Contrary to what we’re taught, there might be something to it
By Jon Liebman
Week of July 27, 2020
As bass players, we’re taught, right from the beginning, to be the loyal, humble servants, dutifully taking care of business, often from the back of the stage.
What’s up with that?!
This week, we published a great interview with Randy George, who just released yet another killer compilation of covers, with Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy. At one point in the conversation, Randy said the bass player should to find a way to stand out.
Really? Doesn’t that fly in the face of everything we’re told about what a bass player “should” be?
“When I was younger,” Randy says, “some of the coolest advice I ever heard from an artist was, ‘Make yourself stand out.’ Good old Bootsy Collins advice. ‘Do something that makes you stand out.’”
Go on, Randy. We’re listening.
“I started wearing really colorful, ornate shirts in the Neal Morse band,” he continues, “because at first, it was like seven, eight people on stage, I’d be in the back. And I don’t know. Prog is known for colorful outfits, so it’s just one of those things.”
So far, I don’t see a problem with what Randy’s saying. Where we get into dangerous territory, though, is when the idea of standing out carries over into how you do your job as a bass player.
In all my instruction, whether it be with my books, private students, or subscribers who are learning bass online at For Bass Players Only, I always drive home the point of understanding what it means to be a bass player, which, traditionally, means playing a supportive role. We lay down the groove, lock in with the drummer, and make the music feel good.
The closest thing to what Randy’s saying is something I heard Nate Watts tell a group of bass players once, which was to “sign it” and put some of yourself into the groove. I like what Nate says, as long as you maintain an appropriate balance and give the music what it needs.
But why would the thought of standing out even come up? Is it an ego thing, or maybe a sign of insecurity?
In some cases, yes, but that’s not where Randy’s coming from. There are a lot of bass players out there, and we all want to be noticed for doing what’s required, and remembered for doing it very well, in our own way.
“You find a way to make yourself stand out,” Randy says, “and just be the best player that you can be, and be willing to listen to other people, and what they’re saying, and try to serve their music without your own ego getting in the way. That’ll go a long way.”
Okay, then. Give it a try, if you’re so moved, and have fun. But be careful and never lose sight of what’s important.
How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, you can check out my interview with Randy here.