“THE LAST TIME I WAS ON THIS STAGE IN THIS ROOM, I was helping out my stepson, Travis,” says John Taylor, settling in for his Bass Player LIVE! clinic at S.I.R. Los Angeles. “He had formed a band with his peers at Brentwood High School, and they didn’t have a bass player, so I sat in. I had a good time playing with them, but one afternoon the singer turned to Travis and said, ‘You know, if John wanted to play with us live, we could just put him behind a screen. . . .’ That was my last rehearsal with them.”
For the next hour, Taylor spoke with Tom Sykes, who worked with the Duran Duran bassist on his new memoir, In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death, and Duran Duran. The following is a book excerpt John read to the gathered assembly of bass geeks and Duran freaks, detailing his band’s early days. You can watch the clinic in its entirety at bassplayer.com/video.
“Our commitment to [Duran Duran managers] Paul, Michael, and the Rum Runner [music venue] brought us a degree of profitability that we had never really experienced. Paul and Michael bought some gear for us. I needed to step up from the cheap Hondo bass I was using and the cumbersome amplifier combo I was schlepping around with me. I replaced that with a slick Peavey amp head and matching speaker cabinet. For my next bass, I was looking for something I could call my own—something with style.
“Another example of how the rules [of rock & roll] were changing at the beginning of the ’80s was in musical instrument manufacturing. Fender and Gibson had the monopoly on ’70s music—everyone played one or the other, and most bassists used Fender Precisions. I didn’t want to be part of any tradition. Was that the times, or the teens? As I’ve gotten older, tradition—and being part of a continuum of writers and performers—has become more important to me. But in 1980, I wanted to stand apart from what had come before as much as I could.
“There was a wave of manufacturers coming out of Japan producing instruments that were strong and stylish, and the common knowledge was that they made the grade. The same thing would happen with cars ten years later. I liked the Ibanez basses that Sting used, but they were expensive. At Jones & Cross-land [musical instrument store in Birmingham], I saw and tried out a bass I liked the look of by a Japanese manufacturer I had not heard of before—Aria. It had a similar look to the Ibanez, and there were two models on offer: the 1200, which had two pickups and active electronics that required 6-volt batteries to power it, and the 600, with a single pickup, and no active electronics. It was sleek, and very pretty, with a two-tone wood grain. It was also half the price. Maybe the Barrows [Paul and Michael] were footing the bill, but I had no intention of taking advantage of them. It was a good choice—the Aria would become my signature instrument, and would get me around the world.
“I’ve never had the kind of relationship with my basses one often hears guitar players talk about having with their 6-string lovers. I don’t cook breakfast with my bass strapped on, and I’ve been known to take it to bed with me only once or twice in desperate times. I never became a real tech head, and I’m still using Peavey amplifiers.
“Every night at the Rum Runner, we were being exposed to the best in contemporary music—European dance music, funk, disco, and jazz-funk, all accompanied by a steady stream of vintage wine, champagne, a little smoke now and again, and even a little toot.
“The next few months, the band was auditioning for singers and guitarists. They would come to us from all over the Midlands, some from farther afield, having answered ads that we had taken out in the music press. We would tell the guitar players that the singer was sick, and we would tell the same story to the singers about the guitar player. And all the time, Roger [Taylor], Nick [Rhodes] and I would be refining the backbone style that would become the sound of Duran Duran.”