THOUGH KASIM SULTON IS KNOWN MOSTLY AS the go-to bassist for a slew of artists, including Hall & Oates, Joan Jett, the New Cars, and Meat Loaf (with whom he also served as musical director), he’s also a prolific singer and songwriter in his own right. He first showcased these skills with Utopia in 1980, singing lead on the band’s only Top 40 hit, “Set Me Free” [Adventures in Utopia, 1979, Bearsville], and subsequently influencing the material on Utopia’s more pop-oriented releases, Deface the Music [1980, Bearsville] and Swing to the Right [1982, Bearsville]. In the ensuing years he released two critically acclaimed solo albums, Kasim [1982, EMI America] and Quid Pro Quo [2002, Sphere Sound], which revealed him to be a gifted multi-instrumentalist. “But,” he says, “I am not the most prolific writer when it comes to my own material,” noting the decades between releases. “I don’t know if that’s just who I am, or it’s because I’m just busy with so many other things.” In 2012 Kasim joined Blue Öyster Cult, but in that time he also managed to record his recently released third solo effort, Three. The songwriting and lush arrangements on Three act as a musical kaleidoscope, illuminating Sulton’s many influences and experiences of his 30-plus-year career.
How did you first discover the bass guitar?
I was thrust into the position of becoming a bass player when I was 14. I was a guitar player, and I wanted to be in a band with these two hotshot guitar players from Brooklyn, but they didn’t need another guitarist. They wanted a bass player. So, out of a desire to do something that would be good for me as a musician, I said, “I’ll play bass.” I sold my Gretsch guitar on 48th Street and bought a Gibson EB-3, and that’s how my bass career started.
Who were some of your early influences?
I listened to everybody from Black Sabbath to Creedence Clearwater Revival in my early days. I found something of value in all of that music. As for picking up bass and learning how to be a good bass player, I’m a huge Paul McCartney fan, but I didn’t know he had a big influence on me when I first started playing; at first it was all about Ronnie Lane [Small Faces], Ronnie Wood [Jeff Beck Group], and a lot of the heavier players, like John Entwistle [the Who]. It wasn’t until later that I really appreciated McCartney’s sense of melody and the way in which he approaches bass parts.
The McCartney influence is prevalent in the songwriting on Three.
The Beatles were my biggest influence in terms of their musicality. They played more of a role in my sense of songwriting than the Rolling Stones or the Who or Black Sabbath. A Beatles pop song is the ultimate pop song; it doesn’t get any more crafty than that.
What effect did playing in Utopia have on you?
The foundation of my entire musical career was formed when I joined Utopia, the first professional band I was in. Most of what I discovered about how to make records and how to contribute to a band as a bass player professionally, I learned from Todd Rundgren. When I joined the band they were still in their prog-rock phase. They were doing really heavy rhythmic changes and key changes, which was a little eclectic for me, but it was really good for me because I was totally out of my comfort zone. I was forced to learn how to play songs that I otherwise would not have played.
How do you adjust to so many stylistically diverse gigs?
Playing with Blue Öyster Cult is certainly different from playing with Todd, and in order to remain true to the band’s style, you do need to make adjustments in your own playing. Hall & Oates, for example, is deep, heavy pocket music with intense grooves and feels, whereas Joan Jett is eighth-notes and just getting it done. Joan Jett and Hall & Oates are on opposite ends of the spectrum. I loved playing with Joan; I spent three years with her, and for the most part, I could have played the entire time on about two strings between the nut and the 5th fret and it would have been fine. So, how do you delineate between those two bands? You don’t. You just try your best to be the right bass player for each band.
Kasim Sulton 3 [2014, Independent]
Bass Kasim Sulton Signature K S3 Archer Electric Bass
Rig Euphonic Audio iAmp 800 head, Euphonic Audio NL210 III & NL410W cabs
Strings Elixir Nickel Plated Steel (.045–.105)
Picks Dunlop Tortex .73mm