Bobby's Bassment: The Shark Bass

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

Well, now I had my stacked-pot ’61 JazzBass. I wanted more out of it, though. I had part of the equation, but I needed that extra piece of chicken. In the meantime, I was playing the ’65 Jazz Bass I got in 1972, but that’s another story.

So I called Glen Quan. The basses he modified for Larry Graham were the best Fender Jazz Basses I’d ever heard. They had bottom and a sweet mid, with the smoothest high end ever! He was always the best around to make your bass or guitar get up and do the boogaloo. I told him I wanted a little more out of my bass, and asked what I could do. He told me to come on over.

I went to Glen’s house and he said he’d make me some pickups. And he did—from scratch, right in front of me. He would finish a set, put them in my bass, and say, “Play!” And then, “Nope!” He’d take them apart and start all over again, filling a garbage can full of wire. About eight hours later, he got this look on his face after I played two notes, and so did I. Glen had made me some of the best-sounding pickups ever. That was the day I started to have A Sound. After that, I only played My 1961 Jazz Bass.

I was trying to get that Jimi Hendrix thang going on, so I’d play gigs with a concho belt I used to wear. I was really digging in and sweating, and shit, it took the finish right off the back of my bass. I knew I was f’ing it up, but I didn’t care (I was a dummy). So I asked my friend Billy Stapleton what I could use to protect the back of my bass. Billy said he had just the thing, went out of the room for a minute, and came back in with a shark decal like the ones you’d see back in the day on camper shells, trailers, and R.V.’s. He looked at it, sized it up, and put it right on the back of my bass. Tadah! The Shark Bass was born. Man, it looked cool! My friend Martin Fierro, a sax player, was the first one to call it the Shark Bass. Martin passed away in 2008, but I can still hear him say, “Hey, how’s the Shark? Chut up!”

One of the many gigs I played with the Shark Bass was with Etta James & the Roots Band on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in November 1989. Headlining the show that night was the one and only Milton Berle. “Uncle Miltie” was Mr. TV, the King of Television during TV’s golden age. We walked in and I saw him doing his soundcheck, and all I can say is, school was in. I thought it would be cool to get his autograph.

After the show, I see Mr. Berle leaving and all the paparazzi are around him.

Here’s my chance. I say to myself, Fuck it. Go for it!

“Mr. Berle, would you please sign my bass?”

He looks at me and says, “All right, kid. Where do you want me to sign it?”

I flip the bass over.

“Okay, I’ll sign it on the fuckin’ fish.”

The Shark Bass has opened a lot of doors and introduced me to people and places I could have only imagined. Besides many gigs with the great Etta James, the Shark Bass has accompanied me onstage with Paul Butterfield, Lydia Pense & Cold Blood, Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, Tower Of Power, Jefferson Starship, Mickey Thomas, Booker T., Billy Preston, Zero, KVHW, and so many others. When I play back the tape in my mind, lots of memories and images run—some happy, some sad, and there’s some “oh, shit” times, too. I’ve spent most of my life with the Shark. This bass is a part of me, and I’m a part of it!