America: The Land Of (Bass Player) Opportunity?

By Jon Liebman
October 4, 2018

This week’s interview is living proof that you don’t necessarily have to be born in the middle of a vibrant musical environment in order to attain a successful career in music. Originally from Bolivia, Ramiro Vasquez did not come from a musical family. Moreover, in the area where he grew up, access to anything even remotely resembling an active music scene was virtually non-existent. The only opportunity Ramiro had to experience live music was in his father’s restaurant, and even that was limited to weekends.

Nonetheless, Ramiro and his friends were “hungry to just go find something,” he says. “Whatever was going on out there, we’d try to get a grasp on.” Despite growing up in the pre-YouTube era, Ramiro still managed to discover bass greats like Abraham Laboriel and Jaco Pastorius, generally by way of cassette tapes and CDs. Determined to learn everything he could about music, he made it his business to seek out great players who were performing live so he could witness, firsthand, what they were doing.

Fast-forward to today, Ramiro is a member of award-winning Bolivian pop/rock band Avionica, performing sold-out shows throughout the U.S., Latin America and beyond. In between Avionica dates, he holds down the bottom for country music artist Chris Higbee.

Ramiro’s story is a testament to anyone who truly wants a career in music, and has the drive and the burning desire to do whatever it takes. In the interview, he revels at how today he’s “living the dream” and “enjoying the ride.”

He’s also living proof that you don’t have to be born in the U.S. (or England, for that matter) to have a successful career and/or a high profile gig. Talking to Ramiro got me to thinking about some of the other interviews I’ve conducted with bass players born if far-off places, with less-than-obvious pathways to successful careers in music:

Hussain Jiffry. Born in Sri Lanka, Hussain managed to land a great gig, with Sergio Mendes, for 18 years. Since then, he’s been handling the bass duties for Herb Albert, a position he’s held since 2006. Go to interview.

Armand Sabal-Lecco. Born in Cameroon, Armand spent much of his youth in Paris till he received an invitation from Paul Simon to record on Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints album. Sabal-Lecco has since worked with Vanessa Williams, Sting, Herbie Hancock, Jeff Beck and Robert Trujillo’s Mass Mental project. Go to interview.

Etienne Mbappé. Also from Cameroon, Etienne’s initial exposure to music was made up of solely of Cameroonian songs, he was, initially, completely oblivious to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other mainstream popular groups. Once his career was launched, he ended up performing with the likes of Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, Ray Charles and Steps Ahead. Go to interview.

Emma Anzai. Born in Singapore, Emma subsequently spent time in Tokyo, eventually moving to Australia, where she co-founded the successful hard rock band Sick Puppies. Go to interview.

Bernhard Lackner. A native of Austria, Bernhard eventually made his way to Nashville, becoming entrenched in the U.S. music scene. The long list of people he’s worked includes Mino Cinelu, Adam Holzman, Marco Minnemann, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Adam Nitti, Jeff Coffin, Derico Watson, Chester Thompson.  Go to interview.

Pancho Tomaselli. Born in Quito, Ecuador, Francisco “Pancho” Tomaselli eventually made his way to the U.S., nabbing longtime gigs with War, Philm and many others. Go to interview.

Shavo Odadjian. In addition to being a core member of the heavy metal band System of A Down, Armenian-born Shavarsh “Shavo” Odadjian has collaborated with RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan, featuring George Clinton, John Frusciante and Killa Pries, as well as film scoring titan Hans Zimmer. Go to interview.

Want to share a thought about someone you know of who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the music world? Feel free to leave a comment.

In the meantime, check out my interview with Ramiro here.

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