Musically diverse bassist talks Blue Öyster Cult and We Will Rock You gigs, including dissecting John Deacon’s brilliant bass lines
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
February 15, 2021
Danny Miranda knows all about kicking out the bass jams with some of the more memorable rock bands out there. The Long Island native became a member of Blue Öyster Cult in 1995, helping redefine the role of the bass in their music during his first tenure with them, which lasted until 2004. From there he went on to perform in a Las Vegas production of the Queen musical We Will Rock You, which then led to him actually playing with Queen and Paul Rodgers during their 2005-2006 tour. Miranda has also performed on the road with Meatloaf and played in the group Faith and Fire. In 2017, he reunited with Blue Öyster Cult, bringing back with him that center stage bass sound that fans love to hear.
FBPO: Tell me about the early days, your musical upbringing and how you became a bass player.
DM: My older brother is a keyboard player, and that’s kind of where I got the bug for music. There was always music going on in the house. His band used to rehearse in our parents’ basement. I would go and play with the gear while they were at school, because he’s twelve years older than me. I would figure out how to turn the organ on and play behind the drums and all that.
FBPO: How old would you have been at that time?
DM: At that time, I’d say about 5 or 6.
FBPO: I’m trying to picture that: Too young to be in school, but old enough to…
DM: Yeah, I was born in 1964, and my brother is 12 years older than me, so I guess the late ‘60s. Between my older sister and my older brother, hearing Motown blasting, and the Beatles, and the Kinks, and all that, got me really in love with music. And then, when the band used to rehearse, I would just be mesmerized, watching them rehearse, and play. My brother had a piano in the living room, so I had strict instructions not to touch it, which luckily my mother ignored and let me play during the day. I would just start picking out melodies, and my brother said, “You know, you have a really good sense of pitch. And you have good ears.” I could just pick out melodies from the radio.
FBPO: What was your first instrument?
DM: I started to play saxophone, which was the first serious instrument, and after playing it for a couple of years, I just gravitated toward guitar, actually, and then ultimately bass. Back then, bass wasn’t usually the first choice of a lot of people. Everybody wants to play guitar, be Jimmy Page, or Jeff Beck, or somebody. And nobody plays bass. So I took the top strings off a guitar, the top two strings, played on the front pickup and I called myself a bass player. So that’s how it started.
FBPO: From what I’ve read about you, you’re a real music lover, a fan of everyone from Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny, to Joni Mitchell, to Slayer, to Latin music…
DM: Oh yeah. Yeah. I listen to it all, usually within the course of an hour. I love it all. I make a living playing in rock bands, but I listen to everything, new age music, jazz, classical, everything, and I just try and take whatever I can from everything. And just as a listener, not even as a musician. I just listen to music all the time. From the minute my eyes open, I’ve got music playing. And I haven’t turned on a TV in a hotel room in probably about eight years. It’s only music all the time. It’s always been like that. It’s probably even more intense now than it’s ever been, always trying to learn and listen to things, and hear things in a different way, and to sift out any new music that is inspiring, as well as the older stuff.
FBPO: What about the bass, specifically? Did you start listening to music differently once you discovered the bass? Who were your bass influences?
DM: When I first started playing bass, it took me a while to find the bass player in the music. I was always finding the guitar player, like in Led Zeppelin, or Aerosmith, or whatever. My brother is a B3 player. He was big in Chicago blues, like Jimmy Smith. My brother was the bass player in his band, so to speak, left-hand and pedals. So I’d sit with him and we’d play Chicago blues. He plays the bass with his left hand and then I would pick it up and try and play. It was always better when he played, but I guess the first bass playing I noticed wasn’t technically a bass, it was Jimmy Smith music. And then it allowed me to hear it more in the other music.
And then one day, I remember hearing Sheer Heart Attack by Queen, a (Rick) Derringer record with Kenny Aaronson on bass, and All the World’s a Stage by Rush. And from that moment it was on. That’s when I said, “Now I need to hear. And I want to be a bass player. And I want to be as good a bass player as I can be.” So that, I guess, was the first real acknowledgement of that. And the Elton John records, I was a huge, and still am, a huge Elton John fan. And I think Dee Murray is one of the grossly underrated and best bass players in pop music history as far as I’m concerned. He was a game changer with me.
FBPO: How did it feel playing John Deacon’s bass lines when you were with Queen?
DM: It was like reading from the bible, because it’s … What I loved about Queen, especially the early Queen stuff, is that everyone had their own real estate. You could really hear what the guitar player was doing, and the bassist, and all that. And it was so inventive, and so daring, and fearless. So when I got the We Will Rock You gig, the musical, I had to play everything as close as possible. That was part of the gig. It was a pleasure to really dissect it and micromanage everything he was doing. Songs you thought you heard and you knew well enough, you’d be surprised that you’re always uncovering things. Like guitar players are with Jimi Hendrix music now, still to this day, always finding that secret note, or something else going on. And it was beautiful to really dissect the genius that is John Deacon. He’s a real, real individual.
FBPO: Did it take some discipline not to stray from the original bass lines? Or did it just come naturally?
DM: I don’t know if it came naturally, but it was a great discipline to learn. Because when you listen to something like that, you go, there’s nothing that can do better than this. So you want to cop it. You want to learn. Because he comes from, I don’t know where he comes from sometimes. You hear the Motown influence, and McCartney, and all that, but there’s something else happening with him. And I’m not sure what’s going on in his head and what he was thinking about. But I would never, never have thought of something like that. And I wound up saying that more times than not. So it was really a great thing to play as close as possible. And really just said like, what is going on here? What was he thinking about to play these notes and these licks? A lot of things I never heard of bass player play before, which is unusual.
FBPO: Playing with Blue Öyster Cult has been a major component of your career. Talk to me about that.
DM: Sure. When I joined Blue Öyster Cult in ’95, what they said to me was, “Listen to the original records, but also listen to the recent live tapes, because it’s evolved over the years. So this is the way we’re playing the things now.” And they said, “Listen to the live stuff. Listen to the studio stuff. And then make your own mind up. You know what’s important and what’s available for you to improvise on and then make your own thumbprint on.” So they gave me a lot of leeway, knowing that I should know not to stray too far away from it. But they gave me the opportunity from the very beginning to put my own personality and take on it. And they made a point to say that they’re a very reactionary live band. Buck Dharma decides how he’s going to play something on the night, at that moment, which may be different from the night before. And he wants people to get on the train with him, and also the drive as well. He’s willing to listen and follow anybody. I’ve always had a lot of musical freedom in the band. What was tricky about that was (that) their arrangements are so bizarre. One verse, the first verse is maybe 19 bars long, and the second verse is 11 bars long, and the chorus is six. It’s deceiving because it’s easy to listen to, but when you start tearing it apart, it becomes quite the roadmap of an arrangement, so it took a lot of concentration on my part. It still does, 25 years on.
FBPO: What advice can you impart to somebody who wants to learn to play bass?
DM: I always tell my students, if you want to do it as a career, listen to everything. Try and play everything. And keep your ears wide open. But if you just want to play for fun, I would say, do things and learn things that make it fun for you, and enjoyable and try and do the best you can at it. Either way you’ve got to learn technique. You’ve got to learn the fretboard. To me, your best friend is the fretboard. And you should know it in your sleep. That will enable you to pick things up easily. And listen to pitches. I used to walk around with a pitch pipe when I was in high school. And just hear sounds and music and things, and try and find the note, to try and pick things up. Because if you hear a song you like, and you just want to play it, the fact that you can teach yourself where it’s at and how to play it will give you endless enjoyment. And the thing is not to get frustrated. If you want to read music, great. If you don’t want to read music, that’s fine too.
If it’s a hobby and something that gives you great pleasure, you don’t have to dig many layers into it, but I would just say, just have fun with it. And I think the best opportunity to have fun with it is just knowing it as best you can, know all the notes, know the fingerboard, and without getting too deep into music theory and all that. Then that will enable you to have an easier time of picking things out. And it’ll train your ear better. The better your ears are, the better the enjoyment will be. I feel like you got to hear something before you play it.
FBPO: Tell me about your gear.
DM: Well, for the most part I’m a Fender player, P basses and jazz basses. Four-strings, primarily. I do play five-string. I’ve got a five-string Music Man. I guess I’ve got about 25 basses. For the most part they’re Fender basses. And the bass that I just had in my hands is an Epiphone Jack Casady, which is probably one of my three favorite basses I’ve ever played in my life. And I’ve been recording with it a ton in the last year, especially during lockdown. And I’ve basically been an Ampeg guy. The first amp I ever had, my father bought me a B-15 in the ‘70s. I usually play through SVTs live. And as far as recording these days, because I’m recording out of my home, everything is pretty much direct. I’ve been using the Tech 21 stuff for years.
FBPO: The Tech 21 stuff is amazing!
DM: Oh yeah! To me, that was a real game changer. Around the late ‘90s, Blue Öyster Cult stopped using their gear for the majority of the gigs and we would be using rental gear. So it was hit or miss what we would get, and the quality of it, from a day-to-day basis. It became very frustrating to me because my sound for the day depended on what amp they gave me. Not what kind of amp, what shape it was in, and quite often, it was very discouraging.
Somebody turned me on to the bass driver, those SansAmp bass driver boxes. And it was a game changer, because I said, “Okay, I go direct.” And I go through that. I go to the front of house. If the amp is great, we mic it. If not, I’m the only one who suffers. And then all of a sudden it started to improve, because Buck Dharma was using the (Tech 21) PSA for his preamp. And one night, the rental amp I had stopped working. And I plugged into that. I’m going, “Well this is the sound! This was great!” And it really changed my whole point of view on the consistency from day to day. And yet it was analog, so it was breathing and it was flexing dynamically like an amplifier would. So that’s been a big part of my sound since the late ‘90s.
FBPO: How about strings?
DM: I’ve been with DR strings since 1997. I use different kinds. On my P basses, usually the Pure Blues, which is like a, they call it quantum nickel. Kind of a cross between stainless steel and nickel. They’re a bit mellower than the stainless. And I use them on a P basses. On my Jazz basses I’m using the Dragon Skins, which are stainless steel. And they just feel smooth. And they’re just fantastic. And I have the Legend Flatlands on a couple of basses as well for the old school Motown feel. And that’s what I use on every bass.
FBPO: What’s keeping you busy these days?
DM: Mostly home recording. I’ve been doing a lot of sessions for people anywhere and everywhere, thanks to a good broadband Wi-Fi, and great computers now. I’ve been doing this thing called Turbo Tribeca, which is a school of musicians in the New York city area that used to record in Manhattan. But since the lockdown, we’re all doing it from our homes. I’m recording as much as I can, for anybody. And I’m recording my own stuff. I write a lot of instrumental-type stuff. I’m trying to get into doing some soundtrack and TV work and all, so I’ve been really concentrating on that in the last few weeks, especially. And really digging deep. And just trying to record something for people every week. Not really doing a whole lot of live work these days until it gets safer. So trying to be safe in the confines of my home and my girlfriend’s home, and making music with people.
FBPO: What about the future? What kind of plans do you have for when life gets back to normal, after the pandemic?
DM: Oh, I plan to start traveling more with BÖC again. We’ve only done maybe three shows in the last 10 months, so, I’m really itching to get back on the road. I love to record, but I’m definitely a live player. I feel like that’s where I get most of my mojo from. And that I miss more than anything. So I hope to get back on the road with them and playing live. And also seeing live music. My girlfriend and I discuss all the time that we miss hearing live music, going out and either it’s an acoustic guitar player at a winery, or going to New Orleans and going into Tipitina’s and hearing a great band, or going to see a symphony, or whatever. There’s nothing like live music, listening and playing. So that I really miss. And I can’t wait for that to come back.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
DM: I don’t know. My brother was teacher, my sister was a teacher. I love teaching guitar and bass, but as far as being a schoolteacher, that never really spoke to me. Nowadays, maybe I’d say it would be something in computers. I love the art of recording, the engineering side, the programming side. I would say it would be something in that. But if it wasn’t music at all, I don’t know. My heart’s never been into anything else but that. I never had a second option.
See Jon’s blog, with key takeaways from this interview here.