How Duck Dunn inspired a life-changing epiphany for this bass player

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.

Comments on How Duck Dunn inspired a life-changing epiphany for this bass player

  1. John Evans says:

    “Just becasue the bass has a traditional role to fulfill, that doesn’t mean one has to fulfill it in the traditinal manner” Jack Bruce, ca. 1976 Guitar Player Magazine interview. I saw Duck with Clapton about that time (after “Money & Cigarettes”, maybe after “Behind The Sun”- with Albert Lee, Chris Stanton, and maybe Jamie Oldaker). He was perfect for that gig. And Jack was perfect for Cream. I started gigging in traditional country bands, back when Waylon and Willie really were “outlaws” so basic meat-and-potatoes, laying it down is where I learned. The song and the band dictates how “laying it down” is defined. Trying my Jack-inspired stuff on “Good Hearted Woman” would be completely out of place, but I could slip some of it in on the Chuck Berry styled stuff.

    Once on the old online digest, “The Bottom Line”, someone said “Play music, not your instrument”. That along with the Jack quote above define how I look at playing bass. The bass has two functions, equally important. To define the harmony (i.e. tell everyone what the current chord is, lead them to the next one, and how it relates to the previous one) AND to connect the purely rhythmic part of music to the harmonic and melodic parts. I play bass, not drums. So my role is not strictly rhytmic.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Thanks, John. I especially like that quote about playing music!

  2. marcus davis says:

    Thats what the Bass Player is supposed to do ,just lock it down .If theres a call to do the other stuff then thats fine also but the Bass is just as powerful serving the song not ones ego.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Right on, Marcus. Thanks!

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