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John Paul Jones talks to Elixir Strings.
Good to be back, a busy summer schedule has meant this little project has been on hold for a while. Also with so many musicians to choose from its hard to decide exactly who to write about at a given time. Skipping through Jaco, Stanley, Victor, John Paul Jones, Paul McCartney, James Jamerson, Stanley Jordan, John Pattitucci, Chuck Rainey (see what I mean?) …. and more …. I’m cutting ahead to one of my greatest teachers and favorite players – Bernard Edwards of Chic fame.
One of my first ever working/gb bands was a dual boot ABBA/Disco group in the UK back in the early 2000’s. I don’t remember the name but I do remember that ABBA Banana was in the running but didn’t make it. Thank God. When I was asked I need the work so I said yes without really knowing the music or having an opinion about it. In those first few months I grew in my appreciation not only of the sophistication of ABBA’s pop music but of the beauty, power and simplicity of the repetitiveness of disco music.
Cut to music… 1978 …. Le Freak
(Sound on Sound have an article about the writing and making of this song)
As a young player schooled in rock and 70’s fusion I was all over this! Licks to the left, licks to the right! A good time was had by all – we were a successful and fun band and playing together all over the country with good friends is one of life’s great pleasures. As I settled down into the material and listened back to Bernard it struck me that he was actually saying MORE by choosing his moments. Listening back to ‘Le Freak’ I’m still impressed by his understatement, the first variation in the line is not until half way through the second verse (a unison with the vocal that creates that special ‘2nd verse is slightly different’ moment). The ‘bass solo’ is simply a great 4 bar loop that repeats with slight variation, and out of tune bends that sound great!
Next time that song came around I played it Bernard’s way and heard, felt and saw the difference in the crowd. The groove went deeper throughout the whole piece, the other players shone more brightly and the crowd was dancing a frenzy. That was it for me, no more ‘bass solos’ for about 5 years! I was hooked on simplicity, hooked on ‘the hook’ – the concept of taking a simple idea and catching the fish/listeners.
As you no doubt picked up from the Sound on Sound piece (if you didn’t go back and read it, all their articles are goldmines), Edwards and his partner Nile Rodgers were involved heavily in the production of dozens of hit records in that late 1970’s early 1980’s period. There are so many wonderful tracks to check out, so many iconic dance-floor bass lines to absorb. Here are few of my favorites with thoughts…
Marcus Miller talked at his recent clinic in DC about the playing with the power of expectation – setting the audience up to expect a lick or idea and then NOT playing it (instead). That’s exactly the feeling I get when I listen to the first chorus and miss that hammer-on bass lick not happening on the third repetition of the intro – consequently when it comes again it’s a welcome reappearance of an old friend, not overplayed but is underplayed to great effect.
One of my other favorite moments is the double snare tap in the second verse after the line “No we don’t get depressed” … You always know if a drummer has really learned a song from little details like that. Another instance of the slight variation in the second verse.
It seems kind of obvious to include Good Times, but to not to would be a glaring omission.
Wikipedia has a lot to say about Bernard but this is a nice paragraph to end on.
Thanks for reading.
Bernard Edwards is considered one of the most important bass players of the 20th century. His bass line from Chic hit “Good Times” has become one of the most copied pieces of music in history, and had a huge influence on musicians of many genres when released and was the inspiration for “Another One Bites the Dust” by Rock group Queen.
The Chic song “Good Times” was credited on Sugarhill Gang‘s “Rappers Delight” in 1979 (“based on the music from the song ‘Good Times’ N.Rogers/B Edwards”, is on the vinyl label)- the first rap song to become a mainstream hit. The following twenty-odd years has seen it sampled by artists of diverse genres, from Rap to Punk and Techno to Pop. Duran Duran bassist John Taylor often played the song in homage during his solo performances, and cited Edwards as his primary influence.
I used both names in the title because he used both. Less talky, more rock – let’s kick things off with some live footage. This is going to make you very happy…
Right off the bat – what do we see? Lots of people jumping up and down, like a living carpet. Probably one of my absolute favorite things to see, especially from the stage (been a while to tell the truth, blues fans tend to swing dance…).
Huge bass tone. Hee-ow-jjjjjjj. Tim uses multiple amps & cabinets with varying degrees of distortion and grit, blends between them for different songs and sections. This is a nice way to start a gig though – full on throaty bass doom.
Accelerando at 0:51. Undeniable. Sounds great, the crowd go wild. In this era of digital editing, auto-tune & quantization isn’t it nice to hear a group varying tempo to musical effect? ABBA were also masters of this (I may be the first person to draw a legitimate parallel between those two acts but it is true!).
Space. Plenty of it. The guitar part is textural during the verses, the bass line has lots of breathing room, the drums and vocals carry it. The bass plays a nice, repetitive, hypnotic line that answers and compliments each vocal phrase during the verses. Listen closely at 3:46 to hear the only fill/variation – just one extra 16th note syncopation that helps the bounce into the last half of the last chorus. I hesitate to use the word genius but it is a really, really nice touch – the sort that only comes from having played the tune so many times, and trying so many different things that you finally settle on the simplest thing you can find.
This group did so much and as you can already see it’s pretty easy for me to wax lyrical about the music, let alone the politics. Because of that I’m going to (TRY TO!!) keep this to the first album only and just talk about the bass playing.
This image is taken from the cover of the first album. You pretty much have a clear idea of what you’re getting into I think. Learn more. Looking at the credits you can see Andy Wallace mixed and Bob Ludwig mastered, it’s an incredible sounding record. These are names that crop up again and again in the world of incredible sounding music. Here’s a couple of cuts that feature some distinctive bass lines.
TAKE THE POWER BACK ( “..Crank the music up..” )
Great slap bass riff in drop D. Simple and effective. Musicman Stingray with a tonne of compression (just like Flea).
On paper this bass-line would probably say …. E7 🙂 The riffs are crushing, the variations on the main chord idea are hip.. there’s a message, simply – it kills. The first top comment is “i’m 53 years old and this is still fucking awesome”.
Like Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers RATM wore everything were everybody could see it. It’s not even a matter of courage – looking back it just looks like groups of guys living their out beliefs & dreams. Where Rage is/was different is that it was all about politics, I don’t think there’s a single song that is not politically motivated and there’s certainly none about getting it on with pretty girls 😉 It’s tribal (just look at the crowds), it’s deep groove music packed with intensity and emotion.
While it took me a few weeks to learn everything from this record it’s really not technically or harmonically challenging for the most part. Lots of pentatonics, blues scales, chromatics, simple forms, easy keys (D, E and F# exclusively I think) – the challenge is in the sell, making every note count like it’s your last, the stage moves, the passion. Tim will come up again as part of Audioslave in about 5000 posts time (I’m moving chronologically through my bass related listening – talking about how each cat influenced me for the new readers) – their first record was also something pretty special.
I had the last 12″ white vinyl single in Redditch. It was EPIC 🙂 I had to sell it years later so I could eat 😦
Commitment. Passion. Pentatonics. Playing the strings really, really hard. These are the lessons I take from Timmy C.