Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Bass Lessons

[Editor’s Note: Written in December of 2008 and never used. Not sure why]

Author’s Note: Don’t ask me; I just write the stuff. There is no editor]

I (used to) play the electric bass. It’s not a bass guitar, although everyone calls it that. There actually is an instrument called a “bass guitar.” It has six strings and is tuned lower than a regular guitar, but it’s not a bass. A bass is that doghouse with the four strings. The electric kind hangs on your neck and gives you a bad back (left side), deafness, and a couple hundred bucks a night for as many nights as you’ll show up, because every other person in the world is an unemployed guitar player. Own a bass and you’ll always work.

That’s what my brother told me all those years ago. He actually knows how to play the thing properly. Everything I learned about it he taught me in one afternoon in his freezing cold, decidedly downscale apartment in Providence RI. I never had to learn anything other than what he taught me that day, and I’ve forgot half of that, and I could still work every night if I wanted to. I don’t. No one owns one, shows up, and plays bass — instead of monkeying around like the guitar player they wish they were on the wrong part of the neck.

But you need bass lessons, and I’m busy and don’t know how to play, and my brother’s busy and in lives in LA, so we’re stuck with YouTube. I’ll teach you everything you need to know right now.

You have to play the blues first. It’s easy. Just shut the hell up and never venture past the fifth fret. There are only three chords, and if you play with John Lee Hooker he’s not even interested in all three of those. Muddy Waters will show you how:

That’s the first song I played for money three days after my lesson. I stunk, but everybody else did too, and they practiced so they had no excuse. The audience was drunk, what difference would it make?

You can actually practice, and you can hang all sorts of musical drapes on that framework. Like Miles Davis’ friend Paul Chambers:

But you’re a hack whitebread dude. You gotta eat too. Duck Dunn will show you the way to play in barbands where the all the fights are merry and the dancing is violent:

Nuffin’ to it. But what if you want to play pop music? Well, it’s really just tuba parts from the music hall. Macca gets it.

He sings OK, too. Remember, no matter how bad you sing, make sure there’s a microphone in front of you or you’ll make less money than the other guys. Even Ringo figured that out eventually.

But you need rock music, too. The thudding kind, not the Beatles kind. You only need to learn one song –any song– by any one of a dozen bands with guys that go to Chest Hair Club for Men. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd; makes no nevermind. This is as good as any:

If you want to play like a real bass player, you’ll have to devote your life to figuring out what the hell got into James Jamerson to make him play like that on all those Motown records. Good luck. How Einstein came up with the special theory of relativity is an easier poser.

Got all that? Me neither. I used to try to play like 10 percent of that and had to sing over it, too. The seizures are getting better, now.

Reggae bass playing is easy. Just play like James Jamerson, only backwards.

But you’ve got to learn one lesson, and learn it fast: Girls don’t want any of that. They want to dance, and they don’t want it too sophisticated. This was the National Anthem of girls in a tube top right up to the present day: Easy, too. The song, I mean:

See, even Helen Reddy will have an extra sloe gin fizz and get jiggy when that’s going on.

There you have it. You’re qualified to make a crummy living from 8 PM to 3 AM three nights a week and two weddings a month. Hope your girlfriend has a comfortable couch.

What’s that? Country music? Which country? Our country? Don’t bother. There’s only two notes, and neither is all that compelling.

20 Responses

  1. Who took that full-nostril view of you from an adoring fan's perspective? Is it Mrs. Cottage?

    This should be retitled "BAd-aSS Lessons."

  2. Dude. I was a bass player too. Rickenbacker 4001. We had three guitarists and I could play the least, so I exchanged my Tele for the Rick.

    Paul McCartney was an excellent model, what with his fluid and melodic lines. Jamerson, of course. I used to play 33 rpm records at 45, because it would make the bass notes more audible. Chris Hillman of the Byrds. Entwistle was impossible. I remember trying to master The Real Me, from Quadrophenia. No way. Nor did I ever master the thumb slap.

  3. Andy- If you use a low E string from a bass as the "leader" on your line, you can catch a Great White shark. I like Rotosound 105s. You can use A strings for hammerheads.

    Ruth Anne- I'm tall, but not "two car garage nostrils" tall. The photographer worked for the Providence Journal back then: Steve Labadessa. First gig publicity. Even the Beatles didn't get that.

    And, um, er, by my calculations, Mrs. Cottage was in sixth grade that year, and still playing with Malibu Stacy dolls.

    G Bob- I knew there was something wrong with you. I just couldn't put my finger on it.

  4. Oh, sweet Jesus on a flaming crutch…. it IS a puffy shirt!

    Intervention scheduled.

    BTW: What do you call a bass player who finally gets laid by a groupie?


  5. I believe the joke is: What's the difference between a pizza and a bass player?

    A: A pizza can feed a family of four.

    Iz not puffy shirt. Iz paratrooper jumpsuit.

  6. You the Beaver, me the Twin Otter. Still a de Havilland.

    They don't give the paratroopers jumpsuits no more. Nowadays they just give a few spare, very large batteries to pack. Batteries which may or may not have a use in any military equipment.

  7. I married a a talented electric bass player, dated a multitude of other band members before I chose him.

    I like the quiet discipline required of bass men, major skill without the glory. I'm not surprised that was your instrument.

  8. Daphne says: "I married a talented electric bass player.."

    I do not believe I've ever heard those words assembled in that order before.

    Or in conjunction with one another.

    Or juxtaposed.

    Or catercornered.

    Or in close proximity to one another in any order.

    Say, that sentence is in English, isn't it?

  9. He sets his feet…. he reaches down inside himself…. deep down… here's the pitch…. he swings his bass…


    it's a long one…. a long one…. it's ….. it's….. outta here!

    Standing ovulation from the crowd.

  10. Other musical interludes:

    What do you call a bass player who broke up with his girlfriend?


    How is a bass better than an electric guitar?

    Burns longer.

    Another sentence never heard in English "Say, isn't that the bass player's Porsche?"

  11. Which reminds me; I haven't watched my copy of Standing in the Shadows for awhile. Have to dig it out.

    None of the girls I knew liked calluses on my fingers, so I stayed away from manual labor and bass playing. Stuck to my tenor, which requires tongue and lip control. They liked that. 😉

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