Bobby Vega is a
freak of the
first order. The
gear is real. The
stories are true.
The dates are
foggy. And the
names of the
to protect their
save Bobby’s ass!
Last month, I wrote that I was on the other
side and that I’m still alive. Well, this one is about getting to
the other side, and what it all turned into.
I started playing in Bay Area clubs when I was 15 years old,
back in the early ’70s, and it was at places like the Stone, Keystone
Berkeley, Keystone Palo Alto, Frenchy’s, Country Road,
the Lion’s Share, the Jolly Fryer, Woodstock, the Orphanage,
Mr. D’s, and the Country Store that I really started to learn
how to play bass. My first real band, in seventh grade, was
called Drug, and we made noise—loud noise—and we thought
it was music. God bless Dwight Runner’s parents, because we
sucked. We were loud and terrible, but that was the first time
I got to play wide open, turn my amp up, and hear my bass.
Man, I was playing, and for the first time, I felt the power of
Okay, fast forward. I’ve been very blessed, lucky, and fortunate
to have played with some of greatest musicians and
entertainers in the history of R&B, soul, funk, blues, psychedelic
rock, and jazz fusion. This is where I learned how to make
music with people. Yes, when you play with people, you learn
how to make music and really play music.
Most of the time I got called to audition for a band or play a
gig, I didn’t know how to play that style of music. But because
I was new, open, and willing to learn, they let me in. It’s like
The Karate Kid and Mr. Miyagi: I didn’t know I was learning
how to play music until it was over, and after it was over, it
became part of my DNA. The way I play now is an accumulation
of all my experiences with people, music concerts I’ve
been to, and gigs I’ve played. Part of what I learned how to
do is to play the sound of the music—not just the bass line,
but the sound of the whole band together, the whole biscuit.
For example, I’ve played in both Jefferson Starships—
yes, there are two Jefferson Starships! One of them is Mickey
“Fooled Around and Fell in Love” Thomas’s Starship. He’s the
guy who sang on all the Starship’s hits in the ’80s, and he has
one of the greatest voices in music. That man can sang! That’s
the gig where I learned how to play pop-rock, songs like “Jane,”
“Sara,” “We Built This City,” “Nothing Gonna Stop Us,” “No
Way Out,” and “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” The other
’Ship is really the Jefferson Airplane, where Mr. Jack Casady
played the BASS on those songs. Jack Casady was my first bass
hero! He was the first bass player I ever saw playing chords
and melody in his bass lines, and man—what a (((sound))).
He has that thing called TONE. I didn’t know you could do
this on a bass.
This is an iconic bass chair, and when people come to see
that band play, they’re expecting to see Jack Casady play songs
like “White Rabbit,” “Somebody to Love,” and “Crown of Creation.”
At one show, I played the bass intro to “White Rabbit”
with a thumb-style triplet, and I thought it was cool—well,
creative, at least. Right in the middle of the lick, I hear Paul
Kantner say, “That ain’t the way it goes!” As soon as I heard
him say that, I switched over and played it with my fingers,
and then I heard him say, “That’s the way it goes.”
It’s about how it feels and the sound. Later on, this would
happen to me again, but this time I got it. I’ve learned what
not to do—not what to do. There is a difference! Rewinding
way back, what can I say? Sometimes I’m all over the place like
a glass of spilt water. I need a mop and a bucket!
May the groove be with us.