I caught up with New Orleans bassists, George Porter Jr and Jack Cruz between sets a while back. I asked them similar questions about the groove, their P Basses and playing live in their favourite place. Check out their responses below. Interview with George Porter Jr. Maple Leaf Bar, Oak St. NOLA fffreddy: You’ve talked before about playing in the pocket and striving to be one with the drummer. How do you do that when there’s no drummer? George Porter Jr: There’s always the idea of rhythms going around. They’re going around in your head. I believe it’s just being comfortable with what you’re doing. You’re hearing drums. They may not be there physically, but you know that groove that you’re trying to think of. You settle into that groove and you play it. I think percussion is in the air. It’s all over. fff: I’ve got a question about repeated rhythms. I noticed tonight that you’re repeating rhythms when you’re getting into that groove. How important do you think that is? GPJr: It is important when you’re playing in a big set-up to create a line that is repetitive. In other words, in big set-ups, the less you do, there’s more room for others to do stuff. If bass and drums lock in the bottom end of the thing and if there is a bass line that’s consistent, then everybody else on stage knows where “one” is at all times because you and the drummer are locked on that “one.” You’re locked in that pattern and working it out. When you’re in a trio situation, like we’re doing tonight, then it’s a nice idea to be able to change patterns in order to give yourself A, B and C sections to break up the song. I believe it’s important. fff: What do you think is more important: note selection or rhythm? GPJr: Oh, I think they play an equal game. I’m a firm believer in certain set-ups where less is best. Then there are times, like tonight, when I can be busier. You’re filling up the holes that other players normally play in. I think note selection is equally important as the groove. fff: Ok, I’ve got a question about your P Bass. You’re playing your Lakland tonight and you play a Fender. What does the Precision Bass mean to you? GPJr: My P Bass is a Frankenstein. The neck is a ’63 that got put onto a 1970 fretless P Bass. So a ‘63 neck went onto a ‘70 body. The body was from a CBS bass and the neck was from a pre-CBS Fender. I love my Frankenstein, but it got too heavy and the airlines started loosing it, so I started leaving it at home. Not that I care less about my Lakland. Dan custom made this bass. The neck on this bass is identical—it’s not identical any more because this neck has been worn down some. It’s more worn down than my P neck. I’m liking this bass very much. fff: What does this Monday night gig mean to you? GPJr: Well, Monday night for me is a night that we get—these guys in this band are in my Runnin’ Pardners band: the keyboard player Mike Lemmler and the drummer Terry Houston. In Runnin’ Pardners, although we jam a lot, we don’t get as “outside” because again, we have other players. So as three people, we’re more in the pocket. We keep more of the bottom end, while the saxophone player, when he’s on the gig and the guitar player, who’s always on the gig, they have to play all that lead stuff and do all the “outside” stuff like solos. So for me, the trio gig is a chance for us to get—usually the first 35, 40 minutes of the gig is just stuff that’s coming off the top of our heads. We’re writing new stuff. Or, like tonight we did “Funkify Your Life.” It was nowhere near any of the two other versions that I know: the Meters original version and the version that I recorded with Runnin’ Pardners several years later. This version tonight was totally different. The reason is we get to play just off the top of our heads. And we feel stuff. Whenever we stop, we’ll pass the groove over to the next guy. We’ll say, “Hey, start something,” and he’ll start a groove, and then he’ll play something and we’ll stick something on top of that. And then we’ll give Mike one: “Hey Mike, you start something.” Tonight, he started something and he played “Pungee” and I was doing something else. He said, “Pungee!” I said, “Oh…ok.” fff: Just one more. You’re playing a kind of lead role as the bass player in this trio. What are your feelings about the bass player being the leader of the band. GPJr: Oh, I’m the leader of the band in both bands. Even in the Meters band. I’m pretty much the leader of the band and that’s only because no one else wants the job. Somebody’s got to do it, so I’ll do it. Sting got away with it! Interview with Jack Cruz d.b.a., Frenchmen St. NOLA fffreddy: Being a bass player is all about being one with the drummer. What do you do when you don’t have a drummer? Jack Cruz: Then you become one with yourself. You have to get tune with your body and you feel it with your soul. fff: Listening to George Porter Jr on Monday night and you this evening, I noticed a lot of repeated rhythms. What do you think about the importance of repeated rhythms for a bass player? JC: You establish a pattern. When you have that pattern, there’s this breathing space all in between that gives everyone else in the band room to work. If you keep that same pattern, everyone else can really create something good. And that’s really good for the music. fff: When breaking bass playing down to the basics—note selection and rhythm: what’s more important? JC: [long pause] The rhythm. You can just play one note and if it’s really in the rhythm, man… George actually does a solo that’s amazing. It’s only one note. George Porter: he’s famous for that. One note solos. Do you know what I’m talking about? He does a thing with his Trio. You know how Vidacovich does his poetry? Vidocovich was doing his poetry rap-over with [Steve] Masakowski. George plays the same [one note] bass line for 25 minutes and never got bored. His groove just builds and builds and builds. The same bass note, [sings] dah dadadadah dadah dah dah, dah dadadada dadah dah dah, for 25 minutes. The same thing over and over. He just grooves and grooves and grooves. fff: Tell me about your P Bass. I asked George Porter about his. He has a Lakland and a Fender P Bass. I’ve seen you on YouTube with a Jazz. You’ve got your P Bass here tonight. What does the Precision Bass mean to you? JC: Ah, let me tell you about it. My mother bought it for me when I was 15 years old. It’s a 1966 Fender Precision. It’s my favourite bass. It’s the one I use to record all the albums I’ve ever done. It’s got the best tone of all the (even new) basses I’ve ever had and played—and I’ve tried them. When it comes to recording, that is the best tone of all of them. I replaced the bridge. It’s a Steinberger that has a [detune lever] so you can lower the [‘E’] string to any pre-tuned note. I pre-tune it to ‘D.’ The pickups are EMG’s. That may have been a mistake. I did it about 35 years ago and I don’t know what I did with the originals. I can’t find them. It may have been a mistake, but it still sounds good. fff: Is New Orleans your adopted hometown? JC: I moved down here in 1975. I wound up first playing with a blues band. My second gig was playing with James Carroll Booker III for two years. I learned all the New Orleans R&B. I learned all of it from him. It was amazing. fff: What does it mean to you to play this Wednesday night gig [at d.b.a.]? How does it fit in your life. JC: I love it. We’ve been here for about 8 years on Wednesdays. It’s a centerpiece for us in New Orleans. fff: Thanks, man. What I’m hoping to do is transcribe this and post it side by side with my interview with George. JC: I’m honoured.