Coming out of the shadows
by Vanessa Gillard
When one thinks on the dynamics of a band – who is the sexiest, the most energetic, who has the best moves, who has mystique if you will – it has been said that the bass player isn’t the first to come to mind. Whether it’s Kim Deal’s lulling lilt, Bootsy Collins’ bouncing beats or Flea’s metre mash, the bass is an integral part to any song with soul, but somehow the singers and lead guitarists seem to reflect the star sparkle a little more often.
One Calgarian has had enough and will be showcasing the talents and techniques of many of the bass’s most bodacious bad-asses. The first annual Canadian Rockies Bass Bash will be held on April 10 at The Carriage House Inn, and founder and promoter Randy Gray believes the day-long clinic will bring some much needed enlightenment to players and music fans alike.
“You will be able to see some of the best players and one of Canada’s premier bass builders,” says Gray. “You will be able to listen to them speak about their strategies and philosophies on building and playing bass. There will be interaction between the clinicians and the spectators in the form of a question period. Where else will you be able to go and ask a top-notch bass player what it’s like to play with the likes of Carlos Santana or Herbie Hancock?”
The Reflector opted to speak to some local bass players to get the skinny on what it takes to play the fat-four-string, and if indeed the magic is lacking in the all-important rhythm section.
Local bass player Marvin Kee, who’s been playing in Calgary for over 15 years with acts like Los Morenos, says that an event like the Bass Bash is a welcome addition to the local music community – as long as it’s not catering solely to musicians.
“I think it’s a great idea, especially if it caters to the kids and families of Calgary,” says Kee. “But if it’s musicians just showing off for other musicians…well, I may just go grab a burger instead.”
Kee began his musical career by playing guitar, but when a serious shortage of bass players began to stagger his friends’ bands, he decided to take it up. As a funk player, Kee says that picking up a bass was just a matter of time, because “funk without bass is like sex without the ‘umph.’”
When asked about the supposed missing mystique, Kee declares this is an absolute falsehood, and that the bass player holds together a good portion of the melody.
“A lead guitar solo without the rhythm section would just be a serious wankfest,” says the musician. “A singer without a band might as well join an a cappella group. Each member of a band plays an important role in creating the song. And each member of a band should carry his or her own ‘mystique,’ [like] the Pixies. If not, then you’re not a band, you’re just session-players backing up a solo act.”
Aysim Parkan has played bass for about 20 years, and includes playing with local favourites like Forbidden Dimension on her resume. She says the lower frequency of the bass appealed to her more than that of the higher-strung guitar. Parkan too refutes the idea that the bass player gets no love, but adds:
“To me, in rock ‘n’ roll and heavy metal, the rhythm section has more mystique because a really solid rhythm section is the guts of the sound, subtle and powerful. I think of the early sounds of classic rock where without the rhythm section, the guitar and vocals wouldn’t shine like they do with a strong rhythm section. It can be hard to really hear the individual bass notes in a full band, because it’s so tight and solid with the drums blending in with the band.”
Steve Elaschuk, bassist for local band The Neckers, has been playing his heaviest-of-the-axes for 22 years, and began playing bass because everyone else he knew was playing guitar, and “I’m lazy, so I figured it would be easier to learn four strings than six.”
Elaschuk agrees with the sentiment of his comrades in that the bass pulls the whole sound together, but thinks people may be ignorant to the finesse the instrument brings to any sound.
“The reality is that a good rhythm section is just as important as any other part of the band or song,” says the Calgary veteran. “If the low end falls apart or isn’t tight, the whole song will seem disjointed. No one is dancing to the high notes. I imagine people don’t give the bass much credit because most people don’t really know what it does. The average music listener only notices when the bass player messes up, but even then they aren’t really sure why they noticed.”
When it comes to mystique, Elaschuk says he doesn’t really care about all that. He just wants to play and enjoy a brew.
“People don’t sing along in the car to the bass player, so I guess that’s why they notice the singer first. Everyone can sing, either good or bad, so they identify with that part of the song first. I’m fine with that: I like to sit and have a beer after I play without anyone bugging me anyway.”
The bass players agreed that the Bass Bash should be a great addition to an already blooming Calgary music scene, and as far as mystique goes, it would seem the players know best.
The Canrock Bass Bash will be an all-day event from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. There will be an all-star jam, and clinics lead by luminaries such as Adam Nitti and Benny Rietveld, among other notable names. All these, as well as many door prizes, are included in the ticket price, which is $65. For more information, visit www.canrockbassbash.com.