Nashville studio fixture talks about being schooled by Stanley Clarke and Miroslav Vitous, high profile tours and his monumental “Teach Me Bass Guitar” series!
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
June 7, 2010
Roy Vogt took up the bass at age 14, after being inspired by Jack Bruce, Jack Casady, Chris Hillman and Noel Redding. His first mentor, Dallas bassist Ed Garcia, turned him on to the playing of Ray Brown and Stanley Clarke, bringing about a musical pathway toward jazz and fusion. Roy worked in a variety of rock, funk and country bands in the Dallas-Fort Worth area until he joined the Texas fusion band Aurora. With this band, Roy did gigs opening for Larry Coryell and the L.A. Express. Being in Aurora also enabled Roy to meet and learn from Stanley Clarke, Miroslav Vitous and Max Bennett.
Roy attended the University of Miami School of Music, where, in 1980, he received the first master’s degree ever awarded in electric bass performance. After graduation, Roy moved to Nashville, where he has worked with Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts, country legend Jerry Reed and a host of major rock, country, contemporary Christian and pop acts. He was also staff bassist for WSMV-TV, Nashville’s NBC television affiliate.
As a music educator, Roy is a faculty member at the Belmont University and is also involved in the new Nashville Bass Institute. Additionally, Roy is the author of the acclaimed Teach Me Bass Guitar instructional series.
FBPO: Tell me about your musical upbringing.
RV: Just like Chuck Rainey, I started out with baritone horn in band. Lucky for me it was a bass clef instrument! When I was in school, I remember we got a new band director who wanted to put together a stage band, comparable to what would be called a big band or jazz band nowadays. He told me he didn’t need any baritone horns, but he did need a bass player. I worked all summer on the loading dock of my Dad’s plumbing supply company and took all of my money to Ault’s Music in Ft. Worth, Texas, to buy a Kalamazoo EBO copy and a Gibson Thor bass amp. I was ready for jazz band! My mother was wise enough to find a fine teacher, Pat Nobles, who got me started. I was the kid in high school jazz band, the pit orchestra or the school musical and I was always in a rock band. I guess I was sort of a big fish in a small pond.
A few years later, I was at an audition at a theme park in my hometown of Arlington, Texas, and this little kid came in with a jazz bass and blew me out of the water! I thought, “I either need to quit or find out where this guy takes lessons.” His name was Gilbert Cruz and his bass teacher was Ed Garcia, who had played bass in the 1971 One O’Clock band at NTSU (North Texas State University, now known as University of North Texas) and was a local player and teacher. I studied with Ed all through high school and while I was studying at North Texas State. North Texas State was a great school and very intense, but it was all upright all the time. I was complaining about this to one of my teachers, Dan Haerle, and he encouraged me to check out Don Coffman at the University of Miami. It was a great fit and I went to graduate school there and received the first Master of Music degree in Studio Music & Jazz on Electric Bass the school ever awarded. I later found out it was the first Master’s Degree on Electric Bass ever awarded anywhere in the U.S.
FBPO: How did you come to study with Stanley Clarke, Miroslav Vitous, and Max Bennett?
RV: I was in a popular fusion band in Texas in the mid ’70s called Aurora. We opened up for The L.A. Express and Larry Coryell and Alphonse Mouzon. Max was playing with The L.A. Express so I got to hang with him for an afternoon and ask lots of questions about the L.A. studio scene, playing, etc.
I had a similar experience with Miroslav because he was playing bass with Larry Coryell. A few times Larry came out and did the solo thing and we played with him, so that was fun – and loud!
Stanley totally intimidated me at the time. I had a friend who was working at UTA (University of Texas at Arlington) when Return to Forever came through and he got me in. I was wandering the back halls and there was Stanley! I asked him about a Richard Strauss Orchestral Excerpts book he had mentioned in an article and he gave me some ideas about how to play it. I was playing upright as well by this time. I also transcribed some of the Stanley Clarke album and sent it in to him. He graciously sent me some lead sheets to some of his tunes, “Butterfly Dreams” and “Song of the Wind.” He was really kind to a green kid when he was the rock star of the bass world. I just saw him in concert with a great young band recently. He’s still a master!
FBPO: Can you define a turning point in your life that made you realize you were going to become a professional musician?
RV: Probably the summer after I got out of high school. I got a gig playing six nights at week in a duo at The Inn of The Six Flags in Arlington, Texas. I was making great money and playing bass. Since I was living at home I completely upgraded my gear for NTSU. I was ready to take on the world with a new upright, a new/old Fender bass and a new amp.
FBPO: You were at the University of Miami just a few years before I was (we almost went to school together!). I got a lot out of the music program there. What was your experience like?
RV: It was great and very, very challenging. There were a lot of demands on bassists to play with the fluidity and sophistication of horn players. If you were in Whit (Sidener)’s band, the Concert Jazz Band, you absolutely had to groove! I was also fortunate enough to gig with Randy Bernsen in Mark Colby’s band, opening for Buddy Rich. Jaco was still around at the time, so I got to hang with him a little and hear him play. At one point, he brought in the charts for what would be the Word of Mouth big band and we read them down for him. He wanted something different from the drums on “Domingo” – or maybe he just wanted to play them himself – so he got behind the kit. There I was playing bass with Jaco on drums! I tried to do anything to not sound like him – slap, whatever I could do. I also had a chance to work the shows at The Diplomat, so I played bass for Susan Anton, Anthony Newley, Marvin Hamlisch and many other acts. It was a great experience and lucrative as well.
FBPO: The education you got at Miami undoubtedly catapulted your career. What kind of gigs did you get after you graduated?
RV: I immediately moved to Nashville and got on a major gospel tour with Cynthia Clawson, who had recently won a Dove Award and was nominated for a Grammy, so it was a major gig. I then did a rock tour with Dickey Betts, country tours with John Schneider & the Sweethearts of the Rodeo, a heavy metal tour with Joanna Dean, more country with Jerry Reed and, finally, over seven years with Engelbert Humperdinck. All the while I was either playing sessions, doing TV work or teaching college part-time in Nashville.
FBPO: What led to you become a music educator?
RV: I had taught electric bass at The University of Miami as a graduate assistant, so I had some experience. A friend of mine, Jim Ferguson, was the bass teacher at Belmont University and he was being promoted to Commercial Vocal instructor, a full-time position. I was really young and hungry so a part-time teaching gig, along with a local TV gig and the odds and ends of live work seemed to make sense. I enjoyed the students and teaching and, when it was time to come off the road, it made sense to start teaching full-time at Belmont, which I’ve been doing for the last five years. I have great colleagues, a great situation and great students, so I call that a win.
FBPO: How did the Teach Me Bass Guitar program come about?
RV: A friend of mine, Celeste Myall, referred me to David Crossman, CEO of The Learning Dock. I had done a couple instructional programs before, but David assured me that they wanted to create the Rolls Royce of learning methods, so that intrigued me. It was a year-long process, from idea to production to release.
FBPO: How is this program different from other bass instruction programs?
RV: It is designed to be all-inclusive in how one learns. There is an onscreen fretboard display that shows, in real time, every note I play. There is also written notation and tablature, which I show the student how to not use in a lesson, as well as multiple views on everything I play and demonstrate. I hired some friends who are among the top studio players in Nashville to be the backup band for the student play-alongs. They are guitarist Shane Roberts, keyboardist Tim McDonald and drummer Bryon Larrance. They are the band on my new Urban Legend CD as well. There are over 30 tunes in all styles that the student plays with the DVD. Each tune reinforces an idea or concept from the lesson.
Finally, we have an online community, www.thunderrow.com, where the TMBG Student, or anyone else, can login and ask me questions about material from the course. It’s as close to studying with a private teacher as I can make it, and about 2-3 years worth of work for a serious student. There are 10 DVDs with over 30 hours of instruction. The student can work at his or her own pace, which is important as well.
FBPO: Is TMBG equally beneficial to someone who has never picked up a bass before as it is to someone who’s already fairly proficient, or even quite accomplished?
RV: It was actually designed to take a non-player to a fairly accomplished level. That was our stated goal. That being said, I’ve noticed that a lot of players who have been playing for quite some time seem to be getting a lot out of the early lessons. I think it fills in some gaps for a lot of players.
FBPO: After already having accomplished so much in your career, what else would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?
RV: I have a couple of dreams still kicking around. I love having my own band and writing my own material and would like nothing more than to get out and play with these guys around the country and around the world. I have also rekindled a romance with the upright bass and would really like to return to school to get a doctorate in classical string bass. I’m totally happy not touring, but if the right gig showed up, like, say, Bruce Hornsby, Al Di Meola, Eric Johnson or Robben Ford, I’d figure out a way to juggle it all and get back out there.
FBPO: What do you like to do that’s not necessarily musically oriented?
RV: I love spending time with my wife Dee Dee and our critters, including our two dogs, Sadie and Baxter, who require lots of walks and playtime. I also try to stay physically active with walks, swimming and gardening. It keeps me grounded and teaches me not to take anything too seriously.
See our review of Roy’s Teach Me Bass Guitar instructional series here.
Purchase Teach Me Bass Guitar here.