Ever-versatile Living Colour bassist talks about the annual WimBash, solo career and what he hopes to pass on to the next generation of musicians
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
January 9, 2012
Perhaps best known as the bass player for Living Colour, Doug Wimbish has performed and/or recorded with The Rolling Stones, Mos Def, Depeche Mode, Madonna, Jeff Beck, Seal, Madonna, Joe Satriani, Annie Lennox, Tackhead, Jungle Funk and many others. In 1979, Wimbish became a member of the legendary Sugar Hill Records rhythm section, where he performed on such classics as Grandmaster Flash’s The Message, the Melle Mel album White Lines and Angie Stone’s first record, “Funk You Up.” He is also the creator of WimBash, an annual funk tradition.
FBPO: The WimBash has been a NAMM show tradition for several years. How did it get started?
DW: Originally, it was to have a birthday party for my good friend and mentor, Skip McDonald. It was also to bring together a group of friends that I don’t get to see very much. I found a club in Hartford that wanted to participate. It was called Sully’s Pub. The idea was to bring the local bands together — the rock bands, the funk bands, the DJs… We don’t see each other that often, so here was a great opportunity to try to connect the dots. I organized a lot of local bands that just wanted to play. When everybody found out that I was starting to have this party, folks volunteered to come and perform and, before I knew it, I had ten bands. And it all started as a birthday party for Skip!
FBPO: It looks like this year’s WimBash, in Miami Beach, will be infused with some pretty hard-core Afro-Latin funk!
DW: See what I’m saying? That’s what I’m talking about! What’s happening there is quite simple. What I do now is go into a key place and find a host band to work with. I’ve managed to convince some of the old timers to bridge the gap between the information they have while trying to pull in some young talent to help continue this message. Otherwise, it dies off with the old timers. I always want to make sure I go to where the people go. I’ve gone full circle. I’m making sure I’m going to the community. I’m making sure that the Art Deco Preservation League is going to get something that’s going to be amazing for them and something that we can build off of.
FBPO: How does it feel to be part of the Art Deco Weekend? Won’t that be a pretty significant change of pace from the usual NAMM performances?
DW: Yeah it is, but it’s art and the whole idea of art is that somebody creates something and you visually see it or you feel it. It’s about how you translate that information. If somebody sees something from Art Deco weekend, of course it’s easy to use the imagination of what was going on at that time very easily. What I’m trying to do is bridge the gap between bringing a newer interpretation, my interpretation, of how that connects with me. I don’t necessarily have to go back and play something from the ’30s or ’40s. It’s art and that art lives on right now. A person that’s young can see that art right now and see it from how they can put themselves in that world. It’s still living. Even though it starts from an era, people get to see it and they get to experience it for themselves. I’m trying to be that musical message that weaves the fabric together between the old and the new. It’s a great opportunity for me and it’s a great opportunity for a lot of our friends that I have coming down to participate in it.
FBPO: What are you hoping people will walk away from this year’s WimBash saying?
DW: Well, the thing is just unity and family environment and a good atmosphere. Just imagine your core pastel colors. Different sonic colors that are going to be in a beautiful art deco environment, that preserved vibe. The experience of being down there is great and I’m just trying to keep a certain kind of vibe. It is art. I understand all the frequency of what they’re used to with all the dance music stuff, so I’m just trying to put some programs together that will weave in between that stuff. If people are walking down the street, hear the music, feel the vibe and get drawn in, get lost in the music, get lost in the art, have fun, laugh, smile, feel good — isn’t that what we all need? And that energy gets translated to the next person they meet. That’s how we make things happen!
FBPO: You’re involved in all kinds of stuff these days. Tell me about “The Doug Wimbish SoundSystem” show.
DW: It’s basically a collection of all the different things I’ve been involved with over the years. I just made a big playlist and I play on top of that stuff. There are songs that I’ve done with many different bands, whether it’s Tackhead, whether it’s Living Colour, whether it’s Madonna, Annie Lennox, Seal, James Brown, Jeff Beck, Depeche Mode… I’ll pick certain grooves and I’ll kind of just DJ while I’m playing on top of it. I’m playing, I’m singing, I’m doing different kinds of effects and stuff like that. It’s a one-man show, based on the discography of some of the stuff that I’ve done. It’s also been an outlet for me to try out different songs, different grooves, before I put them out. I’ll try certain things out on the crowd. It’s an old Sugar Hill tactic. I just try stuff out and see how the crowd responds.
FBPO: You’ve performed and/or recorded with such a wide array of artists throughout the course of your career, including the ones you just mentioned, as well as Mos Def, Mick Jagger, Joe Satriani and so many others. What lies ahead for you and your career? What else would you like to do that you haven’t already accomplished?
DW: Well, what I’m trying to do right now, really, is to extend a very positive vibe. I’ve been professionally making records since I was 16 years old. I’ve worked with a lot of people on the high end, but I’m always happy to work with the underdog. I don’t want to go to sleep with my stage clothes on. I want to try to do stuff naturally. WimBash has enabled me to meet a ton of great bands. My goal right now is to really dig into WimBash because I get so much joy out of being able to bring these different folks together. Unless you’re doing big festivals, there are no gigs that bring people together genuinely and not forcefully. I like things that gravity pulls together, not that money pulls together. And the whole idea of art is very important to understand what’s happening. I’m still into this for the art. I’m trying to get to the point where people can just see art purely and naturally, without waving the flag. It’s not about money. It’s about peace and love and honesty and that will always pull you in to what’s going on. I’m looking forward to checking out the younger generation, trying to see if I can insert some of the different things I’ve learned over the years.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
DW: A weatherman! I have Indian blood in me and I’ve always been able to predict the weather. Just think of all the people’s hair you can save if you tell them to put a hat on!