French-born player/producer talks to FBPO about how he broke in to the LA music scene and his association with Bernie Taupin
Josquin des Pres is a world-renowned bassist, producer, songwriter, author and music entrepreneur. Originally from France, at an early age, Josquin focused relentlessly on becoming a professional musician, producer and songwriter. After landing his first record deal at 19 and touring the world with some of the biggest acts in France, Josquin moved to Southern California to take his career to the next level.
Shortly after his arrival, he became a much sought-after bassist, after which he expanded his skills to include producing, arranging and songwriting.
In the late ’80s, Josquin began a longtime collaborative writing partnership with legendary Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin. The collaboration led to publishing contracts with Warner Chappell, EMI, SBK and others.
A prolific author, Josquin has written 18 books dealing with bass guitar instruction and the music industry with sales in the hundreds of thousands. He has also produced dozens of CDs and composed music for MTV, VH1, CBS, ABC, BET, CNN, NBC, HGTV, TBS, Bravo, Food Network, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, CW, Time Warner, Universal, EMI and Sony and for shows including, Anderson Cooper, Ellen Degeneres, Tyra Banks, George Lopez, Pawnstars, House Hunters, Next Food Star, TMZ, Extra, Catfish, Cribs, Pimp My Ride, 10 On Top, The Seven, Teen Mom and many others.
FBPO: Tell me about your musical upbringing.
JDP: I was born in St. Tropez and grew up in the south of France in an environment where classical music was very prominent, both at home and in school. We were less than 100 miles from both the Spanish and Italian borders. The radio airwaves were a melting pot of French, Flamenco, Spanish and Italian music. As far as I can remember, I had an interest in a wide variety of music, from classical to Django Reinhart and Stéphane Grapelli. I can remember when Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew came out and how it turned my world upside down. However, ultimately, I was attracted to pop songs with an edge. I just love great simple melodies and heavy guitars, so The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and pretty much the whole British invasion all the way to Cream and Led Zeppelin caught my ears early on.
FBPO: What made you gravitate toward the bass?
JDP: : First, I started with Spanish guitar, then a bit of violin. By the time the British Invasion came around, a local band needed a bass player for a weekend show, so I became the designated bass player. I had to learn twenty songs in a few days.
FBPO: Which bass players influenced you the most as you began to learn the instrument?
JDP: : I would have to say Jack Bruce was the first bass player who caught my attention, then John Paul Jones helped take my playing to the next level. Finally, Jaco Pastorius blew my brain to pieces!
FBPO: France certainly has a very rich musical heritage. What kind of impact would you say growing up in that environment had on your musical development?
JDP: : Growing up in a classical music environment has a tremendous impact on your ear and your sense of harmony, especially as a composer, songwriter, etc. My father had an enormous record collection. Classical music filled the house 24/7.
FBPO: At what point did your career begin to take off? Can you identify a specific event, a defining moment?
JDP: : That is always hard to identify, but looking back, I could say that a defining moment was when at 19 years old. I found myself in Paris, signing my first recording contract with a band on United Artists Records. That was when I officially became a professional musician and never had a “day job” onward.
FBPO: How did you manage to break in to the music scene in Southern California. That must have taken some guts!
JDP: : Yes, it took some guts and some risks. I was touring in Europe and Asia with a prominent fusion jazz violinist named Didier Lockwood and while hanging out at venues backstage and hotels we shared on tour, I started collecting phone numbers from various American musicians. One day I hopped on a train from Paris to Brussels with a one-way plane ticket from Brussels to L.A., a suitcase and my P-Bass and never looked back. When I arrived in L.A. in the early ’80s, I started sitting in at L.A. hot spots: The Baked Potato, Donte’s, The Come Back Inn in Venice, etc., and also numerous clubs down in San Diego. The music scene was extremely vivacious back then. I just became a working musician, playing the club scene, doing sessions, producing, basically anything I could get hired for.
FBPO: You’re also known as quite a prolific writer and educator. Tell me about some of the teaching resources you’ve developed.
JDP: : Around 1990, as I was switching more from being a bass player to a producer and songwriter, I felt the need to stay connected to the bass. A former student of mine suggested I write a book containing all the warm up and dexterity exercises I had created for him. From this my first book, Bass Fitness, was born. I collected a couple endorsements from well-known bass players, but most importantly from Rich Appleman, who, at the time, was Chairman of the Bass Department at Berklee College of Music. Mr. Appleman, whom I had never met, was so incredibly gracious to endorse Bass Fitness. Hal Leonard Publishing released it and that was the beginning of a long series of releases: Classic Funk and R&B Bass, J.S. Bach for Bass, etc. Sixteen altogether, totaling over 200,000 copies sold to date.
FBPO: Tell me about your experience with Bernie Taupin. How did that come about?
JDP: : In the late ’80s, a mutual friend, producer Mark Paladino – not related to Pino – asked me to join him in co-producing a song Bernie was writing. A few years later came the opportunity to collaborate with him. Being a very private person and very selective about whom he works with, co-writing with Taupin was something that could have only happened on his terms. Needless to day, I was very honored to be asked. To this day I’ve written over a dozen songs with him.
FBPO: What was it like working with Bernie?
JDP: : It has been an extraordinary experience. Landing the opportunity to collaborate with someone who has created this incredible body of work has been a blessing that helped take my career and skills to a whole new level.
FBPO: What’s his approach to songwriting?
JDP: : Bernie writes the words first and then the music comes second, pretty much like he does with Elton or anyone else. His lyrics sing right off the paper. I think that says it all!
FBPO: What’s keeping you busy these days?
JDP: : Right now I run my publishing company, Track Star Entertainment. We focus on music for film/TV and music libraries. Additionally, I still write songs, produce and program tracks for a variety of up-and-coming pop artists, anything from Americana, pop-rock to dance to dubstep. I also play live about twice a month.
I still do sessions in the studio and also over the Internet. People send me their files to record on. I just recorded bass on Russian guitarist Roman Miroshnichenko’s CD, sharing credits along side Larry Coryell, Dominique DiPiazza, Mario Olivares and others.
FBPO: How about the future? You’ve already done so much. What else would you like to do that you haven’t already accomplished?
JDP: : The future… I have many things in the pipeline. I have yet to do a solo project. I did not want to do a “bass acrobat” solo CD, first because I’m not a “bass acrobat.” I’m more of a songwriter/composer. A while back, I started a project with a couple members of The Gipsy Kings, sort of a cross cultural blend of World Music and pop, but since they live in France and I live in California, it may take a while to complete. I currently have my hands in a few other new ventures. I feel very fortunate that for over four decades I can make a great living playing or participating in the creation of music. You know the old saying: “Do something you enjoy and you’ll never work a single day in your life.” Well, I feel I’ve never worked a single day in my life.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player, outside of music?
JDP: : Actually, I wish I could have been a novelist, but I did not have that sort of creative imagination. I would have probably been an author’s or artist’s agent of some sort. I just enjoy making things happen.