“After years of playing and teaching, I believe it’s all been said,” claims Reggie Hamilton, who has recorded with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Stanley Clarke, Seal, and Whitney Houston. Hamilton’s signature Fender Reggie Hamilton Standard Jazz Bass is popular because players want the variety of tones evident on his huge discography. “Find a good lesson, work until it’s second-nature, and then systematically work others while having fun and grooving,” he says. “That’s what college students must do to participate in my masterclasses at Paris Conservatory, U.S.C., and Interlochen Center for the Arts.”
What do most students seem to want?
The lion’s share want to be Victor Wooten or Hadrien Feraud or some soloist. It’s understandable. When I was 13, I wanted to be Stanley Clarke. Then one day it was my job to “be” Stanley, and that changed my outlook on everything. I realized that most bass players were soloing in their rooms while I was working. That’s cool, but the rent had to be paid, and I didn’t have the luxury of being subsidized. The upside to the current state of the music business is that anything is possible. But I have to admit that in a world of armchair Caesars who toss their thumbs up or down at will without having an ounce of experience, I’m at a loss what to tell them.
What do all bass players need to learn?
Lose ego. Letting go of that is hard for a Caesar. I wrote an article years ago for Bass Player [Soapbox, February ’08] after the losses of my mom and my mentor, Al McKibbon, in which I addressed ego and musical bias. It’s akin to turning up our noses at a particular plate of food until we’re starving and it’s the only choice. We can’t chow down to survive then, because we haven’t the tools—and so we starve. How many bass players are willing and wanting to play the crap out of a polka?
I find that very important point difficult to get across these days. In some ways, it keeps music from moving forward. There are a lot of spoiled people out there, and a lot of YouTube-famous people that don’t get out of the house. How many bass players would choose success over fame?
That’s a good question.
Also, I’ve played with countless great and terrible drummers. That was so important in my quest to develop good feel and time. You’ve got to get out of the house to do that. How many bass players are willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of growth?
That’s another one!
I also find that sound means nothing to most bass players. Learning equalization and when to “ride the cow when one doesn’t have the horse” is necessary. Learning how to use one’s hands to change the tone or character of an instrument is equally important. That comes back to listening in order to make the music better, instead of propelling one’s own agenda.
Aretha Franklin, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics [2014, RCA]; Solo, My Village [2003, Sleepy Thumb]
Basses Fender Jazz Bass RH CSV; Easter European upright with Fishman BP-100 Upright Pickup, Fishman Pocket Blender, David Gage Realist Double Bass Pickup (wood)
Rig Fender TBP-1 preamp, Fender MB-1200 power amp, KK Audio Energy cabinets
Effects T-Rex Gristle King, various MXR pedals
Strings (Electric) Fender Stainless Steel Roundwounds (.045, .065, .085, .110, .135); (Acoustic) D’Addario Helicore Hybrid with extended E string
Other Augagneur & Bergeron bow, Carbow CBF-34-VP Vincent Pasquier bow