Pete's Blog

A Good Bassist

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Last night, when I told Ian Turner how much I appreciated his drumming after our short set at the BritFest songwriters' tribute at Island Music Center, he said, "Oh, it's easy when you've got a good bass-player." Taking nothing away from Ian's good wrists and thorough knowledge of his instrument, I can see the point. Unlike the soloists on a group's front line, the bass and drums need to work as a unit. That's why it's called a "rhythm section." And one of the innovations British rock bands brought over with them is the primacy of the bass/drums unit. Think Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones (would the Stones be the World's Greatest Rock Band without them? I doubt it) or John McVie and Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, whose arrangement of Duster Bennett's "Jumpin' at Shadows" was our set-closer last night. It remains to be seen whether Mike Wittekind and Ian Turner turn into another of those legendary units (after last night's success, though, I expect they'll want to try) but already you could see Mike giving Ian what he needed, which is to say time that was both rock-solid and breathing, and a subtle complexity of melody and phrasing that gave the drums plenty to pulse against. Before my previous bassist Liam Graham left for Nashville he found Mike for me. I don't know if he actually auditioned him but the gesture was still well above and beyond: one excellent bassist making sure his substitute was up to the high standard that had been set. I think about it every time I play with Mike, just as I think about Mike every time I play with Liam in Nashville, or every time I see those videos we made in Paducah, Kentucky a year ago. Just go to the "Videos" page. The BritFest set was great fun. I don't play the electric as often as I did a year or two ago. For one thing, long sets playing rock music can be exhausting to a 58-year-old such as myself, however well-preserved. But last night's three songs, while new, offered a good range of effects. We opened with "Tired of Waiting," a song by Ray Davies that was a moderate hit in 1965 for his group the Kinks. It's a short, punchy little number and, without a guitar solo, makes a good mid-tempo opener for a trio. Then we played Richard Thompson's "For Shame of Doing Wrong" and I got to throw in lots of Thompson quotes in the two guitar solos. Naturally, only the other musicians got them - to everyone else I probably sounded more like Clarence White, a great hero of mine. Someone compared my singing in this key to Barry White, a first but I'll take it. Then we finished with "Jumping at Shadows," a tribute to the great guitarist Peter Green, of whom BB King once said, speaking of that whole generation of British blues guitarists, "He's the only one who gave me chills." It's a very understated chart with lots of room for dynamics and Mike and Ian followed me beautifully. A good rhythm section is hard to find. Let's see what happens with this one.

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