Conversation with versatile bassist, mentored by Stanley Clarke, who’s equally at home with his arco classical chops as he is with those nasty funk and R&B grooves!
Reggie Hamilton was born in New York City and spent his formative years on the east coast. His original instrument was a guitar that his mother gave him when he was five. Reggie was lucky to be surrounded by all styles of music. While he listened, Reggie became keenly aware of the distinctive sound and feeling of “the bottom end.” After making that discovery, Reggie switched to the bass guitar and never looked back.
Most of Reggie’s earliest playing experiences were in R&B and jazz clubs. He eventually took up acoustic bass and studied classical technique with Neil Courtney of the Philadelphia Orchestra and composition with Dennis Sandole.
Throughout his stellar career, Hamilton has performed and/or recorded with Boyz II Men, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Seal, Sheila E, John Mellencamp, Herbie Hancock, Wallace Roney, Billy Childs, Warren Zevon, Bette Midler, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Babyface and many, many others. Reggie’s solo release, My Village, is available on Sleepy Thumb Records.
FBPO: You’ve spent time on both the east and west coasts of the U.S. How would compare and contrast your experiences in the music scenes in New York and LA?
RH: Both cities are fantastic as far as musical growth is concerned. Since they’re both international meccas, musicians and artists of every type can be found in both places. LA, for some time, had a stronghold on the recording sessions, but with the advent of technology, any bedroom can potentially garnish a platinum hit today. I can safely say I like the climate in LA. Walking an upright bass through the snow while slinging an electric on my back does not a fun day make!
FBPO: Though your career seemed to be moving along just fine, it seems to have been catapulted dramatically after you hooked up with Stanley Clarke and George Duke. How did those introductions come about?
RH: Actually, my career came through several sources and musical mediums. I met Stanley through Sunnie Paxson. My roommate and I had just moved to LA and had nowhere to go, so Sunnie brought us to Stanley’s for Christmas. The Clarke family was always taking in strays! Stanley introduced me to George. Around the same time, Ronnie Gutierrez introduced me to Billy Childs. Things tend to happen in a series through different musicians and producers. I was fortunate in that I just kept meeting more musicians and producers.
FBPO: What kind of equipment do you use primarily? I’ve always sensed you’re not one to go overboard with a lot of tech-heavy stuff. Am I right?
RH: I wouldn’t say you’re wrong, but I’m probably more tech-heavy than one might think. As far as electric instruments go, I play Fender primarily. My main bass is my five-string signature model, though I do miss my Fodera and I will get another one, one day. Tone is my thing. I learned a lot about tone and the recording process in the studio with Stanley. Tone is the first impression. I use the A-Designs Audio “REDDI” with their P-1 preamp and BAC compressor. I also use their EMPEQ. For live gigs, my rig is the Fender TB 1200 with one or two 610 cabinets. I use pedals from Fender, Dunlop and T-Rex. For synth bass, I use my Mac with the Arturia Soft Synths. My setup is pretty sick! I’m really happy.
FBPO: In addition to all the funk, R&B and pop sessions you’ve done, you seem to have a genuine passion not only for upright bass, but for classical upright bass.
RH: I started playing electric bass when I was 11 and added acoustic bass when I was 13. I didn’t feel well rounded unless I played both. The acoustic bass is another beast entirely. I’m fond of classical music as much as most other kinds of music. I don’t have a preference; I enjoy speed metal as much as Bartok. I’m just trying to play better pizzicato while also trying to play better with the bow. There are players that are awe inspiring, like Gary Karr, Vincent Pasquier, Daniel Marillier, Boguslaw Furtok … the list goes on and on.
FBPO: Tell me about My Village, your solo release.
RH: The My Village release was a labor of love. At that time I was going through some personal issues and was going to scrap it. I had fifty tunes sitting around, some film cues I had written, tidbits… all ready for the trash. My good friend, Carol Hatchett, almost forced me to make the CD. It was therapy for me. Everyone should finish their recordings. It helps new ideas to flourish. I did it all at home, with the exception of the tracks with Billy Childs and George Duke, as well as one interlude (by the way, the interludes were all improvised.) Hell, I even made my own snakes! It was a good first effort, but the next one will be a bit more planned. I’m just not quite sure what direction I wish to explore.
FBPO: What’s keeping you busiest these days?
RH: After nearly a year of touring, it’s nice to be back home. I’m recording bass for composer/producer Mervyn Warren again, starting to teach and play clinics and master classes, including Bass Day-Madrid. I’m also practicing, writing a new double bass concerto, recording a new CD, exercising and studying different things.
FBPO: That’s quite a list. What else would you like to accomplish in your career that you haven’t done yet?
It’s always been a question of fame over success and visa versa for me. As I explore the different styles that have emerged in the last decade, I constantly wonder what’s next for me. I don’t know what artist I would like to work with or if I want to venture out on my own and listen to my own compositions night after night. Do I want to design some new gear to help make bass players lives easier? I don’t know. I’m at the crossroads. I do want to be able to say everything with the bow that I can say pizzicato.
FBPO: What do you like to do when you’re not immersed in music?
RH: I love to run with my kids, exercise, take photos, repair broken toys, drink copious amounts of espresso and work on basses. Besides, who wouldn’t want to be immersed in music? Ha! Idle hands…