Maybe learning bass just isn’t for you

Are you here to support the band, or do you just want the limelight?

By Jon Liebman
Week of December 14, 2020

What a great interview with Elephant Revival bassist Dango Rose, published this week on FBPO. Like a lot of bass players, Dango took up the instrument somewhat reluctantly, because everyone else wanted to play guitar. (Sound familiar?)

Once he got into it, though, it didn’t take long for Dango to realize what a profound role we bassists play, even if our contributions sometimes go unrecognized or underappreciated by people who just don’t “get” what an important job we have.

Playing bass is not about being flashy or trying to be a rock star. Yes, we love what Billy Sheehan and Victor Wooten and Stanley Clarke, and all the other bass chopmeisters do, but that’s not the message. The primary function of a bass player is to act in a supportive role, laying down the foundation for the band and making the music groove. And Dango has a great perspective on that concept.

Looking back to when he first started learning bass, Dango remembers including Jaco Pastorius, James Jamerson, and Donald “Duck” Dunn among his early bass influences. Eventually, he acquired a liking for acoustic and folk music, as well as songwriting. “Then my direction shifted,” Dango says, “from trying to be super flashy and slap bass, and playing ‘Teen Town’ at 180 beats per minute.”

Along with that shift, Dango came upon a new, deeper understanding of music in general, and bass playing in particular. “It went more into, well, ‘How can I serve the song? How can I serve the ensemble?’” he continues.

If there was ever an ideal attitude for a bass player, that’s it. Remember, your role as a bass player is primarily a supportive one. If you want the limelight all the time, well, maybe bass isn’t for you.

“I guess I’m a traditionalist,” Dango says, “in the sense where bass is an instrument of service in a lot of ways, especially in more of a song-oriented world.”

There is a place for the flashy stuff, as long as you make it the exception rather than the rule. When learning bass, make sure you’re learning how to take care of business and how to give the music what it needs. A lot of people may not realize the significance of our role, and that’s okay. We know.

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Dango here.

Comments on Maybe learning bass just isn’t for you

  1. Edwin Hurwitz says:

    I’ve known Elephant Revival since their inception (and made multitrack recordings of their shows early in their career). We shared shows and are part of the same Colorado scene. I can attest that Dango is not only an excellent bass player per se, but also really plays for the music. Wonderful people and wonderful music. They really play as an ensemble and the bass is so important in creating a unified sound. I’m really pleased to see him featured here.

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