Most music fans know Petty’s Heartbreakers
and Bruce’s E Street Band—but
the truly knowledgeable rank Bonnie Raitt’s band
among the finest rock and rhythm units working today.
Listeners who love Raitt’s gritty, evocative voice or shiver at the
distinctive roar of her slide guitar playing might not realize her longtime
stagemates’ role in boosting all that blues and bittersweetness,
even as it simmers in a stimulating sauce of down-home R&B, rock,
and New Orleans funk. Backing such a varied and expressive artist
doesn’t demand an ampersand and a proper band name, but it does
take a refined sense of feel, an innate ability to groove, and a mastery
of musical styles so comprehensive that each stylistic flavor feels both
authentic to its source and natural in the moment.
ON BASS IS JAMES “HUTCH” HUTCHINSON,
a modest maestro of feel and genre, who has carefully
cultivated his capacity for groove authenticity
throughout a decades-long, culture-spanning career.
In the past 40 years, Hutch has rocked out in postpsychedelic
San Francisco, learned local Latin styles
in Brazil and Central America, played bona fide bons
temps New Orleans funk as the longk-time bassist of the Neville Brothers Band, mastered reggae and African
rhythms in Jamaica and the Bahamas, and soaked up
southern rock and country in Austin, Texas, where
his Latin fusion band with violinist Sid Page, the
Point, won Jazz Band of the Year at the Austin Music
Awards. Even in the decades when he’s been most
identified with Bonnie Raitt, Hutch has continued to
work with a diverse list of artists, from Chet Atkins to Ziggy Marley. He cut an album with Ringo
Starr, tracked with the Doobie Brothers,
toured with Joe Cocker, and worked with
such distinctive and dissimilar artists as Etta
James, Maria Muldaur, Willie Nelson, and
Al Green. “As far as I know,” he smiles, “I’m
the only musician to play with both Bryan
Adams and Ryan Adams.”
In recent weeks, you might have heard
Hutch morning, noon, and night on shows
ranging from The Colbert Report and The Late
Show with David Letterman to Good Morning
America and Ellen. The occasion is Raitt’s
new album, Slipstream, which has generated
beaming reviews and remarkable buzz for
an artist who enjoyed her first successes 40
years ago. The album’s first single is a lovingly
rendered reggae reading of Gerry Rafferty’s
1978 hit “Right Down the Line,” which has
Hutch and drummer Ricky Fataar sounding
very much like Aston “Family Man” Barrett
and his brother, drummer Carlton Barrett,
the pioneering rhythm section of the Wailers and the Upsetters.
Early this year, Hutch and his bandmates
shot a music video in an abandoned-looking
movie theater in San Francisco’s Mission
District, the diverse Latino neighborhood
where Carlos Santana came of age in the
mid 1960s. Coincidentally it was right nearby
that Hutch had some of his first professional
music experiences 40 years earlier. While still
in high school in Somerville, Massachusetts,
Jimmy Hutchinson took classes at Berklee
College of Music and played in bands around
Boston and Cambridge, but at 17 he left for
the San Francisco Bay Area—which, in the
early ’70s, was the place to go if you wanted
to play in bands. Among his earliest gigs were
several with Latin groups, but before long
he was performing in Link Wray’s band and
playing sessions at Grateful Dead drummer
Mickey Hart’s ranch. Within a year, he joined
Copperhead, the post-Quicksilver Messenger
Service project of guitarist John Cipollina,
which Clive Davis signed to Columbia Records the same year he signed Earth, Wind & Fire
and Aerosmith. As a member of Copperhead,
Hutch recorded with world-class musicians
and performed in front of huge audiences—
all before he turned 20. In 1974 Davis was
fi red, and Columbia dropped Copperhead
and many other artists. Soon after, Hutch
accepted an offer for a three-week gig in
Guatemala. He stayed for a year and a half.
Hutch moved to Los Angeles shortly
after joining Bonnie’s band in the mid 1980s
and has lived there ever since. He co-wrote
a song with Ivan Neville that appeared on
her 1986 album Nine Lives, but both Hutch
and drummer Ricky Fataar first recorded
with Raitt with 1989’s Nick of Time, her
mid-career Grammy-winning breakthrough and the first of four hit albums produced by
Don Was. Versatile guitarist George Marinelli
joined in 1993, and the current lineup
includes veteran keyboardist Mike Finnigan.
Hutchinson and Fataar enjoy one of those
uncanny wordless rhythm connections. Perhaps
it has to do with the wide variety of musical
experiences both musicians have enjoyed. As
a teenager, Fataar played with his brothers
and guitarist Blondie Chaplin in the Flames,
one of the hottest soul bands in 1960s South
Africa, and the first non-white band to hit the
charts. As for Mr. Hutchinson’s exploits, he
has always tried to let his varied experiences
permeate both the way he hears music and
the way plays it. “Bonnie calls me her ‘musical
ranger’ because I bring in all of these different
influences. It’s not just that I’ve listened well
and learned to play different styles, it’s that I’ve
spent time living and working with the players
in those communities. There are musicians
in various parts of the world—blues players,
country guys, even African musicians—who
think of me as their style of musician. They
may not even be aware of other styles I play.”
How is it that you’re able to fit so comfortably
in such a variety of styles?
I think my gift is to hear things the way
I hear them. James Booker, the great New
Orleans piano player, whom I had the pleasure
of knowing really well, once said, “We’re the
culmination of all of our influences.” And
that’s what it is. What you bring to the table
is what you’ve retained in your head, in your
ears, in your mind, and in your heart, which,
hopefully, you can express at that moment.
How would you describe Bonnie Raitt’s
Stylistically, she’s all across the board. The
main thing that connects her songs is her
voice and her slide tones. What’s so refreshing
is that we get to play every kind of groove
under the sun. We play real rock & roll—like
the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, and Little
Feat. And, we get to play what people now
call Americana. George will play mandolin,
I’ll play upright, and Ricky might play B3.
In “Right Down the Line,” you match
the guitar’s reggae-style upbeat eighthnotes
on beat four, but only after a long,
slippery downbeat note. That booo-ooooom
chuck-a rhythmic pattern practically
defines the whole song.
[Pauses in thought.] I understand that; it’s
intentional. It’s a control issue [laughs]. The feel is natural for me; it’s an immersion thing. A
lot of players limit their influences, or the kind
of music they listen to. But I actively seek out
different forms of music, and try to understand
the role and function of each instrument in that
style. Everything has its place. In reggae and
African music, the bass is more prominent,
and has more control of the groove and the
melodic aspects of the groove. In those forms,
the bass speaks, it talks, it sings, but everything
sings—it’s a celebration. In more folk-oriented
Americana or a ballad, I just want to stay out
of the way. Since we play so many different
styles, my role totally changes from song to
song. That’s why I play so many basses.
Orchestration is a big part of playing bass,
and that’s dependent on style, too. Sometimes you want to come in full force, like on “Used to
Rule the World,” the first song on Slipstream.
We’re right in, and you want that power. In
R&B, it’s about attitude, like in hip-hop. You’ve
got to be there—otherwise people will ignore
you. In other forms, you creep in and build it to
a crescendo. In the first verse you’re minimal,
and in the second verse, you’re a little more
present and manipulating the groove a bit
more. You peak during the solo, and then for
the third verse, either drop it back down, drop
away altogether, or maybe power your way out.
So orchestration, as you see it, comes
down to dynamics, note choices, and groove
A lot of it is about dynamics and note
choices, but it’s also about reacting in that moment. On “Right Down the Line,” I loved
some of what we initially did on the demo, but
you can’t limit yourself to what you’ve done.
You need to be present in the moment, and
play off what’s happening now. Sometimes
I do get hung up on certain things that I did,
but I’ll tell myself I can reference it later on.
How much do you come up with parts
prior to tracking?
I contemplate them, but it depends on the
artist. Some have a clear idea what they want,
and some don’t have a clue. The Colin James and
Beverly McClellen records I just did are killer,
and I had no idea what was going on there.
With Beverly, we did 15 tracks in three days.
I hear reggae in a lot of your playing,
even with artists or styles where you
wouldn’t necessarily expect it.
I hadn’t thought about that—but it’s true,
and it makes sense. When I was about 12
in 1965, I went to the World’s Fair in New
York, and I spent a lot of time in the Jamaica
Pavilion. This was way before reggae was
known; I saw Byron Lee & the Dragonaires,
and Toots & the Maytals. At the same time,
the Beatles were half a mile away at Shea
Stadium. I could see the lights and hear the crowd. I knew what was going on,
and I wanted to be a part of it. In a way,
the “World” had given me the Beatles and
Jamaican music at the exact same moment.
Family Man is one of my heroes. Hearing
him forever changed the way I played,
even before I knew his name. Before the
Wailers, his early work with the Upsetters
blew my mind. I still find myself thinking,
How would “Fams” approach this tune?
Who else influenced your early approach
My playing was greatly influenced by the
versatile, under-appreciated, and sometimes
very funky Carl Radle. I always loved his playing,
from his work with Delaney & Bonnie,
Leon Russell, and George Harrison through
Freddie King and Eric Clapton. It’s sad that he
left us so young at age 37. I also loved Gordon
Edwards of Stuff—what a great P-Bass tone.
Klaus Voorman for his simplicity, and Chuck
Rainey, big time—his tone, his double-stops,
his entire approach are incredible. Of course
John Entwistle of the Who and Jack Casady
of Jefferson Airplane were very prominent
well before Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke.
They had ear-attracting, experimental tones, and they were not afraid to stretch. They were
truly fearless and went with the flow.
Tommy Cogbill and David Hood in Muscle
Shoals played on so many major records
that had an influence on me. Hood had a
huge influence on my sense of time, and
Cogbill, who died so young, is an unsung
hero to so many players of my generation.
Also, The Band’s Rick Danko was amazing
in how fearlessly he approached songs. To
me, he’s like a Canadian-American Paul
McCartney. Paul Chambers and Percy Heath
had a huge influence, too; they could walk
a bass line like nobody else.
Which bassists influenced you later in
your professional years?
It’s mostly been a mutual encouragement
thing. For example, Carol Kaye was a mentor
to me back in the ’70s. I met her when I was
in Copperhead and she was playing with
the great jazz pianist Hampton Hawes. She
said the nicest things and gave me a lot of
confidence when I was young and not that
sure of myself. We’re still friends.
I didn’t meet Tony Levin until after he
mentioned me in a BASS PLAYER article. He
mentioned Paul McCartney, Duck Dunn, and then said, “Hutch Hutchinson has
never played a wrong note for Bonnie
Raitt. He’s perfect for her songs.” [Nashville
session bassist] Michael Rhodes called
me up and said, “You’ve got to see what
Tony Levin said about you. Do you even
know him?” I immediately got a hold of
him and said, “Damn, I can’t believe you
said this.” And he said, “No, I meant it.”
Then he says, “Wait—did I write that?”
[Laughs.] We’ve stayed friends; we’re
both big Patriots fans.
Around 2001, I met Justin Meldal-Johnsen
at a shoot for Fender with dozens of bass players. I walked in and this guy came out
with a huge afro and asked, “Can I help you
with your basses? I gotta tell you, I bought
a Guild Starfi re because you mentioned one
in an interview. I just love that bass.” Justin’s
a good guy and a great player.
Let’s talk about drummers. You play sessions
with a lot of different players. When
you and Ricky play together, how does it
Playing with Ricky is easy. There’s no
thought involved. I can play anything I want,
and he can play anything he wants, and we
end up in the same place. We’ve been playing
together since the late ’80s, and from the fi rst
note, it just worked. There’s very little to talk
about; we just end up at the right places at
the right times. With certain people, the first
time you play with them, it’s immediately evident that you’re on the same page.
Did you know each other before playing
I think we first played together in London
around 1986, on Etta James’ album, Seven Year
Itch. We did a few other things, then played
with Bonnie on Nick of Time in ’88, then
started touring. But back in the early ’70s, when
I was living in the Bay Area, I knew Blondie
Chaplin, and he and Ricky were both in the
Beach Boys. Blondie kept saying, “You’ve got
to meet my friend Ricky. It would be great—we
could put a band together.” When the Beach
Boys came to play the Oakland Coliseum in
’74, I didn’t want to go. Back then it was a
pain in the ass to drive to Oakland. Ricky and
I didn’t meet for another 12 years, but we hit
it off from day one.
Aside from musical things, what have
you learned from Ricky?
How to chill. I’m still working on it. He’s
the most laid back person I know.
Which other drummers have you played
a lot with?
I’ve done a lot of sessions with Jim Keltner.
Playing with Jim is like an adventure; he takes
you to interesting places and makes you think.
People tell me we play so well together, and I
know we do, but while we’re tracking I never
know if it’s coming together. It always does,
and it’s inventive and creative, but I have no
idea in the moment. Then I listen back and
think, “My God, that’s amazing—he was over
here and I was over here . . . .”
Ringo Starr has a very strong drum style.
Yes, but we locked. I played on his
album Time Takes Time, and he talked
about me being in the touring band—but
it’s an All-Star band, and I’m a sideman;
I didn’t have a hit of my own to sing. But
it was such a thrill playing for him, and
we’ve ended up playing together a number
of times over the years.
How do you see the business changing
for musicians over the years?
I think with the influx of these reality
music-business shows, people don’t want to
study, and work hard, and deprive themselves.
They feel like things should be given to them.
Really? It seems obvious that the winners
work really hard at their craft.
Yes, but look at how many clueless people
come to audition. I worked with Don Was
on American Idol, and I’ve talked with other
producers on some of these shows. I mean,
the majority of people they get, you don’t
even see. They think they’re great and have
a shot, but they don’t have a clue. I don’t
know how much that translates to how willing musicians are to further themselves
on their instrument.
People need to realize that music still
comes down to a local level. Although the
Internet gives artists opportunities to be
recognized across borders, it’s the local
level that really makes or breaks an artist.
That’s what allows you to go out and perform.
You can put your music online, but
local venues are the true training ground for
artists. Playing your instrument for people
is what makes you a better musician and a
better performer. That’s when you have to
assert yourself, and say, “Look, this is what
I do. This is who I am.” It’s the interaction
with a live audience that helps you; that’s
where you get that immediate feedback. You
don’t get that on the Internet. Some markets
have it better than others; some cities are
live music towns, and some aren’t. But the
stage is your proving ground. You can practice,
but you need to get affirmation from
an audience that you’re having an impact.
That’s why I love that we play real rock
& roll—where the parts are loose, but they
gel in a certain way that audiences respond
to. That’s what you’re hearing when you hit
that last downbeat, and there’s that split
second before everybody jumps up and yells.
That’s an amazing and beautiful thing.
For Hutch Hutchinson, playing a lot of styles means
having a lot of basses. By his count, his trove of
modern and vintage treasures comes to around 60.
“You’ve got to have the right tool for the job,” he says. On tour, his goto
4-string is a Lakland Joe Osborn with P and J pickups, but he often
grabs one of many other Laklands, like his Lakland Darryl Jones or
his new 44-51, a ’50s P-style instrument with a neck design based on
Hutch’s mid-’50s Fender Precisions (transition models that came between
the original ’51 slab-body design and the more contoured ’57
Precision). He uses D’Addario strings, especially favoring the flatwound
Chromes. For acoustic sounds he plays a Washburn AB40 acoustic bass
guitar, his Kala Hutch Hutchinson Signature U-Bass, an NS Design Omni
Bass electric upright, or his upright.
Studio work is where Hutch really digs into his collection. He keeps two trunks of assorted vintage instruments packed and studio-ready in
Los Angeles. Among his favorite Fenders are his ’53, ’55, ’57, ’63, and ’65
Precision Basses, especially the anodized-pickguard ’57 for its distinct
midrange and the ’63 for its deep, Jamerson-like tone. He also has a ’61
Fender Jazz, ’59 and ’63 Gibson EB-O’s, Gibson Grabber, Danelectro Silvertone,
several Guild Starfi res and Hofners, as well as vintage 4-strings
by Kay and Framus. The Washburn often makes it onto recordings, too.
“People think I played upright on ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me,’ but it was
the AB40 with D’Addario phosphor bronze strings,” he says. Among his
few active basses are a mid-’80s Tobias 5-string, which he used on Slipstream,
a Modulus Quantum 5, and an early Modulus P+J 4-string that
sounds “really organic. I’ve used it on a million records. People often
think it’s a Fender Precision.” When he goes to sessions,
he says, “I generally bring a double gig-bag. I always
bring a Jazz Bass.”
Despite the deep bench of basses, Hutch actually
has a No. 1 instrument: a ’62 Fender Jazz he bought in
1971 from Leo’s Music in Oakland for $118. “I’ve used it
on a zillion records; it’s a must-have instrument for the
studio. Bonnie loves it—it’s the bass I’ve used with her
forever.” The photo at upper-left shows Hutch at age
18 onstage with Copperhead in San Francisco’s Golden
Gate Park, back when the Jazz Bass still had its original
sunburst finish. “I bought the bass and then took off the finish a year
later. To this day, I look at this picture and think, If I had left the finish
on it, the bass would be worth five grand more!”
When it’s time to record, Hutch mikes vintage Ampeg B-12, B-15,
and B-18 combos—he has several of each—and uses Ampeg SVT-DI or
the discontinued Aguilar DB 900 DI boxes. Live, he uses an SVT-3PRO
head, two Ampeg 2x10 cabs, and an SVT-II PRO head slaved to power
two custom SVT808 8x8 cabs. His pedals include a TC Electronic
Stereo Chorus + Pitch Modulator and Flanger, Source Audio Tri-Mod
Flanger, volume pedal, Dunlop Cry Baby Bass Wah, and an Ampeg
Sub-Blaster octave divider. —E.E. BRADMAN & BILL LEIGH
HUTCH & ME BY BILL LEIGH
I’ve been out of the byline business for a few years, but I made an exception for Hutch for one
simple reason: In 2001, shortly after I fi rst became Editor of this magazine, he made an incredibly
strong impression on me. As the fi nal act in a special day of bass exhibits and performances
in Hollywood, Hutch and his crew of New Orleans-forged funk players—Ivan Neville, Jon Cleary,
and Tony Braunagel—brought the house down with a roof-raising, loose-grooving set that stood
in stark relief from the rest of the day’s bill. The other acts were inspiring, exquisite, expressive,
even masterful, but Hutch’s straight throwdown was less concerned with what he had to express
as a bassist, and more concerned with what the audience felt below the backbone.
Hutch and I stayed in touch over the years, and he’s always been as generous and gracious
personally as he is musically. The two long afternoons we spent together culminated in loud
laughs at Ricky Fataar’s home studio, where the band was finishing up its own CD to offer for
sale on the upcoming Bonnie Raitt tour. One problem with interviewing someone you know is
that the conversation can easily go into areas too sensitive to write about explicitly without
betraying someone’s reputation, something most professional musicians learn to avoid early
on. There were hints of Hutch’s not quite rough-and-tumble Boston upbringing; there were
anecdotes about famous, successful artists who were surprisingly quick to weasel or cheat
their way out of agreed-upon pay; there was the tale of the friendship Hutch developed with a
grocery store employee in his Los Angeles neighborhood, who turned out to have once been
the success-enabling but credit-denied long-time music director of one of the world’s biggest
music stars; and there were shared snapshots of a pick-up band Hutch plays with, made up of
genuine big-name music stars who happen to share a favorite vacation spot.
Then there was Hutch’s account of the thrill of Al Green singling him out on camera for the
documentary Gospel According to Al Green (the footage was ultimately left out). “‘I have a
gift from God,’” Green proclaimed, according to Hutch’s reverent reproduction of the artist’s
gentlemanly southern manner. “‘It’s my ability to communicate with people, and to sing other
people’s songs and make them my own. Now Mr. Hutch here, I watched him do an overdub.
And he never once asked to hear it before, and he never once asked to hear it after he finished.
He knew what he wanted to do, and he did it. Now that in itself is a gift from God.’”
Hutch has played on all of Bonnie Raitt’s
recordings since 1989, including eight albums—
Nick of Time (1989), Luck of the
Draw (1991), Longing in Their Hearts (1994),
Road Tested (1995), Fundamental (1998),
Silver Lining (2002), Souls Alike (2005),
and this year’s Slipstream—and a number
of tracks she’s done with other artists and
for films. He has also worked with a long list
of artists across several genres, including:
Crosby, Stills &
Hank Williams Jr.
Jerry Lee Lewis
DOWN THE LINE
Bonnie Raitt’s new reggae read of Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit “Right
Down the Line” is one of those rare cover versions that manages both
to surpass the source material and spotlight how great the original
is. The secret recipe is Bonnie’s loving reverence to the song and the
songwriter, combined with a band feel that continually heightens the
internal tension and release.
Each of the verses’ three four-bar phrases gradually work their
way downward from the tension of a downbeat-anticipating G minor,
to the easy contentment of its relative major, Bb. Example 1 shows
how Hutch approaches two of these phrases in the song’s second
verse. In both, he slides into the downbeat and wobbles out, but not
before pinning down the same beat four eighth-note pair, matching guitarist George Marinelli’s upbeat chucks. While the two phrases otherwise
look fairly different, there are points of similarity in the first half
of bar 2, the second half of bar 3, and the rhythm in the second half of
bar 4, all of which combine to form a skeletal structure to an otherwise
Example 2 captures the upbeat blues-rock bounce of “Down to
You.” Listen for where the chords change, and whether Hutch gets that
with the band, before, or after. Ever-changing note lengths form the
secret sauce that Hutch pours all over this bubbly groove. Follow the
example, but use your ears, too; notating Hutch’s carefully nuanced
note lengths would require a much broader palette of staccato and
“Right Down The Line” Words and Music
by Gerald Rafferty © 1978 Music Of Stage
Three (BMI) o/b/o Stage Three Music
Publishing Ltd. (PRS) Worldwide Rights
Administered by BMG Rights Management
(US). LLC International Copyright Secured.
All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by Permission
of Hal Leonard Corporation.
“Down to You” By Randall Bramblett, George Marinelli, and Bonnie Raitt © 2012 Lapiotrope Music (BMI) admin. by Bluewater Music Services Corp./Open
Secret Music (ASCAP)/Blue Ceiling Music (BMI). Blue Ceiling Music admin. by Calhoun Enterprises. All rights reserved. Used by permission.