Press : Bass Guitar Magazine Interview
Question 1: You came from a musical family. Music was in the blood?
Yes, music was definitely in the blood. My dad played a mean harmonica; nothing serious, just a hobby.
He played a little like Sonny Boy Williams or Lightning Hopkins. Those were a couple of his influences.
He played this song called Fox Chase. That was sweet. It was my favorite and when he played it he made all kinds of noises around the harmonica, like the dogs chasing the fox. I gotta get him to record that for me. My mom would sometimes drag us to church on Sundays. She sang gospel and sounded pretty good. What got the ball rolling was my brother, Herb. He started piano lessons at 4 years old. Can you believe that. Now he plays several instruments and is good on all of them. My sister Carol sang, my brother Bob sang and played percussion and I ended up with a guitar in my hands. We sat around the house playing music together and after a while, my dad helped Herb and Bob put together a band. It was called The 7 Wonders Combo and was fun, but a lot of hard work. I wanted to go play with the other kids but they made me stay at home and do the boring shit like practice and learn songs.
Question 2: What age were you when you started playing with the Seven Wonders Were you still playing guitar at that point?
I was seven years old when I started playing with the Seven Wonders, and I still played the guitar at that time. There is a cool picture of that band on my web site, www.billrichmusic.com - check it out. We even recorded a record. It was on a 78 disc, before the 45 came out. I know you can relate to that! It had original songs; one written by dad called Carcoat, and the other was called Rock with the Congo's. I think Herb put that one together. Damn, I might have to get another recording of those for my next CD! :)
Flashing back to that time, those were some cool gigs. There was this portable bandstand called The Show Wagon that moved from place to place, like different parks each week. Always outside at night, with the lights and the built in PA, your friends there and every other band in the area. Man, I thought that was the shit! Competition was thick and they would let you know when you missed a lick or step, or whatever. We all learned how to kick ass and have fun at the same time from that. Thats what it was all about for me.
Question 3: Why did you change to electric bass?
Well, somehow I ended up with this double neck guitar which had the guitar on top and the bass on the bottom. I started fooling around with the bass neck. I would play these night clubs (of course my dad had to go with me cause I wasnt old enough to be there) and I would listen to these bass players and the sound would shake my whole body. I liked that. They were good but they were not playing it the way I thought it should be played. So I decided to switch to the bass. Since everybody else wanted to play guitar...
Question 4: Who were your early influences?
On guitar it was Chuck Berry (Johnny B Goode) Lonnie Mack and Dewayne Eddy. When I started playing bass, the electric bass was not in the mix. It wasnt until a few years later when Motown broke into the scene that the electric bass came in with a bang. To me, James Jamerson, the bass player on almost all the early recordings for Motown, put the electric bass on the map. His style caught everybodys attention, especially mine. I loved the way he played through the changes... way cool. I met him when I was doing this gig in LA at the Persian Room on Crenshaw Street. James Gadson, a good friend of mine and a drummer for the Watts 103rd Rhythm St. Band, told him we should hook up and then brought him down to the gig. I was so excited to see him sittin there checkin me out, what a rush! We had a very
interesting conversation about the music, the music business, and just living life. I thought I knew it all along, but never heard it the way he put it. It changed my whole outlook on life. Or maybe he just put it in perspective.
Question 5: Can you remember what make it was?
My guitar and bass, I presume? Well, the first guitar I owned was a Silvertone. The double neck guitar was a Danelectro, top of the line, right. When I finally started playing bass full time I bought this cheap bass that looked like a Fender Jazz but was really made in Japan and only stamped in the USA. I believe it was a Conrad. I peeled the name off the head of the bass. It was special and playing a bass with no name on it worked for me for what I was doing. Back then the instrument didnt make the player. Some dudes had the top of the line shit, like Fender or Gibson, and still werent playing up to that level.
Question 6: You spent a few years touring with the Whispers. Can you tell me a little about those days? Were you still playing the same bass?
Ohhh, the Whispers. Thats where the shit began. Two months after I graduated from high school I was really getting serious about my music. I hung out with a lot of musicians, and all we did was play and practice getting ready to deal with the musicians on the east and west coast. We wanted to be able to show what we had if we ever had the chance. The Whispers was my chance. They came through Omaha on tour and needed a bass player. That had my name written all over it. I was ready to get out of Dodge, so I went with them. The first stop was Buffalo, NY and a few other places back east. That was rough. At that time they were struggling, gigs getting cancelled, stuck in towns with no money. You get the picture. That went on for a few months and then we went out west to the Bay Area, Oakland and San Francisco. Me and my bass with no name did a few more months of that. Working with the Whispers was nice, wearing the suits, the way the music was presented. It was like this Las Vegas show type thing. Plus it gave me the chance to travel around and see what was happening around the country.
Question 7: The Buddy Miles Express must have been an exciting development in your career?
You got that right. I was doing gigs with the Whispers in Oakland, wearing the suits and shit. I would go over to San Francisco and Mill Valley and hang at the Heliport, which was a big rehearsal hall for a lot of groups like Santana, Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, and Janis Joplin, just to name a few. My brother Herb, Buddy Miles, Stemsey Hunter and Hoshal Wright from Omaha were playing with the Electric Flag there so I would go check out their rehearsals. I was listening to Michael Bloomfield, Nick Gravenitas, Harvey Brooks and the rest of the band, and hanging with the hippie scene, wearing all of those weird clothes and doing the things they did. I said to myself, I want to be doing this kind of shit! They finally broke up and Buddy started his own band. He called me to see if I wanted to work with him. I said Yessss! But little did I know that the shit hits the fan on all levels. So, Im in the big time. The first thing I did was go get me a new bass. It was a Fender Jazz... yes, that was around 1968. We recorded the Buddy Miles Express album and hit the road. East, West, North, South. Then we recorded another album called Electric Church, and hit the road again. That went on for about two more years.
Question 8: Whats your association with Jimi Hendrix?
I first met Jimi in Hollywood, Ca. 1968. Our first gig with the Buddy Miles Express was at the Whisky A-Go-Go. Man, everybody was there. Jimi Hendrix, Taj Mahal, Leon Russell, some of the Chamber Brothers, Peter Tork of the Monkeys, Dr. John and some others I cant remember right now. Jimi sat in with us that night. What a night! We clicked big time the first time we played together. Playing with Jimi was unbelievable. It brought out the best in me and then some. We both knew that we would have to do it again. Which we did. We kept running into each other. I think the next time I saw him was at this party in the Hollywood hills, at Peter Torks house. Wheeeew, Ill leave that alone. But we played together a lot in
New York. We would meet at this club called The Scene and jam all night. I remember going to his recording studio Electric Ladyland and jammin with the recording tape rolling. I have copies of that night. When we were in London at the Royal Albert Hall, the Express opened up the show for him. Yep, more hanging. Check this out. My brother Herb and I were in Denver between gigs. We were playing this wedding gig in Cheesman Park and Jimi was in Denver to play at Mile High Stadium that night. We were set up in this back yard next to the park and a limo pulls up. Jimi gets out, comes over and of course our guitar player takes off his guitar and gives it to him. We start jammin and the next thing you know all these people start gathering around. The police show up to see whats going on so Jimi jumps back into his limo and takes off. I never will forget that. Then we were back in New York recording the next Buddy Miles album. I wrote this song on it called 69 Freedom Special. Jimi came up with that name. I will have to tell you about that sometime. He produced three songs on that album and that was one of them. That was way cool, sittin in the studio recording and looking up and seeing Jimi at the recording board mixing. I played my butt off! After that, I finally left the Buddy Miles Band and went to Denver. I stayed there for 3 months and then moved to Petaluma, Ca. Then I got this call from Allen Douglas, Jimis producer. He said Jimi wants you to come out and record the Band of Gypsies album. I said Shit! I was scheduled to record another project, which I couldnt get out of because I had received some of the money ahead of time. And besides. I had just quit Buddys band and didnt want to work with him at that time. I figured Jimi and I would get together some other time. Allen Douglas called me again two months later and asked if I would come to New York to do the John McLaughlin Devotion album. Of course I said shit yes!, but I didnt know who he was or what type of music he played till I got there. Damn... What a trip that was. Space music, big time. But I enjoyed it. It was something new and different. I talked to Jimi while I was there. We still had that desire to play together again, but he left us to soon..... god bless his soul.
Question 9: You have just completed a short tour as a trio with Taj Mahal. This association goes back to the early seventies. How did it start?
Yep, LA and Northern California was the first tour with the trio. Taj, Kester Smith on Drums, and yours truly. I really enjoyed it and I think that was the beginning of something good, again. Actually, it started before then. I met Taj in 1968. He was at the opening for the Express that night at the Whisky A-Go-Go. Things were happening and everybody wanted to play with each other. He was with his guitar player Jessie Ed Davis and the music was groovin. I didnt really know much about Taj and his music at that time, but after meeting him and Jessie I had to check it out to see what he was putting down. I did, and it was different from all the music I was hearing. I liked it. We were all pretty much playing the same circuit... that jet set scene, LA one night, New York the next, San Francisco the next... you know. So I would run into Taj here and there. I would go check out his gigs; the people loved him. We would talk and he would check out some of the gigs I was on. Finally after about 2 or 3 years he called to see if I wanted to do a few gigs with him. Of course I said Shit Yeah! That was in 1971 I think. I ended up working with him and Jessie Davis and the drummer Chuck Blackwell. That was way cool. It was different from the music I was playing but I liked it. We played the states and went over to Europe a couple of times. I loved that! Ive known Taj for about 34 years now. Damn! I also had the pleasure of working with 4-5 different bands he put together, all different types of music, and recording 6-8 albums. We go waaayy back.
Question 10: What is the secret of you staying around together so long?
Hummm, Well, I think its a couple of things. RESPECT, for one. I just love what he does and how he does it. The way he carries himself on stage and off; he is a real professional. As a person he is so down to earth. A lot of the entertainers wont even look at you unless they know you. Usually Taj will at least take the time to say hey. Ive never seen him treat anybody badly, unless they had it coming. Hes a real friend, and not a bad person to work for...
Question 11: Were you invited up to Woodstock to join Paul Butterfields Better Days, or was this another chance encounter?
Both. I was in Woodstock with Taj when we were working on the material for the Taj Mahal Real Thing double album, recorded live at the Fillmore East, the one with Howard Johnson and the Tubas. That was one hell of a record! One of my favorites. We rehearsed during the day and at night hit the town to party. Woodstock was a very cool place to be. It was full of musicians who lived there or just hung out there when they werent on the road, like The Band, John Sebastian, David Sandborn, The Chamber Brothers, Paul Butterfield, Maria Muldaur, Bonnie Raitt and some movie actors like Lee Marvin and a lot more. The town wasnt that big so you would see everybody because there were only 2 or 3 places to go and jam. I met Paul Butterfield before then but thats where we really had a chance to hang out and get to know each other. Ouch! :) We definitely hit it off. I got my chance to work with Paul sometime after that. Taj takes vacations that last for a few months you know, so during one of those times Butters manager, Albert Grossman, called me to see if I would come to Woodstock to record an album with the new Better Days Band. I said shit yeah! And I was back to Woodstock, NY.
Question 12: You toured and recorded two albums with Paul. Were they wild times along with Geoff, Amos and Bobby Charles?
For sure! Geoff and Amos always had something going on. Never a dull moment. Butterfield, Mr. Party Animal, wasnt the only one. When you add Bobby Charles (the Ragin Cajun) into the mix, youre talking Watch Out! He was a lot of fun to be around. My kind of hanging partner. At that time, I guess the whole band was a part of that... every night and every gig was nothing but a big party. The alcohol was flowing and everything else. I could get into more details, but I think I will leave that alone. There was a lot of damage going on, and I know you dont want to hear about that. Maybe you do, but not today. :)
Question 13: At a later date, you toured with Geoff and appeared on three albums. Was the Better Days Band the start of your long association with Geoff?
4 albums... Yep, that is when I first met Geoff, at the Bearsville Recording Studio in Woodstock, NY. I didnt know anything about him... what type of music he played, what instrument he played, or what planet he was from. At the rehearsals he would play a little piano, then mandolin, banjo, slide guitar, then sing... then tell everyone else what to play! :) I didnt know what to think about that guy. It took a lot of hangin and playin to figure him out. And I still havent! :) Just kidding. Geoff is my man. He is A-OK in my book, As you can tell, I like Muldoe. Thats what I call him. After working with him in the Better Days Band for 2 years, I started to realize he knew a little about what he was talking about, even if no one else did. :) Just kidding again, Muldoe. I think he had a little comedian in him. What broke the ice for me was when we were recording this song at Bearsville Studio. It was called It All Comes Back written by Bobby Charles. Amos Garrett hit this big ass hog (what we call a mistake, or bad note, notes) Amos, man, hes a funny dude; he cracked me up all the time. He would always call himself Pretty Bad as a nickname. So he would say, Call me Pretty Bad, so we called him Pretty Bad. Anyhow, back to this mistake (hog). Amos hit these notes that were waaay bad and Geoff yelled out Pretty Bad! Pretty Bad... We all busted a gut on that one, and they left it on the recording. If you have it, you have to listen to that...
Question 14: You came to the Notodden Blues Festival as a trio, Yourself, Geoff and Stephen. You really kicked some ass. Did you enjoy the festival?
Shit Yeah! That festival was one that ranks pretty high in my book. That was my first time there. I had heard about it and didnt know what to expect. I didnt expect to be treated as well as I was, even though I deserved it. :) The staff and everybody concerned were great. They made sure that the shit was together and they took the time to make sure everything was a-okay. Not just for the vips... Everybody. Our tour
guide was especially cool, and I still hear from some cool people I met while I was there. I get e-mail from them checking to see if everything is going well in my life. Isnt that great? I also met this couple, Kevin and Jill Brooks, that made the Festival and being there even more special. You know, I wasnt sure what we were gonna play when we got there. Geoff covers a lot of territory with his music... I mean one song might have Geoff and his daughter, and the next song might have a 15 piece string section, and so on. But, I knew with Steven Prince Outta Sight Bruton on guitar it had to be alright.
Question 15: One of the highlights of your show was your bass instrumental, which also features on your CD Bill Rich: The Fee-Vah. Tell me about the instrumental.
Ahhhhhh yeah... That song is one I love to play. It kind of loosens things up for me. I start it out with this intro I call Basstro. Its like sittin in my basement playing the bass the way I want, doing whatever I want... sweet! And then I go into the Fee-Vah... a funky nasty groove. If you listen to that song, notice how the melody and the bass line interacts. I love that. It has no overdubs. I feel good about that song. If youre a bass player, try to play it. If not, still check it out. It also gives the rest of the fellas a chance to step out.
Question 16: The Fee-Vah is your first CD. Why did you wait so long to make it?
Well, many moons ago I put together a few different groups and finally ran across someone that would help make it happen. George Lilly, whose family owned Lilly Prescription Drugs, and John Forest who had the recording studio in Stowe, Mass. wanted to see it happen, so I got the fellas together and we went to Stowe for a week and laid down about 5 or 6 tracks. It was happening but still needed work. So we scheduled some recording time a month later in Denver to finish up and add some more rep and Bamm! On the way to the airport George got killed and John was seriously injured in an auto accident. That put a damper on the project. I should have kept it going. I tried but I didnt have the funds to do it at that time. So after a while it sizzled out.
Question 17: You have an impressive list of work as a session musician. Do you enjoy the flexibility?
Sure, I dont limit myself to one type of music because there is a lot of good music out there. Styles like Reggae, Blues, Country Western, R&B, Jazz, Rock, Sambas, Pop and Bluegrass just to name a few. If you just play one thing, you are missing out. I like the fact that I recorded a lot of albums and CDs with different people. Just seeing where the music was coming from gave me a chance to expand my mind and chops.
Question 18: Was it a different kick from being a session musician?
What? If you mean doing solo work, then yes it was a totally different kick. I mean, you are putting out your own stuff, your own groove and vibe and you dont have to cater to anyone elses vision. It can be pretty powerful stuff. Session work pays the bills and broaden your mind, but playing your own music is a good feeling.
Question 19: Can you tell me about some of the songs on the CD?
Id love to. Lets start with the first song on the CD. Its called Open Up. Taj called me up one day and said, Bill Rich, Im coming to Denver with my band and I want you to put something together and open up the show for me. I said, RIGHT! I can open up a six pack of beer for you :) That was about two months before the gig. I had been working on my CD for about a year at that time, and it wasnt ready. I had wanted to have it done by then, but you know how that shit goes. Taj calling kind of made me get my shit together. I had my set, but I still needed a kickass song to start it off. About a week before the gig, I
finally wrote it and then The Bill Rich Band opened the set with it. Open Up came off great! We rocked em Freedom Special is another song that is special to me. I play the melody and bass line together. No overdubs. This is the song I told you about earlier; the one Jimi Hendrix mixed and produced on the Electric Church album. Another song off the CD is called Friend Of Mine I wish I had written that, but I didnt. I recorded that song in a church just to get that gospel feel, and it is one of the few songs I sing. I think it came out pretty good. I love that song. I could go on, but you should get the CD and listen for yourself.
Question 20: You are a major influence on other bass players. Geoff told me that Jaco Pastorious, who was playing with Gil Evans, saw you across the room one night and started screaming that you were one of his major guys. Also, Howard Johnson, the great arranger and tuba guru, said that your bass playing had made it into the arranging scene... in jazz and more popular music. Especially those pentatonic round-offs. Can you tell me about your style of playing?
Well, I listen to a lot of different types of music and play a lot of different kinds of music. I just mix it all together, you know. I make up shit and add that in there... There are a lot of ways you can start a chord progression. For instance, I might start on the minor note and use the 5th 7th, then the tonic with the 10th and end up on the 4. I guess its your choice of the notes you choose as long as it works and sounds good. I dont like to copy other bass players licks even though they have some good shit. Ill hear it and see where its coming from and then pick up my bass and figure out whats comfortable for me. Then there I go, making up something that is good for me.
Question 21: Can you tell me something about the bass equipment you use, Bill? Do you use? (Bill, as this is a bass guitar magazine, can you please go into some detail about all of your basses, makes and models, styles, pickups, strings, amps etc. including the different ones you have used over the years.)
Okay, Right now Im using a Warwick Streamer I, 5 string bass, but let me go back to the first one. That was a Conrad Bass, the copy of thr Fender Jazz Bass, made in Japan. It was definitely one of a kind. After that I got the Fender Jazz Bass. I went through a few of those. You know how they keep upgrading. I still have a Fender Jazz Bass with the maple wood neck and the pearl fretted inlays on it (I did most of my work with that one), and another one with the rosewood neck. I like the maple wood better. I have a Fender Precision Bass with the maple wood neck aswell. That is the newer model. I have used that one on a few sessions. The electronics are a little hotter on the Bass. I also have a 5 string Tobias, but I dont use it very much. Its one of the cheaper models. I got it because I got a good deal on it. I just bought a new Warwick StreamerII 5 string Bass. I havent used that one much yet, either. Im having a few adjustments done to it, like shaving the back of the neck down a little, spacing the strings out where it feels comfortable and also switching the pickups. I dont know why they didnt keep the same pickups on the Streamer II as they had on the Streamer I, but Ill get onto that later. Now, as far as the amps Ive had, the first one was a Silvertone. After that, I bought a Kustom Amp. Remember those? They had the roll and pleated vinyl finish with the sparkles. It looked a lot better than it sounded. And of course the Fender Dual Showman Bass Amp that tilted back. That had a great sound for back then! When I started doing the concert scene I used a Sunn Amp for a little while... that was okay. Then the Ampeg came out. That was the shit! I have a couple of different models of those. I used to use the Ampeg B-15 while recording a long time ago. The one with the flip top. Tubes... And the Ampeg SVT/V4B. I love that tube sound! You can feel the bass. I keep that one in my basement. If youre familar with that, youll know why. Heavy mother. 8 10 inch speakers in the cabinet and a great sound. I prefer using that if I dont have to carry it around. I also use the Gallien Krueger 800 RB power amp transistors with the SWR speaker cabinets... between that and the Ampeg I try not to stray too far away. Ah.. now the pickups. The Bartolinni pickups work for me. I love the tone I get from my Warwick Streamer I. Thats why Im replacing the pickups on the Streamer II to the Bartolinnis. They give me that warm tone I like. Maybe after this, they might give me an endorsement like Warwick and Dean Markeley. For the last 7-8 years
Ive been using the Dean Markley SR2000 Med. LT Tapered Strings. Theyre the only company that makes the tapered strings. They sound great... You get that long sustain sound back at the bridge because of the way the strings are tapered, an even sound all the way across. Plus theyre much easier to put on, which works for me. Sooo, thats my bag. Check this out and find what works for you. That is really the most important thing..
Question 22: What are your current projects that you are working on?
Well, I just recorded a CD with Cool John Ferguson last month while I was back east in Portland, Maine. Good guitar player. That should be released on Music Maker Recordings soon. I have a few tours with the Taj Trio coming up also recording a new CD with the Trio, as well as gigs in the local scene. Im also trying to figure out what the hell I will be doing for the next few years. As far as my CD I released, its got some great music I really feel good about, that I never get a chance to play. Someday I would love to be able to get loose and tour with it. Boy, can you imagine that? Kick ass! I think I need to put a little more energy in that direction and see what happens.
Question 23: Will we see you in the UK/Europe in the near future?
There is talk about a European tour with the Taj Trio coming in the early spring of 2003. I think that will happen, so yeah, Kev... Lets try to hook up if possible and kick it around again like in Notodden...... :)
Thanks Bill, Its been a pleasure talking to you. Hope to see you soon.
Kevin Brooks July 2002
The pleasures mine, Kev. Take care and say hey to Jill for me.
Bill Rich September 2002