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Category: Groove of the Week

The Four Hour Bassist: Health & Wellbeing For The Working Musician

This post is concerned with an aspect of being a musician that is often neglected – health. Before I get started let’s get the common sense health & safety stuff…

This post is concerned with an aspect of being a musician that is often neglected – health.

Before I get started let’s get the common sense health & safety stuff out of the way:

Disclaimer #1: The opinions expressed in this post are a result of personal experience and are simply an account of a particular diet/exercise/practice regime that works for me. This may not apply to all readers of this post.

Disclaimer #2: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. Always consult an appropriately qualified health practitioner before making any significant lifestyle changes.

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about my own health & wellbeing. I began to feel unwell after a gig and then spent the following 3 days in bed with some sort of miscellaneous food poisoning/manflu affliction. Then this morning I read this excellent post on NoTreble which serves as a good primer on nutrition for the gigging bassist (it is, of course, more relevant to US readers – I’m yet to find a service station on the M1 that offers a turkey hoagie or a Philly cheese steak…).

Here’s the thing: working as a musician often involves being active for long periods of time, often at extremely antisocial hours and in locations where it’s difficult (if not impossible) to get hold of anything apart from junk food. In order to sustain energy levels, it’s vital that we give our bodies the correct fuel to run on. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing concentration on the gig, dropping a few notes, forgetting the form, botching an arranged ending to a tune, getting cranky with bandmates during load-out and nearly falling asleep at the wheel on the drive home… Sound familiar?

About a year ago I was introduced to Tim Ferriss’ book ‘The 4-Hour Body’ by a friend who said he thought it would be “my sort of thing…”. Turns out he was right. Here’s the tome in question:

Firstly, I’m aware that this is a very silly book. Much of the content is aimed squarely at the testosterone-driven teenage boy that lurks within every grown man. However, if you skip past the sensationalist marketing tripe and pick out the advice that can realistically be adopted by most ‘regular’ folk then there’s actually some incredible, life-altering stuff in there.

The main thing I got from ‘The 4-Hour Body’ is my current diet, which gives me everything I need to cope with the often hectic and unpredictable lifestyle that I lead. Food, along with music, is one of my chief obsessions, and taking on Ferriss’ nutritional advice has helped me to get a much better insight into how what I put into my body affects me.

So, what do I eat? It’s actually more constructive to list the foods that I DON’T eat:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Potatoes (no crisps, no chips!)
  • Cereals
  • Rice
  • Tortillas/wraps
  • Fruit/fruit juice (except tomatoes and avocados)
  • Soft drinks
  • Beer

For a more detailed overview and explanation of the so-called ‘Slow-Carb Diet’ (as well as the infamous ‘cheat day’) there’s a book extract here

“But what does all this have to do with music?!” Good question.

I found that once I’d given up ‘white’ carbs (particularly anything bread-related) that my energy levels become much more consistent throughout the day – I stopped getting post-meal energy slumps and my blood sugar levels became far more consistent. This means that I can get through long days that involve practice, rehearsals, traveling to/from gigs, lugging gear around and writing voluminous blog posts much better than before.

I’m not suggesting that you all should rush out and buy a copy of the 4-Hour Body, renounce bread and embrace lentils. What I’m advocating is taking the time to reflect on what you’re putting into your body and how that might be affecting your energy levels (not to mention your concentration, productivity, relationships, sleep and physical appearance…). A lot of guys (and girls) that I regularly work with don’t seem to give any thought to nutrition and consequently often wonder why they don’t feel great when all they’ve consumed is a packet of crisps and a can of red bull…

On a practical level this means avoiding stuff like this when you’ve pulled into a service station at 1am on the way back from a gig:

I’d rather spend an eternity listening to Kenny G than ingest this. No, really.

Queries/comments/suggestions are encouraged – doubt and scepticism are healthy.

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Spine O' The Times

It’s been shamefully long since I posted anything on here or added any new transcriptions to the archive, so apologies to those of you who have worked through the charts…

It’s been shamefully long since I posted anything on here or added any new transcriptions to the archive, so apologies to those of you who have worked through the charts I’ve already posted and are itching for something new. More transcriptions will be uploaded soon, I PROMISE!

Part of the reason that I’ve been slack on the blog front is that I’ve spent the last 4 months having curvature added to my spine through traction in order to avoid needing some fairly serious surgery in the next decade (and yes, having your spine reshaped is about as much fun as it sounds…).

For those that are curious, here’s how things look now:

See that? 43 degrees of lumbar curvature. Beautiful.

I’ll try and get a new transcription up by next week, but in the meantime here’s some footage of a recent gig that was shot in St.Pancras International station. I was helping out good friends Felix Fables while their regular bassist was otherwise indisposed. The bass of choice for this was my trusty ’80s P bass (which was the star of this earlier post) strung with D’Addario nylon tapewounds.

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The (Comic) Genius Of Bernard Purdie

Steely Dan’s classic album Aja is one of the cds that permanently stays in my glovebox – there’s something about the tunes that make it ideal listening for driving home…

Steely Dan’s classic album Aja is one of the cds that permanently stays in my glovebox – there’s something about the tunes that make it ideal listening for driving home from gigs and trying not to fall asleep when you’re on the M25 at 2am…

One of my favourite moments on this record is Bernard Purdie’s playing on ‘Home At Last’, which features some serious shuffle groove. Here’s the man himself explaining (or, more accurately, ‘splaining) the Purdie Shuffle.

If I ever find myself in a bad mood, I watch some Bernard Purdie. The man is a comedy genius.

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Lick Recycling, Part 1

Just a brief one this time as things have been rather busy of late in preparation for heading off to Norway tomorrow for a week of gigs with Jamie Abbott….

Just a brief one this time as things have been rather busy of late in preparation for heading off to Norway tomorrow for a week of gigs with Jamie Abbott. This is what happened when we went out there last September; hopefully, this one will feature more of the same (if you’re allergic to bass solos, stop watching at 2:45):

The real point of this post is to bring up the concept of recycling. There’s nothing new under the sun, and all players have ‘borrowed’ ideas from other musicians at some point. Sometimes this manifested in subtle ways, such as tone, phrasing or use of certain articulation that reflects the influence of another player. On other occasions, licks are transplanted in a ‘copy and paste’ fashion, which is what we have in the following transcriptions.

The first transcription is Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons ‘December ’63 (Oh What a Night!)’. Check out the Ab major lick just before the D.S:

 

 

Now take a look at the last four bars of the bridge of Cee Lo Green’s ‘Forget You’, featuring bass courtesy of Pino Palladino:

Notice something about the lick over the D7 chord in the third bar?

It’s pretty much a note-for-note reproduction of the ‘December ’63’ lick. Rumbled!

That’ll do for now, the next instalment will feature more lick recycling courtesy of Pino, Jaco Pastorius and Igor Stravinsky…

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Panic Stations! (or, the perils of lending gear)

I recently got a call from a fellow bassist asking if he could borrow a bass for a recording, on the basis that he needed something with a bit more…

I recently got a call from a fellow bassist asking if he could borrow a bass for a recording, on the basis that he needed something with a bit more ‘grunt’ than his jazz bass. As I’ve known the guy for a good few years (we regularly cover for each other if one of us is double-booked) I agreed – I was actually quite flattered to have gear that is deemed desirable by other players. I dropped the bass off with him and went on my way…

On the night after the session, I get a call from said friend. I duly ask how the recording went and how the bass sounded. This is the response I get:

“Well, that’s actually why I’m calling… I didn’t use the bass in the end because I somehow managed to leave it on a train…”

For a second I thought I’d somehow misheard him, but no. He left it on a train.

He offers to stump up the money for a new bass if mine doesn’t get recovered. It’s worth mentioning at this point that the bass in question is a 1980s Japanese Fender Precision, so not the easiest thing to replace. Since I bought it (for a very reasonable price) a year ago it’s become my main gigging bass for all occasions.

So, after much apologising by my friend it turns out that the bass was left on a Friday evening train heading into London. He’s tried to get in touch with the lost property office but they’re shut for the weekend. Cue what feels like the longest two days ever waiting for Monday morning to come around.

7.30am Monday and I’m waiting for news on the bass. It transpires that there’s a backlog in lost property and I won’t find out if my bass has been found until the next day. Cue much swearing and speculative searches of eBay/Gumtree to see if anyone’s nicked it and is trying to make a quick sale.

Tuesday I’m in a studio recording some Motown stuff (I can’t think of a date when an old P-bass would be more appropriate, but such is life.) When tracking is done I leave the studio and turn on my phone… I soon get a phone call from my friend informing me that the P-bass was safe and sound and that he was on the way to pick it up for me. Cue massive relief, no more sleepless nights and (marginally) less hair loss.

All this leads me to the following question: Should I refuse to lend out gear in the future? Quite probably.

Anyway, rant over.

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Leading a Double Life – First Steps in Upright Playing for an Electric Bassist

Firstly, a belated Happy New Year to one and all. My one and only resolution for 2011 is to keep this blog updated with fresh material – my annual stats…

Firstly, a belated Happy New Year to one and all. My one and only resolution for 2011 is to keep this blog updated with fresh material – my annual stats email from WordPress tells me I got something in the region of 14,000 views last year, which shows that I should really pull my finger out and reward visitors with something more than a bi-yearly update!

Double Trouble

Part of the reason for the lack of pre-Christmas posts was that in mid-November I got a call offering me a series of gigs with a pop/classical artist that required me to play both electric and upright bass… Now, although I’ve been dabbling with double bass ever since I left university I’d never really ‘taken the plunge’ and this seemed like the perfect excuse to begin studying the instrument seriously.

Initially, I thought the gig would be a roughly a 50/50 split between upright and electric, but once I got the charts it became clear that I’d be playing a lot of double bass, including some bowing which was completely new territory for me. I had roughly 3 weeks to get my playing in shape, so I locked myself away in a rehearsal studio. Here’s how my November looked:

As might be expected, it was a tough few weeks. Getting to grips with the bow (awful pun intended) was probably the biggest challenge, as my first attempts resulted in a sound I can only liken to a whale being abused… After a few days, I gradually began to get the hang of things and found that my sound improved a little every day.

Spending that amount of time and effort on such a fundamental aspect of the instrument was a hugely humbling experience; I’ve been playing electric bass for over a decade, so I tend to take the process of playing for granted, but on upright I found myself having to learn a completely new set of skills in order to make the most basic pieces sound passable.

Once I’d started to get over the initial issue of handling the instrument, I found myself totally absorbed by the double bass. Although it’s a much more physically intensive instrument than the electric bass the effort is worth it – the sound and feel of the instrument make it rewarding to play, especially for certain styles of music (playing walking lines on an electric bass now feels wrong).

On a practical note, the following things made moving into the world of doubling easier:

Resources for the novice doubler

-There are some excellent instructional videos around. I found Andrew Anderson’s series on bow technique massively helpful:


– In terms of method books, I sought advice from Franz Simandl (UK link | US link) and Rufus Reid (UK | US)
– When it came to the actual gigs, my trusty Radial Bassbone saved my life on a nightly basis by letting me maintain control over the switching, output levels and EQ of both instruments.

Here’s how the setup looked (due to snow-based travel complications the double bass and the speaker cabinet were both hired for some of the gigs):

I’d like to leave you with a final thought- every time I think my arco playing is improving, I listen to Edgar Meyer and remind myself of the mountain I still have to climb. Sometimes it’s good to remind yourself that you suck.

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