Written by Barry Warsaw in music on Fri 04 December 2009.
The relationship between the bass player and the drummer is one of the most profound and important relationships in rock music. I've been incredibly fortunate in my musical life to have played with a number of drummers with whom I've had a deep and usually immediate musical connection. Almost all are still close personal friends. For me, playing with a good drummer is probably one of the most important reasons to stick with a band long term (it's a necessary but not sufficient condition).
I've been with the U-Liners now for quite a few years and I've enjoyed every minute playing with our drummer Larry. He's in the Army band, so clearly he's talented, but it goes deeper than that. His feel is impeccable, his timing is great, and he hears everything. What I really love about him (and many of my other favorite drummers) is that he's solid but knows when to go for it. It's the occasional waltzes on the edge that make for an exciting, emotional musical moment. It can't be too often, but it has to be there. An element of risk is involved, and I love more than anything else, those improvisational moments within musical structure of the song, because that's where the magic happens.
This week has been extraordinary too because I've played with three of my favorite drummers of all time. Larry of course (and we have a gig this coming Saturday night), but also two great drummers and long time friends. Last night the U-Liners played a show that Larry couldn't make, so my friend Torro sat in. Torro and I go way back (he was best man at my wedding) and is an amazing musician. And at a jam party last Saturday night, my friend Keith came up from Florida and we got to play together for a while. Keith was actually the first drummer that I played with where I experienced that immediate mind meld, back when I was 16 or 17. We knew from the first song that we had Something, and now even 30 years later, it's still there.
Larry and I have been doing something very cool and fun for a while now that I don't think anybody (maybe not even our fellow band members) know is going on, but it cracks the hell out of us! At the end of songs, there's usually a little closing fill, kind of a ba-dump roll that ends thing. Larry and I have this little game going on where we hit those little closing rolls dead on. I honestly don't know how we do it, nor do I really want to know! We're not 100% together, but it's better than 9-out-of-10, and the rest are pretty darn close. It's not because that closing is the same every time; in fact, he sometimes challenges me by throwing in subtle differences, or delaying the hit, or adding a little extra flourish. The key to me seems to be to all mindfulness. I don't think. I just open my ears and my eyes and let my fingers do the right thing. If you see us laughing at the end of a song, it's because we've hit a particularly good one.
The wild thing about this is that even with the hour or so I played with Keith and Torro this week, I've managed the same connection with them. Keith and I played one song that was almost all improv, and it was one of those chord progressions where it always comes back around to the head, so you're never quite sure how you're going to get out of it. Then, out of nowhere, there it was, a clean ending where we Just Knew it was ending, Keith and I hitting the last notes perfectly in unison, perfectly unplanned, but as tight as if we'd played together every day for those 30 years. We looked up afterward and just had to laugh! Torro and I had several such moments at last nights gig.
It's moments like these that make me so thankful to be a bass player bless with good drummers, and really just great musicians in my life. It's what makes being the bass half of this whole thing such an ongoing joy.
It looks like my new Mac laptop will be delivered today, so it's time to name it. My naming theme has always been Rush references, with a preference going toward one word song and album titles. This laptop is going to dual-boot Mac OS X and Ubuntu, so it seems appropriate to call it hemispheres although I've yet to figure out which one is Apollo and which one is Dionysus. Maybe I should call the machine Cygnus instead...
Hemispheres was also the first Rush album I heard, and I've been a rabid fan ever since.