From the early days in Oakland to Patrice Rushen and Steely Dan, Freddie tells all in this exclusive, one-on-one interview.
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
January 28, 2013
A native of Oakland, CA, “Ready Freddie” Washington is one of the most highly regarded musicians on the scene today. A first-call studio musician, songwriter and live performer, Freddie has carved out an impressive list of credentials, cutting across multiple musical genres.
Well known for winning a Gold Album award for his songwriting contribution to Patrice Rushen’s smash hit, “Forget Me Nots,” Freddie has also performed and/or recorded with Herbie Hancock, Michael Jackson, Al Jarreau, Aaron Neville, Lionel Ritchie, Anita Baker, B.B. King, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, the Crusaders, George Benson, Deniece Williams, Johnny Mathis, Burt Bacharach, Kenny Loggins and many others. Freddie has been playing bass with Steely Dan since 2006.
FBPO: How would you describe your musical upbringing?
FW: My musical upbringing was very vast. I got to study jazz, classical, R&B, Latin and much more. Being from the Bay Area, I had access to great music programs, like the young musician programs at UC-Berkeley, where I won a scholarship to study bass. I also became a member of the Oakland Youth Symphony Orchestra and got to travel to Europe as a teen with the orchestra.
FBPO: How did you become a bass player?
FW: As a child, I was always drawn to different instruments. I loved the drums, guitar, piano and sax. But early on in my teens, I would listen to the radio and hear bass lines from those great recordings. Those bass lines did something to me no other instrument had ever done. When I got my first bass, I took to it so well I just started studying it.
FBPO: Who were your influences as a young student of bass?
FW: There were so many bass players when I was listening to records and the radio as a kid. At first, I didn’t know who I was listening to. Later I found out it was James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey, Bob Babbitt, Willie Weeks, Paul Jackson with the Headhunters, Larry Graham, Ray Brown and Ron Carter. Everyone on this list had an influence on my upbringing as a bass player.
FBPO: The Bay Area holds quite a place in music history. How do you think growing up in that area influenced you musically?
FW: The influence on me was great because I got to hear so much music growing up. Oakland was a haven for great music and musicians and I got to listen and participate. As a kid walking home from school, I would hear bands in the neighborhood practicing the latest James Brown songs. I would get so excited to hear them play. It stirred my desire to begin my journey.
FBPO: Were you able to take advantage of being so close to Tower of Power, Santana, Sly & the Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane and all the other groups that came out of there, not to mention Rocco Prestia, Larry Graham, Jack Casady and all the great bass players?
FW: Yes, I got to meet Larry Graham when I was in high school. He did a short lunchtime concert for us and he played my Fender bass. He was a big influence in Oakland and helped shape how I played bass. Though I had never meet Rocco or Jack Casady, the music they played is a part of the Bay Area, which is a part of me.
FBPO: Tell me about how you landed the Herbie Hancock gig. That seems to have been a turning point in your career.
FW: It was 1977 and Paul Jackson had just left the Headhunters. My drummer mentor and friend, James Levi, was playing with Herbie and they needed a bass player, so they held auditions. There were bass players from all around the world who wanted that gig! When James asked Herbie if he had decided on a bass player yet, Herbie told him no. So he asked Herbie if he could bring this kid over from Oakland to play for him, and he said yes. I auditioned, he liked what he heard and there we go.
FBPO: Your collaboration with Patrice Rushen has also been very significant.
FW: Patrice is a great artist. We played and wrote a lot of good music together.
FBPO: How about the Steely Dan gig? What’s it like working with Donald Fagan and Walter Becker?
FW: Donald and Walter are great artists. They are great to work with and a lot of fun. I get to play a lot of different music with them all in one. I’ve also played on a couple of Donald’s solo releases, Morph the Cat and his new one, Sunken Condos.
FBPO: What about playing all those classic Steely Dan bass lines? Were you trying to sound decidedly not like Chuck Rainey?
FW: Steely Dan has great bass lines in their music. I was trying to stay true to the feeling of the lines, but put myself in it too.
FBPO: What’s keeping you busy these days?
FW: Road work with Steely Dan, The Dukes of September, some songwriting, producing and studio work.
FBPO: What about the future? What else would you like to do that you haven’t already accomplished?
FW: I’m learning to play rhythm guitar, which is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid. It keeps me growing and learning. I want to produce more as well.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
FW: Nothing. My life and career were preordained by God. I was put here to do that.