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Whatever Happened To The Bass?

Written By Richard Anthony Lock

A good question was posed to me recently. "What is happening with all of the bass players in this town?" I was asked this just as I was to sit down and start penning a gig review about a band that I heard from my flat window, but this question stuck with me.

Bass is one of those less talked about conversations when in a general environment. I do hear people say succinct sentences like, "Ah man, the bass sounded sick!" however I seldom hear people articulate what 'sick' actually means. Tone? Dynamic? EQ?

The ‘Urban Dictionary’ classes a bass player thusly;  'A passive aggressive musician. One who plays the bass guitar, an instrument with more influence than most non-musicians are actually aware of'. Any bass players reading this will no doubt sit there smiling agreeing with this statement.  

The full question pertained to local bands who have had recent exits from their bass players.  Dorey The Wise, Kid Kapichi, One Thousand Tons, The Piercings and Arivmia.  Considering some of these bands have been on the scene for a good number of years playing the same circuits and climbing the same ladders, why is it the fabled corner stone of the collaborative is the one making his way to the stage door?

I was told once that you don't know a band until you know the bass players name.  Is this because they come and go so regularly, or because they are a rare breed of person? My research leads be to believe the latter. My close to the ground ears keep hearing of a guitarist picking up the bass and having a go themselves. I'm sure it will sound ok due to the fact that bass strings are the same as the lower 4 strings of the guitar, but my mind sticks when I look at the psychology behind it, the character, the science. Bass and guitar are two totally different disciplines.

I once picked up a bass guitar at a jam. At first I had to get to grips with the lack of strings, like someone who just had their leg amputated they can still feel it, then I hooked in to the bass pedal of the drums. Cool, now we were rockin’.

I got excited and started to riff as one does when playing the guitar. Oops, the whole song shifted, the more I played the more everyone else pushed, the more I laid back the more chilled everyone was.

I decided a few songs in to play around with this. I started laughing to myself that this was fun, but thought I better stop just in case I was pissing anyone off, but no one was looking at me. I was invisible yet holding puppeteer strings. Power, I thought. Knowing my own foibles, I decided to put the bass down and leave it to those who know how to wield such gifts.

Within the subject of bass there are the tricks of the trade wherein the flow, swell and groove are controlled by secret notes unconsciously heard, passing notes expertly crafted to make the whole song work. Like the guitarist practices his scales and bends and riffs, the bass player will focus on the subtext, what is not said and paint it in underneath.  Sometimes, personally, I cannot always hear what the bass is playing, it is there but I could not define exactly what it was I heard and that is where the secret is.

I was chatting to a bass player in Ireland after a gig and he said the reason bass to him is everything is because bass makes everything else sound good. Simply that and I 100% agree with him.

Most instruments work by themselves; Guitar, Piano, Flute. However, bass is one of those that does not tend to sound too great on it's own, with a few exceptions like when you, 'slap a da bass man', but even that is incorporating percussion in to it. The bass on its own is not the best sound to woo your sweetheart with, unless she too is one of the rare bass breed. They can be spotted by the bass clef tattoo they will have hidden somewhere on their body.

So, during the research I have done for this report, I have come to see that the question I was posed isn't perhaps the right one. Maybe thinking of it as who has the DNA to be a bass player is more along the right lines.

Bass, like yoga is a way of life. From what I can divulge out of respect for the bands I mentioned above, it seems that not all the bass players that are leaving were in fact bass players. One just couldn't be bothered any more, bass does not let you not bother. One can be seen sporting an acoustic guitar more often than not. One was a pro BMX rider and has decided to go back to that, fair enough. And one who I would class as an actual bass player didn't leave his band, he was asked to leave, ironically to bring in another bass player who is a guitarist. Enough said.

Bass is everything to those who know it. The true bass players I have met are humble, quiet, observant and have a tendency after a couple of drinks to lose the plot a bit.

Look at John Entwistle, stayed straight the whole time The Who were at the top. In later life he got into hookers, drugs and booze. He kept the bands spine together and then when there was no more playing to be done, he had fun.

Good lad.

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