SERBIAN TRANSPLANT DJORDJE STIJEPOVIC
is one of the world’s premier upright slap bass players and
ambassadors. Formerly a member of the Head Cat with Lemmy
Kilmister and ex-Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom, Los
Angeles-based Stijepovic currently applies oodles of upright elements
to his rock & roll band Atomic Sunset, and blends slap
into global sounds in the world music outfit Fishtank Ensemble.
Other credits include Wanda Jackson, Dale Hawkins, and
“almost every living rockabilly player from the ’50s, including
DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore.” Stijepovic puts upright in
intriguing context when he performs bellydance/bass duets with
dancers Rachel Brice and Mira Betz. Stijepovic is the founder
of artofslapbass.com, a resource for upright aficionados that
includes a forum and interviews with seminal slappers such as
Marshall Lytle of Bill Haley & the Comets.
How did you become a slap-bass freak, and was it always
about acoustic for you?
It was always about acoustic for me. When I was about ten
years old I heard early Elvis Presley and Stray Cats recordings,
and I instantly fell in love with that magical percussive bass
sound. A few years later, my music school lent me an upright,
and the first thing I did was slap.
How did you develop your own upright slap style?
At first I tried to copy my favorite rockabilly licks, and
then I gravitated deeper into the past researching old jazz,
blues, country, and gypsy recordings. At the same time, I
was listening to punk, metal, and studying classical music.
I incorporate everything. I often use licks I learned from
Romanian gypsy music when I play rockabilly, or throw in
some New Orleans jazz licks when I play Balkan music. I do
it all with a punk edge—my personal touch.
Can you detail the old-school slap style that you
draw so heavily from, and cite some examples?
Steve Brown, Willie Dixon, Milt Hinton, and Joe Zinkan
definitely informed my style. I tried to incorporate all their
licks, but the most important thing I learned from them
is the kind of feel and groove that is often lost in modern,
heavily edited mainstream music. Other than a few exceptions
such as Brown’s playing on Jean Goldkette Orchestra’s
“Dinah,” most players were using single, double, and triple
slaps until the late 1940s. Just the string hits the fingerboard
on a single slap. On a double, the string hits the fingerboard
once and the palm hits it once. For a triple slap, the
string hits the fingerboard once, and the palm hits it twice.
More advanced bassists such as Milt Hinton used quadruple
slaps where the string hits the fingerboard once and
the palm hits it three times—Cab Calloway’s “Pluckin’ the
Bass” is a good example. Willie Dixon had his own way of
playing quadruple slaps. He used two double slaps, muting
the second note with his fretting hand. Check out the Big
Three Trio’s “Hard Notch Boogie Beat.” Joe Zinkan played
very nice melodies using roll slap in bluegrass and country
music. Check out Johnnie & Jack’s “I Never Can Come
Back to You.”
|Djordje Stijepovic with Fishtank Ensemble singer Ursula Knudson at San Francisco’s Café du Nord|
It’s interesting that slap on the upright bass almost completely
disappeared from the ’60s to the ’80s, when it made
a comeback in rockabilly music. Upright slap has evolved a
lot in the recent years; it’s become a complex, advanced technique.
I’m still learning and constantly working on improving
Can you detail where modern slap is right now and
how you are moving it forward?
The core is still single, double, triple, and quadruple
slaps, but there are many other licks involved as well. I like
using roll- and pull-off slap patterns such as the ones you
can hear on Fishtank Ensemble’s “Nedim.” I also like slapping
in odd time signatures such as 7/8 or 11/8. Examples
include Fishtank Ensemble’s “Djordje’s Rachenitza” and
“Ceklin,” respectively. Using double-stops the way I do on
Atomic Sunset’s “Atomic Boogie” is another recent development
in upright slap.
People are finally starting to realize that upright slap is
not just a hillbilly style—that it should be accepted as one
of the official upright bass techniques next to arco and pizz.
With the development of the internet, slap players are finally
able to share knowledge and licks.
Can you offer some gear thoughts pertaining to the
history of upright slap?
Bass companies didn’t pay much attention to upright
slap players for a long time. With regular pickups it’s hard
to have a balance between core and slap tones. The major
change happened when Jason Burns started King Double
Bass, and it progressed when he started Blast Cult. Their
One4Five basses, coupled with the amazing Channel Blaster
pickup system, finally enable full control of the core tone
and the click of the slap.
Can you offer some insights on your bass?
Blast Cult custom made my main bass, the “Great White,”
with a 3-pickup system: a Monolux piezo on the bridge for
the natural acoustic tone, a slap piezo behind the fingerboard
for the slap click, and an active EMG magnetic pickup on the
bottom of my fingerboard for an extra boost. I send all that
through a Mogamitrs [3-conductor] cable to the Channel
Blaster, where I blend and EQ the signals, and then I send
the blended signal to an amp or direct.
In the studio I use a Mojave Audio MA-200 in front of
the ƒ-hole and an MA-100 pointed toward the fingerboard.
Since I started playing Blast Cult basses I’ve incorporated a
direct signal as well.
What are your thoughts on how upright slap relates
to electric slap bass?
It’s a completely different beast. Electric slap bass technique
developed almost completely independently from
upright. The original upright slappers possibly influenced
early electric players, but nowadays most electric bass players
are not even aware that the slap technique started 50
years earlier on acoustic basses.
Woman in Sin [Fishtank,
Sunset, Hot Rods &
Pin-Ups [Ceklin Music,
Basses Blast Cult
Rig Blast Cult Channel
preamp system direct
to house or to Orange
Terror Bass head,
Aguilar DB 410 or DB
412 cabinets (live),
Mojave Audio MA-
200 and MA-100 mics
(studio), Mogami TRS
Belcanto Gold (prototype)