FOR CLOSE TO 30 YEARS IN THE musical limelight, Artie Reynolds has kept his profile low and his grooves deep. Falling somewhere between James Brown and Will Lee in Hardest-Working-Man-in-Show-Biz ranking, Reynolds has always shunned selfpromotion; he’s too busy gigging to attend NAMM shows and bass events, or to pose for ads. So it’s true to form that Artie now stands in the shadows on TV’s No. 1 show, American Idol, hatted, with hips swaying behind the contestants, still purveying precision pocket, and still relatively unknown. Except to insiders like Idol musical director Ray Chew and judge Randy Jackson: “Artie is an amazing player,” says Chew. “He not only has the incredible range we need from the bass chair, he knows when to bring the fire and when to bring the sensitivity. He’s low key and a true professional. It’s a joy to have him on the team.” Randy Jackson adds, “Artie is just an unbelievable bass player; dude, he’s the real deal. I always have an ear on him. Idol is the greatest show and he’s one of the unsung reasons why it stays great.”
Born and raised in the musically rich Jamaica section of Queens, New York, where his dad was a noted singer and bandleader, Reynolds recalls his folks’ Motown and Philly Soul records (as well as classical cartoon music) as the genesis for trying his dad’s guitar. In junior high he began playing trumpet and realized his fondness for bass, leading him to buy a semi-hollow Baldwin from his dad’s bassist. Inspired by Verdine White and Louis Johnson—“I would go to their concerts with binoculars and watch their hands”—and with formal lessons from Mel Bay author Ronny Lee, Reynolds was soon working with his dad and other local groups. Landing his first major tour in 1984 with Freddie Jackson, Reynolds began a road and recording run with such artists as Alex Bugnon, New Edition, Najee, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, and Patti Austin. In 1999 he joined Ray Chew & the Crew, after Chew heard him with guitarist Jonathan Butler. The band anchored NBC’s Showtime at the Apollo to its conclusion in 2008, and played the 2008 Democratic National Convention and President Obama’s 2009 inauguration before Rickey Minor recommended the unit to Idol upon his departure in 2010. We attended American Idol in mid March to see the Crew in action and to get Reynolds’ rap about his unique live television role.
What do you find to be the greatest challenge of the Idol gig?
Focus and retention, because it’s live TV and there’s no room for mistakes. We’re constantly learning songs and then playing them with shortened, altered forms, so you have to be on your toes. Aside from the vocals, bass is often the loudest signal in the mix; if you make a mistake it goes out to millions of homes—that big, long, wrong note is forever! People know the iTunes versions of the songs and hear how good the Emmy-winning sound is on the show and they assume we’re lip-syncing, but we’re playing live up there at all times. In the heat of battle, tunes change on the fl y, and there’s not always time for the arrangers to come up with complete charts until later. It may just be a road map with chords, so I’ve got to know the original bass line. Our strong point as a band is having a large repertoire and being able to retain quickly—hear it once and go.
What’s the band concept when it comes to covering the songs?
Basically, we try to be accurate to the original and the elements that made it work, yet at the same time add the new flavor the producers or the contestants want to present. It depends on the song too; “I Will Always Love You” needed to be a straight-up homage. On the other hand, we’ve done “Time After Time” as a rocker, “September” as a ballad, and “Born This Way” as a country song. Also, the iTunes full versions done in the studio tend to be more laid back and safe, but onstage Ray will remind us to loosen up and play. The other day I played a fill on “I’m So Excited” and I looked at our drummer Rex [Hardy] and laughed, “That lick had no place in this song!” But when I heard it back on TV, it worked.
What’s the key to copping an authentic phrasing and feel on covers?
For me it was coming up in my dad’s wedding and party band playing all kinds of music with veteran musicians who each specialized in a different style. I was determined to play a rock tune or a jazz tune like that was the only music I played. And it quickly dawned on me that the more genres you know, the more you’ll work. You have to start with an appreciation and respect for all forms of music; most cats aren’t into enough idioms to want to know the nuts and bolts of each process. It comes down to having a passion and curiosity for how a bass line works and why it sounds different from anything else. Beyond the notes, what is the bassist’s thought process, their attitude, where is it played on the neck? When you dig that deep musically, you open up whole worlds. You start to hear similarities and learn what to listen for; you get to the essence. Ultimately, it’s about finding the love in the performance. That’s what has always worked for me.
Generally, you use one bass for everything.
There really isn’t the time or space to switch out basses, but my career has always been about having one good workhorse instrument. People tend to hear bass the same way from genre to genre, and the nuances of different basses tend to get lost in mixes anyway. As long as you approach the music and the feel authentically—plus, there’s obviously a lot you can do with your hands. What has surprised me is I didn’t think I’d use my Fodera Emperor for everything, but I do. I go single-coil mode for R&B, vintage, and slapping stuff, and when we do country and rock, using dual-coil mode and bringing up the mid-boost on the preamp gives me a fat sound that really cuts through all the guitars and sits nicely in the TV mix. It also adds a singing presence on ballads. What you hear on TV is the bass direct. I’ve used the Emperor on every iTunes studio track this year, too. All I did was add foam for one rockabilly song.
What have been some of your favorite playing moments over your two seasons?
Last season I really enjoyed all the songs for the Michael Jackson and the Motown-themed shows. Obviously, getting to meet Bob Babbitt was a huge honor. We hung out and took photos, and he was very complimentary of my approach to those tunes. This season it was a blast playing Mary J. Blige’s single “Why” with her; that’s a bass-heavy track played by Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis [see Transcription, page XX]. I had fun with DeBarge’s “I Like it”; that’s right up my alley. I’m proud of the country performances; I really try to get into a Nashville head. Recently, Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” was a challenge—to make the song happen, the walking bass line needs to feel just right and not be too jazzy.
What’s your interaction with Randy Jackson?
Randy has shown me love from day one, which is a thrill considering what an amazing bassist, musician, and producer he is. When I see him backstage he’ll give me a hug, and he has tried out my basses. During the show, he’ll look up and point to me and smile, and give me the peace sign across his chest. Steven Tyler gave me a shoutout last year before he even knew my name: “I hear you, bass player!” Nigel Lythgoe, the show producer, has a long musical background, too; he caught me in the hallway once and said he loves when I slap, that it reminds him of Mark King. Everyone here is very supportive and they all know their music.
What are your musical goals beyond bass ace?
I’m somewhat of a computer nerd; I recently got my Pro Tools certification. I’d like to eventually do more songwriting and production work so I can cut back on live gigs and play bass more for fun. To be somebody’s in-house Pro Tools operator/ producer/bassist would be ideal. We’ll see; I’ve always believed you take the path before you. The Lord has his plan for you.
It’s a hectic seven-day work week for Ray Chew & the Crew at American Idol, during a season that lasts from early February to late May. Here’s Artie Reynolds’ daily breakdown, for a week that begins each Friday.
Friday Contestants pick songs and present them to show mentor Jimmy Iovine, backed by a second band (due to the full schedule of Chew & the Crew). At 6 PM, Reynolds and Crew arrive at Interscope Studios in Santa Monica to record the basic rhythm tracks for the selected contestant songs that will be performed as a group or duo. They record both long versions (for iTunes) and the short versions to be performed on the show (for the contestants to practice to).
Saturday Record long- and short-version rhythm tracks for each of the contestents’ solo songs, all day at Interscope.
Sunday Record vocal, string, and horn overdubs on all rhythm tracks at Interscope, as well as any fi xes or overdubs for the Crew.
Monday All-day rehearsal at CBS Television City, Stage 36, in the Fairfax District of L.A. This is to get audio sounds, for contestants to practice their songs, and for show producers to get presentation ideas.
Tuesday All-day technical run-through at CBS Stage 36 for set changes and fi - nal scripting. Tuesday night is usually a rehearsal at Interscope for guest artist performances.
Wednesday Early afternoon dress rehearsal/ camera blocking run-through at CBS Stage 36. Following a meal break, at 5 PM Pacifi c time the two-hour show goes live (broadcast on tape delay to the West Coast).
Thursday CBS Stage 36 in morning lockdown for elimination vote tally. Chew and Crew arrive at noon to prepare and rehearse a number of possible “swan songs” for the contestant who is eliminated that night. At 5 PM the one-hour “elimination” show goes live. On Thursday night the band gets a breather, often partaking in a group bowling outing.
Through 13 weeks of American Idol, Season 11, Artie Reynolds has been his chameleonic self, authentically issuing rock, R&B, country, singer/songwriter, and dance/hip-hop grooves on bass guitar, with a dash of keyboard bass and upright. It’s when a song gets “fl ipped”—that is, given an entire new feel and arrangement—that Reynolds is able to step out with more of his creative stride. The examples below echo what Artie typically played on contestant Reed Grimm’s late-February version of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.” Says Reynolds, “The half-time, jazz/funk shuffl e was Reed’s idea, and even before Ray approved and arranged it, I knew how I was going to play it.”
Example 1a shows the opening unison riff and the fi rst four bars of groove. “I would describe the feel as Bootsy’s ‘What’s a Telephone Bill?’ or ‘Munchies for Your Love,’ but with the swing of Marcus Miller’s ‘Tutu,’” smiles Reynolds. Example 1b begins at the percussion solo, which ends with the unison fi gure in bar 4 and sets up the modulation. The vocals return in bar 6, as Artie ups the energy by playing more of the subdivisions in-between the established bass line pattern (bar 7 and the end of bar 8), and by adding an ear-rousing fi nger-plucked fi ll at the end of bar 9. He advises, “It’s laid back but with a hard pocket, so be sure to breathe and keep it fl owing.”
Basses Fodera Emperor 5-string, fretted and fretless Fodera NYC 5-strings
Keyboard bass Roland Gaia SH- 01, Moog Little Phatty Stage II
Strings Fodera stainless steel roundwounds (.045, .065, .085, .105, .125)
Rig Aguilar DB 751 head with two GS 212 cabinets
Direct Box Radial Bassbone
Headphones Beats by Dr. Dre, PRO and MIXR over-the-ear and in-ear monitors
Other Freehand Systems MusicPad Pro Plus Electronic Music Display
American Idol: Season 11 [iTunes]; American Idol: Season 10 [iTunes]; Alicia Keys, Diary of Alicia Keys [J Records, 2003]; Mariah Carey, Butterfly [Columbia, 1997]; Bobby Womack, Raw [Truth, 2010]; Ray Chew, Feelin’ It [Charu, 2002]; Najee, Share My World [EMI, 2004]; Alex Bugnon, Head Over Heels [Alliance, 1990].