, I expanded to jazzier guys like Stanley Clarke, Andy West, Jaco, etc. Loved punk rock and butt rock as well, but was way more interested in Bruce Thomas and Graham Maby than I was Dee Dee Ramone, though I've always had a special fondness for Cliff Williams and Gene Simmons. But for the music I wanted to make, I wanted to use effects, I wanted to be loud, and I wanted to be entertaining and fun to watch.
Then I got out into the world of trying to find bands to play out. I'd jam with people and I'd get, "You play really well but you overplay," or "We're not looking for a lead bassist" or "Can't you just play the song and quit hopping around?" My favorite, though, was when I'd write songs and show them to everyone else, and they'd say, "Sounds like a bass player wrote these songs."
Wow, cold reality slapping me in the face with a dead fish! I determined that I wasn't going to get anywhere by being an awesome shredder (or whatever we called it back then), and I would strive to overcome the overplaying rap I had with being a dependable bassist who played the cover songs like they're supposed to be played and wrote songs that didn't feature the bass playing so much. I ended up staying fairly busy most of the time and it was cool.
But over time, and it took me a long time to realize it, I lost the qualities that made me unique and fun to listen to when I was just starting out, and I got assimilated into the Borg. I tried to write people-pleasing songs that sounded like whatever was current in rock and roll, and none of them had the flashy bass playing of the earliest stuff I did when I was trying to please myself above all else. As a result, nothing I did stood out from the pack, and it was all just OK and kind of boring and was treated as such by audiences.
Meanwhile, a whole slew of bassists with flashy chops who stuck to their guns were the ones really getting out there and making a name for themselves professionally. And by the time I realized I lost the spark, well let's face it...nobody was looking for me at my age. And now at 52, I still love and play music and have a lot of fun doing it and my band is quite well-respected on the 50's-60's-70's oldies circuit, but it only occasionally requires chops playing, and there are a few thousand bass players out there who can play bass in my stead, though if I whittle out the bass players who can't sing good harmonies and a decent lead, we're down to maybe a couple thousand.
Why am I spilling my guts like this? It's because I know some kids with talent and a dream like I once had are coming onto Talkbass every day, and one day they're going to post something about wanting to be unique and play in a unique style that's different from the norm. And I know the Bass Borg on here is going to tell them that they need to settle down, learn how to play simple repetitive lines, and know their role as a bass player.
And kids, if you're reading this, I want you to completely disregard anything they have to say about bass playing from there on out. I'll be the first to tell a young bass player that if they can't play "Back In Black" or "No Ordinary Love" without a solid groove that their work developing into a great bass player is far from over. I'll also be the first to tell them the realities of getting a paycheck from playing music, and that is if you're looking for people to hire you, give them what they want in return for the money you want or they will find someone else.
But you know what? When you're on your own time, you can do whatever the heck you want. No law says you can't do two or more bands at once. No law says you can't make yourself the star attraction. Pursue your vision to its fullest no matter whether it's being a solid dependable bassist in someone's working cover band or writing and recording the music in your head no matter how out there it may seem to some. Search for like minded musicians that are as interested in your vision as you are. If you can't find like minded musicians, do it yourself. Learn to play and program other instruments, or just do it all with your bass if you'd rather. And don't make any apologies about wanting to be a badass, stay true to your vision, and most of all, ignore those bass players who tell you how you should be playing.
If I could do one thing over again, I would have never made apologies about wanting to be a badass. The music business is such that I likely would have ended up right where I'm at anyway, but I'll never know now. So as I close in on AARP membership, I'm going to follow my own advice. Not quitting my gig or anything, but off the gig, I'm going to have fun with making my own music my own way for my own self-gratification. And I won't ever reach Bieber status with it but it's going to be one of a kind, and all of the soul-sucking forces out there who think I should fulfill their idea of what I should be doing as a bass player can suck their own souls. And if my music is polarizing and a lot of people don't like it, I will remind myself that there are 5000 bass players who could be the bass player with Bieber, but there is only one Les Claypool. It's pretty much a given that I won't ever reach Claypool status, but I will have fun making music my own way, and that's all he ever cared about, and that's all I care about.
So if there's one piece of advice I could pass along to bass players whose vision of music is unique and different and doesn't fulfill the typical bass "role," it's this (cue stirring marching music)...
The odds of you being a famous musician are astronomically against you no matter what you do, but if you have something that makes you unique, you will at least be the only person in the world from which they can get your special brand of music delivered in a style only you can deliver. Do what you feel you must in order to pay the bills, but pursue that uniqueness to its fullest whenever you can, have as much fun as humanly possible with it, and don't ever lose it no matter who tells you it's no good and won't sell. You can be one of a kind or one of many. It's up to you.
Mods, we need a "like" button.
Thanks, Jimmy! Very well put!
Go man - I'm also 52 and the fire of creativity still burns bright!
I had a similar experience although my realization came in with the resolution of leave music just as a hobby and focus on college, things where different those days, home studios were non existent and paying for a professional study was pretty expensive and of course I was done with covers. Now days when my making money job is doing decently enough I decided just to buy a bass and I'm back playing with a cover band but this time I have a home studio, a pretty basic one though, I have already recorded 3 songs and I'm very proud of them even though I'm the only one that listen to them :), original songs is what I always loved to do, even if it just for myself, and of course I'm the lead singer too and the bass is cranked up!
So my point is, specially nowadays, Jimmy's advice should be followed by young kids wanting to express themselves.
:hyper: awesome post jimmy, much truth and wisdom here. possibly the best advice ive came across since i joined. :hiding: :bassist: :bassist: :bassist:
It's art. Make your own. No apologies. No judgement.
Enjoy the journey. Life's too short for anything else.
Jimmy as a 16 year old bassist that wants to do experimental lead bass for a living, this post was just what I needed to hear after everyone I know telling me I need to play covers of pop songs to make it.
Yup, yup, yup. I am only 44, and I am just getting started. Follow what's fun. I cherish those rare moments when I am able to carve out time to pursue my own creativity.
Excellent post and too, too true.
There are lots of bands out there that appreciate and encourage exciting and dynamic bass playing, don't let the root/fifth brigade tell you otherwise :bassist:
My only regret so far is not starting on bass until my mid-30s.
Well said, Jimmy. :)
Don't know why but this reminds me of the stupid I was when I gave up double bass in high school.
Great post Jimmy,
And now if you excuse me I'll go to my room to cry out loud :(
My only argument with your post is that 52 isn't that old and people still would love to see some unique Bass playing.
One of the best things I've ever read on Talkbass. Nice one, Jimmy!
“Remember: It costs nothing to encourage an artist, and the potential benefits are staggering. A pat on the back to an artist now could one day result in your favorite film, or the cartoon you love to get stoned watching, or the song that saves your life. Discourage an artist, you get absolutely nothing in return, ever.”
- Kevin Smith, Director
Great post! That's basically what i want to do: have a band that plays covers or whatever makes some income, and another one where i play what i want to play. And maybe even throw in some solo stuff...
Sounds like you are making excuses now as you always have. "When I was young nobody wanted me to experiment" ... "Now I am too old to experiment". I won't see why you couldn't start now if that's what you value most.
If you want to make money working for others, its most effective to play the numbers game and focus on what most other people are looking for. For many that means sacrificing what you personally want to focus on. That's pretty much life as someone who needs to work for a living and not really unique to bass playing.. Everyone has to balance their own risk tolerance with their level of freedom. There's nothing to regret about being able to feed your kids.
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