DUG PINNICK is a man ahead of his time. His band King’s X broke through in the late ’80s with masterpieces like Out of the Silent Planet [1988, Megaforce] and Gretchen Goes to Nebraska [1989, Megaforce], both of which were championed by peers as the future of rock music. Even when he was just 18 years old and first started playing in rock bands, he had his first taste of being somewhat radical. “Black kids didn’t play rock very much, aside from Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles,” he recalls. “So, I was a little outside of my community playing rock music with all the white kids.” These days, he’s got a slew of highly revered collaborations under his belt, ranging from Pinnick Gales Pridgen to Grinder Blues to KXM—his collaboration with guitarist George Lynch (Dokken) and drummer Ray Luzier (Korn)—all deviating from the norm in one way or another.
Pinnick’s bass playing has been no exception to this rule, either. Those early King’s X records established him as a singular voice on bass. Through meticulous, prog-inspired song craftsmanship and an attempt to emulate his childhood hero, Chris Squire, Pinnick inadvertently crafted one of the most distinguished, influential bass tones of a generation. Songs like “Faith Hope Love” [Faith Hope Love, 1990, Megaforce] and “Human Behavior” [Dogman, 1994, Atlantic] feature shimmering highs and subterranean lows wrung from a Hamer 12-string bass, an instrument that became his calling card for a time.
Pinnick grew up in Joliet, Illinois, and got his first taste of touring when he joined the Sperlows, a nationally touring vocal group that held tryouts after a show he attended. “I tried out and made it,” he recalls. “I traveled with them for six or seven months, but I quit because I wasn’t happy. It was choreographed, Top 40 music, playing high schools, two shows a day, barely any money. But it was the first time I ever did anything like that, and I got the bug. I left the city and got to play with people, and that was the obsession after that.”
He went on to play bass with several Christian artists, including Petra, Phil Keaggy, and Morgan Cryar and bounced from Joliet to Springfield, Missouri to Houston, Texas in the process. It was with Keaggy that he met King’s X drummer Jerry Gaskill. Later, after King’s X was forged with Ty Tabor on guitar, the trio backed Cryar for a time. These experiences helped Pinnick formulate his own game plan. “When I started King’s X, I decided we were not going to be a Christian band or play Christian music. I decided it was not the world I wanted to play music in. I felt judged, and I wanted to be free to say what I wanted and be what I wanted to be. So we kept on moving forward.”
Now, with KXM’s most recent release, Scatterbrain, dUg brings his distinctive playing and gospel-tinged vocals to another project that’s sure to fire up the fan base and ignite accolades from his musical peers. Songs like “Scatterbrain” and “Noises in the Sky” feature Pinnick’s distinctive tone anchoring some crazy riffs and rhythms, courtesy of Lynch and Luzier—demonstrating that while the context and musicians may change, dUg Pinnick remains the auteur at the heart of all these projects.
How did KXM come together?
I was at Ray’s house. He was having a birthday party for his son, and George was invited, too. We were just hanging out talking, and Ray said why don’t we do a project together, and we all agreed. George rented a studio, and we went in and wrote 12 songs in 12 days. The next thing I knew, we had a record done. It was so quick—no thought. We just went in and had fun.
When you first got together with George and Ray, were there any preconceived ideas about what you would play?
Nope. We just walked the plank. On paper, it sounded cool, so we just wanted to see if we could make it happen. Nobody brought any songs in—nobody had any ideas. We just started jamming, and everybody came up with what they came up with at that moment. We overdubbed guitars and I wrote lyrics later, but we basically wrote all the songs in 12 days.
Did you follow the same template for Scatterbrain?
Yeah, pretty much. The only difference with Scatterbrain was that we would jam a part and record it, then jam four or five more parts and go into Pro Tools and cut and paste them together until the songs made sense. Then Ray would go back in and play the whole song straight through, so we’d have a full drum take, and then we’d overdub everything after that.
Are you coming up with vocal parts when you’re jamming, or does that come later?
Vocals always come later. I never think of vocals until we’re done with the music—which is the wrong thing to do, but I do it. When you make up melodies and lyrics, it dictates what the music is going to be. You might not be able to make the music as creative because the melody requires a whole other thing. So, for me, I like to do music first and then try to figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it in the song. It makes me think outside the box.
Your bass playing takes up a lot of sonic space. It’s big rather than busy. Has this always been your approach, being a singer?
When I first started playing bass, Chris Squire was my favorite bass player. He’s probably the guy I imitated more than anybody else. James Jamerson was the other bass player I loved, but Chris Squire had a way of holding out notes and making space between the notes. If you listen to “Close to the Edge” by Yes [Close to the Edge, 1972, Atlantic], there’s a part where he just plays whole-notes every four measures—he had a unique way of playing great lines but knowing not to overstep. He had a real creative way. Even on 90215 [1983, Atco], he plays some of the most amazing bass lines. Every time I listen to Yes, I laugh because I can hear how much I sound like him. “Roundabout” [Fragile, 1971, Atlantic] is a perfect example. It’s probably my favorite song in the world and the template for everything that I write.
You created one of the most influential bass tones of the ’90s. Was this the unintended result of trying to emulate Chris Squire?
I saw Yes in 1976, when I had just started playing bass. I was mesmerized by his tone and did not know how to get it. And then he came onstage with his Rickenbacker that had two pickups and two cords coming out of it, and one went to a Marshall guitar amp and the other went to an Acoustic bass amp, and he blended the two. From that point on I started doing that. Then, about two years ago, Tech 21 made me my own signature bass amp. It has two preamps, one high EQ and one low EQ, made to sound like a guitar head on top with low end on the bottom. It’s exactly what I used to do, but now it’s in one little box that weighs only about 12 pounds.
You are one of rock’s great purveyors of the 12-string bass. How did you gravitate towards that instrument?
That was because Cheap Trick was another one of my favorite bands; Tom Petersson is probably my second-favorite bass player. I’ve never seen Cheap Trick without Tom playing a 12-string—even back in the day when they didn’t have a record deal in Chicago. Tom originated the 12-string. He got with Hamer, and they started making them for him. We [King's X] were on tour with them in 1988, and I was standing at the side of the stage talking to him as they were getting ready to walk on, and I was like, “Dude, that 12-string is so cool.” And he just handed it me and said, “Try it out.” I played it upside down because I’m left-handed, but I loved the way it felt. He said, “Call Hamer and get one,” and then he walked onstage and started playing.
Do you play 8-string as well?
No, 8-strings don’t have enough high or enough low. They don’t sound right. They have this ugly midrange thing that I can’t deal with.
Do you always play with a pick?
I started with my fingers, but Chris Squire changed that. I’ve been ridiculed in the past for the use of the pick. But I went to Joliet Junior College for one semester and took music theory, and the first thing the music teacher said to us was, “All rules in music are meant to be broken. Before you learn anything, I want you to know that.” And from that point on I decided to do whatever I want.
You are currently playing left-handed instruments, but you used to play right-handed instruments strung lefty. Any reason for the change?
I never played a left-handed bass until 1984, I think it was. We were doing cover music in some town in Arkansas, and a guy in the opening band had a left-handed Peavey bass, and I said, “Can I play that?” Ty laughed because I played leads on it all night. But I could never get up that high before because of the cutaway on the right-handed instruments. From that point on, I thought I should get left-handed instruments, but when I started working with Hamer I continued getting right-handed basses, strung lefty, because I was just used to it. When I started playing Yamahas, they started making me left-handed basses, and from that point on I never looked back.
What was your method of tracking bass on Scatterbrain?
For room volume and sound, I had an SVT cab and I used my Tech 21 dUg 1000 amp, but for recording we just ran my amp straight into the board. That’s how I always do it. I’ve been doing that since I got the amp. It’s made to be plugged straight into the board.
Ray Luzier is a much different drummer from Jerry Gaskill. Did you have to adjust your approach to crafting bass lines to accommodate his busier style?
I did. Ray has so much going on that I can find multiple licks in all the rhythms that he’s doing, which made it completely different for me. With Jerry, I have more freedom to do more things if I want to because Jerry plays a lot simpler. With Ray, I really must listen to what he’s doing, because whatever I come up with, it’s got to match him. It’s been cool to close my eyes and listen to everything that he’s doing and try to find a part in it.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be a singing bass player?
The thing is, both should be natural to you. It takes time. I don’t remember ever working hard at singing and playing. Every now and then there was something that I couldn’t get. I remember “One Thing Leads to Another” by the Fixx. We were going to do that as a cover tune back in the day, and I could not get that melody and bass line together. I tried and tried and just couldn’t do it. I think that’s the only thing I’ve ever been defeated by.
KXM, Scatterbrain [2017, Rat Pak]
Basses Schecter dUg Pinnick Baron-H Bass LH, Schecter Model-T, Yamaha Custom AES 12-string
Amps Tech 21 dUg Ultra Bass 1000 head, Ampeg SVT-810E cabs
Strings DR Strings Hi-Beams (.040–.100)
Picks Custom-made medium-gauge