Thursday, 21 July 2011

Alberto Rigoni - Expect the Unexpected

Album Review
Alberto Rigoni’s REBIRTH
Genre: Progressive Rock

It was only recently that I discovered Alberto Rigoni’s music, so I am behind the curve in terms of his coming up as a musician, but when I heard his latest, called Rebirth, I became an instant fan.

A gathering of words to describe the record might include: ambient, atmospheric, psychedelic, new-age, progressive, jazzy, and powerful, but I like the term experimental best of all.

Rebirth is a diverse collection of tunes that weaves through and circles around the topic of new beginnings. It’s not a linear story from A to Z - more like a sampler of one man’s examination of himself from many different sides.

An album like this demands a lot from the bass as lead instrument. As soon as the bass becomes the lead voice, our ears go looking for the monster at the bottom of the ocean. Rigoni releases that monster on a few aggressive tunes, but for the most part, shows us the more melodic possibilities of the bass. The result is a hybrid of tone that reminds us that underneath the thunder is a melodic sound that’s both soothing and relaxing.

Alberto Rigoni is a bassist whose music deserves to be in the collection of all who love innovative, creative tuneage!

Rebirth is the second solo album by this Italian bassist, but that does not mean Alberto is new on the scene. He started out in a Dream Theater cover band called Ascra; in 2003 he joined a new progressive rock band called Twinspirits. He was also half of the duet, Lady and the BASS. His first solo album is called Something Different, and now Rebirth, which was released in May of this year. So when Alberto reaches his 30th birthday this December, he will have been part of 8 separate albums.

Oh yeah, and that doesn’t include the albums on which he’s played as guest musician!

He’s a relatively young bassist whose career is already filled with recorded accomplishments.

But is it good music? In this day and age, it’s getting easier to turn out records in great quantity. But what does the artist actually say to us? Does he leave lasting impressions? Do his songs stand the test of time?

In the end, some things never change - in music, that thing is that no matter the quantity, the validation of quality will always lie with the listener. And I found Rebirth to be a project of great quality.

Rigoni must have undergone a very important event in his life to have found the inspiration for this work. The very title suggests he has found himself at a crossroads and is about to decide what will be his new path. It’s an inward looking album, with an outwardly extended hand. He allows the listener into his private places and grants us license to take back those parts we might want or need in our own lives. Rebirth is about sharing.

The album transcends all predictable bass genres and keeps the listener in a perpetual mood swing. Since this is the very nature of undergoing a big-time event in one’s life, Rigoni shows us how he handles things. He lets the music ask the questions, “What now? What’s next?”

The album is nine songs, so let’s have a look at them one by one.

1 - Free. This is a slick, progressive number with lots of groove. It starts with a jangling solo bass intro that is quickly filled out by the band. There are several pauses, after which the song veers off in different directions. I see that as demonstrative of the not-always-easy choices of being free. About halfway through, you get to a heavy, percussive rock groove and a friendly keyboard that dances blithely through the metal. Free is just that - free of any restrictions as to how it should sound and where it should go. It just goes.

2 - Rebirth. Ahh, we open with a tasty fretless. I also love the keyboard in this one - an atmospheric, soothing, almost whistling wave throughout. The depth and range of the bass in this song is unbelievable. And because this is the title track, it defines the process of a man undergoing change. A moment of calm after the more powerful opening song.

3 - Story of a Man. The fact that Rigoni uses guest basses on this record is the mark of a true musician. Lead guitars often appear in multiples, so why should the bass be any different? They play in overlapping blends, each player creating his own part in the story. I also love the dark mood swing this one takes on at about three minutes in. Like a battle cry or a march - serious and determined! The song closes in a softer vein and leaves us wondering where this man has decided to go.

4 - The Net. Shortest song on the album. Two minutes. Rhythmic and repeating. A gentle new-age tune that seems more like an easy, appropriate segue between two fuller pieces.

5 - Emptiness. Beautiful synthesizer opening that leads into a bold rock stomper. One of two vocal songs on the album, it features the voice of Swedish singer, Jonas Erixon, in a heavy, masculine lament of the questions that plague the heart.

Considering Erixon’s big, expressive voice, I first thought it was set a little low in the mix - I would have expected it to have been more featured at the front, but after listening to the album on a couple of different sets of headphones, as well as out in the open air, I found it was only really low on one particular set of headphones.

I also gave it some thought from the mixer’s point of view, and found a new way of seeing it. It’s a very interesting tack to take such a big voice and play it softer in the mix. People usually expect a big-voiced man to stomp through the room like a tyrannosaur. It brings a whole new feel to the song when that presence is kept softer. Another inward moment, perhaps.

6 - A New Soul. Another beautiful blended bass melody. A weaving of harmonies and feelings. This is the kind of song that quiets you down for a few minutes and gets you thinking about your own life.

7 - With all My Forces. This is the other tune with Jonas Erixon’s big voice. What I like about Rigoni’s style is that he knows when the bass needs to control the song, and when it needs to be part of the ensemble. In this one, the bass barks like a big dog, but also mixes well with guitar and drums. Most of this comes from his experience in bands. He works and plays well with others.

8 - Ontogeny. This fast tune starts with jazzy drums and then a sweeping synth with ambient voices. The bass then comes up - first as a great beat, and then as the melody. As the synth sways in the background, the bass keeps an infectious thunder. Add a few more of those great keyboard licks, and this song shows us the more ambitious side of being reborn. Wait for the outrageously addictive bass and drum workout in the middle of the song!

9 - White Shine. Keyboard opening, and then more of that beautiful bass melody with a steady under-beat that pulses the tune along . With its classic influences, this is a nice way to end the record. As I listened, the word I found was hope.

This is a great collection. I recommend it to all who enjoy creative bass and feel like taking a step away from the traditional!

Thanks for putting this album together, Alberto - you are a man of diversity, innovation, passion, and great spirit. The face of modern bass music.

The Band

Alberto Rigoni (bass)
Yves Carbonne (bass on 2, 3)
Michael Manring (bass on 3, 6)
Gavin Harrison (drums on 1, 5, 7)
John Macaluso (drums on 3, 8 )
Jonas Erixon (vocals on 5, 7)
Tommy Ermolli (guitars on 1, 5)
Simone Mularoni (guitars on 7)
Federico Solazzo (keyboards on 1, 2, 9)
Filippo Lui (keyboards on 5)
Emanuele Casali (keyboards on 7)
Andrea Pavanello (keyboards on 8 )

Visit ALBERTO'S WEBSITE for his full bio, news on upcoming events, and samples from the Rebirth record.

Also visit these sites for Alberto's other projects:




In addition to being available on his website, Alberto's music can also be found on CD Baby, Napster, Amazon, and ITunes.

Alberto has already completed his new project in a duet called The BASStards. Now how can you go wrong with a name like that? Once again, the themes go off in a new and experimental direction. A video of one of the songs, Obsession, is available on The BASStards Website, so grab yourself a look.

© 2011 CL Seamus for Thunder Row

Friday, 15 July 2011

Interview With Stu Hamm

TR: First of all, I wanted to thank you for putting this album out. I’ve been reading other people’s reviews - the more technical type of “insider” reviews, and the professionals all seem to agree that this is your best work.

SH: Well, I think it’s my most mature work and that’s nice to hear. Obviously, you hope that everything you do gets better and continues to improve. I certainly hope I continue to improve as a bass player, musician, composer, and producer as well.

TR: Was this just the right time for an album based on “Normal"?

SH: I think so. It took a really long time to do, though. I can get bogged down by professionalism and having things be exactly right. I envy people who can put out more records than I do.
I started the record in early 2008, and then got a late call from Satriani to do his tour that year, so the whole thing got pushed back.
In the age of digital recording, it’s just such a different process. When you’re doing it the modern way, the record can end up feeling like it will never be done. There’s no concrete deadline. You’re writing at home and sending files to have other musicians do their parts. I almost think that for the next record, I’m just going to book a week in the studio and just bring in the musicians in and record it.

TR: Roy Vogt has also mentioned that the business of recording is quite different today. You just send people samples of songs and ask them to lay down their track and then they email it back to you.

SH: I do that, too.

TR: Are you embracing the changing technologies?

SH: Mostly. What I really want is to get a good performance out of people, so there are some instances where I really prefer to be there to provide inspiration, and to nudge them in the direction I want them to go. But that isn’t always possible with people’s busy schedules. For example, getting Satriani to play on a couple of the songs meant I was kind of at the mercy of his schedule. In the end, technology is great if you use it as a tool and not a crutch.

TR: Do you write a lot of lyrics that are not used in songs, or are you not into the writing of lyrics?

SH: The majority of my songs are instrumental. I can’t remember who said it, but it was, “Words can be misinterpreted, but music itself can be interpreted in many ways.” Also, that’s not really my main skill - writing lyrics. The lyrics I write are the music.

TR: For “Going to California,” you made the bass into the voice of the lyrics. You got the message across without words.

SH: The bass’s main role is a supportive one, (and for grooving), but having grown up in an era where I saw Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius, and Percy Jones, and Chris Squire, and Jeff Berlin playing bass more melodically, I paid attention. I learned how to play more lyrically. When recording my records, I’m very particular about the phrasing of the melodies that I write, which is why I end up doing so many of them myself. So instead of singing it, someone is playing the melody.

TR: Then you’re a perfectionist.

SH: I’m working hard not to be. That’s why you have a producer. That’s why I have my good friend and engineer, James Boblak co-produce the records for me. It’s that old line, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” Sometimes, you can get so wrapped up in the technical details - sounds or fret noise from the strings and so on - that you end up missing the overall sense and feel of the music, which is essentially what you’re trying to capture.

TR: Tell us about Malika Alaoui, the singer on the last song, “Lucidity.”

SH: She’s a French woman I met while on tour with Satriani. We were in Chile, and went to see Cirque Du Soleil, and I just thought her voice was fantastic. I’d been wanting to write a song with lyrics about this book that I’d been reading, and when I heard her voice, it just matched perfectly with this core progression I had, and this track that Robert Fripp had given me, that I had been kicking around for about a year. So in the space of about 30 minutes, what the song was going to be just came together, and then I just had to eliminate those parts that weren’t working. After that, it became pretty easy to finish.

TR: It’s a wonderful closing song for the album. You start with something lively, “The Obligatory Boogie,” and then you bring it down into a real personal trip at the end.

SH: Well, I loved the review, and that was certainly what I attempted to do. I want this record to be a 50 minute journey - for people who aren’t necessarily just listening for bass “chops”. You just put it on and have an interesting aural odyssey.

TR: Did you make the album for regular listeners like me? Or for yourself? Or for professional musicians who will understand the more technical aspects? Did you think about that?

SH: Oh, I don’t think I worried abut that at all. My earlier records were more rock oriented. When I was playing with Satriani and saw how many records he was selling, there might have been a subconscious attempt to make music in the same vein - the hope being that more of the people who bought his records would buy my records. To make money, you know?
But seeing how that didn’t happen, I had no predispositions or illusions with this one. I just tried to make a record of the music I was hearing in my head. It’s a recording of what I was writing and playing right around the year 2010. If I did want to sell out, I don’t know how I could do that now! Unless I turned into a hot looking, 20 year old woman, but I don’t see that happening, so...

TR: Well, it would get you a whole new audience.

SH: That’s true. Ah, I’m just trying to make music, really. I do it for the love of it.

TR: Was there anything on the books at the beginning of the project that ended up on the cutting room floor?

SH: Well, I constantly have songs that I’m working on, but these were the nine songs I felt complemented the best of what we were doing, so no, I don’t think anything was left out. Maybe if something great had come up when we were recording...

TR: What changed along the as the project took shape?

SH: I had been playing “Going to California” live for some time, and then right at the time we were recording, I made a game-time decision to play the tempo a bit faster than I had been playing it - to give it a different feel - and I’m glad it happened.
The way I had written “Big Roller” was straight ahead swing - like Louie Bellson’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” but then Stanton Moore sent me his second line - drumming on it - and it threw me for a loop, because it wasn’t the way I’d heard it or written it. But how could I not use it? It was so brilliant.
I had written “Windsor Mews” for another guitar player, and when he was unable to play it, I sent it to Joe Satriani and asked if he knew somebody who could play on it. He said he would do it, and while I like the way he played it, it was certainly much different from the way I had written the song.
So these are just some of the magical mistakes that happen when you do a record, and that’s the good stuff about the whole thing.

TR: When you write it all up, do you write specific music for all the instruments, or let them show you what they have in mind? How they might interpret it?

SH: It depends. I know enough good musicians to be able to pick and choose who would be good for a song, and I write songs knowing I can count on these people to add some of their own flavour to it. So everything doesn’t have to be completely written out. Obviously the melody and things like the four parts in “Big Roller” are written out. Occasionally, I’ll hand out sheet music, but in the rock world, there’s not much sheet music, so I might send a demo of me playing the melody on my piccolo bass.

TR: As a writer, if inspiration hits me when I’m out-and-about, I take out a note pad and jot things down. How does it work with a musician when inspiration hits you away from home?

SH: I have a pretty good memory, and - of course - I’ll try to get to a bass as soon as I can. Occasionally, I jot things down, too. Mostly, though, I guess it’s just old-school...using my brain.

TR: Obviously, I’m thinking from the vantage point of an amateur musician. You professionals probably know exactly where to store the mental inspirations when you’re away from the instrument.

SH: I have a whole cache of ideas in my studio. Little bits and pieces that I record or jot down as I practice. They’re just exercises until I come up with the name of the song, or decide what it’s going to be about. When that happens, it becomes a living, breathing piece of music, and not just a finger exercise.

TR: You were at the London Bass guitar Show. What was that like?

SH: It was good fun. I met a few bass players that I hadn’t met before. Lawrence Cottle was there, and I saw my buddy, T.M. Stevens - that was a good performance. About six months before that, I had done the “Bass Day UK” in Manchester and that was great because Billy Sheehan was there, as well as Victor Bailey, who I hadn’t seen for a long time. It was fantastic to see those guys again. The whole bass community is very non-competitive and supportive of each other. I’m such a fan of bass, and any time I get to hear other bass players, I’m extremely pleased.

TR: Did you meet up with Dave Marks at the London Show?

SH: Oh yeah. I know Dave really well. He’s awesome. I met Dave for the first time about four or five years ago at a festival I teach in Bath, England every few years. He had full Wolverine hair and sideburns when I first met him. He’s a great player. We both write for Bass Guitar Magazine in the UK. He’s a great guy. We got to know each other pretty well.

TR: He has so much energy. Performing, recording, teaching, online lessons...

SH: I think everyone has to do that. You might have heard there’s a recession on, and it certainly hits the performing arts and musicians very hard. With everyone I know, I think the standard line is that we have to work twice as hard to make half the money as we did two years ago. But it’s what we do, so it pays to be multi-faceted - to be able to do many things in order to make a living.

TR: The current costs of fuel and travel must cut into things, too.

SH: It’s just everything. You know, at a certain point for most people, music becomes a luxury. The arts in general are one of the first things to lose out when people don’t have disposable income.
As a bass player, you can make a living if you’re versatile and can play many styles of music. That’s what it’s all about - the working. Unless, of course, you’re one of those guys who wins the lottery and joins a band when you’re 20, and then becomes a big pop success. Me? I enjoy the work and that’s why I continue to do it.

TR: I heard Roy Vogt quote the song, “Nashville Cats” - the part about there being “Thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville.” He was talking about the fact that the competition for jobs can be rough, and you have to make sure you’re skilled in many styles, and that you’re out there, getting your name known.

SH: Absolutely. have to be smart with the social media, too. Just keep up with the times, I think.

TR: You started as a bass player in the ’80s.

SH: Yeah. I’ve been making my living doing this since about 1980. I graduated high school in 1978, and went to the Berklee College of Music for about two years, and then went on the road with an Elvis Presley impersonator for a couple of years, then moved back to Boston. I had a couple of odd jobs at McDonalds and things like that, but I was gigging and teaching. Then, in about 1983, I moved to California to record the record “Flex-Able” with Steve Vai, and I’ve just been scraping out a living - tooth and nail - playing bass since then.

TR: Do you remember your first gig?

SH: My first gig was playing drums when I was about six years old at my parents’ New Year’s Eve party. No...that’s wrong. It was when I was in kindergarten and it was my brother’s second grade talent show. We dressed up as World War I aces and played the Royal Guardsmen song, “Snoopy and the Red Baron.”
My first gig on bass was about 1973, when I started playing in my Junior High School Jazz band. We had a lot of State Jazz Band competitions. My first real playing gig was at the Centennial High School in Champagne, Illinois. The first time I played in Middle School bands.

TR: What about your first bass guitar?

SH: My first bass was a red “Pawn Shop Special.” I wish I still had it. I think the name of the company was “Alvarez.” It was a bass my parents bought for me for Christmas in 1973. It was kind of a Les Paul double-cutaway, square head kind of a thing. In ’75, when my parents saw I was serious, I got a white Jazz bass.

TR: You’re playing Washburns now.

SH: I am. Just about a week ago, I got a new bass that Terry Atkins, the master builder at the Washburn Custom Shop built for me. It’s wonderful. I worked closely with Rob Turner from EMG to get a piezo on the bridge and some different sounding pickups. It’s a lighter bass. I’ve been having some physical issues with Repetitive Stress Syndrome from playing the same Fender basses for 25 years. This new bass is more ergonomically designed so I’m not using the exact same muscles. It’s exciting. It’s a beautiful bass. We’re just waiting for the import models to come in from overseas. I think by the end of the year, at the NAMM show, it’s going to be a big splash with all four lines being debuted.

TR: I don’t know if you know it, but the majority of the students taking the TMBG course are over 45.

SH: Oh, really?

TR: We’ve really been paying attention to your videos on ergonomics.

SH: It’s something that’s so important. In all my teaching and clinics now, I always start out with a segment on stretching and ergonomics, and the importance of being relaxed while you play. I’m actually writing some programs and courses that incorporate that, because even though nobody wants to hear it when they’re 19 or 20 years old, eventually, they are going to get older. When you’re 20 years old, you think it’s okay to pick up an SVP and hold it over your head, but it’s not going to last forever. It’s something that - if you think about it when you’re younger - can be prevented in the future.

TR: It’s maintenance.

SH: Yeah. It’s maintenance. I try to get people thinking about it.

TR: I have one last question for you before we close up. What advice can you give to people who are picking up the bass for the first time?

SH: My advice is to join a lot of bands. Don’t just look at YouTube and cop licks, and play only one style of music. Join a wedding band, or a polka band, folk band, punk band, rock band. Just get out there and play music. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to make perfect music. You’ll meet people who are making music, and hiring musicians, and that will be the fun of it.
It’s not just about the chops. It doesn’t have to the perfect gig, doesn’t have to pay a ton of money. Just get out there and play music with other people and for other people. Experience what it’s all about.

TR: Great advice. Thank you Stuart.

SH: You're very welcome.

© 2011 CL Seamus for Thunder Row

Monday, 11 July 2011

Old Friends

As much as I love my yummy DR neon strings, I have a real weakness for flatwounds.

And among flatwounds, my faves are the D'Addario half-rounds. Roundwound on the inside and flatwound on the outside. The best of both worlds. All the deep rumble of a full flatwound, with some extra bite, as with regular roundwounds.

I use the light gauge, but would love to try the super lights. You can really drop the action on light gauge strings - this makes the bass easier to play. Less pressure required to close the frets without buzz.

Anyway, I offloaded the orange neons from the Jet King and installed my half-rounds. It was like being re-introduced to an old friend. The sound is so smooth and full-bodied that I played for about four hours (off and on) on Sunday.

Four hours!! My poor RSI inflicted arms/hands were screaming at the end!! It felt like someone had taken a blowtorch to my arms!! But I was smiling the whole time. So good, the sound.

Since getting the Jet King, I haven't tried any other strings on it other than the DRs, so this was a great opportunity to see what would happen with something else.

Also, the un-coated strings give a rather industrial look to the bass - white bass, black fretboard, and chrome steel on the hardware and (now) strings.

I think I'll keep them on awhile. I'm a little stuck on the Funky in the PP song, but presuming I master it in the next little while, I may post a video with the half-rounds.

Bottom line - changing out the strings, whether to a different brand or a new style (flats to rounds, coated to un-coated, etc) can bring sagging motivation back to life. Strings are too expensive to do this every time you get a little blue, but one new set might be all it takes!!

Hmmm...I wonder how my Black Beauties would look on the JTK.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Nancy Grace

My opinion is that Nancy Grace has no credibility. Anybody who calls the defendant in a death penalty murder trial by the name "tot mom" is acting very unprofessionally, and is just out for sensationalism and ratings.

If you have forgotten, she was once sued because a woman whose son went missing committed suicide after being interviewed by Grace. She settled the case by establishing a trust fund toward the cause of finding the missing boy. Good enough. But the point is that when giving her statements, Grace apparently asked that the court cameras be turned OFF, because she didn't want to be embarrassed by the spotlight.

And when sued by a former colleague for breach of contract over the Fox show they were planning together, she apparently refused to discuss the case in the media. The statement from her legal rep read: "Ms. Grace will respond in full, in court – not the media – and has great faith that the truth will come out."

Strange how she expects privacy and dignity for herself, but never seems to afford these things to others. She treats people like dirt. I would never want it on my conscience that somebody took their own life because of my poisonous treatment of them.

She fills the air with hate and it makes me wonder what it's like for her children. Are they living in a house weighted down by all this overwhelming negativity and toxicity? I hope I am wrong. I hope this isn't who she really is, and that this is just an act for television, and that she can shut it off like a light switch when she goes home at night. I hope her home is actually a place of love and positive energy.

But the catch is that if that is so, then I am right about the fact that she has no credibility, and that it's all about sensationalism.

Nancy Grace, make up your mind about the legacy you want to leave behind. Do you want to be remembered as a circus act – never to be taken seriously – or someone who is as true and real to the viewers as to those under your own roof?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Getting from Here to There

Lucky for me, when I was a kid, my family enthusiastically loved and enjoyed all kinds of music. Every week, I used to watch Lawrence Welk with my grandparents and quickly developed a love for tuneage from different eras. When we’d go for a drive in my grandfather’s ’57 Ford - which didn’t have a car radio - someone would always remember to pack along a portable so we could sing along.

When my uncle first got his Mercury Montego, we got to hear a car radio for the first time, and Yellow Submarine was always sung at the top of our lungs! I think the fact that we were singing rather than asking about the drums or guitars or keyboards gave the adults the impression that we just loved to sing and had no desire to play an instrument, so we never got that nudge in that direction.

Come the late 60s - early 70s, the airwaves exploded with the great music that quickly defined my taste in music. And with it came the bass.

You see, when you watched Lawrence Welk, there was often a bass in the mix, but the thin quality of the sound coming out of the TV at the time made it almost negligible, lost in the orchestral mix.

But on the radio, it was a different story. I started to become acutely aware of that powerful, deep and rich vibration at the bottom of the songs.

There were The Doors, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Elton John - I haven’t words enough to list every band or song that spoke to me with a great bass line! If the song had a bass solo, I’d go very quiet and really listen to it. It played to a different part of my soul than any other part of the music. And let me tell you, the other instruments played pretty deeply to my soul already, so the fact that the bass was literally creating a new ear on my body meant it was pretty special.

I remember “Dance To The Music,” by Sly and the Family Stone. Larry Graham’s playing was one of the first times I got goose bumps at the sound of the bass.

The middle started with the drum, which - to me - was simply laying down the red carpet for the bass! “All we need is a drummer, for people who only need a beat!” I would start tapping my feet in giddy anticipation.

Then came the guitar, the “trumpets” to alert the listener that the bass was in the house! “I’m gonna add a little guitar, to make it easy to move your feet!” As the guitar sounded, I’d stand up and shiver at what was coming.

And finally, the warning that the earthquake was about to hit: “I’m gonna add some bottom, so that the dancers just won’t hide.”

And there it was. The bassline growled like an angry animal stomping through the room with an almost threatening posture. I could have listened all day long to the drums-guitar-bass trio that pounded out that beat.

It was songs like this that etched in stone my love for the bass. To me, the bass was the biggest, baddest dog in the neighbourhood. You leashed that monster and marched it down the street and people backed up out of respect. I could miss a lick played by the guitarist, piano player - even the drummer’s cymbals or brushes could be lost in the mix. But I could never ignore the bass. I could never NOT hear it.

Actually, I heard it everywhere. No...I LOOKED for it everywhere. I’d seek out the songs that fed my hunger for thunder. Every song was measured by the bass yardstick. Did it rumble and growl like that big dog? Did it shake the ground?

Into adulthood, I learned to play keyboard bass on my Casio synthesizer, but never moved to the real instrument. The reason for this is not clear to me. Maybe it just wasn’t time to go from a passionate LISTENER to a passionate PLAYER. Maybe I feared I could never meet the challenge of sounding like the people I admired.

Maybe the time would simply have to reveal itself to me.

Anyway, though I continued to thrill and indulge myself with the ground-shaking sounds of my bass-passion, it was more than 30 years between those first Larry Graham moments and the time I actually picked up my first bass. A lifetime, really. And when I finally did hold that axe in my hands, I have to admit that most of the mystique was sadly stripped away. The dream versus reality. Had I ruined that beautiful fantasy of my connection with the bass?

It was smaller than it should have been, and the sound - when played through a small practice speaker - bore little resemblance to Larry Graham’s monstrous tone. It wasn’t like playing “air bass” to my favourite songs when I was a kid, when I could actually BE Larry Graham, or any of the others who shook the floor under my feet.

This was a real bass, and whatever sound came out of it was going to be made by me alone. Humph! All I could do was plunk and clunk out thin notes that only matched the beat and rhythm of my favourite songs.  But there was no thunder.

No thunder.

The thing about dreams is that they are sort of like pilot lights. Sometimes they don’t go out. They just dim and flicker in the background, waiting for someone to turn up the gas.

I found the TMBG course online - it was represented as the most complete course to get from here to there in terms of becoming a real bass player.

I ordered myself a copy.

Over a year in, I’m into Lesson 7 of 20 - trying to master the Funky in the Phonepoles section, and the spark is definitely on the rise. Okay, the bigger Fender Rumble amp had something to do with it, too. Even plunking sounds good through a big amp.

Some people get through the lessons faster - it really depends on how much time you have to devote to the studies. Life has a way of interfering with the desire to play the bass 16 hours a day. Go figure.

Anyway, you know what the TMBG course did for me? It nudged me across the line from being a bass LOVER to a bass PLAYER. It also reminded me that it was the wrong approach to expect my playing to be like Larry Graham’s right out of the box, just because I loved the thunderous sound. And finally, it reminded me that even though I was very seasoned in my LOVE of the instrument, and considered myself a connoisseur of great bass licks, when it came to playing, I was a complete novice - and it was okay to admit this.

Getting this reality check under my belt was pretty much when the lights went on for real. It was slow at first, as I dutifully worked through the opening lessons and taught my fingers to obey the rules of the fretboard, but when I became skilled enough to play along in rudimentary fashion with those beloved songs from my youth, a hopeful smile spread across my face and I turned the pages through the next lessons.

Could I actually do this? Could I really play the bass guitar - the holy shrine that had been the centre of my musical heart for over forty years?

TMBG is not a quick-fix course. It’s a full-on program and you have to dedicate yourself to it if you want to be a successful player.

As I said, I’m on Lesson 7 and though I still have a long way to go, I now have skill enough (and gear enough) to shake the ground and make thunder.

You want to know a secret? I still get goose bumps from “Dance to the Music.” But now, I get them because I can play Larry Graham’s famous bass line myself. And how cool is that?

Am I a full-fledged bass player? I’m getting there. But I’ll tell you this:

Hearing thunder is one of the best things you can ever experience. But MAKING thunder blows it right out of the water.

I guess the time had just revealed itself to me.

What will you do when it reveals itself to you?

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Last Rites of Ransom Pride

The Last Rites of Ransom Pride - Movie Review

Didn't like it.  Not at all.

It's another in a long line of pretentious Canadian films. Too often, I see Canadian film makers who think they have to display all manner of pseudo-intellectual, artsy flash in order to convince the viewer that the Canadian movie experience is more cerebral and enlightening than those gauche, low-brow US movies. Harumph!

And yet they borrow every US-based visual trick to make their films. The result is a lurching Frankenstein monster that almost has me running for my torch light and pointed stick.

This movie is visually ugly, with jerky cutaway shots that make me think they are trying to do a style job a la Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula." Coppola shows us how it's done when done well; sorry guys, but you show us what it looks like when done badly.

This could have been more of a beautiful, interesting Western if they'd have stuck to some of the more traditional elements of the genre. I'm thinking something along the lines of "The Assassination of Jesse James..." Obviously, they didn't have a Brad Pitt budget, but in my opinion, they wasted too much cash on the unnecessary visual junk.

And speaking of cash, I imagine the constraints of Canadian government funding also put the strangle-hold on their efforts. There is little funding to be had for Canadian art unless it screams pretentiousness and faked intellectualism.  These guys could have had the best of intentions at the start.  Who knows?

You want to know something? When I watched this one on Netflix, I never knew it was Canadian by its description. It was listed as a Western and I love Westerns, so I picked it out. Two minutes into it, I had it pegged as a Canadian film. Go figure.  It's quite sad, when you think about it.

And in case you're wondering, I am Canadian, myself, and I do like some Canadian flicks. "The Saddest Music in the World" is one of my faves. It shows that you can be quirky without being a snob about it. That is a FUN movie, filmed (in an old warehouse in Winnipeg) with Vaseline smeared on the camera lenses. Nothing high-brow or snooty, here, folks! HA HA HA!!

Ahem...back to the review.

The characters in this one are unpleasant. Dwight Yoakam is always fun to watch, but he can't carry such a heavy load on his shoulders alone. I'm not going to lay out the details of bad characters - suffice to say there was no character that I could root for, or get behind, or cheer for!

In the long run, I guess it's all about personal taste, so I would never tell a person to pass this one by. The fact that people made this movie (presumably with some enthusiasm) is testimony that SOMEONE out there is interested in this type of thing. But it ain't me, Babe. No, no, ain't--

Well, you get the idea.

Be forewarned, is all I'm saying. It's called a Western, but doesn't feel like one. Not by a long shot. It feels like you're standing in an allegedly upscale museum, where people are expected to praise every splatter and smear simply because they've been told that it's art.

I don't consider my tastes to be low-brow. I am fully capable of appreciating cerebral works. Actually, I enjoy movies of all genres. The only thing I ask is that it entertains me. Entertains my eyes, my ears, my imagination.

This one did none of those things.