On this page I would like to pay tribute to some people who have been very important to my development both musically and personally.
My first real job as a performing bassist was with Jaap Dekker. When I joined his band I had very little experience, and without any clear instructions or rehearsals was expected to play solid bass lines to a repertoire he had been building in the course of over twenty years. What a fantastic training! It was fun, educational, often bewildering, but I am very thankful for the experience. Sadly, Jaap passed on in 2020. Gone but not forgotten.
Candye Kane was co-founder of United by Music. A great singer and songwriter in the blues shouter tradition, she had a colorful career that included jobs in the adult entertainment industry, which would lead to her becoming something of a role model to a group of very dedicated fans who were inspired by her positive attitude towards sexuality, and to accepting and loving of your own body regardless its size or shape. She had considerable talent as a songwriter, writing songs that address sexual and spiritual matters in a way not often heard these days in the blues genre. By the time I got to work with her, she was battling cancer, and she would include in her concerts long inspirational monologues on the meaning of life and death. I think her continuous fight for people to be accepted regardless of their sexuality or their appearance also led to her championing the cause of people with intellectual disabilities. This eventually resulted in the forming of United by Music. She quickly realised that, to many people, limitations in intellectual abilities would automatically suggest limitations in every other way including music. She proved this assumption to be quite undeserved. Candye was a unique personality; she is much missed and it was a privilege to have known her. I was introduced to her by the wonderful Lisa Otey, who would also introduce me to
Pinetop Perkins, who I only got to play with one time, when he had just recovered from being hit by a train, at 94 years old. The reason this meeting was so special to me, was the realisation that he had been a witness to just about the whole history of rock music, starting his music career in the 1920s, and that he appeared to be immortal, still playing the piano even after having been hit by a train!
I met Berry when I was just starting to get interested in the origins of the steel guitar, particularly the Western swing era. Berry invited me to join his Western swing band Panhandle Swing, and really helped me get started. His encyclopaedic knowledge of everything even remotely related to cowboy jazz and his boundless enthusiasm continue to inspire me, even if he is no longer with us.
As a bass player it's often easier to play in many different music styles and idioms than it is for many other instruments. Which is why many bass players manage to get enough work to make a living, but the work might be diverse - as it has been in my case. I have performed in living rooms, at outdoor festivals, in studios, in theaters, small clubs and bars, sometimes unamplified, sometimes using huge PA systems. I have always loved this diversity. It has also often forced me to adapt my playing style to widely different situations. In small venues, without PA systems, my main concern is to balance a good sound in the room with a good sound on stage. I want everybody to hear me and at the same time I don't want to be in anybody's way; it's not my job to upstage anyone. But in larger rooms with PA systems and sound engineers you sometimes wind up having no control over the balance. If my bass is too loud, or not loud enough, I have often found myself forced to adapt the parts I was playing to the circumstances in that room - by avoiding legato passages for instance, or by avoiding the E string.
Of course it all depends on the music, and on the people you have to deal with. I would like to recall some of the funnier situations I would find myself in; most of the time things went quite well but once in a while you have to be prepared to do stuff that wasn't in the original job description. One time in Spain, my bass amp had been provided by the venue. It worked fine for almost the entire concert, but just as we were playing the encore the amp quit, no more bass at all, so I rushed over to the piano to play the final bass notes on the keys. It probably sounded horrible but people told me it was the highlight of the concert - I think people appreciated the spontaneity of the moment!
Another weird thing happened when I was asked to do two concerts with a singer I had never worked with before. Her regular bass player wanted to make sure I would do exactly the same bass parts that he would usually play, so he sent me cds and written parts months in advance and even visited me at my home to check out if everything was as it should be. We did the concert, everything went smoothly and everyone was happy - or so I thought. Apparently one of her managers had complained that hiring substitutes didn't contribute anything to the music if all they did was copy the parts of the original players note for note! So the next concert I did with her, I was instructed to really be a creative presence - she even had me singing a duet with her and had me playing a bass solo which was never normally a part of the show - only to have the other manager complaining the substitutes should know their place and should remain invisible! Later I found out there had been trouble among the two managers, so whatever one party loved, the other would loathe. Still I enjoyed the experience!
In 2004 I decided to take a trip (along with Jan Hoiberg from Norway, who maintains The Band's website) to Woodstock NY to meet a few musical heroes, including Garth and Maud Hudson, Levon Helm and Jim Weider, all from The Band, and their producer and collaborator John Simon. I had never imagined these big name artists and heroes I had admired all my life to be so warm and welcoming and accessible. John and Garth especially were generous with their time, sharing fantastic stories about many of the musical milestones that had such an important influence on my musical development. Shortly after arriving in Woodstock, Garth showed up late at night at the hotel, jumping down the hallway to deliver a couple of bags filled with candy - it was Easter weekend! Later on we spent many hours at a restaurant, Garth relating so many fantastic stories and plans. His wife Maud was wonderful too. Before our dinner, Garth and Maud took us on a car trip in the neighborhood, pointing out the residencies of all the incredible musicians living in the area. A memory I will cherish forever.
We also attended one of Levon Helm's Midnight Rambles, an incredible evening of music. Levon was recuperating from surgery and could barely sing but he was drumming and playing mandolin and singing as much as his health would allow. Other artists that evening included Ollabelle, Larry Campbell, Jimmy Vivino and many others.
John Simon also invited us into his home, sharing memories of many fantastic recording sessions with The Band and other artists, even performing a few new and old songs for us in his living room, offering some very tasty homemade soup, and then asking us to assist him moving a couple of rocks in his garden. Another wonderful human being. John as a producer had been involved with some of the albums that had been of tremendous influence to me: The Band's first two albums and their Last Waltz farewell concert; but also albums by Blood Sweat & Tears, Janis Joplin, Gordon Lightfoot, Hirth Martinez, and David Sanborn. He also recorded beautiful albums under his own name and wrote fantastics songs - Gil Evans recorded one of these. It was very special to be in the presence of the man who had been there when many of the sounds that shaped my world and dreams were first conceived.