“It’s not mind-boggling science or anything,” but…
By Jon Liebman
Week of April 5, 2021
As bass players, we’re a breed of our own. No one else can truly understand how it feels to lay down a bass groove, except of course another bass player.
Take guitar players, for example. It’s often pretty easy to spot a guitar player on bass. Much of the time (I didn’t say all), they sound like guitar players trying to play bass. The notes are all there, but that “certain something” is missing, that special quality that makes the music feel good and totally groove.
The subject came to mind while I was reading Gary Graff’s interview with metal bass icon Geezer Butler, published this week on FBPO.
Though first he was a rhythm guitar player, Geezer was encouraged to play bass because, well, Black Sabbath didn’t need another guitar player. Tony Iommi was doing just fine with it, riffing along with Sabbath drummer Bill Ward.
As Geezer remembers it, “Tony didn’t want a rhythm guitarist in the band. “I said, ‘I’ll switch to bass, then,’ and with the encouragement of Tony and Bill, their patience with me, I started learning from there.”
Geezer’s attitude toward learning bass really got my attention. If he had come at it with any other approach, history might have been very different.
At first, it seems, Geezer didn’t know bass was cool. It’s almost as if he switched to bass by accident. It was going to a Cream concert that made him discover the instrument’s potential.
“I was mesmerized watching Jack Bruce,” he recalls of the concert. “I’d heard of Eric Clapton, but I’d never heard of Jack Bruce….and it was fascinating watching Jack Bruce.”
It was during that moment, he realized, “That’s what I want to do from now on, play bass!”
Fortunately, Geezer didn’t fall into the trap of sounding like a guitar player on bass. As he recalls, he was “just staying to what I know.”
In other words, he listened to the music and gave it what it needed.
“Don’t try and do something you can’t do,” Geezer advises. “Keep to what you feel.”
It’s amazing the kind of results that can emerge with that kind of mindset. When you don’t overanalyze things, and just play naturally, you might come up with something that sticks. Something that can be embraced by non-bassists too.
“I’ve had so many people over the years come up to me to say, ‘The first thing I ever learned on guitar was ‘Iron Man.’”
I’m not saying learning bass is easy. But it doesn’t have to be overly difficult either. As Geezer puts it, “It’s not mind-boggling science or anything.”
Not unless you make that way. Yes, do your homework, practice what you need to learn. In the end, though, play with feeling and have fun. In a way that only a bass player can do.
Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out Gary’s interview with Geezer here.