Yellowjackets co-founder talks about the Jeff Lorber gig, life as a producer and that all-but-impossible “upside down” bass technique!
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
May 23, 2016
FBPO: It’s been a while since you left the Yellowjackets. Wasn’t that originally supposed to be a temporary hiatus?
JH: Well, it’s complex, as any kind of decision like that would be. I was really seriously thinking of leaving the band, but at first we thought we’d make it a hiatus so we could think about it a little further. When I approached the other band members about leaving the group, it had taken me probably somewhat over a year to make that decision, ‘cause it’s been a big part of my life. I was in that band for thirty-two years, so to actually consider leaving a project like that after thirty-two years, it took a bit of time to really gather my thoughts and think about all the different dynamics and elements that that project brought to my life.
I was being inundated with a lot of things that were pushing me towards making that decision. Some of the decision would involve my family and some of the decision involved that fact that I was getting a lot of solicitation to produce records, which is something that I was really interested in. I’ve been producing records since the early ‘80s, so at the time of making the decision, I had already produced about ninety projects.
And I was having “a big birthday” [Laughs]. I was turning 60 at the time; now I’m 64, so it’s been four years since I left the band. Since then, I’ve produced almost forty new projects. It’s been an interesting change in my life, but it has added some new elements to my life and I think the decision was well made in that sense, although I still miss playing with that band. The chemistry was awesome and creatively we did, I think, a lot of very interesting things.
FBPO: Yes you did! Did you have anything to do with Felix (Pastorius) stepping in for you, or did that happen after you were gone? How did that transition happen?
JH: Actually, I did endorse them bringing Felix in, but I didn’t initiate the solicitation there. That was brought on, I think, mostly by management. There were several bass players being looked at at that time and Felix ended up getting the chair and he stayed in that chair for almost three years. They did one recording, which was The Rise In The Road, and then he left, which brought them to the current state, which is with a new bassist from Australia, who happens to live in Virginia now, Dane Alderson, a virtuosic young player. I think it’s a good fit.
They just released a brand new record named Cohearence. So things are still moving along, going forward. I miss playing with those guys, but, at the same time, I’ve been very busy working on a lot of production work and I’ve been touring with a variety of different people, including the Allan Holdsworth Trio; Oz Noy’s trio, a guitarist from Tel Aviv, with drummer Dave Weckl; and I produced the last four Jeff Lorber Fusion records and I’ve been extensively touring with that band.
FBPO: You’ve done a lot with Jeff for quite some time now. Would you consider that your new “main gig?”
JH: You know, I guess so, on some level. I mean I can’t compare that to all that I did with the Yellowjackets, but on some level, I’ve been brought in graciously by Jeff Lorber to partner in this venture, the new Jeff Lorber Fusion. I almost can’t accept the fact that I’m in the Jeff Lorber Fusion because I was a big fan of the original band from the mid ‘70s. But this is a new version of Jeff Lorber Fusion, so I guess on that level I can accept my position working in that new group.
This last record has done quite well, so we’ve been promoting that since its release, which was late in 2015. We’re starting to talk about possibly doing a new project, just kind of brainstorming on that and the direction and working on some new material. I’m not sure where that’s gonna go; it’s really at its infant stage at this point. That would be my fifth co-production for the new Jeff Lorber Fusion.
FBPO: Jimmy, in the first interview you did with us, we didn’t really get into your bass technique too much. Could you talk about that a little bit? I mean the way you play the bass, upside down, seems all but totally impossible!
JH: [Laughs] Sure! Not really impossible, but maybe not the best choice in technique. I was a naïve 13-year-old when I started playing the electric bass and, being naturally left-handed, and in 1963 only having the option of buying a right-handed bass and not having to wait for a left-handed custom model for like four or five months, I bought a right-handed bass and learned how to play it upside down. That created a lot of problems for me on many levels, but I managed to persevere and, fortunately, I hooked up with some really cool musicians. They were also really good teachers that, along the way, gave me support. Continuing to play the instrument as I learned it, self-taught for the first five years, playing the electric bass, but having the strings upside down, definitely causes a lot of problems in a conventional style of playing the instrument, so I had to adjust my technique to the instrument that I was playing. I ended up coming up with different ways of playing things that could emulate more conventional types of playing.
It was a work in progress and it still is to this day, after playing the instrument for fifty-one years. I came to realize that playing an instrument, any instrument, any way you might play the instrument is somewhat of a challenge. Unless you’re born with a gift, it’s somewhat of a challenge and will always be a work in progress. So, in that sense, I don’t feel so bad about it and I definitely have a lot of self-motivation. That was also key in working on my technique and, you know, getting my choppers together to play complex music or what have you.
You can play simple music ‘cause there’s a certain kind of chop that you need to play simple, and a mindset. I think just playing an instrument in general requires dedication and study, a lot of practice time and a lot of time spent with the instrument to get comfortable and hopefully find somewhat of a voice with the instrument so that when you play the instrument you’re enabling yourself to express yourself.
FBPO: Can you play the bass “normally?”
JH: No. [Laughs] I could attempt to play the bass normally, but that would be yet another big challenge, trying to play the instrument at all. I have kind of fooled around with it here and there, but it’s definitely much different than what I do.
FBPO: Do you play any upright?
JH: No, I don’t, and part of that was the fact that I didn’t have an upright for a while when I first started playing. I did do some gigs on upright, but it didn’t really feel comfortable to me. I guess it might have been fate. At the time, I was getting a lot of gigs on the electric bass, so it just seemed that I needed to really focus on that instrument more than the string bass.
FBPO: I’ve known John Patitucci for, gotta be about 30 years now, and I found out a few years ago that he is left-handed. Did you know that?
JH: Yes I did. I know John very well. He’s lefty, but he learned the instrument, so to speak, in a “correct” manner, in a conventional manner. He’s a monstrous musician and my hat’s off to him. I’m a big fan.
FBPO: Paul McCartney couldn’t play like you, though, right?
JH: No! [Laughing] He did the right thing and he learned to play the bass conventionally, in a proper manner. But he’s also a multi-instrumentalist, which really helped him. He’s a fine piano player and he’s a really good guitar player. And from what I understand, he played drums on some of the Beatles records.
FBPO: Not a bad songwriter, either.
JH: Not a bad songwriter and a really good singer! [Laughs]
FBPO: Let’s talk a little bit about your equipment. You and Mike Tobias go back quite a ways.
JH: One of my main instruments is an MTD. I own a lot of old Tobias basses. When Mike started MTD, after having sold Tobias to Gibson, I was happy to support him and his new company. Mike just built me a new instrument, which I’m waiting to receive, so I’m looking forward to that.
FBPO: I understand you’re with Trickfish amps now, too.
JH: I just moved over to them. I ran into Richard Ruse and he was telling me about his new company. I did a demo with some of their gear and I was really impressed, so I decided to move over to Trickfish and I’m really excited about working with them.
FBPO: How about the future, Jimmy? There’s always somebody else to produce, there’s always another project. Is there something that you’ve always wanted to do that you still haven’t done but you would like to?
JH: Oh, gosh. There’s a lot of things! [Laughs] All I can do right now is be thankful for the position I’m in with producing a lot of different people.
I just finished a new Jeff Richmond record. He’s a really wonderful guitar player here in the Southland. I’m working with a guitar player out of Dallas, Texas, named Kenny Pore. We’ve done some really nice music with his new record that will be out soon. And I just finished this singer’s record; her name is Luba Mason. She’s out of New York; she’s married to Rubén Blades. I played on her second record, which was produced by Renato Neto, who was playing keyboards with Prince at the time. I produced this new record, which will be coming out any day now. It’s called Mixtura.
I produced the new Marilyn Scott record, which has yet to see the light of day, but it will be coming out, hopefully, by the end of this year. I’ve produced seven records for her now.
I just finished producing a project for a Turkish singer named Melbreeze. It’s very interesting music. She sings in Turkish, she sings in English and she also sings in Spanish! She’s a very passion-oriented pop artist, but she’s got a very creative and progressive ear. She’s really into Weather Report and things like that.
FBPO: Do you think you’ll ever reunite with the Yellowjackets?
JH: At this point, it doesn’t seem like it’s something that’s gonna happen. We’ll just have to see what the future holds. I’m open for anything ‘cause I enjoy playing music and I still have a lot of creative juice flowing through my veins. Anything’s possible, as far as I’m concerned. I re-hooked up with Marc Russo a few years ago and we started talking about doing a project together. I don’t know what the other fellas might be thinking, but I’m happy to give that some thought. We’ll just see what happens.
FBPO: What would you be if you were not a bass player?
JH: [Laughs] A chef! It didn’t take me long to think about that one. I enjoy cooking and I, at one time, was thinking about attending Le Courdon Bleu school of cooking in France.