We meet a bassist whose unique playing style demonstrates that if you want something badly enough, nothing will stand in your way

The Michigan-resident bassist Bill Clements is our kind of guy, coming back from an industrial accident in 1989 in which he lost his right hand to develop a playing style that is entirely his own. Check out Youtube for proof, but in a nutshell his technique is based on a left-hand tapping approach while a string-damper prevents too much resonance.

Asked how he came up with this unique style, Clements tells us: “My playing styles before and after the accident were obviously totally different – so from that point on, I had to take those ideas that I had been working on and try to find a translation for one hand. That said, your influences are always a part of how you develop as a stylist, particularly if you make an attempt to not sound like them. In the end, any good stylist is just expressing his personality. I’d like to think that if someone listened actively to my playing they would probably have a pretty good insight into what it would be like to hang around me… which could be a pro or a con, depending on one’s perspective!”

Clements is an active recording artist, as he tells us. “Most of my time is currently spent playing with Branden Mann & The Reprimand. It’s a prog-folk type project, and quite a departure from my normal style. My second solo album, Captain Midnight, is done, but I want to wait until it can get the release it deserves. In the meantime, I’ve made an EP available for free online which I feel it will be of interest to bass aficionados because of the sparse nature of the arrangements, allowing the bass more room to roam.”

Gear-wise, Clements has a studio’s worth of solid gear, including Lakland and Fender basses plus a Doug Jones Upright Vertebraxe, Marco Cortez basses and two custom-built Jazz basses. He’s an effects fan when needed, telling us: “There are times when I want to hear the sound of the instrument itself and nothing else, or I’ll throw an absolute ton of pedals on it. I’m fond of the Crybaby – the original guitar model – and the Juggernaut bass distortion pedal, along with anything else I can afford or acquire that isn’t nailed down.” For amps, he nominates “Hartke – their gear’s been real good to me. Not to mention the countless Peaveys I’ve owned over the years. That stuff’s bulletproof.”
He continues: “I go through periods of intense infatuation with different members of my bass brood. It might be the Lakland on a given night, or it might be the P-Bass with tapewounds on another. But on general principle, the one I feel the most affection for is a black Warmoth Jazz with passive electronics. He’s not always the best guy for the job, but he always makes a statement. It was featured on the cover of my first album in its fretless incarnation.”

Asked if slapping – the most obviously difficult technique for anyone with a hand-related disability – was ever part of his style, he nods: “Back when I had two hands, I slapped all the time: I had a pretty good handle on it too, although this was all before the funk-rock craze, mind you. However, right around the time leading up to the accident, I began hearing lots and lots of people doing it, so I began phasing it out of my style – luckily for me, as fate would have it. Now, obviously, it’s not an option.”

So what’s Clements’ philosophy when it comes to bass playing? He replies: “For me, it involved having an almost instantaneous love for the sound and feel of the instrument. Then you have to be willing to find the most interesting players on the planet, no matter what style they play, and study them – even if that means just listening to them – and try not to rip them off as a matter of general respect.” He deserves more than a little respect of his own.

Info: www.billclementsgroup.com.