Bobby Vega on the Maestro Fuzz Phazzer

Back in the day, I’d go to music stores to see the newest stuff and try it all out.

BACK IN THE DAY, I’D GO TO MUSIC STORES TO see the newest stuff and try it all out. After a while, I got to know the guys who worked there, they got to know me, and they would have me play through new effects so they could hear what they sounded like. Man, I was lucky! I got to hear and play through all the great old effects back when they were brand new. Now, of course, they’re making the old effects again and calling them reissues.

I got my first Maestro Fuzz Phazzer at Don Wehr’s Music City back in the early ’70s. It was a big, baby-blue pedal with the nastiest fonky fuzz sound. When I first got it, I didn’t know what to use it on, but I knew it was cool, and I had to have it. But in 1974, Larry Graham, former bassist for Sly & the Family Stone, came out with his first solo record, Graham Central Station. It was a game changer.

Bobby playing his ’61 Jazz as the purple ’71 looks on. Larry used effects, but in a very subtle, tasteful way. There’s a song on Graham Central Station called “Can You Handle It?” where on the rideout, Larry kicks in the Maestro Fuzz Phazzer—and when I heard it, I was like, what the f*** is that sound? Well, that was the first time I heard that effect on a recording, and that’s when I figured out it was otay to use effects on bass on records. Yes, I had heard the fuzz tone on a bass on Sly & the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher” and on Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 song “Spirit in the Sky,” but for solo bass players, it was Larry Graham who changed my whole perspective on the electric bass.

I was lucky enough to see Graham Central Station play live at a San Francisco club called the Orphanage around 1972. Man, that was some exciting stuff! Larry was dancing, singing, and playing his ass off through two Acoustic 360 amps and some effects, and that shit was hitting me all up in the chest. I’ve never seen or heard anybody or anything play like that since. It was electrifying, and I will never forget that night of live music. Mac and cheese!

For me, that’s when it was all about the Fender Jazz Bass with a maple neck and black La Bella nylon tapewound strings. I played that setup on my blond 1971 Fender Jazz for so long that my right-hand pinkie finger turned black. I’m sad to say I no longer have that bass—I had to sell it for the rent—but I found another 1971 Jazz with a maple neck and black binding and strung it up with black La Bella nylons. Yes, that bass does get up and do the boogaloo! Wanna hear what it sounds like? Check my Facebook page for a video I did on the Sly/Larry Graham sound and a sound clip with the Maestro Fuzz Phazzer.

Remember what Denzel said in Training Day: It’s a long game, and we’re playing chess, not checkers! Until next time, may the groove be with you.