Kenny Aaronson: Dream Come True with the Yardbirds

January 14, 2016

Considering the career he’s already had, you wouldn’t think Kenny Aaronson would get all giddy about a gig these days. After all, his resumé boasts Bob Dylan, Rick Derringer, Joan Jett, Billy Squier, Billy Idol, Hall & Oats, Foghat, Brian Setzer, and the New York Dolls. But the 63-yearold’s enthusiasm over his current gig with the latest incarnation of the Yardbirds is endearingly palpable. “I’m a huge Yardbirds fan,” he admits. “Arguably, they are the reason I play bass. I had all the original records in mono, and I wore them out. This is a 50-year dream come true. I love the Yardbirds.”

It should have been evident from one of Aaronson’s earliest bands that he would go on to become a go-to bassist for rock royalty. As a member of Dust, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to channel the essence of his childhood influences through the lens of his own spirited style. His playing on early Dust records sounds like it evolved alongside Jack Bruce, John Entwistle, James Jamerson, and Paul Samwell-Smith, rather than a generation later. Aaronson’s talent was so evident that he earned a Bassist of the Year award from Rolling Stone (1988) and was a featured contributor to the Dr. Licks bass bible Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson [1989, Hal Leonard].

“The Yardbirds are a real legacy,” says Aaronson about the British Invasion band that became famous for tunes like “For Your Love,” “Shapes of Things,” “The Train Kept a-Rollin’,” and “Heart Full of Soul,” as well as launching the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. “Rock music as we now know it simply wouldn’t be the same without them. It’s like watching It’s a Wonderful Life—look what the world would have been like if George Bailey hadn’t been born.”

What was it about the Yardbirds that drew you to the bass?

I love the rollicking bass on their tunes. But it isn’t all Paul Samwell-Smith. He also acted as the producer, so there are times when he isn’t on certain tracks—he was behind the board. “For Your Love” is a session player on bowed upright. “Happening Ten Years Time Ago” is John Paul Jones. And “Over Under Sideways Down” is Jeff Beck on bass. On their live records, you can hear that they were one of the first bands of that era to go into improvisational territory. What Jimmy Page did with Zeppelin came out of the Yardbirds.

So, how will you tackle “For Your Love” live?

I’ve been watching YouTube videos on different variations of the band. They don’t worry about what the past was— they play it with the instrumentation as it is now. I’m going to go in and do what I think I need to do with it until someone tells me to do something else.

Is that going to be your general approach to these tunes?

Certain things should be played note-for-note. There’s no other way to play the opening lick to “Over Under Sideways Down”; that’s the tune, man. It just happens to be the bass doing it. But if I want to be purist, it should be played with a pick. And if I want to be even more purist, it should be played on an Epiphone Rivoli. But to be a realist about it, I have to do what works for me in terms of what gear I’m used to using and how I’m used to playing.

Do you feel you have an obligation, musically, to the incredibly rich Yardbirds legacy?

Yes, and I am going to be true to it in all the ways it needs to be. Then, if and when and where it takes off, I will stay true to the spirit of it, but I’ll throw some of myself in there. I’m totally about being cool with it. The way it should be. There’s a lot that should be respected about it.

INFO

EQUIP

Bass G&L JB-2 4-string
Rig Amps vary, as they are being supplied by venues for the Yardbirds tour
Strings La Bella 760N Black Nylon Tape Wound (.060 .070 .094 .115)
Picks In Tune GrippX (.73mm)
Effects Ibanez TS9B Bass Tube Screamer Overdrive
Accessories Hipshot Bass Xtenders

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