UZEB’s star fusionist, who’s also toured with Mike Stern, Frank Gambale, Biréli Lagrène and Billy Cobham, provides a fascinating interview!
Canadian-born bassist Alain Caron embarked upon his musical career at age 11, after winning an amateur contest. By the time he turned 14, he had discovered jazz and found his true calling.
Caron is perhaps best known for his brilliant bass playing in the ’80s super fusion group UZEB, with which he traveled and recorded extensively. He has also toured with music icons Mike Stern, Frank Gambale, Biréli Lagrène, Didier Lockwood, Tiger Okoshi, Billy Cobham, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Dennis Chambers, Alex Acuña, Don Alias, Gino Vannelli and many others.
In 1993, Alain founded his own label, Norac Records. To date, he has released more than twenty albums, with UZEB and as a solo artist. Among his numerous distinctions include and an honorary doctorate from the University of Quebec and being ranked “Best Bass Player” for ten consecutive years by The Jazz Report magazine.
FBPO: How would you describe your musical upbringing?
AC: I’m the youngest of a family of eleven children. My mother used to play violin, guitar, piano and harmonica. She was an artist, but with eleven kids, she had other priorities! I was exposed to music at a very early age and I got the passion for it through my mother’s eyes. I consider myself a self-taught musician, although I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston for a summer semester in 1980. I mainly studied by myself with different technique and theory books, private lessons and correspondence lessons with Charlie Banacos.
FBPO: How do you think growing up in Canada influenced you, musically?
AC: Hard to say. Montreal had a pretty good music scene in the ’80s and ’90s, with many jazz clubs, studio sessions and live concerts. Of course, we were influenced by the music of the USA, with Montreal being only a one-hour drive from the U.S. border. We were also influenced by the music of France, since Quebec is mainly French-speaking, and I went to French school. So I think there’s plenty of that in my music, too.
FBPO: How did you become a bass player?
AC: I started playing guitar at the age of 6 or 7 and I joined my first band at 11. There was no bass player in that band, so the keyboard player was playing bass with his left hand. He also happened to be a very good bass player and he taught me how to play my first bass lines. Not long afterward, I had an offer to join another band as a bass player and I’ve been doing it ever since!
FBPO: How did UZEB come into being?
AC: I met (guitarist) Michel Cusson and (drummer) Jean St. Jacques in a city called Drummondville when I was touring with a top-40 band. They were both studying music there and had a gig every Monday night in a small club. When I heard them play, I knew we had the same approach and ideas about music. Paul Brochu later replaced Jean on drums and we had the band for sixteen years. It was a great trip!
FBPO: That group had quite a following. Tell me about your experience with that band.
AC: We did ten records, toured several countries and did hundreds of concerts. I learned so much about the music industry in that band, including writing, arranging, recording, mixing, mastering and many other aspects. It was a great experience.
FBPO: Tell me about your experience at Berklee College of Music.
AC: It was my first experience in a music school. I really liked it, especially because I was able to find answers to just about any musical question I had, as opposed to being self-taught, where you have to find those answers by yourself! I also had lots of chances to play with great players.
FBPO: I bet living in Boston was a great experience for you, musically and otherwise!
AC: Yes, I played in different clubs all over town. It was great!
FBPO: Let’s talk about your solo career. Tell me about Norac Records.
AC: After we decided to end the group UZEB to focus on our individual solo careers, I first signed a record deal with the same record company we had been using, BCCL. The three members of the group were also co-owners of that label, along with our manager. When our manager decided to sell his shares, I bought the masters of my previous records and founded my own label, Norac Records. I’ve been producing my records ever since. I also have the entire UZEB back catalogue on that label.
FBPO: What’s keeping you busy these days.
AC: Different things. I mainly focus on my music, writing, recording and playing with my band. I also do a fair amount of clinics and master classes in different schools and for Markbass. I’ve toured with Frank Gambale and Otmaro Ruiz. In fact, we did two records with that trio. I’ve also been playing with the Mike Stern Band, Fahir Atakoglu and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez.
FBPO: What lies ahead for your career? What else can we expect to see and hear from Alain Caron in the future?
AC: I’d like to keep doing with I’m doing, writing better music and improving my playing. I hope to have a new record by the end of the year or early next year. I’m also working on giving bass lessons on the Internet.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
AC: That’s never been a question for me. I’ve always wanted to be a musician, but I think I could have been a good hockey player or a farmer, since I like peace and silence!
See our follow-up video interview with Alain from the 2013 NAMM Show: