Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Cover of "The Bassist's Bible: How to Play Every Bass Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydecoby Tim Boomer, author of The Bassist’s Bible: How to Play Every Bass Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco

The most common role for a bassist is, of course, to support his or her band rhythmically and harmonically. Bassists are not limited to any specific role, however, as we can do considerably more, such as playing the hook (or the melody) and soloing, improvising, and comping.

Providing a solid foundation for a band is still, however, the usual role of the bassist—especially if you play in a dance band. The bassist is the bridge between the melodic players and the rhythm section. You live in both worlds: melody and rhythm. You are that bridge.

There is truth in the saying that “You make most of your money below the fifth fret.” You establish the chord being played and the basis of the pulse simultaneously by playing the root note of the chord on the first beat of a measure (and at most chord changes). Next in importance to the root, usually, is the fifth, then the third or seventh. Pretty simple stuff, but it works.

It is also common to play patterns. Bass lines. This does not prevent you from varying the pattern in a musical way by slightly changing the notes played, note duration, or by adding a little syncopation, but over the course of a song there will still typically be a pattern. This might seem obvious, or easy, but you need to lock in with the drummer, be aware of solos, notice when the lead singer changes the form, watch the dancers on the floor, try not to knock over your drink, and still keep it interesting.

You can learn a lot by watching the dancers and seeing the effects of your playing. A groove is a pattern, a predictable sound that dancers can follow. Watch them. Bassists (and the rest of the band) may get bored playing the same lines over and over again, so, of course you’ll fill and vary the pattern in other ways, but if you break the groove too often, dancers will get out of sync, the thread will be broken, and the dancers will stop.

One way to be creative, and keep dancers happy, is to understand playing “in the pocket.” This is often described as playing in such a way that the groove is very solid. The bassist locks in with the drummer and never wavers. Using the standard rock beat as an example, the drummer plays kick drum on beat one (the downbeat) and also on beat three, and the snare on beats two and four. The bassist also plays precisely on the downbeat, followed by a pattern. That pattern can be a little ahead of the beat or behind the beat or exactly on the beat. As long as the drummer and bassist are in sync with each other, and play/feel the downbeat at the same time, they are in the pocket. You know it when youre in it, as it feels like the music is playing you, or the entire band is one instrument.

If you are not playing for dancers, you can leave the groove at any time—but returning to it provides resolution in a song. For instance, in jazz, the bassist (or more often a horn player or pianist) plays the “head” (the melody played in the first verse of a multi-verse song) after several choruses of solos to bring the tune to a close. And the audience will recognize it—“Oh look, theyre playing that theme again”—and any improvisation that came before the final statement of the head will seem intentional.

In the same way, once you have established the basic foundation of a song, look for holes where nothing much is happening—a sustained note or chord perhaps, or a straight groove. You can then find a space to develop an idea—either melodically or rhythmically. You can repeat a note, syncopate, or play (a) note(s) outside of the pattern you’ve established.

You can also intentionally leave holes by resting, as in Reggae bass lines. This sets up a pattern that extends across measures rather than a pattern that repeats within a single measure. It still allows complexity, but in a relaxed context. It also allows your bandmates a lot of space. Study Miles Davis to learn about the spaces in music.

Developing your own style has a lot to do with knowing when to play and when not to. In a few words: “If in doubt, lay out.” Typically, if there are vocals, you simplify and come down in volume to allow the focus to be on the vocalist.

Another important aspect of playing bass is to learn to use fills tastefully. Fills are usually played at the end of four– (or eight- or twelve-) measure patterns that lead to a new section of a song or the repeat of a verse. They are not played in random places.

This doesnt mean that a bassist must strictly follow rules. Jazz musicians and jam bands often break rules, and often get away with it—sometimes with brilliant results. It is simply helpful to know that some styles sound better when you play patterns typical of them.

The bass now encompasses everything from standup bass to electric bass to synthesized and sampled bass. Basses themselves now feature not just 4 strings, but 5, 6, and even 12 strings; theyre produced with up to 28 frets. There are both fretted and fretless basses, acoustic bass guitars, piccolo basses, and onboard-MIDI basses. And its certain that more variations are waiting in the wings.

The technique of playing these instruments has also evolved greatly over the years. Bass technique is virtually unlimited now. You can combine nearly any style with any other, from anywhere in the world. You can use effects, tap, slap, pluck, pick, thump, play with a bow (or an e-bow). You can lay down an unmistakable heavy groove or take extended solos in a jam format. You can also just play roots, fifths, and octaves on a standup or a P-bass and be happy.

As one of my deepest influences, John Entwistle from The Who, said when asked what he thought when he saw another bass player, and what he felt about the camaraderie of bassists: “The first thing I think of is poor fellow” (and, paraphrasing, “poor bastard”). We are underrated and underappreciated, but essential.

I love bass. Thank you all for being bassists. We need more of us.

It’s always fun to see what other folks include on their “desert island discs,” so here you go. Since most such lists are for single genres and usually encompass ten discs, I’ve allowed myself more leeway here — listing all types of pop music — and am listing 25 discs, which seems fair given that they cover the following genres (jazz, blues, soul, funk, country, latin jazz, rock, and punk). I’m cheating by adding a list of “honorable mentions.” Whatever. Here ya go: my desert island discs, in no particular order:\

Desert Island Discs

  • James Brown Live at the Apollo (1960) — the seminal early funk disc. If you only listen to one cut off this, check out “I’ll Go Crazy.”
  • Kutche, by Saib Khaled and Safy Boutella — the best Rai disc. Incredibly good musicianship combined with intricate syncopation. Nothing else in the genre comes close.
  • La Cuna, by Ray Barretto — not for Afro-Cuban purists, this disc features a mix of genres (latin jazz, latin rock, funk, soul) with amazingly good musicianship by some of the best musicians of the late ’70s and early ’80s (including Barretto, Steve Gadd, John Tropea, and Joe Farrell). The next time you’re impressed by some guitarist playing fast scalar passages, listen to Tropea’s solo on “The Old Mountain.” That’ll put it in perspective.
  • Songs for a Tailor, by Jack Bruce. Impressively inventive song writing, and better than competent execution.
  • Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.  The best, most driving rock album of the ’70s.
  • The Harder They Come soundtrack. Pretty much every great tune from this mind-numbingly boring, awful genre on a pair of discs. Huge fun and great lyrics.
  • Repo Man soundtrack. Minus the Sex Pistols, the best punk from the early ’80s all in one place. Iggy Pop’s title track is a gem.
  • The Sermon, by Jimmy Smith. My favorite type of music — hard-driving blues-jazz with great solos (especially those by Smith and guitarist Kenny Burrell).
  • Jacaranda, by Luiz Bonfa. Not available on CD, this ’70s Brazilian-jazz-rock album features great songwriting and very good musicianship. Not for those who expect sambas or bossas.
  • Tied to the Tracks, by Treat Her Right. A great, hard-driving blues-rock album by the forerunner to Morphine. The lyrics are twisted, the harp playing is mind boggling, and this disc is better than anything by Morphine.
  • Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis. Beautifully executed, the perfect background for a 3:00 am beer out on the patio.
  • Everlastin’ Tears, by Willie Edwards. Great contemporary blues. Edwards got totally screwed with this one, signing away the rights to all the songs to the producer. I can’t re-record any of this shit without dealing with the vampire who’s sucked Willie dry.
  • Are You Experienced?, by Jim Hendrix. Need I say more?
  • Strange Days, by the Doors. Every song is great, including two hard-to-play masterpieces, “Love Me Two Times” and “Moonlight Drive.”
  • Inner Mounting Flame, by Mahavishnu Orchestra. Great musicianship and proof that odd-time and compound-meter songs can drive. A whole lot of fun.
  • Are We Not Men?, by Devo. The best and by far funniest new-wave album. Contains the best cover ever recorded: Devo’s version of “Satisfaction.”
  • The Last Real Texas Blues Band, by Doug Sahm. Great, greasy R&B — a reminder of an era.
  • Sugar Thieves Live. Both a wonderful contemporary blues band and a throwback to classic material.
  • Losin’ Hand, by Al Perry and the Cattle. Well produced and very funny alt-country.
  • Ah Um, by Charlie Mingus. Probably the best, most intricate blues-jazz album ever recorded.
  • That’s The Way I Feel (Thelonious Monk tribute by various artists.) An absolutely fantastic, mind-boggling, at times hilarious (via Todd Rundgren!) tribute to the greatest jazz composer who ever lived (and, yeah, I’m counting Duke).
  • Bringing It All Back Home, by Bob Dylan. The first album that helped me focus my rage at the atrocities being committed to others and to me by the government and the corporations.
  • Barbeque Dog, by Ronald Shannon Jackson. A brutal, dissonant LP with one of the cuts simultaneously in different keys. Thirty years on, it sounds fresh.
  • How Shall the Wolf Survive?, by Los Lobos.  The first album by my favorite live band. A whole lotta fun, with uncomfortable things to think about.
  • Exile on Main Street, by the Rolling Stones. Not their best LP by a long shot, but the one I want to hear after having a few beers.

Honorable Mentions

  • Revolver, by the Beatles (best songwriters of the 20th century)
  • Abbey Road, by the Beatles. (see above)
  • The Doors (eponymous album).
  • L.A. Woman, by The Doors. Like so many other albums of this time, the first side was great and the second side sucked.
  • Beggar’s Banquet, by the Rolling Stones.
  • Let It Bleed, by the Rolling Stones.
  • Battered Ornaments (eponymous)
  • Harmony Row, by Jack Bruce. Damn near as good as “Songs for a Tailor” — the songs he saved up while being the bassist in Cream.
  • Thousands on a Raft, by Pete Brown. Fun stuff by Cream’s lyricist.
  • Raw Sienna, by Savoy Brown. Kim Simmonds’ attempt to match the Beatles. Not anywhere close to successful there, but a very good album in its own way.
  • Science Fiction, by Ornette Coleman.
  • Guitars Cadilacs, by Dwight Yoakam. Best country album of the ’80s.
  • In a Silent Way, Miles Davis.
  • Jack Johnson, Miles Davis.
  • Bitches Brew, Miles Davis.
  • On the Corner, Miles Davis. A great early genre-bending LP.
  • Jerry Reed’s Greatest Hits, most of the soundtrack from Jerry’s by-far best album, Smoky and Bandit II, plus the novelty hits (“Amos Mose,” etc.)
  • Junior High, Junior Brown. Huge tongue-in-cheek fun from maybe the best current guitar player.
  • Gravity, by James Brown. The best funk album of the ’80s.
  • L.A. is My Lady, by Frank Sinatra. I still can’t decide whether this is deliberate or inadvertent self-parody. Fun either way.
  • Birds of Fire, Mahavishnu Orchestra.
  • Treat Her Right (eponymous album). Contains a fantastic cover of Harlan Howard’s “Everglades.”


This afternoon I was shooting the shit with a friend, swapping stories, and he related one of the better bar-gig tales I’ve ever heard:

In the early ’80s he was playing in a country band in Tucson, and they had a regular weekend job playing in a bar out in Avra Valley (west of the Tucson Mountains, and at the time still very much a part of the wild west). The clientele consisted of shitkickers and bikers, who of course didn’t mix.

As one would expect — what with the cost of a new Harley running to close to $30,000 — the bikers were a lot better off than the cowboys, and a lot of them held well paying jobs; their head honcho, for instance, owned a wrecking yard.

Anyway, there was a regular, a local who worked as a postman, who was enough of an alkie that he’d sometimes stop at the bar in his mail truck for a beer or two after completing his route before returning to the station.

That wasn’t so bad, but on weekends he’d drive his Cadillac to the bar, get tanked, and turn into all hands, harassing the waitresses.

This didn’t apparently didn’t sit well with at least some of the bikers, who didn’t like the guy anyway, but rather than resolve the situation in the normal manner (violence), they decided to teach the asshole a profitable (for them), expensive (for him) lesson.

One Saturday night, after the gig ended, my pal was packing up his drum kit, when he and the rest of the guys in the band heard a blood-curdling scream from outside. They ran out and found the drunk postman yelling his head off.

When he went out the door to weave his way home in his Cadillac, all he found was a chassis. What was left of the car was up on blocks, the wheels gone, as were the windshield, hood, doors, and rear window.

The bikers had done this with people going into and out of the bar all night. Evidently, people disliked the jerk sufficiently that they ignored the dismantling of the vehicle or were afraid of the bikers, or both. In either case, the bikers had taken a good hour or two to dismantle the car in public view — okay, in an unlit dirt parking lot — and no one reported them.

This incident likely cost the asshole a good two or three grand and likely netted the bikers at least several hundred bucks through sales of the parts at the wrecking yard.

I hope they threw a great party with the money.



Porter Wagoner

I had a woman
I guess every man does
And every man thinks his is the best
Mine was
Stuck by me through thick and thin
Till it just got too thin

–Porter Wagoner, “Confessions of a Broken Man

For other perversely wonderful Porter Wagoner tunes check out “Sorrow on the Rocks” and “The Rubber Room.”

This evening I did something stupid: I locked myself out of the house. I was doing laundry, put on a clean pair of jeans, took the dirty ones off, took everything out of my pockets, and laid it on my desk. I put my old jeans in the basket, walked outside to put the laundry in the washer, pulled the door shut behind me, and went “Oh shit!” I’d locked myself out of the house wearing only flip flops and a pair of jeans.

Fortunately, my neighbor was home, sitting out on his patio drinking beer and listening to Banda and Norteños blasting from his boom box (or whatever the equivalent is nowadays). I walked over to the fence and yelled, “Hey neighbor! I just did something stupid — locked myself out of the house!” Fortunately, he’s a master mechanic and has every tool under the sun. We tried drilling out the lock first, which didn’t work. Then he hauled out a grinder, ground off the door handle amid a cascade of sparks, and after another ten minutes we managed to get the door open.

I thanked him, walked in, locked the remaining dead bolt, drove up to Home Depot, bought another lock, and then drove to Total Wine, where I bought a 12er of Bud Light, and a bottle of pretty decent tequila.

Upon returning home, I installed the lock, grabbed the bottle of tequila and the 12er of Bud Light (the official beer of Tucson), let myself into my neighbor’s yard, walked back to his patio accompanied by his vicious dogs — I’m on their good side due to occasionally feeding them meat scraps — sat down, and we started talking about our lives and families.

We eventually got around to reminiscing about what the ‘hood was like 20 years ago when we were a lot younger and his wife, who died from cancer a year ago, was still around: gun shots a few blocks away most nights, but also parties on the weekend going until 3:00 a.m. with dozens of people drinking to oblivion and trucks parked in the yard booming out Rancheras, Norteños, Rock en Español, and Banda. For my part, I’d sometimes have louder-than-hell band rehearsals going until midnight. Sometimes on week nights. Nobody ever complained. It was a fun time.

But times have changed. My neighbor looked at me and said, “Now? . . . . . Some asshole would call the cops.”

I could only agree.

Before I left, I ended by telling him one of my favorite anecdotes.

About the time this was all happening I had a girlfriend who was a dedicated vegetarian who didn’t speak Spanish, and I was sometimes playing music with Indians (don’t get on me about the term — that’s what they call themselves) — a good Apache friend regularly and for years, and occasionally Yaquis and T’ohono O’odhams.

Well, I got an invitation to a birthday party down by St. Mary’s Hospitals for one of the T.O. musicians, and the girlfriend and I went. We were the only white people there out of 50 or 60 others; almost all them were T.O.s, some of whom didn’t even speak Spanish let alone English.

After we arrived, I hauled my gear out of the truck and went to the backyard where I played music and drank beer with the guys for about an hour.

When we took a break, I walked into the house to grab a bite, walked into the kitchen, and found the GF standing there with a bowl of clear soup in her hand, with garbanzos floating on the surface. She told me that she hadn’t been able to talk to any of the other women, because none of them spoke English. She also told me that the soup was really good, but that she couldn’t figure out what the chewy stuff was on the bottom.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her.

I still don’t think she’s ever consciously eaten meat since then.

Good times. Damn but I miss ’em.


Let me preface this by saying this post is entirely my own. I’ve never been in contact with the manufacturer and am receiving no compensation for this from anyone. I just want to turn other guitar players on to a great, inexpensive guitar.

Teton guitarI’ve long been unsatisfied with the acoustic guitars I’ve owned — cheap pieces of shit that played and sounded as bad as you’d expect for what I paid for them; they were useful only for songwriting and for practicing when I couldn’t use an electric for fear of being lynched by the neighbors. (These junk guitars included a 1967 or ’68 Gibson LGO [very good action, lousy muffled sound] — with that brand, you’re paying for the name — which I had to sell about 15 years ago when I was broke; I haven’t missed it for a second.)

About a year ago, I wandered into one of the local guitar shops, Lessons n’ More, and told the owner I wanted to buy a decent acoustic-electric but didn’t want to spend a lot of money. He said, “Try this.” He hauled out a Teton, a huge, made-in-USA, strangely shaped, single-cutaway dreadnaught acoustic-electric (considerably deeper toward the tail end of the body than the neck). I took it, went into a practice room, started playing, and went “Damn!” It sounded and played great, but I was near broke at the time, and was reluctant to spend the $375 (plus approximately $30 tax) for the guitar. So I put it on the back burner.

Six months ago, I could afford it, bought one, and fell in love with it.  It’s easy to play, bright, projects like crazy, and sounds just as good, maybe better, amplified than unamplified. I haven’t changed the strings since I got it, and people still remark on how bright it sounds. This pretty much says it all: I prefer playing it to playing my Strat (which I’ve had for over 20 years, have used on innumerable gigs, and which I love).

Yesterday, I got together with friends for a few hours. We started off with bass, drums, and yours truly on acoustic-electric, and it totally cut through. After an hour, another friend showed up with his Strat, and I decided to stick with the Teton. (We were both playing through Peavey Classic 30s — probably the most cost-effective working bluesman’s tube amp [I greatly prefer them to Fenders] — so this is a good comparison.) It held its own with the Strat.

To put it back in acoustic terms, the Teton acoustic-electric (model STS105CENT) will more than measure up against purely acoustic Martins and Taylors costing four times as much.

There are, however, downsides to the Teton. The first and most serious is that the finish on the body is soft (probably just tung oil — the neck has an acrylic finish) and it scars easily. I use light gauge strings (.009s on electrics, .011s on acoustics), never break strings, and I’m still scarring up an area around the sound hole. That’s aggravated by the Teton’s lack of a pick guard. I’m thinking about gluing one on, but am concerned that it will muffle the sound — so I probably won’t do it, and will just accept the cosmetic damage. (Another telling fact: my Strat is near perfect despite heavy use, while the top of the Teton is already getting close to Willie Nelson territory.)

The other downside is that the Teton can be awkward to play, even sitting down. I find it sliding further and further down my leg, within minutes. and the only sure way to stop that is to put my foot up on something. There’s no strap button at the base of the neck, so that’s not a solution. (I just looked on YouTube, found a safe way to drill into the neck and add a strap button, and will do it after trying it first with the old p.o.s. [Rogue] acoustic-electric I was using  prior to upgrading to the Teton.)

Enough said. Despite its minor drawbacks, if you’re looking for a great, reasonably priced acoustic-electric guitar with easy access to the upper frets and don’t mind possible minor cosmetic problems, try a Teton. They’re probably the best buy in the world on acoustic-electrics.




An Understandable Guide to Music Theory front cover

by Chaz Bufe, author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory: The Most Useful Aspects of Theory for Rock, Jazz and Blues Musicians.

Over the years, I’ve been collecting bits of advice on songwriting, some of which I follow, some of which I don’t. A few of the following suggestions are from yours truly; most of them are from others, and their origins are lost in the mist of time.

Here’s the advice, with that on lyrics first, which seems the area of greatest need.


1. Just rhyming isn’t good enough. listen to any type of popular music from blues to rock to country to corridos and you’ll see (well, hear) what I mean:: the lyrics are cliched or nonsensical in easily 90% of the songs. All their authors were concerned with was rhyming (and, often, being inoffensive), so they reached for the first handy cliches and words that even vaguely rhyme, and produced junk.

2. Speaking of cliches, avoid them; and if you use them, use them in a way that mocks them or is otherwise funny.

3. Say something. Make people think, feel, or both. Make a point (political, social, or personal), express genuine emotion, and/or be amusing. One of these three things is usually adequate, and if you write a song that incorporates two of the three, you should have a winner.

4. Humorous self-mockery often makes for great lyrics.

5. Avoid earnestness (humorlessness, taking things, especially oneself, too seriously). While seriousness can be fine, earnestness never is.

6. Try to use real rhymes rather than false rhymes. As an example, a real rhyme for “bone” is “stone,” and a false rhyme would be “home.” False rhymes are very common in song lyrics, and they’re not the worst thing in the world, but it’s better to use real rhymes if you can, as long as they don’t detract from the lyrical content — if they do detract, it’s generally better to use a false rhyme that better expresses the meaning.


1. Record what you play while you’re practicing or rehearsing. You never know when you’ll come up with a good song idea, and if you record it you can go back to it. (I’m far from alone in losing song ideas [progressions, melodies, comping patterns] I didn’t record but was sure I’d remember.)

2. If you can’t record a song idea (or a complete song — sometimes they just come to you), play it at least a dozen times to get it in your head. This isn’t as good as recording it, but it increases the chances that you’ll remember it.

3. If you’re playing with others, take at least a few minutes at every rehearsal to improvise and see what you come up with.

4. Experiment with different rhythmic patterns. It’s very easy to get stuck in familiar rhythmic ruts; make an effort to get out of them. How? One way is to check out drummers playing different beats on Youtube. A more efficient way is to use a rhythmic reference book such as The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco, which includes CDs with close to 200 different beats. In either case, using Youtube videos or a reference book with CDs or DVDs, put on a track with a rhythm you’re not familiar with, and see what you can come up with.

5. It’s also not a bad idea to experiment with using two different beat patterns in a song, one for the verses and the other for the bridge. Robert Cray’s “That’s What I’ll Do” is a good example: for the verses, it uses a standard jazz pattern (swung, but shuffling only on the 2 & 4) and for the bridge it uses a backdoor shuffle (shuffling on all 4 beats, but with the emphasis on the final triplet of every beat).

6. Don’t be oddball just for the sake of being oddball. Unusual rhythmic, metric, or chord changes are fine as long as they work. That is, they should have a musical point. (If your bandmates are enthusiastic about the song the odd changes are in, they probably work; if they don’t like them, or politely say nothing or give tepid praise, they probably don’t.)

General Advice

1. Have a notebook handy so you can write down musical ideas, lyrics, or possible song topics when you can’t record them and especially when you don’t have an instrument handy.

2. Set aside some time every day for a year to write a song, and don’t quit until you’ve come up with one, no matter how poor. Those who’ve done this (I haven’t) say that while over 90% of what they came up with was crap, they also came up with some real gems, and that it’s made songwriting easier for them.

I hope that you find at least some of the above useful.

P.S. Here are mp3s for a few of the songs I’ve written over the years, both music and lyrics. I hope you enjoy them.

And here are a couple for which I wrote the music but not the lyrics: