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This article was originally published in issue #9
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Doug’s infectious and lively personality filled the room. He certainly made us feel very welcome.
Doug Wimbish has played bass for Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, George Clinton, Madonna, Joe Satriani and a host of others. Why, he's even been subjected to our very own Bassment Trial By Interview! Dan Veall meets one of the nicest - and busiest - guys in the bass business.
It's been a while since we featured an interview in The Bassment, but who better to get us going again than the awesomely talented Doug Wimbish? We met up in London recently, thanks to the UK distributor for Spector basses (Doug's weapons of choice these days), Barnes & Mullins.
Doug’s infectious and lively personality filled the room. He certainly made us feel very welcome. The team and I perked up greatly after our long trips to Doug’s hotel. Setting up for an interview usually takes a little time and whilst our brilliant camera team, Rich and Mike, were working on angles, I was treated to Doug blasting out some killer grooves on my very own custom Shuker six string bass. I’m very pleased to say that he loved it!
At the start of the session I had a chat with Doug about the format of the interview and suggested to him that maybe he could play us in as an introduction piece and then I’d lead in to asking about his career. He agreed and I relaxed, ready to watch Doug’s bass playing. But no, Doug had a different idea! He turned to me and said, “Cool! You start!” We hadn’t planned anything whatsoever prior to rolling the cameras. My mind went totally blank as I'd been concentrating on the interview itself and I have no idea what I ended up playing! Caught off guard for sure!
Having managed to pull myself back from the very edges of embarrassment (perhaps 'disaster'? Ed) we brought our jam to a close and dived in to talking about Doug’s career. The first question I always ask bass players, given that ‘The Bassment’ is sandwiched between two layers of our guitar playing brethren, is simple. What makes us choose bass over guitar? What is it that draws us to the ‘low end’? Some find their way naturally, others almost have the role forced upon them.
Hartford, Connecticut born Doug picked up the guitar in his early teens and like many, found that he was surrounded by many guitarists but so few bass players available for playing in groups. I’m sure many of us can relate to that experience and some of us may even have chosen to play bass because of it.
Lucky for Doug though, the guitarists available were already either up and coming or top players in the area to start with. It was a perfect opportunity to hone his bass playing skills with a list of musicians that is practically a who’s who of talent. Watch the interview as Doug takes us on a whistle stop tour of his formative years as a bass player.
Doug explains further in the video, but one thing is for sure, his ‘can do’ attitude and his versatile approach to the bass guitar have scored him sessions with the very best in the business including touring most recently with Miss Lauryn Hill. He's also played with the likes of Jeff Beck (with Jan Hammer on keys and Simon Phillips on drums) and sessioned on Billy Idol’s 1993 album Cyberpunk, Joe Satriani’s Extremist, Seal’s Seal and Annie Lennox’s DIVA album, among many others.
Back to the early days, aged around 21, Doug joined Sugarhill records along with guitarist Skip McDonald and drummer Keith LeBlanc, as a third tier session bass player. He slowly worked his way up through the ranks where his bass grooves made it on to some of the coolest tracks to hit the airwaves. For example, he worked with The Sugarhill Gang on the track ‘Apache’ and ‘The Message’, ‘New York, New York’ and ‘White Lines’ by Grand Master Flash amongst others.
In '84 Steve formed the Steve Morse band, a trio devoted to playing Steve's Southern-tinged instrumental rock and classical influences. This project did really well and took Morse to the next level, even landing the main support slot for Rush. It was around this time that Steve began releasing instructional videos with REH which were a great blend of band performance, and instructional material. These have since been re-released on DVD under the name, The Definitive Steve Morse and are essential viewing if you want to dig into Steve's style a little more. It was here that I was first introduced to Steve's incredible pedal setup, which differs greatly from most players boards in that he doesn't have stomp boxes that are turned on and off, instead everything is always on and blended in and out with its own expression pedal. Steve is still using this idea, but in a more stripped down form, as there are now just three expression pedals, short delay, long delay and octave divider. These are all run into the Engl Steve Morse Signature E656 which is paired onstage with an Engl Powerball (reviewed in this issue).
The first record for the Steve Morse Band ('84s The Introduction) is an essential purchase for the newcomer as it has great little rock numbers like Cruise Missile, anthemic tunes like The Introduction and real foot tappers like On the Pipe. It's easy to think of Steve as 'just' a lead guitarist, but at this point in his career you should really be able to see just how great a rhythm machine he is, too. This record is just full of great examples of triadic rhythm parts. Since that time the group has released 10 albums and one compilation - High Tension Wires is my personal pick.
As a guitar player, there are so many facets to Steve's playing that we could easily fill a book on the subject, but without a doubt it's his alternate picking technique that draws the most attention. Just take a look at Well Dressed Guitar, which is a stream of 16th notes at 145bpm, outlining a series of string skipped triads (Dm, A/C#, Dm, C/E, F, C/E, F, D/F# and so on). Another great example of this rapid picking technique is on the tune Tumeni Notes. There really are no words to describe this as Steve rips though triplets at 185bpm and mixes up the accents to go between 3s and 4s (that 4 against 3 polyrhythm is pretty hard at this speed!). My hat comes off to anyone who can get this tune down. If you do decide to make a go of it, take Steve's own advice: “The best way to build up speed is to start slowly and exactly. Find a tempo where you can play the notes precisely and gradually increase the speed from there.”
In '86 Steve was hired as the guitarist for the classic American prog rock group Kansas and although the two albums released here in the UK never quite reach the heights of Leftoverture, Power does have some incredible playing. The opener Silhouettes In Disguise is a perfect example with some blisteringly fast picking in the riff and a solo packed with the perfect mix of singable melodies and fret-melting chromatic runs.
Obviously most players will know Morse for his work in Deep Purple, whom he joined in in 1994, and that relationship is still going strong. It's crazy when you see it written in front of you, but Morse has now had a longer tenure with the band than the iconic Richie Blackmore. In that time the band has released four studio albums and nine live albums. True, none of them had the same commercial success of the “classic” line up, but Purple continues to tour the world and play to packed venues and Steve puts on an incredible show. In fact the band will embark on a European tour in October, so check the band's official website and see if you can catch them.
Of course, there's plenty more going on in the world of Morse, and 2012 sees Steve in the supergroup Flying Colours, with Neal Morse, Dave LaRue, Casey McPherson and Mike Portnoy. I really hope this project carries on as it’s a great line-up and an awesome album.
And what would be the perfect close to show you just how important and high calibre a player Steve Morse really is? Well literally the day I was asked to write this, Steve was announced as the third guitarist on this year's European G3 tour, along with the legendary Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. There really is no greater honour for an instrumental Rock guitar player, and it's the perfect example of just why Steve is still at the top of his game over four decades on. If you're in Europe in July, do not miss this one!