Interviewing bassist stories

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

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  1. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Although this isn't a response to your question, I thought I'd use it as an opportunity to explain my deep reverence for Ray Shulman, who shares the throne with Scott Thunes as my favorite of favorite bassists.

    As the intro to "What's New in Baltimore" distills everything I love about Thunes into a minute and 43 seconds, the bass passage from 2:47 to 3:41 in Gentle Giant's "The Moon is Down" (Acquiring the Taste [Fontana Island]) is like nothing I've ever heard any other bassist play. It achieves a level of artistic skill and beauty that leaves me breathless every time I listen to it.

    It starts out slowly and builds. Give it time.

    Grooveshark - Free Music Streaming, Online Music
  2. hodgy


    May 5, 2004
    Bothell, WA
    Customer Support- Ampeg/ Line 6
    That's EXACTLY the one that gets me every time. If you listen to other versions- the one from '82, the one from FZMTMOP, nothing touches that version from 1984 where Scott just says "**** You, I can play this lick on 4 strings". Damn you, Thunes, damn you.
  3. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Now I love you, too.
  4. Stranger Danger

    Stranger Danger Feel Like A Stranger Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2010
    Finally caught up to the end. I feel like I just finished War & Peace in pig-latin. Excellent thread and good luck with your book.
  5. Betrayer_Bass

    Betrayer_Bass Profanity Fish.

    Sep 24, 2011
    Oslo, Norway
    Endorsing: Spector basses, Winspear Picks, Spector Formula 603 strings
    I set up a Facebook page for Ghosts and Ballyhoo, as I think that there are many other bassists out there that we are friends with, that might not be on Talkbass (plus other people that deserve to read Tom's writing.)

    Facebook is a platform almost everyone is familiar with also, I hope that it can help to publicize Tom's book even more.

  6. Stranger Danger

    Stranger Danger Feel Like A Stranger Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2010
    This is a very interesting comment. What traits do you see in Tom's stories that you identify with in yourself?
  7. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Thanks very much. When the book is closer to being ready, I'm going to hire a major publicity firm. The story of how the book came about, and the fact that the author is housebound from illness will be great from a PR standpoint, and the material itself plus the structure of the book (completed the full outline today) will help it.

    Memoirs are in; overcoming great odds are in; redemption is in; smut is in; haunting is in...

    The fact that I had no plans whatsoever to do it but now a book contract is on its way is pretty shocking. and will add grist to the PR mill.

    I think it has potential to make a splash.
  8. Betrayer_Bass

    Betrayer_Bass Profanity Fish.

    Sep 24, 2011
    Oslo, Norway
    Endorsing: Spector basses, Winspear Picks, Spector Formula 603 strings
    I usually find that things turn out best when they're unplanned. I believe this will be one phenomenal book. Good job, and good luck!

  9. bigswifty1


    Dec 8, 2011
    I have not the slightest right to an opinion on this Tom, but as a general observation, Frank said on several occasions that he would write or revise parts specifically dependent on the faculties and capabilities of the musicians who would be playing in the particular lineup. Cutting his musical coat to suit his cloth so to speak.

  10. See you on Conan, and The Daily Show, etc......
    I'm serious. Congratulations. I do believe it will be a big deal. Sounds like you have the right people in your corner.
  11. Almost 1,000 posts. You're gonna have to start a new thread soon, Tom!
  12. Natropath


    Apr 13, 2010

    I started looking through my old BP's and found the issue where the mag changed hands (in the early part of the year, 1998.) It's funny to look at my collection of magazines and see that my subscription lapsed after that. I have a handful of issues off and on, but nothing for about 7 years after that.

    Without dwelling too much on the quality at that time, I distinctly remember reading that issue (Victor Wooten with the banjo bass) and thinking "somethings wrong here." Reading it now and comparing the letter from the editor to things that anyone else was writing is pretty revealing. Gosh, that was the beginning of the end for BP.

    The first subscription issue I ever got was the Mike Watt cover that had articles about Bertram Turetsky, NHOP and Steffan Lessard. A very high mark for diversity. I love a good article about Marcus Miller, but it was always the weird, out-there stuff that made the articles worth it for me.

    In defense of BP nowadays, they have much less room to work with, but they always seem to have at least one article where author loves the work of the bass player they are writing about. The big name articles actually get into real questions about music, and aren't edited down to nothing. This was not the case for a long time, and though the magazine doesn't compare to the way it used to be, it's gotten a lot better.
  13. hodgy


    May 5, 2004
    Bothell, WA
    Customer Support- Ampeg/ Line 6
    The more I think about it (and I don't have any video evidence to clarify yet) he probably wasn't even looking at his hands when he played this. He probably even had his eyes closed. He may even been yawning and thinking about how much he wished "Knuckles" Zavod would wear a shirt that covered his hairy back.
  14. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    The only thing I'd disagree with you about is that I think now is the best opportunity for Bass Player to reinvent itself, because it has no competitors.

    When I publish the letter the editor sent to me after I complained about the way he killed and butchered my articles, you'll see that he straight out says that his control is more important than having people serve as an asset to the magazine. Reading between the lines, he says that his control is more important than the success of the magazine.

    Pinch Sulzberger of the the New York Times has the same attitude. It doesn't matter that the Old Gray Lady is a sad, absurd shadow of its former self, its stock plummeting and subscribers fleeing by the thousands. He's going to impose his "vision," which is all that's important.
  15. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Nobody can minimize his own playing like Scott Thunes.
  16. adriaanse


    Mar 28, 2012
    here is one of the earliest versions of what would eventually become "what's new in baltimore?".

    Frank Zappa - What's New In Baltimore? (rehearsals 1981) - audio (part 1)

    Frank Zappa - What's New In Baltimore? (rehearsals 1981) - audio (part 2)

    from a guitar world interview with mike keneally and steve vai ca.1998/1999:
    Mike Keneally: "What's New in Baltimore" was particularly tough because it's a very complex piece that requieres really dexterous picking and a very even attack. Steve, wasn't that originally supposed to be a supportive part under the melody to "Moggio" [Man From Utopia (Rykodisc, 1983)]
    Steve Vai: "What's New in Baltimore" was a song that was put together over a period of about eight months. I was at Frank's house one day, and he played these chord changes and said, "Learn this and remember it." He forgot about it, and a few months later I said, "Remember this riff?" and he said, "Oh yeah, add this to it and memorize it."
    A few more months went by, and I took it upon myself to make a chart of these parts. It was called "The Mystery Studio Song" at that point, and Frank asked me to bring it down to rehearsal. I brought it in and showed it to Arthur [Barrow, Frank's bassist], and then Frank came in to hear it. He said, "Make me another chart, but leave a blank staff on top for a melody," after which he wrote the melody that became "Moggio."

    oh, and i think at that time arthur barrow (former zappa bassist) was working as the clonemeister.
  17. Oh my, I got to page 50, can't believe it!!!

    It's been 2 weeks since I read that (now) anthologic opening post, and thru the following days the thread has been my daily entertainment bit for those slow moments at work.
    So much wisdom all around. Thanks for that.

    Just want to express my utter respect for you, Tom, it's been some ride! By redefining your own decisions in front of us all, you just showed that nothing is sacred to the point of being change-proof.
    Good luck with the book!
  18. Natropath


    Apr 13, 2010
    His first letter (from the editor, Feb '98) is unbelievable and nearly unreadable. He was clearly not interested in any kind of input. His letter basically says "I wanted to do this magazine my way since it started, and that's all I care about."

    I think the disgusting, pretentious fingerprints give his self-satisfied style away.

    On the other topic:

    Of course they could re-invent themselves, but, in their defense, I think they are doing it more slowly because they've lost so much staff. I think Bill Leigh was making good progress, especially with the video stuff and that all dried up when he was fired. There were a ton (meaning, more than none) of under-the-radar articles covering the kind of musicians I hadn't seen in a music mag in 10 years, but that seems to have slowed down.

    Even with a smaller magazine, now that Brian Fox is running things, there's never less than 2 articles I want to read (in the bad days, I would hope for at least 1.)

  19. Yools


    Jul 24, 2009
    Deepinaharta, TX
    I tried to think up something profound to say for the 1,00th message , but nothing I can say can match the inherent awesomeness of this thread. Tom - congrats again, and thanks for providing us all with so much profound, emotionally satisfying entertainment. I have no doubt that Ghosts and Ballyhoo will be a smashing success.

  20. Arthritic_Tom

    Arthritic_Tom Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Okay. I'm going to do something that I wasn't, but this will whet your appetite, I hope. And since this is all your book, I feel obligated to show that you were right to trust me. I don't want to post any more excerpts after this. I just started writing today.

    Keep in mind that this is a rough draft.

    Ghosts and Ballyhoo
    Memoirs of a Failed L.A. Music Journalist

    By Thomas Wictor

    All photos from the author’s collection unless otherwise credited.

    For Scott and Carmen. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.


    (Too many to list here.)



    Anthology One: Prelude to Essence. 1962-1985

    Anthology Two: First Light. 1985-1991

    Anthology Three: Annihilation and Summit. 1992-1997

    Anthology Four: Wasteland. 1998-2003

    Anthology Five: Abyss. 2003-2011

    Anthology Six: The Great Unhaunting. 2012



    I was the most haunted person you could ever meet. Places, books, movies, animals, occurrences, sounds, and smells left me shivering, sometimes for years. Mostly, though, I was haunted by people and music. I’ve recently come to realize the inevitability of my becoming a music journalist, despite my stutter, my lack of musical training, and my difficulties interacting with people. My lifelong pattern has been to pursue that which has haunted me. I say “has been,” because I may--may--have finally changed my ways. Time will tell.

    This memoir is about my ten years as a music journalist in Los Angeles, my obsessive quest to “help” one of the finest musicians I’ve ever met, and my inability to move beyond a failed relationship with a woman I’ll call Carmen, herself a musician. The remarkable way in which this memoir came about has determined the form it takes, which is six collections of short stories. Most are by me, but several are the spoken words of former Frank Zappa bassist Scott Thunes, my central musical ghost. I first interviewed him in 1996 and wrote an article about him for Bass Player, titled “Requiem for a Heavyweight?” It was this article and the interview I conducted with bassist Gene Simmons of Kiss, published in Bass Player as “Call Him Doctor Love,” that convinced me I had a permanent place in the world of music journalism. As you will see, those two interviews actually signed my death warrant in the field.

    Since I‘ve already written extensively about Thunes and Simmons in my first book In Cold Sweat: Interviews with Really Scary Musicians [Limelight Editions, 2001], this memoir will touch only peripherally on the experience of sitting down with them in 1996. Simmons haunted me almost as much as Scott Thunes, but as with virtually all of the musicians I interviewed in my career, there was no question of further engagement with him after our initial interaction. It was just business. A few were different. John Taylor of Duran Duran, Stephen Jay of the “Weird Al” Yankovic band, and Bryan Beller of far too many projects to mention (This is my memoir, Bryan! Mine! Write your own!) come to mind. But for some reason Scott Thunes and I had a much longer, much more personal relationship until I ended it in 2003, when I resigned from music journalism and cut off all contact with people connected to the decade-long debacle I'd engineered for myself.

    What haunted me most about Scott Thunes was that he had resigned from music years before I did, a genuine tragedy in my mind. Bass was my chosen instrument; when listening to music, I always heard the bass first and foremost. There is no bassist like Scott Thunes. His is an entirely original voice that relies on no obvious influences. What makes Scott Thunes a genius is his ability to express emotion on his instrument, particularly when performing live with other musicians. Rather than play bass lines, he accompanies his band mates in the traditional sense, improvising flourishes and ornamentation that propel the players into a much higher, much more passionate level of musicianship. It’s a remarkable talent, and it tore out my heart that he had given it up.

    Perceptive readers will be able to work out for themselves why I was obsessed with helping Scott Thunes. There’s no need for me to spell it out. Instead, I’ll let everything unfold at its own pace. Since Thunes haunted me as much as my long-departed Carmen, I’ve decided to include his words often in this memoir. His story is central to mine, but not for the reasons I originally thought.

    This is a strange book, the strangeness of which is as inevitable as both my career in music journalism and its collapse. I’m a strange person, and the way the book came to be is one of the strangest episodes I’ve ever come across. I happen to be a believer in both destiny and free will. Maybe I’ll write about that someday. For now, I present these anthologies of hauntings, of what not to do, and of how not to be.

    Thomas Wictor
    April 2012
    Los Angeles

    Anthology One
    Prelude to Essence

    It Does Make Me Want to Do Something with my Feet: Run.

    I have five brothers and one sister. My oldest brother Tim was a singer; my younger brother Pat is a professional singer-songwriter-guitarist who plays on the folk circuit; and my youngest brother Eric was a bassist. Dad was forced to play clarinet in school, and Mom was something of a music prodigy on the piano, although she gave it up early. My brother Paul and my sister Carrie are fans of music who never played instruments themselves. Paul bought an electric guitar once in college, but mostly it just leaned against the wall.

    In our house, my father owned the only record player. He used it for his collection of Mitch Miller albums, Viennese waltzes, British parlor music, Sousa marches, ragtime, Irving Berlin, and operettas such as The Red Mill. That’s what music was to me. I grew up in Venezuela, so I missed most of the sixties’ rock culture. I was vaguely aware of older kids getting into trouble when they were shipped off to the States after eighth grade, which was what happened in our oil camp. You finished eighth grade, went off to the States to attend high school, and came back with “drug problems” and long hair. We all had crew cuts in my house. Except for my sister and mother.

    To me, drugs meant medicine. The older kids with their scary long hair talked to each other about music and drugs, and I imagined them playing ragtime with banjos and tinkling pianos while drinking cherry-flavored cough syrup and taking aspirin. I didn’t want to ever move to the States. It seemed like a terrifying place where inexplicable things happened to you. We’d visit my sweet maternal grandmother in Los Angeles and go to Miami every now and then on summer vacation, but I wanted to live out my life in Campo Verde, Tia Juana, safe from long hair and drugs.

    The inevitable happened, however, and Esso transferred Dad to Tyler, Texas in 1972. Music still didn’t make much of an impact on me. Dad continued his ownership of the only record player, and none of us kids had radios. I remember somehow hearing Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn” what seemed like every single day we lived in Texas, along with “I am Woman” by Helen Reddy. Both songs made me sick. We watched The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour on TV and got to know the song “I Got You Babe,” which also made me sick.

    For me, the best music was TV theme songs. A piece that gave me goose pimples was composer Gil Mellé’s opening theme for Kolchak: The Night Stalker. The change that occurs 30 seconds into the theme is still one of the most incredible works of musical genius I’ve ever heard, and the ending is spectacular. I was shocked to learn decades later that Mellé wrote that theme in 20 minutes. Another favorite was the theme to Barnaby Jones, by the legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith. I’d watch the show just to hear that music, which struck me as poignant and heroic, like the old detective, Jones, himself.

    Generally, I felt music was something to be avoided unless it was part of a TV show or movie. Shirley Bassey belting out “Goldfinger” was as good as it got for me. My brother Tim would do a killer impression of Bassey, down to holding the song’s impossible final note. He’d been clandestinely listening to my mother’s Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Paul Smith Trio albums in the den when Dad was at work. When he came home after dark, Dad would pull shut the accordion doors of the den and turn on his Mitch Miller or waltzes. Once I had to go in and ask him something. There was some frenetic ragtime piece blaring from the speakers of the Zenith cabinet record player.

    Before I could ask my question, Dad said, “Doesn’t that make you wanna do something with your feet?” And to my utter horror, he began dancing a wild jig, the first time I’d ever seen him do such a thing, his fists clenched in front of him and going up and down as though he were pumping up a bicycle tire, his long legs kicking out sideways in rhythm to the banjo strumming, and his keys and coins jingling in his pockets.

    That image went smashing into my hippocampus, which instantly jettisoned it through my neural pathways into my cortex, where it remains unchanged to this day, fresh and pristine as a newly minted penny, as accessible and as much a part of me as my own nose.

    Led Zeppelin and the First Ghost

    In 1975 Exxon transferred Dad to the Netherlands. He went on ahead, and the rest of us followed in a KLM Boeing 747. The flight was long, 10 or 11 hours. Since I’ve always been terrified of flying, almost to the point of becoming comatose, I had to keep myself distracted by listening to music. They gave you cheap plastic headphones that you plugged into little sockets in your seat, and there was a dial that you turned around to choose from several programs that repeated ever hour. I caught the Captain and Tennille’s “Love will Keep us Together,” which was bouncy but actually pretty gross, as well as Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain.” While I really liked the sinister title, the song itself didn’t do anything for me.

    And then something hit me like a fist to the jaw, this brutal, pounding, thrusting, filthy, exceptionally exciting tune that was like nothing I’d ever heard in my life. The vocalist was somehow screaming at a low volume; the drums made my feet tap; the guitars were like a chorus of banshees; and there was some low-frequency instrument in there that matched my heartbeat. The song was “Trampled Underfoot,” by Led Zeppelin. Since the lyrics were about cars, I pictured the musicians as muscular garage mechanics, their faces twisted with belligerence. I listened to that song every time it was repeated, trying to absorb it into my bloodstream. It had the same effect on my brothers Paul and Pat. Tim liked it well enough, but he was devoted to jazz vocalists by that time.

    In Rijswijk, our new home, we all bought transistor radios and listened incessantly to Radio Caroline, a pirate station based on a ship anchored offshore to avoid the limitations placed on the state-run broadcasters of Europe. Radio Caroline was a life saver, because the Dutch music scene was a nightmare. Smash hits included André van Duin’s "Willempie," about a ******** man singing in a ******** voice about his ******** life; Corrie van Gorp’s rousing oompah-march “Zo Slank zijn als je Dochter” (“As Slim as Your Daughter”), the chorus punctuated by the boing of a Jew’s harp; and Nico Haak’s Dutch version of “Put Another Nickel in the Nickelodeon.” Music that could drive you immediately out of your skull.

    Occasionally we’d see someone like Kate Bush, who sang “Wuthering Heights” on Top Pop. She was the first in a long line of small, intense, dark-haired musicians who had a profound effect on me. Boney M, Bonnie Tyler, and Patricia Paay made less of an impression, even though they were on Top Pop every four seconds. Tim listened to the BBC jazz shows on the radio and was the first of us to start buying records, because the Europeans re-released jazz albums long out of print in the U.S. He’d listen to them on headphones while the rest of us suffered through “Daddy Cool.”

    It was in Holland that I met my first ghost. I’ll call her Brigitte. She was a dual national of the U.S. and another country, and she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. Her family lived a few doors down from us and we were in the same grade, but she was popular while I was--to be blunt--a disaster. Photos of me from that era are indescribably embarrassing. I looked exactly like a 40-year-old lesbian spinster, with shoulder-length hair and thick glasses. My siblings and I had transferred into the school in the middle of the year, making me the newly arrived weirdo as out of place as an octopus in a pine tree. Brigitte was always polite to me, but we never had much to do with each other.

    Brigitte’s brother and sister became good friends with my family. One or the other would always be over at our house, to the point that my mother began referring to them as her two extra children. Brigitte gradually warmed to me. It turned out she had quite a good sense of humor, and I found her aura of sadness extremely attractive. I wanted to help her. Of course, I was also madly in love with her. I wrote “I love Brigitte ________” on a tiny slip of paper, rolled it up, and tucked into the clear plastic body of a ballpoint pen so I could always have it close to me. One day at school a guy I hated asked to borrow a pen, and I went into what Tim calls the “rabbit trance” and handed over my Brigitte pen without thinking.

    A few seconds later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, and the kid was holding my little love note, unrolled. Grinning from ear to ear, he went into this demented, chanting ecstasy, like someone speaking in tongues: “I’m gonna tell Brigitte and she’s gonna find out and you’re gonna be so embarrassed and everyone’s gonna laugh at you and the whole school is gonna know and you’re gonna wanna kill yourself and it’s gonna be so fuhhhhhhhhny and we’re all gonna laugh our asses off!”

    And he did tell her. And he did tell the whole school. And they did laugh. And I did want to kill myself. But the funny thing is, the person who saved me from total mental collapse was Brigitte. She became my friend, whether out of pity or because she was just naturally a kind person, I’ll never know. But she and I became inseparable for a few months. She was really very nice. What I took as aloofness was shyness. Despite her astonishing beauty, she was unsure of herself. When I found out that her father had been transferred and they had to move to the U.S., I was devastated.

    The last night I saw her, we went to a nearby park and sat on the swings, talking as the fog rolled in. She said she hoped she’d see me again someday, but we both knew the odds were against it. The children of men who worked in the oil business were nomads. We got used to coming and going, meeting new people and then leaving them. Lasting friendships were rare. At about ten o’clock, she said, “Well, I have to go.”

    “Would you mind if I don’t walk you home?” I asked. She lived only a block away, and I was afraid I'd burst into tears. I still hadn't recovered from the humiliation of having my secret love note shown to the whole school.

    “No, it’s okay. Just say here. I’ll see you later, Tom. Goodbye.”

    And she turned and disappeared into the fog.

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