I wanted to start this by saying that I am a musician and a music fanatic. Those constants have followed me since my pre-teen days when I first heard my brother spin LP's on our basement record player/stereophonic 8-track/furniture type mutation, and those early beginnings have given way to great amounts of satisfaction in my life. I have been able to experience a lot of highs and lows as a musician as well, but the fan in me has rarely been disappointed by the sheer joy that listening provides. I got my first record in 1981- Joan Jett and The Blackhearts (!) and then later received my first bass guitar at the age of 16. A cheap Fender Jazz copy that I swore at the time was the greatest piece of stringed bliss ever built! Those two moments were pivotal, and they remain fresh in my mind. And those loves have lead me here: to share that adulation with you.
When I got that bass as a gift on my 16th birthday, I distinctly recall my Dad prodding me towards the "6 string" model. "Why the heck do you want that one- no one hears the bass anyway". Well, that certainly wasn't true of me. When I listened to all my favorites in High School, I always heard those low tones and how they drove the song or moved the melody in a certain way. There was so much importance in what the low end delivered. Before I had that bass I would stand in front of the mirror with a hockey stick and simulate what the bassist might have looked like; how he played with conviction and took his place in the song and in the context of the band. Damn, I must have looked stupid! But as my formative years projected me to a lifelong love of both the instrument and its place in music, I had to find my "heroes" I could emulate and learn from. Enter Billy Gould of the band Faith No More.
The summer of 1990, the last glorious outing before my senior year in High School, was a whirling social party remiss of any network that required any "likes" or "favorites". I wouldn't have had time for that anyway. I was working part time at a K-mart, hanging with some of my closest buds and playing the bass at any other moment of the day when I was awake. I also was exploring some music outside of my normal college radio, otherwise known today as "Alternative" music. R.E.M, Black Flag, Replacements, The Cure & Husker Du commonly bludgeoned my audible senses daily and I had lost interest in the heavy metal thrash or hardcore rap that was on the musical fringe, and so prevalent among my peers. That musical landscape (and my own interests) was getting a facelift in the late 80's/early 90's and exploded just before everyone threw up their arms, gave into flannel and realized guitar riffs could be barred with one finger! There was a heavy funk influenced scene coming out of California from the likes of Primus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pscychefunkapus and funk metal stalwarts Faith No More. That summer was there official "coming out party", as the single "Epic" could be heard on rock and mainstream radio and MTV every hour, on the hour! The track "Epic" came from Faith No More's 1989 release "The Real Thing" and bassist Billy Gould would become my phantom teacher for the next year. My bass playing would grow tenfold by the time I graduated High School.
My understanding of bass playing and technique was rudimentary by the time I procured a copy of a notation for The Real Thing. The book was concise and depicted every bass-line with linear notes about Billy's style and finger, pick and thumb work. For many bass players, the circulating (and never ending) argument about pick or finger playing has many trolling every corner of the net' to land an opinion. The thrill for me in learning each track off of "The Real Thing" was that Billy used fingers, an aggressive plectrum (pick) attack and a slap and pop that showed off skill, but also supplemented the specific song. He wasn't just showing off- he was doing what was appropriate for the individual tune! This lesson was a good one. A great example is the track "Surprise, You're Dead!" where Billy alternates between a nimble sixteenth note right hand finger pattern and the bridge where he tears through at double time. He riffs along with guitarist Jim Martin, using a pick and only down-strokes (try it, your wrist will want to lock like crazy!)! The other great track as an exercise for proper technique and feel is "Woodpeckers From Mars"; an instrumental where Billy uses a thumb slap & pop that also uses left-handed hammers and pull offs. The song is an exercise in fluid motion. He utilizes just about every flashy bag of tricks a bassist could use without seeming over the top. Amazing. Re-visit the songs or check them out for the first time if you haven't- I promise it is worth your time!
I learned through my affections for the songs off this album- that the bass players importance was not something to be written off! Any other approach wouldn't have accented the songs in such a way.
I'll be looking at other bassists often overlooked in upcoming blogs. Don't expect to see icons like Flea or Jaco; we all know they're great and why. Please stay tuned.
Often 'Unheralded' but no longer overlooked...