Ask Andy Cichon when he made the move to New York from his native Australia, and he’ll tell you exactly: April 9, 1997. Perhaps if things had not worked out for him Stateside the date wouldn’t have remained in his consciousness for long, but fortunately his decision to relocate paid off. “I rolled the dice,” says Andy, having already established a successful career as a working pro in Sydney. “I packed two basses and a suitcase, and called every management company in America.” It wasn’t long after his arrival that he found himself laying it down for two of the biggest-selling artists of all time, Shania Twain and Billy Joel, and he has spent the better part of the last 20 years juggling his time between the two high-profile gigs. Lately he’s also been keeping busy with his side project band Shotgun Wedding, which just released its debut album, South of Somewhere.
You’ve been with Billy Joel longer than Doug Stegmeyer, who played bass on most of Billy’s records.
I’m probably the longest-serving bass player. Having said that, I didn’t have the honor of playing on the records, but I do have the honor of playing a lot of Doug’s lines, which I try to stick pretty close to. Those records were produced once, and they don’t need to be re-produced by the bass player, so I keep the integrity of what Doug did. And don’t forget there were some other great players on the later records, like T.M. Stevens, Neil Jason, Neil Stubenhaus, and Schuyler Deale—so there’s a bunch of different guys to play, but when there’s a great bass line, you don’t mess with it.
You’ve mentioned that Billy likes to keep the band on its toes. How so?
We don’t over-rehearse because we’ve played those songs so many times. So at soundcheck we’ll sort of burst into Beatles or Zeppelin, and then he’ll call one of those tunes right in the middle of the set. It happened just the other night, he called “Whole Lotta Love” on the gig. Recently it was the 50th anniversary of Rubber Soul, and we must have played four or five of those songs. He doesn’t care if you play them perfectly; if you make a mistake it doesn’t matter. He likes the thrill of being on edge a little. Billy’s the kind of guy who wants to ride his motorcycle without a helmet on, and if he crashes he’ll pay the consequences. He’ll stop the song, and go, “Well, folks, that was a genuine rock & roll screw-up. At least you know we’re not on tape.” And people love it. There’s never a night that goes by where he doesn’t throw a curveball at you.
Tell me about your input in designing your current 5-string.
It was a long process of making one bass that could do absolutely any gig. It’s a Fodera Emperor 5, and it came about by talking to Vinny Fodera about our different concepts, such as why I have a big affinity for maple-cap necks, under-wound pickups, and other features. And we found that we were pretty much on the same page. As it turns out, when Fodera does maple necks he always does maple caps. I love the sound of a laminated maple board on a one-piece maple neck; that aggressive, really bright piano sound.
I prefer to play 4-string, but I needed a bass that could do everything, so it had to be a 5. I wanted to be able to rock out, and I think a P-Bass pickup rocks out harder than a J, so it’s a P/J combination. It had to be completely silent, and Nord-strand pickups afforded me that. It had be alder because I love that, and it had to have my frequencies in the preamp, which Mike Pope did for me. I’m a big stickler for 1.8kHz in the high midrange—it adds throat and cuts through.
How do you get a balance between your rig and your in-ear monitors?
I use the in-ears reluctantly; in the business we call them vibe condoms. I don’t hear the rig at all. I’m using JH Audio JH16’s with 8 drivers a side, and I have two shakers under my feet—it’s the bass player’s equivalent of a butt-shaker on a drum throne. The bass sound is pretty good because it’s running out of the tube preamp that I want, and through the feet really does give you the sensation of having a lot more bottom end. You find the balance after you’ve been doing it for a long time, and it sounds okay. Would I rather be standing in front of my 1970 Blue Line SVT and two flatback 8x10s? You bet I would.
Billy Joel, Live at Shea Stadium: The Concert [2011, Sony], 12 Gardens: Live [2006, Sony]; Shotgun Wedding, South of Somewhere [2016, SWAG]
Basses Fodera Emperor custom bolton 5-string w/PJ Nordstrand pickups and Pope custom preamp; Fodera Emperor custom bolton 4-string w/Fralin pickups; Fodera NYC; 1966 Fender Precision Bass w/Fralin pickups
Rig Ampeg V4B reissue w/SVT-212AV cabinets; Ampeg SVT 1970 Blue-Line with two 8x10 flatback cabinets; Warwick Quadruplet tube preamp; Radial Firefly DI
Strings DR Strings Lo Riders (.045–.105)