Friday, February 17, 2012

Fat Friday Feature: John Entwistle And Unknown Bassist From Steppenwolf

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I'm supposed to be doing as a bass player when someone else - usually the guitar player - is soloing.  I'll tell you what I like to do (dogfight), and I'll tell you what I'm supposed to do (groovemaster).

Example #1:  John Entwistle on "Young Man's Blues".  This is what you're not supposed to do - that is, go off when someone else is soloing.  You're supposed to hold the bottom end and provide a foundation while the guitar player takes flight.  It's an unfair generalization, but guitar players hate it when bass players go off like this because it's not so much about holding down the fort for them, it's stealing their thunder.  In the theater world, it would be like stepping on another actor's lines over and over again.  But if a song has a snappy pace like this one, I think it should sound like a dog fight between the guitar player and the bass player.  When one zigs, the other zags; the intensity of both players should be the same.  That is exactly how I imagine it too - a battle for supremacy in which the nimble fingered survive and the winner is the audience.  You can try to give me the argument that the groove is sacrificed when a band plays this way, but listen to "Young Man's Blues" and tell me honestly if you still feel that way after listening to it.  If Entwistle just stuck to a holding pattern (to use another aerial metaphor) while Townshend soloed, this song wouldn't even have half the intensity.

Example #2:  Unknown bass player from Steppenwolf on "Tighten Up Your Wig".  There are plenty of decent versions of this tune, but this live one is far and away my favorite.  Note that this bass player (Rushton Moreve?) sticks to a uniform, standard blues bass line for most of the song.  To ratchet up the intensity of the song, the band goes into a key change and the bass player changes the bass line a bit each time he plays it, creating more interest in the tune rather than letting it sound like some extended, boring ass Skynard jam.  Of course the slightly overdriven sound of the tune helps too, but the bass player is indeed anchoring everything while doing something fresh each time.

Of course, both approaches are fine.  I think it depends on the song and your band mates.  Since all of us in Trowar are aspiring to be a true power trio, I'm never dissuaded from going off when I feel comfortable.  This is cool because I'm coming up with more and more stuff to try as I play more.  Of course, I'm not at Entwistle levels yet, but stay tuned. . . .

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