Ray Brown's bass

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by davechamb, Mar 2, 2005.

  1. TeHarr


    Nov 8, 2005
    Oh, I'm sure Joel's in and out of here once in a while... I know he used to be a big-timer here, so I'm sure he checks in once in a while.

    I've met some of the guys in the TSO, and they're all awesome people (at least at first impression ;) ), but I don't have pictures of the bass(es)... I encourage those of you who might to put them up when you get the time.
  2. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    Interesting to read; I saw Ray Brown back in 1982 when I was living in Ann Arbor, and well before I was interested in bass. This was pre-Bird of Paradise, though the venue was similar ... smokey basement.
  3. Brent Nussey

    Brent Nussey

    Jun 27, 2001
    Tokyo, Japan
    Ok, Here goes:

    I was so excited I forgot to comb my hair!

    The scans are a not so good, unfortunately. Somehow there’s too much blue in there. The wall behind the bass should be just off-white, but it’s kinda bluey. And they’re kinda blurry, compared to the (very sharp) real photos. Unfortunately, when I try to compensate for it, the pictures get weird artifacts. Maybe someone knows how to fix it… Oh well, I hope you get the idea. If I ever figure out how to make better scans, I’ll put them up.

    I include the picture of me playing the bass for reference, I’m 170cm (5’7”) tall. The shoulders were really big and hard to get around, as Mr. Brown said. I played the bass with the pin all the way in, and it was still tough. But what a sound. Playing this bass was maybe the first time I understood that even though some basses had great recorded sounds, what you hear in the room as another thing entirely.

    Mr. Lauder told me that when Ray moved to Toronto in the early 60’s, he’d had some close calls (damage) touring with the bass, and so they struck up a deal where Ray would take Murray’s bass on tour (“which was also a good bass, but not this good”) and Murray would play Ray’s bass around town. He did studio and pit work etc. When Ray would come back into town, and Murray got his own bass back, all the producers would ask him “Where’s that bass with the holes (in the tuners)?” Eventually, Ray bought another bass, by a guy named Silvestre, from a classical teacher of his, which he then traveled with. When Ray moved to LA in 1964, he called Murray towards the end of the year and asked if he wanted the big bass. According to Murray, Ray said that it didn’t work well in the studios, it was too loud and bled into the other mics, and was a PITA to carry around. So Murray bought her from Ray. He said when he got her she had all 4 gut strings. Eventually Mr. Lauder changed to metal and had a c-extension added. About a year after these pictures were taken, the bass was sold to Mr. Longenecker. Murray had told me he was going to sell it, and how much he was asking, but told me he wanted to sell it only to a member of the TSO, and that there was “a young fellow” in the TSO who needed a good bass. The last time I saw the bass in person was just after that sale, and the new owner had put a bridge with really long legs and very little wood above the heart on it. I don’t know Mr. Longenecker, but by all accounts he’s a great player and a nice guy, so maybe I’ll see the bass again someday socially.

    So between my conversations with Mr. Brown and Mr. Lauder, the history of the bass is:

    circa 1950: Ray finds the bass, with no bridge or strings, in a pawnshop or Mom&Pop music store in NY. He buys it for about 200 bucks (good money then) and takes it to a bass shop in the city, where the guy’s eyes light up, and Ray knows he has something special. Over the years he has it appraised a bunch of times, and he hears English, Italian, Scotch, etc. Then it turns out it’s a match for a bass known to be an Amati in England. The bass becomes reputed to be a circa 1640 Amati.

    1959/1960: Ray moves to Toronto. Nervous about having his good bass damaged or destroyed in travel, he begins to trade basses with Murray Lauder when on the road. Eventually he buys another bass, by Silvestre, which he travels with.

    1964: the Silvestre takes over as Ray’s main bass. Reasons are mainly that the big one is too big and difficult to play. Also, he thinks this bass sounds better with the new metal strings. In interviews at this time, Ray still refers to the big bass as “my best bass.” Ray moves to LA, to get off the road and become a studio musician. The big bass is more trouble to carry around, and to play, harder to record, and just plain sounds better with gut strings. Ray has decided to use metal. So for these reasons he decides to sell the bass to someone who already loves it, his old friend Murray Lauder.

    early 1992: Murray, in semi-retirement, sells the bass to TSO bassist Dave Longenecker.

    2002: Ray passes in July. Murray passes in September.

    Postscript: The Amati assertion has always been controversial. I’ve talked to at least one guy who says the twin to Ray’s bass in England is now believed to be a Glassel, made in Marknukeurchen (sp?). To me that’s actually great news, there’s much more chance of finding another big Markneu…. bass than another Amati :) But it doesn’t matter anyway. Mr. Brown always said to pick a bass, close your eyes and listen. If that’s the sound you like, then that’s the bass for you.

    Kickdrum and CaseyVancouver like this.
  4. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    Hail Brent! whatta contribution!
  5. Ditto!!!!
    Who put that tailpiece on it?
  6. TeHarr


    Nov 8, 2005
    sure looks like dave's bass to me. that baby still sounds great! thanks Brent.
  7. Brent Nussey

    Brent Nussey

    Jun 27, 2001
    Tokyo, Japan
    Good question. At that time, I hadn't yet ever seen a full-length shot of the bass, so I didn't know it wasn't the tailpiece Ray had on there. But someone had told me that bass had a light colored tailpiece, so I guess I just figured that was it. Anyway, it was an interesting tailpiece, to be sure. No fret, but there were brass inserts under where each string came up through the holes, presumably to keep the friction from wearing out the tailpiece, which is only maple, after all (right?). It also has a nice little purfling around it which looks handsome to me....

    For those who don't know what Paul's talking about, the bass can be seen on the cover of Jazz Cello full length (the only full length shot I know...) and has a light colored Hill-style tailpiece, different from the one in the picture. Of course, I'm sure Paul knows this from seeing the bass in person.

    I wish I'd known to ask him more about it.

  8. Brent Nussey

    Brent Nussey

    Jun 27, 2001
    Tokyo, Japan
    Hehe. I wonder what's the smiley for taking a bow? :) I can be just as nutty about this stuff as the rest of you guys.
  9. anonymous8547j7d7b

    anonymous8547j7d7b Guest

    Jul 1, 2005
    For what it's worth, there's an uncorroborated story in my neck of the woods that Ray bought 2 or 3 basses from a Glasgow based player (Ian Brown, I think) when he was in town playing the old Apollo theatre. The "holey-pegged one from his book" was purportedly one of them. Many of us suspect the whole story was concocted by the somewhat untrustworthy bassist who "inherited" some of Ian's basses when he died - and told all kinds of fibs regarding their provenance etc. It's good to see the record straight about the big bass (great photos Brent :) ), but I wondered if anyone on you guys side of the pond had ever heard anything about Ray picking up a bass or two over here in Scotland?
  10. Ray told me, and I've read that the supposed Amati, or the biggie with those wonderful, huge, beautiful and holie machines, has been called Scottish more than once,
    As with alot of bassists, that bass was the first honerable bass to hit my famous bathroom walls.
    I've been mad about that bass for over forty five years.

    Sorry about the double post...I think laying off for a awhile made me lose my TBDB chops.
  11. When I started doing those Gibson Parties here in Denver, I got real excited when I first saw Rays name on the roster, I thought...Great...finally have a chance to hang out with Ray up close and personal. Also a chance to play that bass finally.
    My timing was off by a couple years...he was playing the Silvestre by then. Oh well.
  12. Brent Nussey

    Brent Nussey

    Jun 27, 2001
    Tokyo, Japan
    Hey Paul.

    Well, I haven't been alive for 45 years yet, but I know how you feel. The way I got to play it was, I heard from a drummer that he'd played a musical in Toronto with a guy who had the bass. So I went to Toronto, and called friends, and then friends of friends, until someone gave me Murray's name and number. They also told me that he liked to drink Scotch, a bottle of which I brought him as a thank you present.

    So I called him up out of the blue. Hey, you have Ray Brown's old bass, right? Yes. I'm a bass player, can I come over and see it? Sure. So I did. The visit itself was interesting. He had it in the corner of his bedroom (wonder how the wife felt about that?) in a thin cloth cover (makes it look like a cheaper bass, so no one will think to steal it- at the time I took him at his word, but now I think maybe he was kidding). We looked at the bass and talked together for a bit, and then he said, I'm going downstairs for a cup of tea, why don't you play her for a while? And he left. Of course, I started to play all the RB solos I knew. He walked back into the room a couple minutes later and said "Solos are fun, but I usually just like to walk on this bass," turned around and walked out! So I walked for a while, and he was right, I sure would have regretted it if I didn't......

    It's funny, I remember it like yesterday. I remember thinking it sounded like my own bass, but with a little amp right behind the bottom bout, just putting out lows. It was so full and loud, and you just had to touch it to make it sound. Also, when I first read Jeff B's rant about regraduation I thought of this bass. It had a tremendously thick top! It was the heaviest bass I ever played, and also the loudest. Thank heaven none of the fellows who like to regraduate *any* thick top never got their hands on this bass.....

  13. Another personal note about THE bass. I've mentioned before tha i'm self taught, however, I learned by looking at pictures of the great bass players pictured on the backs of albums in the record stores, because I couldn't afford a teacher. Of couse Rays fingers were always perfect, so in a weird way I studied with Ray. When he sold the big one, I really missed seeing it. :crying:
    Thanks a bunch for posting those shots Brent! I must say the tailpiece IMHO sucks.
  14. Go ahead and take a really big one...being a newbie, I found it to be interesting as all heck...especially since I've always loved to listen to Ray. Never saw him live tho, and that's a shame. Thanks again.

  15. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    It's real eerie for me too. As I mentioned in another thread, I had bought his "Art of Playing Bass" series and it looks like he's using this bass too. I never got to see Ray live, and I remember the show he was supposed to play at Yoshi's that was cancelled cuz he passed just before getting there. They got someone else to fill at the very last minute (I think it was McBride).

    I recognized it cuz it has the same 2 scracthes about the g-side f-hole.
  16. I had the great fortune to have had Murray Lauder as a teacher when I studied music at Humber College in Toronto back in 1981. He was an absolutely wonderful person, very patient and had a great feel when he played. I can still remember some of the things he taught me, specifically the way he would talk about feel and expression when you played.
  17. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Apart from this genuinely interesting story, as far as I've read, there is no creditable documentation that Amati ever made a bass.
  18. jlehmberg


    Jan 21, 2006
    Hong Kong
    I've just started looking at TalkBass over the last few days, but reading this thread prompted me to register and post...

    I was living in LA about 5 years ago and stopped in for something at an instrument shop in Hollywood (the traumatic incident relayed here caused me to suppress my memory of the shop's name, but I'm sure anyone in LA would know it). They asked me if I wanted to try out one of the basses, and pulled it off of one end of a rack of several basses. They also pointed out Ray Brown's bass, which was at the other end of the rack--and they even said what it was, although I don't remember now, just that it was an old Italian. After playing the bass I set it back on the rack, making sure it was stable (or so I thought), since there was no notch on the rack to hold the neck. I turned around for a few seconds, and when I turned back I witnessed a slow-motion train wreck as the bass I just put back fell forward into the one in front of it, which did the same to the next one, which slammed into Ray's bass. None of the other basses were damaged, but Ray's had a fairly deep scratch in the back. I was about to have a stroke, of course, and the visibly upset shop owners or workers rushed over to inspect the damage. After inspecting it they told me that I ridiculously lucky--Ray had brought the bass in to have it refinished, and they hadn't done it yet. Sensing I had worn out my welcome, I made a quick exit and never went back.

    Ahhh, my soul feels lighter already...

    -Jeff Lehmberg
  19. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    And fled the country, apparently! Wow, what a story. I almost hit Ross Perot with my car once.
  20. Aleph5


    Feb 24, 2004
    On purpose? Who could blame you?? If any of us had the opportunity, wouldn't we too... ? :p
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Sep 22, 2021

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.