In the third and final part of my Q & A, John tells us what makes a good bass player and a few other topics. There’s a bit of gear talk as well. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview. I’ll do more of these in the future and get other bassists takes on similar questions if they are willing.
SCoB: This question is based on my experience where I’ve done a series of shows with an artist and everything seemed to go well but then the artist decides to use someone else. Maybe they think I’m too busy or maybe they weren’t happy with my work or maybe they just moved on and changed things up. I never really know the answer. How do you deal with another bassist getting a call for a gig?
JD: Well, it’s happened to me many times as well. I guess it used to bother me, or I’d ask the same questions as you, but I try not to think about it too much. I gets to you when you did their last album, then all of a sudden you don’t do the next one. But there’s lots of reasons I guess, new friends, new relationships. Sometimes I’ve stepped out of people’s lives, by not being around, and I suppose that bugs people too. And there’s also the new younger guy ready to move up the ladder!
SCoB: Can you list 5 musical attributes that you feel are essential to be a successful musician?
JD: Well, you have to have your playing together, your gear working, be on time, have a good attitude, be fun to be around. Everyone gets tired of someone who’s a pain in the ass or complains all the time. I guess those are road things, but it takes a special kind of person to handle the road, weeks away from home. I’ve been away before with some people that start to wear on you or the band and that’s a drag. I think I usually get asked back cause I know how to throw a rocking bus party…….
SCoB: If you had words of advice to offer to a young musician (or a 40 something bassist like me) considering a career as a bassist what would that be? (Similar to the previous question). I try to say yes to everything as I try to build this career after a long lay off.
JD: Just last week my friend John Whynot, ( an engineer, and keyboardist who just starting teaching studio engineering at Berklee School of Music in Boston) and I were talking about this sort of thing and he said, “The correct answer is yes” Meaning, never say no, or always take a chance on something new. Although at my age, I do find myself saying no more often…..but kids can’t!
But more about becoming a bassist? You have to get your tim together. Practice like hell with a drum machine. When I started recording it scared me how bad my time was. How can I not play with that click track? I would listen to a playback and think “Oh God” I suck.
So I started working really hard with a drum machine. all kinds of grooves and tempos. I used to rush, like almost everyone does, so I’d set up just high hats at 80bpm. Play with that for a while then have everything drop out for a bar, and see where you are when the hats start again. Then have 2 bars of nothing and see how that goes. At the start, it will go very badly! But it will get better.
You do have to get your tone together, that takes a bit of time too. If all I had was a good P bass and a good 5 string, I could get by.
Listen to as much stuff as you can. Know what you can get away with. If it’s country session, don’t play jazz on the gig. If you’re a piano player noodling jazz between takes it’s dead giveaway you’d rather play jazz. I suppose I’m harping, but know your gig. They don’t want you playing country licks on a rock gig either.
If you have a half decent voice, learn to sing. Singing backgrounds make you infinitely more employable. I took singing lessons to get ready for k.d. lang’s gig and it likely helped
You should learn to keep you guitars setup properly, do setups and intonation. It’s pretty darn easy and fun and will save you lots of money.
SCoB: Which musician/bassist would you not want to know was in the audience on the night of a show until later?
JD: Oh God, they all came on the same night and I knew ahead of time. Grammy’s 1990, at rehearsals I looked into the crowd and they cardboard cutouts of where the people were sitting. Sitting right in front of me: Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Miles Davis and on and on. Billie Joel, Ella Fitzgerald. All I could think of, was us up there playing some weird country song and Miles Davis thinking, “What the hell is this?”
SCoB: Do you still practice while you are on tour or off the road? What do you work on?
JD: There’s never time for me to practice on the road anymore. We’re usually sleeping or driving. At home, I’ll try to find some time with the drum machine, but it’s not nearly as often as I should. Sometimes I check out the latest country stuff to see how far they’re pushing the envelope, just to keep current.
SCoB: How do you prepare to work with a new artist on a tour? How do you learn tunes?
JD: That depends, if it’s a new artist with a tour, I won’t write any charts, because once I do, I can never throw them out. I takes forever. But I don’t do too much of that. Most of the stuff I do involves one-offs, so I write number charts, quite simple ones, mark the chords and pushes, write in basic feels. I almost never learn those tunes.
This year at the CCMA awards I had 47 tunes with 36 artists. All high pressure gigs, big talent contests or record showcases, or the awards show. So there’s zero chance I’m going to memorize any of that. It’s way too risky. I’ve had the odd person want me to learn the songs by heart for these kinds of things, but I basically refuse. My job is to not screw up, make the artist look good, and not make mistakes. I’ve alway maintained no one can drag the band into the ditch quicker than the bass player, I’ve done it the odd time, it is the worst.
SCoB: Are you a gear head? I read a Marcus Miller quote where he said pick one bass and one amp and play.
JD: I pretty much do that for live, but not for the studio. I don’t care much about my amp, I just have an old Peavey cabinet they gave me for a Bruce Cockburn tour and I’m still using it. That and a GK 800RB for live.
In the studio I have my own rig that sends +4 and goes straight into protools if you like. It’s an Avalon U5 and a vintage LA2A for compression. Sometimes I track with my old Ampeg B15N if someone wants to mic it up
SCoB: P Bass or J Bass? Rounds or flats?
For me, a P bass. Which is weird because I started on a Jazz and thought a P was pretty ugly sounding when I was young. But there’s no denying how a P sits in the mix. Flats or rounds? Both. Sometimes the flats are great in the studio, sometimes not. Depends on what style you’re recording, and what sound you want. I swap out strings quite often between sessions, I keep a used set around in case I want that sound. Colin Linden’s next album is almost all the P with flats thru the B15N. But I don’t use them on new country stuff very much. I can’t really stand the metal flats live though, they’re not much fun, for me.
JD: What would it take for me to be on your sub list?
I guess like everything else, it’s word of mouth. If I saw you play, and thought of gigs you’d be good on, I’d recommend you. I seems like the only part of my world where I sub in or out of gigs, or actually have to find a sub, are country gigs. But I look forward to running into you!
SCoB: What do you look for in other bass players?
JD: I guess the same things we’ve been talking about. But really, someone who’s going to show up on time and do a good job. I don’t want the artist calling me back and saying “Why did you send me that guy????” Ha!