In Praise Of Bass Players

Interviewed by Andy DoerschukPublished March 21, 2011

Some people compare bassists to guitarists because they both play stringed instruments. But I think that’s like comparing police officers to pastry chefs since they both wear hats. In my opinion, bassists and drummers are forever tied at the waist. Here’s why.

We might both play occasional solos, but aren’t soloists. We’re rarely spokespeople, bandleaders, songwriters, or lead singers. We hardly ever collect the money at the end of the gig, or see ourselves on the cover of Rolling Stone. Instead, we dutifully take positions near in the darker recesses of the stage.

Our jobs are entwined around a common mission – to create a solid, immovable foundation. Without our humble acceptance of that supportive role, those histrionic wankers who hog the spotlight would never get a chance at stardom.

To them I say: You’re welcome. But, to be fair, guitarists and singers aren’t the only ones who take the fraternity of drummers and bassists for granted. Even we can forget the special chemistry that makes a good rhythm section click. In case you wondered – it’s two parts technique and one part magic.

I was recently reminded of that formula when Glade Rassmussen, my longtime bass player in Daniel Castro Band, announced that he was going go on the road for two months as Joe Satriani’s guitar tech. To be honest, I was somewhat dismissive at first – “Hey, no problem. There are plenty of great bass players who would be glad to fill in while Glade is gone. Right?”

Well, yeah, as a matter of fact. Daniel has a great reputation in the San Francisco Bay Area and plays lots of shows every month, so it wasn’t a problem to recruit three of the top local bassists. But while they all brought plenty of talent to the table, none completely filled the void.

One of them (an old friend of mine) is a virtuosic technician, but tended to play too busily. The second one performed flawlessly (as if he had been a member of the band for years) but took so few risks that the shows felt a bit dull. And the third had it all going (tone, chops, feel) but experienced problems remembering arrangements. By the end, I was counting the days until Glade got home.

He finally came back last week and we played on Friday and Saturday nights. From the first downbeat it was like slipping on an old, comfortable pair of shoes. Grooves lay exactly in the right pocket. I didn’t have to call changes onstage. And the bass tone blended perfectly with my kick drum. In short – heaven.

So welcome back, Glade. Now, stay put!