Oh. Man! I’ve been completely blowing it up until now!
By Jon Liebman
April 8, 2022
In learning bass, do you ever feel frustrated from not knowing exactly what to play? You love the music, and you really want to play it, but you’re having trouble figuring out how to do it.
If you know that feeling – and who hasn’t known it at one time or another? – I have some good news for you.
It’s possible that you’re trying too hard. I’ve seen it a thousand times. People have the best of intentions, they want to get really good at learning bass, but they’re focusing on the wrong things. They’re trying to do things that don’t have to do. In fact, they’re trying to do things they shouldn’t do.
I had a super fun conversation with Dave Meros recently, published as this week’s FBPO interview. Dave is a phenomenal bass player whose resume includes playing with (and managing) Eric Burdon & the Animals, holding down the bass chair in Iron Butterfly (remember “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida?”) and his current gigs with Pattern-Seeking Animals, and prog outfit Spock’s Beard.
Dave recounted an Eric Clapton concert he attended around 1980 or ’81, where Duck Dunn was playing bass. His initial reaction to Duck’s playing was “disappointing,” he says, not at all what was expecting from such a bass legend.
In the end, it turned out to be a powerful, life-changing experience.
“I thought he was gonna be jammin’ and it was gonna be great,” Dave remembers. He was excited to see Duck perform live and was expecting to be thrilled.
But Dave’s excitement quickly turned to disappointment. “He played the bass parts, and that was all,” Dave says. “He didn’t deviate one time.”
And… that’s a bad thing???
“I was very disappointed with Duck Dunn for a while,” Dave remembers. “Until about half-way through and it was like, ‘Oh. Man! I’ve been completely blowing it up until now!’ And it changed me as a bass player.”
Dave describes the experience as “a really, really big epiphany.” It was a huge turning point and it gave him a true understanding of what it means to be a bass player.
“One of the biggest lessons for me was you have to want to be a bass player, and play bass like a bass player should play,” he says. “Most of the time, it’s just holding it down.”
That line is absolutely worth repeating:
MOST OF THE TIME, IT’S JUST HOLDING IT DOWN!
Anyone learning bass has got to understand that the job of the bass player is: 1) lock in with the drummer; 2) set the foundation for the band: and 3) make the music feel good.
It’s not about you; it’s about the song. The bass plays a supportive role. But that doesn’t mean it’s in the background. Was James Jamerson in the background? Was Rocco Prestia in the background? Was Larry Graham in the background?
“That’s really important, that you realize your place,” Dave says, “and it’s really fun to play bass. You need to be happy with doing that.”
Think of those words every time you get frustrated by not being able to play what you think you should be playing. As you learn bass, be sure to focus on doing the right thing, the thing that will make you everybody’s favorite bass player. “Most of the time, it’s just holding it down.”
Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and tell me if you’ve ever encountered somebody (maybe you?) focusing on the wrong things as a bass player, rather than “just holding it down.” In the meantime, watch my interview with Dave here.