Bobby Vega: Livin' The Dream

Bobby Vega is a world-class collector and vintage bass freak of the first order.

Bobby Vega is a world-class collector and vintage bass freak of the first order. The gear is real. The stories are true. The dates are foggy. And the names of the innocent have been changed to protect their identities… and save Bobby’s ass!

August was a motherfather! I went back East for six shows in a row, all different venues, from Washington, D.C., to Indiana to a bass camp in Nashville to another and then on to another bass camp in L.A. Between August and September, I had all the food groups!

First, I hit the road with the Steve Kimock Band. The alarm goes off on a Tuesday morning at 4:30 am. I put a 1972 Fender Jazz in an SKB Road Case and pack DI box, strings, cables, cables, tuner, and picks. I go to the airport at 5:30, check my bass and bag, and then, oh, boy … now I get to go through TSA (“tough s—, a-hole!”). In my days of airport travel, TSA has dented my bass neck and stolen the Vicodin I was taking after a car accident. (But hey, if they hadn’t taken it, someone in the band would have … maybe the TSA saved a tour—quack!)

I fly to Chicago for the first leg of the tour and go to the hotel, but oh, snap! Our rooms have been cancelled. After a few phone calls, we’re in our rooms, and I fall asleep after eating the free ice cream the desk clerk gave us.

The next morning, we head to the venue at 10. Soundcheck and rehearsal keep us busy until 5:30, when we learn three songs for the singer and eat dinner. Now it’s 8. Showtime! The band’s sound is improvisational psychedelic rock, jazz, spirited soul, and at times, fonky. It’s “make a hippy happy” music, made fresh right in front of them every night. It’s a great band: Steve on guitar, Jeff Chimenti on keys, Jay Lane on drums, Dan Lebowitz on guitar and vocals, Leslie Mendelson on vocals, and yours truly on bass. The gig is fun, even great sometimes. I forget how lucky I am to do this!

The gig is over around midnight. By the time we break down, load the truck, and get in the van, it’s 2:15 am, it and takes us over two hours to get to the hotel. That was the first day—five more to go!

We finish the tour on a Monday. I fly back and get home around 10:30 pm. The next morning, I’m at work at EMG Pickups. I love my job! At work, I get two basses ready for the Chuck Rainey Bass Camp in Nashville: a ’78 Fender Precision with a maple neck and EMG GZB-Passive P pickups, and a ’61 Fender Jazz with Godzilla finish and EMG passive ’52 J-set.

The plane leaves Thursday morning at 8:05. After changing planes in San Diego, I land in Nashville at 6 pm. I open the cases and check the basses before I leave the airport to make sure they haven’t been switched or dropped. When I get to the hotel, I meet Chuck and the gang for a great dinner and then head to SIR to set up the amps and cabinet I’ll be using at the bass camp. Otay, time to go to sleep … not! It’s time to practice for at least two hours to get the hands working. Finally, at 1 am, I try to go to sleep. Lobby call is at 7:15.

The first class is at 9:00. Chuck says hello, welcomes the players, and introduces Doug Johns and drummer Jordan Simmons. Man, they got it going on! They’re a bass and drums duo with samples and cool rhythms—just straight up funky stuff.

I’m up next. Here’s I go! I’m here because of Chuck Rainey, who has played the soundtrack to my life. The difference between a good day and a great day is the bass track on Aretha Franklin’s “Until You Come Back to Me.” Now that was a great day, let alone “Groovin’” and “It’s a Beautiful Morning” by the Young Rascals. Chuck also played bass on Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” Look him up!

Saturday was another day. Yep, you guessed it: 7:30 lobby call, SIR at 8, first class at 9. Today’s guest is Foley—yes, that Foley, lead bassist for Miles Davis. The man is a serious musician who plays the bass. Saturday night, after the camp is over, Chuck and I visit Victor Wooten at Wooten Woods Bass and Nature Camp. Man, what a cool place! Words cannot describe how magical and beautiful Victor’s camp is.

Sunday, the guest was Vail Johnson, best known for his time with Kenny G. What can I say? Vail spanks the plank. Just to be in the same room as Chuck Rainey and these musicians who happen to be bass players was a great inspiration. Next stop: the Warwick Bass Camp, the biggest bass event in the world.

I am blessed. I look at it this way: I’m lucky I can still tie my shoes, let alone be able to do the gigs and work with all these great people. As my friend Marcus Owens says, I’m livin’ the dream!

May the groove be with you.