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Now I see why you guys slam bluegrass bassists...

Discussion in 'Bassists [DB]' started by mchildree, May 20, 2001.


  1. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    AL/GA
    Let me say up front...I LOVE bluegrass and trad country. I was raised listening to it at my Grandparents home, so it kind of "speaks" to me and brings back lots of good memories. But..

    I went to my first bluegrass festival this weekend, and if this one was typical, I see why bluegrass bassists get slammed a lot by others in the DB world. Saw about 10-12 bands and only one had a bassist who played with any sort of fire and precision. The players in the "picking sheds" weren't any better. Most were admittedly local to central GA, but Damn! Put something into that gig! My mandolin-playing buddy, who's a really high-energy and creative player, hung around our own camp site and jammed most of the time. Pretty big disappointment...I was expecting to get some pointers from some experienced players. They kind of snubbed my Strunal, though. Too shiny, I guess.

    Now, a major exception to all this was the headlining band, "IIIrd Tyme Out". Whoa! Killer players all around, and the bassist sang bass vocal harmony against his own bass lines, in the same register and in many cases sang notes that it would require a B-string to reproduce on bass. Great tone (thanks to his sound man), very solid player.

    Well, anyway.... The camping and non-stop outdoor jamming was nice. Do these things always work out this way?
     
  2. Bluegrass is kind of funny in the way of bass. It seems that more often than not, bass players are created by the the mandolin or banjo player grabbing an unsuspecting spouse or relative and handing them this big chunk of wood and saying "go ..duh-dum.. here on this piece of tape"--(stuck to the fingerboard.) This sounds great for a while but after a night of hearing this from 20 groups you really appreciate the bassist that stands out from the others.
     
  3. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    A very good friend from childhood and ex-bandmate of mine went pro with some of our other friends in a bluegrass band. Going to a slew of gigs and festivals with them exposed me to a lot of bluegrass bassists.

    And after that experience, I have to say the only bassists I saw in those bands who didn't play like they were saving up for the second half of their lobotomy operations were those who had played in other musical genres and incorporated those ideas into what was an otherwise lifeless idiom for bassists. One bluegrass bassist friend of mine who had been playing rock in his earlier years even incorporated synchopation.

    So, what I'm saying is that from that experience, I think that music is very confining for bassists, unless you have the tools to stretch it. Or, as we say on the electric side of the board, "it sucks."
     
  4. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    AL/GA
    Since I first started this thread, I've been lucky enough to hook up with 3 guys who had already been playing bluegrass together for several years and just needed a bassist. It was nice to walk into an organized situation and just fall in.

    Even though the bass lines are pretty repetitive, I'm finding enough challenge to keep my interest high. After years of playing in 3-piece rock bands and having to play very, very busily to fill space, this is kind of a nice change. The vocal chores are a nice plus...all the tunes have 3 and 4 part harmony, so the combo of all the factors makes it fun.

    I am determined to be one of the players that gets noticed as a strong contributor, not just a lump with a bass in hand.
     
  5. Rockinjc

    Rockinjc

    Dec 17, 1999
    Michigan
    See and hear:

    Missy Rains (sp)
    Mark Ruben
    Marshal Wilbern
    Mark Shatz
    or
    Edgar Meyer

    Reflect and come back and tell us all what you think.

    Though average players in any genre can be unimpressive, there are those that shine.

    john
     
  6. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    AL/GA
    Yeah, I'm familiar with all those players. They are very impressive and tasteful...but that's why they're known players in the bluegrass genre. My original observation was with your average Joe (or Jane, in many cases) that's playing bluegrass bass. It just seemed like a disproportionate number of those players lacked any sort of motivation.
     
  7. Rockinjc

    Rockinjc

    Dec 17, 1999
    Michigan
    Do you actually enjoy the average rock bassist? I don't...

    jc

    BTW I have met them all except edgar...
     
  8. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    AL/GA
    Enjoy the average rock bassist? No, not any more.
    However, if I see one that seems really into what he's doing, having a good time, a bit of showmanship, etc. Even a small smile, maybe..., I can tolerate the "average" playing a little easier.

    What I can't stand is someone who appears to be asleep with an instrument in their hands. That goes for any player in any genre.
     
  9. dhosek

    dhosek

    May 25, 2000
    Los Angeles, CA
    There are a handful of rock bassists who are really worth listening to. Tony Levin, for one, has a knack for playing exactly the right thing (the two CDs he recorded with Paul Simon were in the CD player for the drive from Louisville back to Chicago). I also was in awe at the truly meaty bass playing on the late Kevin Gilbert's solo album (most of which was him, but I think studio player Dan Schwartz is on a track or two as well), which I was listening especially closely to in preparation for doing a transcription of the entire album for an internet project.

    I think the key word here is less rock than average. I don't want to waste my time listening to average anything. I want the exceptional and amazing.

    -dh
     
  10. rockinjc, I have an addition to your excellent list:

    Mr. Victor Krauss

    This man is one of my heroes due to his ridiculous chops and incredible versatility. His tone is great either live or recorded, and his ideas are wonderfully suited to the band, venue, and idiom. The way he slides from straight-ahead sideman work with Lyle Lovett to avant garde bluegrass improv with Bill Frisell just blows my mind.

    Vic Krauss is well worth any bassist's time.

    (and his sister Allison is an incredible singer, too!)
     
  11. Rockinjc

    Rockinjc

    Dec 17, 1999
    Michigan
    Yeah, I say him with Lyle a wile back, pretty good.

    jc
     
  12. Alison Krauss plays fiddle also... I saw her in a fiddle-festival in Worcester, MA about 10 years ago, and she was fantastic - she used to be with "Union Station", but I haven't heard her recently.

    BTW: At the same festival, Howard "Louie-Bluey" Armstrong stood in at very short notice after someone else cancelled, and he just blew everyone away with his amazing fiddling, and singing and dancing all at the same time. Astounding!

    - Wil
     
  13. olivier

    olivier

    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    Louie-Bluey ! Now we're speaking string music that swings. We used to jam with him in Detroit when I was playing washtub with the jug band. Howard is the father of bassist Ralph Armstrong who was with F Zappa and JL Ponty in the seventies. Great story teller too.
     
  14. olivier

    olivier

    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    Howard Armstrong left us wed July 30 at 94:

    Was not a bass player (but son Ralphe Armstrong is bassist on Zappa's "King Kong")

    NYT Orbituary

    PBS Orbituary
     
  15. Hello, I'm a bluegrass/oldtime bass player and I admit a lot of the outfits I see have boring bass players.

    But, playing bass in bluegrass and oldtime bands is NOT boring.

    A couple of notes:
    -There is no drummer, so the bassist can't just sit back and ride the bass drum. The playing can require a lot of percussion. Slap/tap, etc.

    -The bluegrass bassists that I really like understand (and do!) "swing" tunes like jazz players do.

    How about Todd Phillips?

    Another great, contemporary player in the bluegrass realm.

    Z
     
  16. godoze

    godoze

    Oct 21, 2002
    Just have to say that Alison is Union Station is is very much still there.

    I love Bluegrass music and tho I usually play Jazz I love just laying back while playing Bluegrass and being not only the provider of bottom but also of rhythm...
     
  17. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Playing bass is only boring when the music is boring. Genre has nothing to do with it.
     
  18. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    AL/GA
    Man, how time flies... Since I first posted this, I joined a forming bluegrass band and we are now working on our third cd. I guess I posted a little hastily back in 2001 because I have found many national-level bluegrass bassists who are strong players, some even working to expand the role within the genre. I'm trying to do that as well.

    One thing I've noticed is that a good bass player, even one that plays basically but lays down a good solid groove, can dramatically improve any group. I know this to be true in most any other style of music, but since the bass player holds down the time and the bottom in bluegrass it's especially applicable.