Friday, 18 November 2022

Battalions Of Better Bass Players

I have a gig this coming weekend playing with my wife, Amy Rigby. I’m principally the bass player in her band though I also play guitar on a couple of tunes on an electronic instrument called an  Omnichord which has been rechristened by Amy as the Omacron. I also sing harmony or back-up vocals.

I was thinking about the difference between preparing for one of Amy’s shows and one of my own. Preparing for my own shows is a quietly fraught affair - I’m filled with fear and self doubt. Getting ready for a show with Amy there’s a marked absence of all this, apart, that is, from my normal low-level insecurity wherein battalions of better bass players agree amongst themselves that they could do a far superior job, muttering about how I only got the job because I’m married to the artist. Normal stuff as I said. 

I can usually keep these fears at bay because I’ve begun to better understand the chemistry between band members, and that the job of being a band member involves so much more than mere mastery of a musical instrument. This isn’t to say I’m a crap bass player because I’m not - I’m actually pretty good. I have other skills too - I can drive, repair equipment, string guitars so they stay in tune, fit more equipment into a vehicle than anyone would have thought possible… Where bands are concerned I’m a pretty good catch.

I still get twinges of He Only Got The Job Because He’s Married To Her, but never mind, I can push that aside.

Amy and I worked together as a unit for ten years and three albums. We stopped doing it when we realised we could make more money, something like a living wage, if we worked separately. But for ten years we were a two piece rock and roll group - not a duo, we preferred two piece rock and roll group. During that time we developed some kind of telepathic communication. We hardly ever looked at each other while we were playing - we didn’t want to be giving each other gooey and sentimental looks - there was an element of steel to it. We found a way to harmonise - to begin with my voice was twice as loud as Amy’s but she got stronger and I got my voice under control. She started playing the piano, I started playing the bass - not that we were beginners in that - I started out on the bass and subsequently played tthe instrument on a lot of my own records - Amy had been lucky enough to have had piano lessons as a kid. As soon as I found she could play the piano I insisted she did and was always quite envious that she got to sit down for part of the set. Together we’re confident in ourselves and each other, exacting, but tolerant and non-judgemental - we’re facing in the same direction, looking for the same outcome. You might say we have each other’s backs.

Amy’s band is a three piece. She doesn’t play the piano onstage, just guitars. She has three of them: a Telecaster, a 12 string Dan Electro, and a Gibson J45 acoustic. She uses a 1972 Fender Deluxe - originally it was mine but it seems to have been co-opted or annexed which is okay because Amy gets a great sound out of it and I actually get a better guitar sound for me out of a reissue Deluxe. I use a big Traynor tube amplifier and a 1x12 cabinet for the bass. Doug Wygal plays the drums and we’re lucky to have him. He lives down the road in Kingston, and before each run of shows we get together to run through the tunes and indulge in a bit of local gossip.

We’re a tight unit. We know what’s right - what to wear and how to be. We don’t grin. I can’t personally abide bands members that grin. That was an early lesson through the great and sadly late Ian Dury - the audience laughed, the band remained stoic, things would get uneasy... I think he got it from in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest - you’re laughing at Jack Nicholson’s character when you realise there’s blood seeping under the door because Billy has just slashed his wrists and bled to death, but you can’t stop laughing. I don't know if that makes sense but perhaps you get the idea.

We have a good time together. When we travel to shows we can rely on Doug for a tale or two - the Soft Machine opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, early Bob Seger shows, even the Amboy Dukes (who were great even though it later transpired that their guitar player was an asshole called Ted Nugent). How do you reconcile these things? Is it still okay to thrill to their version of Baby Please Don’t Go

Last night at our rehearsal we discussed the Standells and Steppenwolf. We told Doug about seeing Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets and how great they were, and Doug recalled how his first band bought an album by Chocolate Watch Band in order to learn their songs only to find the record inside had been substituted for the Pink Floyd’s first album. They quickly realised this stuff was way more psychedelic than Sitting Here Standing by the Chocolate Watch Band, so they learned Interstellar Overdrive instead and never looked back.

Before the show tomorrow evening Amy will probably be a bit tense and nervous, and we’ll try to give her the space she needs to get ready. I’ll probably break out the lens wipes and Doug and I will clean our glasses before we go on. In my mind I’ll be doing my best impersonation of my alter-ego, the great Bryce McCafferty. Bryce is a classic British bass player. He truly doesn’t give a fuck. He shows no interest in the set list which he shrugs off with a tacit You Tell Me What You Want Me To Play And I’ll Play It. The world of Bryce McCafferty is divided into two kinds of people: drinking buddies, and people who don’t interest him. He gets work because his bass playing is, quite surprisingly, effortlessly astounding. I’m actually nothing like Bryce McCafferty.

Amy Rigby
8pm @ The Spotty Dog
Warren Street
Hudson NY