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Interviewing bassist stories

Discussion in 'Bass Humor & Gig Stories [BG]' started by Arthritic_Tom, Mar 23, 2012.

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  1. Tom, I've been reading this post and nothing but this post on TB since it started. I'm currently on Page 39. I wanted to thank you for revealing an all too well known ugly side to the industry by maintaining a sense of class and integrity. It almost feels as if cultural history is being preserved rather than ghosts being exorcised. I only hope that maintaining this forum hasn't taken a toll on the eyes and hands. Thank you so much for sharing and turning this from your thing to our thing. The lessons learned in this thread are invaluable.

    Jeff C.
  2. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Thanks very much, Jeff. Starting this thread is one of the most rewarding things I've done in years.

    When the book is published, you'll see how it saved me in so many different ways. The coda of all codas has arrived, and it never would've happened if you people here hadn't held a gun to my head, I mean, gently persuaded me to pitch the book.

    The book will be published, and it will be great, but even if this whole deal fell through tomorrow, my greatest ghost has released me, something I never thought would happen.

    You'll read all about it.
  3. that Billy Graham pickguard on your bass/avatar just slays me :bassist:

    What possessed (pun intended, of course ;)) you to put him on there?
  4. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    The expression and the direction he was facing.

    My brother moved into my maternal grandparents' house after they died, and they had about 60 years' of Life and LOOK magazines, along with a lot of other large-format publications. Each page of those things is about 15 inches high and 10 inches wide.

    One day I was just leafing through a pile of the old magazines and I got the idea to find some outrageously weird image to color copy and put under my custom Plexiglas pickguard. The pickguard is about four times thicker than the usual one, because by reducing the space between the strings and the body of the bass, you can slap and pop much faster. Your fingers don't get caught under the strings.

    I had this giant, thick, clear pickguard that just cried out for some memorable image under it, and I found it in a pile of old magazines. The colors of those old images are amazing, much brighter than in today's mags.

    I narrowed it down to a cat face, a shot of New York at night, Grace Kelly, a frog, and Billy Graham. Billy won. His face is actually life sized in that image, so in photos of me playing, it looks like there's an angry man peering out of my stomach.
  5. fraublugher


    Nov 19, 2004
    ottawa, ontario, canada
    music school retailer
    Ha! I did the same thing with one of my basses

  6. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    I interviewed Mike Flaherty when he played with Loudmouth. Today he's a member of No One and performs under the name Flare.

    No One - Again - YouTube

    I was struck by how unbelievably fast he played with his fingers. He was easily the fastest finger player I've ever seen. He used three fingers and his thumb to produce an incredibly steady flow of notes. I watched carefully during his live show but couldn't figure out his technique. He wasn't strumming like a flamenco guitarist; each digit played each note with equal precision and power. There was no difference in sound or attack between his ring finger and his thumb, for example. I'm still awestruck at seeing such mastery up close.

    At the same time, I was interested in why someone would take the time and superhuman effort to develop such an unusual and diabolically difficult skill when it would've been much easier to simply use a pick. He could've outplayed any pick-using speed-metal bassist on earth, but I wondered why he bothered. What did he get out of it?

    TW: You went from a pick to your fingers on the bass.

    MF: I was playing with a pick and I saw a video of Geezer Butler. I make no bones about it: I love Geezer; I love the way he plays. Everything about the man as a player, I just model myself after. So if you want to call me a blatant rip-off, go right ahead. I saw him playing in this video, and his hand was just a blur. I was probably about seventeen and I was just completely floored. The power that the man was getting out of his bass! I was like, "That's how a bass player should play." All your greats play with their fingers. John Paul Jones, Jack Bruce, Geezer, Steve Harris. I think the idea of playing is to be the best you can be, so that's what I went after. So I just kind of threw the pick aside and instead of going out to parties on Friday nights, I would sit at home with my Sabbath records and practice.

    TW: How do you keep the strings from ringing out?

    MF: I deaden the E and the A with my right wrist and the D and the G with the area between my fingertips and my palm. It's a very quick motion. It just took a lot of practice. My main thing was to always keep it clean. I use three fingers and my thumb. I would sit at home watching the tube with my bass and just play "one-two-three, one-two-three" for hours and hours at a time, speeding it up gradually. I knew that it was really easy to fall into that galloping sound, so I trained myself to stay completely away from it. I still do get blisters, yeah, but that's just from playing the bass the way it should be played, just whaling on it.

    TW: Tell me about your equipment.

    MF: I have a '68 Fender P and a '65 Fender P. I also have a '62 Fender J. My main bass is the '68 P. I like the roundness and the mid-range of P Basses. It really cuts through. I've tried Ibanez, Kramer, Specters, Pedullas, and it just seems like the neck on the P Bass is set up perfectly for my hand. When Leo Fender made that bass, he was thinking of me! I use Ampegs exclusively. I use an Ampeg 810 and an Ampeg ST Pro, the two-head. I like the warmth of tubes, and with the 10-inch speakers, they don't really bottom out too much. You get a good cross between the lows and the highs. It's a really nice balance. I'm trying to stay as old school as I can, so I'm trying not to use effects anymore. Just go right into the head and let the head and my hands get the tones instead of relying on effects.

    TW: Watching you in the live show, you played more like a rhythm guitarist than a bassist during the guitar solo.

    MF: In four-piece bands, I find it boring when the bass player just rides, especially when the guitar player goes into a solo. If he goes from G to D to A, for example, spice it up! Do a solo yourself, so to speak. You don't want to go overboard, but take it up right up to the edge and bring it back a little bit. Fill up all the extra room that would be there if you just held down the B-G-D-A thing. Listen to Geezer when Tony goes into a solo in "War Pigs." He's all over the place, but it's not too much. It's just old-school bass.

    TW: Do you have any musical training?

    MF: No. I’m self-taught. I didn't study music because all I wanted to learn was how to play the bass as fast as I could.

    TW: How do you keep good time when you're using three fingers and a thumb?

    MF: Of course I practiced a lot with a metronome, and I also played with records a lot. But mostly I've got to credit my drummer. Playing with a solid drummer behind you, it's so much easier to keep time. As long as my drummer is in the pocket, then I'm with him. It takes a lot of practice, man. A lot of practice. Bassists like Geezer and John Paul Jones are a dying breed. It's a shame because it's a lot of fun to play and hear. We're really letting this great style fade. I'm hoping that players wake up and put the time into being the best they could possibly be. You can get better at forty, you can get better at seventy. No one can put a limit on what you can do, and you shouldn't hold back just because it's a bass.
  7. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Very nice! I wanted color instead of black and white for mine, but the black and white works better for yours.
  8. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Query letter I wrote in an unsuccessful attempt to track down and interview a bass legend:

    Dear [A].

    I am a contributing editor at Bass Player, and I'm trying to locate [Z], formerly of [C] and creator of two solo albums, [D] and [E], both on your label. I'd like to do a feature-length article on [Z] in response to the many letters the magazine gets asking why he's never been covered.

    I've been trying for several weeks to get information from [your label], but nobody ever returns my calls or answers my queries. In addition, the switchboard operator there in New York wouldn't tell me the name of anyone in Publicity. I got your name from an anonymous switchboard operator in Los Angeles, so I hope you're the right person. I spoke on the phone to your assistant [F] a week or so ago, but again, I've gotten no response.

    Since the two solo albums by [Z] are still in print, [your label] must be sending him royalty checks, which means you have an address on file somewhere. Could you let me know one way or another if [your label] plans to help me out here? I want to write a long, in-depth article, and the magazine has an extremely large circulation This is a pretty decent opportunity to garner widespread exposure. If you don't have or can't get an address or number for [Z's] management or publicity, could you let me know so that I can look somewhere else?

    Thanks for your cooperation, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Thomas Wictor

    My letter was sent back to me with the scrawled, handwritten note at the bottom, "No forwarding address or phone # for [Z] at this time."

    I guess they weren't bothering to send him royalty checks on his two highly successful solo albums, and he wasn't upset that he wasn't getting them. Everything was cool, and I never got to interview him.
  9. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    The photo insert in Ghosts and Ballyhoo will be restricted only to people and one animal who've had a positive influence on my life.

    Therefore I can't include Shark Tooth Man, even though I'm going to tell his story.

    Here's the portrait I did of him in acrylic. You'll read all about him in the book. I actually met him again about a week ago, for the first time in ten years. He zeroed right in on me again. He's not so much a ghost as a science experiment gone horribly wrong.

    Attached Files:

  10. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    In case anyone wonders what an all-access pass looks like, here's the one I got for the show where my photographer and I were tossed out because the band's manager still remembered us as the idiots who were late to the photo shoot.

    I've censored out everything except the year.

    It's very odd: This sort of thing doesn't interest me at all anymore. I haven't been to a live show in years, but if I did go, I wouldn't be interested in getting backstage unless I personally knew someone in the band. The backstage shows are like the State of the Union Address, when the president walks in and all those disgusting Congressthings push each other aside to smooch with him on camera.

    It's all about status and power, and having some kind of reflected glory by getting close to the stars. I honestly don't know how really famous musicians keep their heads.

    You have to be strong enough to not only reject criticism but also to reject praise. When people like your art, they want to tell you. But imagine hearing "You're great! I love you!" 200 million times.

    Would it even mean anything to you anymore after the first year?

    John Taylor was the only mega-famous bassist I interviewed who appreciated honest praise and rejected fawning and slobbering. I read him a quote that said "Working for the Skin Trade" was "the finest three minutes in pop-music history."

    Duran Duran - Working For The Skin Trade - YouTube

    First he scoffed, and then he got genuinely outraged. He rattled off a list of great pop songs and asked me if "Skin Trade" was better than those. Although I wasn't afraid of him by then, he seemed--in a campy, funny way--ready to get into a fistfight over it, the way men in movies throw down on each other, like, "Okay, that's it! Let's go!"

    I think he's rare, though. He certainly was in my experience.

    Attached Files:

    • Pass.jpg
      File size:
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  11. TBrett


    Nov 3, 2007
    Toronto, Canada
    Wow. Great plot...

    I invested several years of my life writing fiction. Never was published, but a few editors and literary agents actually took time to give me detailed feedback, which, as you know, is very encouraging when you're an unknown writer. My spouse at the time died just after I'd completed eight full drafts of the novel I was flogging. It was one of those nothing's-ever-going-to-be-the-same chapters of life, and part of the fall out was I stopped writing - and reading - fiction.* I just couldn't digest anything that wasn't "real" anymore. Except for one novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, I don't think I've read any fiction since 2005. But the book you describe intrigues me. Maybe this epic thread of yours will open a door that has firmly remained closed these many years!**

    * It's not all bad. I managed to put together a great band in the meantime. But I do miss narrative writing sometimes.

    ** Since joining the music world in earnest, I've become a complete junkie for everyone's stories. I have an insatiable appetite for music-related biographies, especially if they're autobiographical. Not only will I seek out your existing interview collection, I will be at the book store the very moment your memoirs go on sale!
  12. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Thank you. I appreciate it. If you haven't signed up for the book Google Group, send me a PM and I'll send you an invite.

    I've published four books and appear to be about to land a deal for a fifth. I've beaten the odds, author-wise. It took perseverance, yes, but most importantly it took subjecting my work to the best editor on the planet, Jason S. Sitzes, who fixed my ability to write. Everything you see here, I owe to him.

    I went to a writers' conference, and someone recommended an editor to me. I sent her a query for my novel, and she turned me down. I thought that was the end, but then I heard form Jason S. Sitzes, who had been passed along this query by his colleague. He saw something worthwhile in my writing. The novel he edited will be published someday; I've just been sidetracked for a while.

    When I say Jason edited, I mean he edited. He made me cut out the entire first chapter, for example. I was horrified. But I didn't argue. He went through that manuscript line by line and made detailed notes about plot, prose, character development--the works. We then had two phone conferences about it. He explained each edit and why he thought it would make everything work better.

    This is the problem musicians, writers, and actors get into: If you listen to the producer or editor, is it your art anymore?

    I'm lucky because I was born without an ego. It never mattered to me if it was mine or the editor's. I just wanted the best possible finished product. I'd rather have an editor tell me "This doesn't work. Dump it," than spend years trying to sell an unpublishable piece of junk that was a "pure" distillation of mine own self.

    The tennis player Andre Agassi is by his own admission not very bright. But he says the secret to his amazing post-tennis success is he surrounds himself with people much brighter than himself. My (unsolicited) advice to any musician or writer just starting out is to find people much better at your craft than you are and learn from them.
  13. TBrett


    Nov 3, 2007
    Toronto, Canada
    I have finally made it to the end of this wonderful saga, only to find myself quoted in the most recent post! And yes, I have signed up to the Google Group, thanks.

    Agree with you completely about editing. My late spouse edited all my work. He was brutal. Merciless. And brilliant. I dreaded turning my work over to him because I knew those margins would be returned full of notes and big blue strike-throughs. But he was almost always right on. I hope he can read this from wherever he is. I did tell him when he was alive, but it doesn't hurt to repeat it. I wouldn't say I'm a brilliant writer, but I definitely became a much better one after that experience. I learned how to "kill my darlings," to quote Stephen King from his brilliant book On Writing. I learned how to be more succinct. I learned how to show and not merely tell, how better to put the reader in the scene. I learned to get my own darned ego out of the way and just get on with the story.

    I have always agreed with the concept that we merely channel art, that it comes from "out there" somewhere. So it doesn't matter to me if one or more people have input in the final product. An actor is nothing without a good director, after all. In many cases, that input can turn something good into something great. It's another reason why I wanted to develop a band in which all members contribute to the writing and arrangements of each song. There is no way I'd have been able to develop the body of work we now have on my own.

    Okay, enough of me side-tracking of your great thread. Tell us some more about interviewing bassists!
  14. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Well, I've been going through my filing cabinet, looking for material to include in Ghosts and Ballyhoo, and I found the letter the editor wrote to me basically telling me that he didn't want me at Bass Player anymore.

    It's a doozy of a letter. I'm not surprised I blocked it out, because I've never read anything quite like it. Exquisite in its contempt, condescension, and amusement at my "disappointment," as he calls it (the real emotion was homicidal rage), the letter patiently explains why the article I wrote about the manager of the recording studio was killed, culminating in the astonishing claim that "there was nothing in her experience that I could see that would be instructive for other players."

    Well, except for the fact that she knew all about the perils of recording contracts and explained how getting signed was just the beginning, not the end, and she knew the recording industry inside out, having worked with the most successful performers of the era.

    I'm going to reproduce the letter in full in my book. It absolutely, 100 percent validates my conclusion, that everything I experienced was my own fault, because I wasted five years of my life and destroyed my immune system trying to reach someone who calmly said to me upfront, in clear English, that he was unreachable.

    So, if you take nothing else away from our discussion, let it be this: DO NOT DO WHAT I DID. Believe what people tell you.

    The security expert Gavin de Becker wrote a brilliant book called The Gift of Fear, which I read and--true to my pattern--enjoyed and ignored all the clear warnings it sounded. De Becker says, "ALWAYS listen to that tiny voice inside you telling you what to do, because it's ALWAYS right."

    When I got this letter on March 2, 1998, I should've immediately resigned from Bass Player, which is what this editor was telegraphing that he wanted me to do. I didn't do that because I was afraid for my future. I wasn't musically trained; I'd lucked into music journalism. I knew wouldn't be hired by any other music magazine, and since I couldn't build models anymore I didn't know what the hell I'd do if I quit writing for Bass Player. I wanted to build up an impressive portfolio of work, but after this editor took over I was never allowed to interview any mega-famous bassists again.

    The letter is also interesting because it confirms what my 84-year-old mother told me after she dug out her copy of In Cold Sweat and reread it in the past couple of weeks.

    She insisted that the editor didn't like me because I was a better writer than he was, and that rankled him. Well, he essentially says so himself. I don't say that to brag, because I'm not competitive. I hate d*ck-measuring contests. But it's astonishing that I came to all these conclusions only since I started writing this thread, and now I've found the incontrovertible evidence that I was right.
  15. effenj


    Jan 25, 2012
    And more than right you are!!!
  16. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Speaking of editors, I've been given permission to identify by name the second visionary editor of Bass Player, the man who gave me total freedom and whose instincts were impeccable.

    His name is Karl Coryat.

    Karl H. Coryat

    I have absolutely nothing bad to say about him, except that he once edited the word "airliner" in my story and changed it to "airplane." I protested, because a commercial airliner is a specific designation. A steady stream of them were flying right overhead during my interview with Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick, drowning him out and making us both irritable, to the point that we came close to telling each other to eff off.

    Using the term "commercial airplane" made me look like a dummy. It's the equivalent of someone calling an assault rifle an "assault gun." I'm really not precious about my writing; I don't view my words as my "children." I just don't want someone else to make me into a fatuous dolt giggling in desperation and dripping with flop sweat. I do that often enough on my own.

    (If you ever meet my brother, ask him to tell you about my "MacLeish" dream. To this day it makes him laugh hysterically, because it perfectly expresses our shared lifelong terror of making fools out of ourselves in public.)

    When I contacted Karl a few weeks ago to thank him for everything he'd done for me in my failed career as a music journalist, he immediately reminded me of the time I protested his changing of "airliner" into "airplane." He said ever since then, he can't see an airliner without thinking of me. So in a sense, my protest made me immortal. As long as people remember you, you're never completely dead.

    I don't think Karl would mind if I posted this appalling, ghastly, hideous joke review he wrote about a fake new toilet bass. I hate toilet humor, but I have to admit that Karl was quite inspired coming up with as many defecatory phrases as he could imagine.

    Thanks again, Karl. You're another true mensch. And thank you for letting me use your name in my book.

    Attached Files:

  17. TinIndian

    TinIndian Supporting Member

    Jan 25, 2011
    Micco Florida
    John Seward WC500! Gotta admit, that's pretty funny!
  18. That is hilarious. Thanks for the laugh Tom. I can't wait for the book.
  19. Unprofessional


    Mar 5, 2012
    "As long as people remember you, you're never completely dead."

    ^^^ There's some truth. Thanks for a very enjoyable thread, Tom.
  20. Hello Tom. Thanks for the reply! Out of curiosity, with your research for the flamethrower books, have you ever had the chance to operate one?
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    Primary TB Assistant

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