Sunday, October 6, 2013

**Halloween Special**

Ok, I lied. I had one remaining blog. It's about Halloween and movies and music. So... Boo!

And Happy Halloween!

Super Terrifying Halloween Spectacular

Do you remember when films relied entirely on music and used title cards instead of actual dialogue??

Neither do I…

In the early days of motion pictures, the filmmakers relied heavily on the story line and used title cards, which is almost unimaginable these days! 1922’s Nosferatu was a silent horror film that depicted a Dracula type storyline and relied largely on the creepiness of the main character’s appearance. There were no special effects, no color and no speaking! But it relied heavily on a concept- a vampire who comes out of the darkness of the night to suck the blood from innocents until they’re bone dry. It played heavily on our fear of the dark & the unknown, and worked largely because, audible effects were not available in the infancy of filmmaking. But it remains a classic and if you see even a few minutes of this film- you will be creeped out!!

With Halloween sweeping into our consciousness, I wondered if the concept would work in reverse. What if a film depended on music?

So listen to this tale of twisted fate, macabre horror and unimaginable…. Just keep reading, ok??

The 1978 horror masterpiece Halloween is continually heralded as one of the landmarks of classic fright. Halloween created its own genre (‘Slasher’ flicks), while producing countless replicas—all looking to out muscle their predecessors with ample nudity, gratuitous and bloody evisceration's and stupid co-eds wandered into the dark looking for what made that ominous noise.

And now you’re double-checking the web address to make sure this is indeed an online bass guitar/music magazine and not So here’s the hook…

The film Halloween was not an instant classic. That’s a horrifying (and stupefying) thought. In fact; it benefited from “word of mouth” and one simple but necessary adjustment to add excess amounts of tension and dread to the audience experience: a musical soundtrack!

Director John Carpenter initially sent the film out to critics as a way of perpetuating word of mouth and building hype. That wasn’t what happened.
 After sending out test ‘screeners’, Carpenter realized what was causing disparaging reviews for his film- a film he was convinced would be a success. So he added a simple and understated soundtrack that helped the movie take off! You know the music as much as the film itself!!

The same reviewers, who nixed the film initially, were now converted fans and Halloween would become a horror classic; finding its way in the homes of every living person with a TV each October 31st.
Be very afraid of a giant pumpkin yielding a knife!

Carpenter, learning his lesson well from the 1978 outing, initiated an even simpler bass/cello- driven soundtrack (provided by Ennio Morricone) with his 1982 gore splatter-fest The Thing. The low E- pulsates and keeps pace as the camera follows the listless crew-- the suffocating atmosphere of the film and the subtle music score lends mounting tension with surreal detail. No sci-fi/horror movie has so adequately incorporated the bass with such overwhelming urgency, while remaining SO SIMPLE.

Yes, Seinfeld and Night Court did use the bass guitar in a notable way. But they were intros to TV shows, & no one’s head split in half at any point in time!!!

Coincidentally, not all music of the modern era was written as a collection of random songs. Motion pictures relied on audio for theatrics, but musicians could reference historical events, literature and even film to create an experience. Listeners could visualize the experience as well as submerse themselves in the instrumentation and lyrics. In the case of some of our greatest conceptual rock masterpieces- what if the idea for a whole cohesive recording never occurred to anyone?
Do you even remember popular music before The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pink Floyd’s Darkside of the Moon? For my fellow bassists—was there life before Rush’s 2112??
…I don’t recall that much either.

The life cycle of an idea that takes on a life of its own.

Think about this life cycle: a writer can devise a fictitious tale based on the obsession to purge the sea and a pseudo-mythological creature can be the antagonist (use your imagination), then a modern day rock outfit can conceptualize the themes to music and real life becomes a wildly popular prog/metal album!

Mastodon conceptualized an album based on a fictional tale about an obsessed Captain and a seriously pissed off whale, which was actually based on a real life voyage of a hapless crew and a seriously pissed off whale.

Besides, what could be more frightening than the possibility of a real life monster- like a ten ton sperm whale??

Taking a concept and putting it to music or providing a musical soundtrack for a motion picture is no ‘chicken or the egg’ conversation. Both are vital elements to our modern world. Some of our most potent artists have used themes and transposed amazing music to that element, while some films have depended on music to possess their film. If you’ve heard Alice Cooper’s - Welcome to my Nightmare or seen The Shining then you’re there with me.

Do you remember an October without classic horror films being played almost continuously on every channel??

Neither do I…

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A. Weiss

This is gonna be my farewell blog on Blogger. My goal was to write about some of my bass heroes and that goal was accomplished, yet its questionable the interest was shared. 'Unheralded' is where a lot of bands and musicians find their destiny... history will show, I guess.

Even so, enjoy my finale! And don't forget to check out my articles at The month of October I catch up with Fieldy from Korn. Have fun reading this last (and most controversial) blog entry. Thanks!

When I mention to people that Henry Rollins is one of my favorite musicians/entertainers, I get a varied reaction. I think its fairly universal that a person either hates old Hank-- or they believe he is the last word on everything!

I lean towards the positive side because I have an affection for both his music and live "spoken word" shows. His books are pretty well thought out too- but they are an acquired taste. The honest approach of his music, spoken word and venomous writing is an anomaly in the pop world and popularity contest that Rollins seems to disdain.

My main reason for initially liking his music was the bass work of Andrew Weiss on the bludgeoning 1992 release "The End of Silence". The bass-lines are drenched in 'wah-wah' effect and overdrive- a thick assault throughout the release that features some impressive right hand finesse. Weiss's approach could be looked at as "lead bass" instead of the guitar work of Chris Haskett, who has a style that was bluesy and minimal.

From the opener "Low Self Opinion", you may get a feel of what direction the album will be careening towards; especially as Weiss draws out the heavy bass slide down the E string with that distorted 'wah' sound, commanding the listeners attention. Tracks like "Tearing" and "Blues Jam" (w/ the lyric- "Life will not break your heart- it'll crush it!") feature such bass dominant jams, that omitting them would alter the song's heaviness and impact. Weiss wrote the majority of the music, so his lines relied on being very busy at times, or as melodic as the song allowed.

Some of the strongest bass work comes during the guitar solos when Weiss moves in counterpoint to the guitar, almost pulling off solos himself (underneath the actual guitar solo!?). The initial root note is mostly a stepping stone and Weiss moves about most bridge sections with wild pentatonic flourishes and pulls and bends (check out the song "Obscene"). He sometimes pumps through songs recklessly and for me at least-- it works! It's amazingly unorthodox, but it works on every level.

Like Rollins himself, a lot of bassists might complain that Andrew Weiss is out of the pocket and way too busy for the majority of "Silence", but I think that he is making a statement. The bass is meant to be heard, appreciated outside of the the basic root-3rd-5th, and you're goddamn going to hear it on this album. The dissension between Rollins and Weiss was well documented in Henry's See a Grown Man Cry, Then Watch Him Die. Sad really, as Rollins would go onto replace him with chord heavy bassist Melvin Gibbs and then later; nimble fingered Marcus from the LA blues rock band Mother Superior.

Pitted against Rollins glaring self-effacing lyrical content, Sim Cain's technically-sound drumming and Haskett (probably wishing he was in on the mix of this album); Andrew Weiss flails the music with boldness and tenacity. 

The glaring, tempestuous bass-lines on "The End of Silence" remain a standout illumination of my youth. 

It was a pivotal record for me to see what could be accomplished with four strings in the context of a stripped down four-piece rock band. 

Check it out!

Often unheralded, but no longer overlooked...

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Anyone who’s been part of a live show, at any level, knows what the word cluster-fuck means. Whether abusing the back line of questionable gear and sharing amps or dragging your own onto some stage 30 feet off the ground (why?!), and those mountainous amplifiers that never seemed to be designed to go anywhere--- you absolutely have to experience the magic for yourself! And with so many artists & groups expanding line-ups way past the point of “overflow” at shows, either at an outdoor festival or some *all ages* show up the street, bands perennially get lost in the shuffle. So do entire clusters of bands within genres. Some artists are stifled within range of modest success, when others pop up out of the woodwork and find immediate and unending fan support and commercial decadence. 

Over the years, your once favorite band is virtually AWOL on Google searches.

‘Shoegazer’ acts like Catherine Wheel and My Bloody Valentine, ‘Progressive Rock’ like King’s X, Galactic Cowboys and Fates Warning and ‘Alternative Radio” rock like the Pixies or Jawbox-- so many acts have bypassed the flaming nucleus of success while eventually being credited by fledgling bands for “influencing" their current style. Ahh, the kiss of death

Catherine Wheel

Grunge and post-grunge also had its share of casualties and localized bands were either part of the scene (for example: that place where a popular coffee conglomerate spawned?), or they bucked the trend and played what influenced their own musical catharsis! Many bands in the era of grunge, regardless of alternate guitar tunings, suffered the fate of “guilty by association”—and not being guilty of copying but helping mold the sounds that they also were part of.

There were a lot of good sounds going around and not enough room for everyone to be part of the fiery maelstrom. Some groups sparked enough flammable material that could drift through a forest with gradual shifts in appreciation, eventually gaining praise and respect some years later- embers that refused to go out.

At the time that Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains flourished; there simply wasn’t enough room or commercial viability for others. They were destined to produce good music that would be eclipsed by other equally decent recordings. So, I'm paying them their due. Now is as good a time as any other.

Kansas produced a lot more than corn (and more corn) in the early nineties. The band Stick, after going through a significant line-up change as well as several name changes, struck up a deal with Clive Davis’s Arista Records and put out one of the most stripped down rock records (call it Midwest hardcore if you like) of the early nineties. “Heavy Bag”- their debut, would be rife with dense, drop-D guitar riffs, tight drumming and Mark Smirl’s enigmatic and politically charged vocals; the band also had bassist Darrel Brannock pocketing a thick and overdriven bass tone. 

Gloriously deep, and often sounding like James Jamerson discovering stoner rock bass overdrive.

Lead track “Grind” portends what would be one gritty song after another: no frills meat & potatoes guitar & bass driven rock. Midway through the disc, the radio friendly “Fuel” presents Darrel the opportunity to lay down a funky moderate tempo opening line, proving bass is always a good way to start. The closer, and one of the moodiest tracks, “Taught to Lose” again proves gnarly as Brannock lays down the bottom for guitarist Mike Tobin’s octave piercing melody shift in the verse section. The song broods along into a syncopated but simplistic bridge, where Tobin’s descending guitar solo eventually rockets the tune back into the sing along chorus.

Stick’s “Heavy Bag” was an early nineties gem and not to ever be confused with their peers- as they had very few in their genre.


Come back and visit again as I will update Cluster-Fuck pt. 2 – 100. Ok, maybe Pt. 2 and 3 at least! Bye for now.

Often unheralded, but no longer overlooked…

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Hobbyist

I've been brewing up a few articles on "clusters" of bassists and pivotal albums from brief time periods (Like 94-95'). There is a lot of good musicianship that was deserted when Grunge or Rap Rock decimated the scenery like a bad Godzilla picture!

Stay tuned in the next week and in the interim, check out my articles on and look in the staff section for: Tim Risser (that's me!). Below is a "reject" of mine that I thought would fit better here than for their awesome site.

*And keep playing the bass because it gets lonely sitting in the corner...

Imagine this: YOU ARE THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. You get up every morning at 5am (that’s being generous) and you start your day--- your hectic non-stop day! Amidst the signing of legislation, meetings with the higher ups and sending texts to the first lady (you know he does!); he has to find some time for himself. We all have hobbies and ways to release the pressure and in his ‘free time’ (ha!) Mr. Obama enjoys reading, golf and oh yeah- BASKETBALL!!

So like anyone with a busy schedule, the president does find ways to let off steam and do some of the things he loves. And he enjoys music…

As you rifle through Obama’s IPod you’ll find icons like Stevie Wonder and “The Boss”, there’s a nod to contemporary with Jay Z or the fundamentals of jazz like Coltrane or Miles Davis. Well rounded and culturally diverse and not a trace of Judas Priest or Slayer! But that’s probably in his CD collection…

Not every politician becomes president, but here’s a secret they won’t tell you: all of them desire the highest level of political success and power that they can attain. If they tell you otherwise then they are…well, a politician!!

The echelon of musicianship with respects to fame and integrity hold all kind of players in various degrees of fame, fortune and critical grandeur- all of these jockeying for position or choosing a-la-carte. Some artists exchange critical success for monetary gain with no real intention and others look for the rainbow and make adjustments to get there. I could poke a few holes in here and name-drop but one look at the Grunge movement and the subsequent fleecing of Drop-D guitar riffs left many palates a little dry. And you get the point.

So set in your mind for a moment that you’re only allowed one: fame and more money than you can make use of or playing for the love of it with all the accolades that follow in its wake. Most bands with critical success will say that they are glad they stayed the course, while others would have given an arm to get the kind of unlimited wealth that some musicians/artists achieve. And then there’s the “hobbyists”.

If you’re like me and you have given “it” a shot, then you are probably in a very silent majority. The low (or no) paying gigs, the label giving no support- if you were “lucky” enough to get signed, endless gigs with a dozen people standing indifferently at the bar, viewing you as background noise to get drunk to; and let’s not forget the countless hours of rehearsal.

No one said it’d be easy-- but really, does it have to be this hard??

Zzzzzzz… you still with me? Admittedly, I started writing about music and bass playing because at my age, there is absolutely no way I can keep up with the digital age of playing in a band, hunting down gigs on Craigslist and well, playing in front of a dozen people again! I’ve been there and done that, and writing is an independent venture and more rewarding because you can’t see if only 12 people read your article. Paying your dues has a particularly harsh definition when you are watching a handful of people sit at a bar exchanging Jager shots, as you bleed onstage and open the void that was once your soul. Even golf is a satisfying hobby compared to that- and you’re not trying to make a living doing it either!?!

Wood-shedding in your early days as a musician had so much value because you are initially doing it to satisfy yourself. And then one day you see a music video of a band looking cooler than you could imagine or walk into an amphitheater to see an ageless icon like Rush and you think that:

You are capable of anything!


     Mr. Writer sir, could you please define: Anything??

The “hobbyist” has no limitations and the ‘spirit’ of music has nothing to do with radio anymore; or a ‘record deal’ or even getting into Spin magazine! None of those things are relevant at all in this day and age.

What it is relevant and significant is what trajectory a person follows to get to where they are satisfied with the course they followed, regardless of success and an endless flow of publishing royalties. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way, the hard way:

  •   DIY is the most important acronym you’ll ever know. Forget WTF, because that will come later out of frustration. The most important thing to remember as a bassist, playing and writing in a group, is that no one gets a free meal. Work hard at the basics, know the guitar player’s chord progressions and learn where to fit within the groove. Make the drummer your best friend! 
  •  Wear your humility on your sleeve. This is self-explanatory but here’s an example: If you’re playing on a show with numerous local bands and you are one of them---- make friends and kill them with kindness!! Then destroy them onstage with all you’re musical skills and stage presence & showmanship! Nobody forgets an awesome performance, and foul attitudes, ego and bravado will just get you run out town.

·     The landscape is different than it once was. There will probably never be another Grunge, College Alternative, Early hip-hop or Nu-Metal explosion. Never again will we see the mass success from the ground up by artists like R.E.M. or Wu-Tang Clan, with record labels outbidding each other for their services and a mass underground following that would eventually evolve into millions of fans worldwide.

Use predecessors as a reference point--- avoid being derivative, earn your originality and stick to doing what you love. Here comes my lesson of the day, or lifetime, depends on how long you suffer for your art!? Play with conviction--- its either going to happen or it won’t! You can’t shape music fans predilections; only influence the opinions of those who care for what you’re offering! I loved that I got even a small taste of the success that was hard fought, creatively honest and not easily forgotten. 
                                                              Well, not forgettable to me! 


                                                                  GET A REAL JOB!!!


My “hobby” of writing has exchanged hands with my love for playing music and given me a real creative outlet. And yeah- you’re damn right I still play the bass every single day…

Love what you do.

*The comment section at the bottom is where you tell me I reek, or that you think I'm neat. Use your freedom of expression!! Suggestions mold the process...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

R. Skatore

The label of ‘household name’ is often elusive for a passionate and working musician. Some lifelong artists and bands duel with retaining integrity while making in-roads at commercial viability. And of course some musicians just don’t give a fuck!

Somewhere in your listening repertoire, you have a favorite band, album or musician that it seems no one has ever heard before. And that is a shame!

But I realize that some bands and recordings are just not wired for the success of mass consumption. On the surface, and I am speaking from someone who recorded a few CD’s, toured and got to hear my band’s music on the radio (twice!); there is an urgency for critical and commercial favor. That is an increasingly tough road as you feel your music is your “child”, your “baby”- and there is no reason for the world to not see how beautiful it is.

While living and going to school in Philadelphia, I had access to a lot of cheap ass used CD stores. I had just enough expendable income to go once a week and buy a band’s disc at Green Onions, which was fifteen seconds from my apartment. One day, on the recommendation of a classmate; I purchased 24-7 Spyz “Strength in Numbers”. It was their major label debut released in 92’- and depicted three hard looking brothers with one oddly placed and scruffy long haired white guy, who reminded me of my best friend from High School. Hey listen, I was from the suburbs of Pennsylvania!! The intrigue began…

                I was preparing for the beatdown of my life.

If you read my rant on the death of music or some shit about Dinosaurs, maybe you noticed that I miss the CD sleeves and album jackets that digital media and audio hasn’t made available. There is nothing better than picking up a used and scuffed CD of a band you never heard before, projecting what audio morsels lay hidden inside.The message artists sent with the front and back of a release was often prophetic of what might be waiting for you.

But weren’t you told not to judge a book by its cover??

Strength in Numbers argued that case fervently. What do you get when you add edgy alternative tinged funk with ample supplies of thrash and enough reggae to keep the dreads moving? Yeah, Strength delivered cut after cut. The whole kitchen sink was held up and together by the lithe and tasteful play of bassist Rick Skatore. At times, Rick would lay down supportive lines while guitarist Jimi Hazel served up generous helpings of blues and thrash- the Noel Redding to his own Jimi. What’s apparent is that some of Skatore’s (Pronounced Skat-er) grooves don’t just compliment the song-- they push it into heavier funk with the strength of well constructed bass parts. And don’t fear that it’s ‘all groove all the time’. There is plenty of solid thrash riffs played in unison, delighting the lower register. Skatore’s 5 string supplanted some depth into the mix, allowing Hazel to venture into wah-wah land just as you were getting comfortable.

Don’t believe me?? Check out the monster riff in the song “Stuntman” - He blows the whole album up as the tune segues to a bass & drum outro!!

Not convinced? Then how about the treble boosted funk of the album opener “Break the Chains” or the restrained slap hook and chord usage of “I’m Not Going”- punching and locking with a super tight snare drum and then sprinting into a reggae shuffle during the bridge. Rick knew what worked and used judicious placement of fills, making the Spyz  a well-oiled machine.

If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it ever really happen?
              Tread cautiously or this tree is gonna fall on YOU!

Rick and the rest of 24-7 Spyz (in various incarnations) have released a multitude of quality and more channeled offerings over the years so start here, then savor some of their other recordings. It is hard to believe that this album was released the same time as Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power and I have little doubt that you heard at least a track or two from that. Catch up with this one you missed!

Often Unheralded, but no longer overlooked…