Bobby's Bassment: Who Are You, and What Do You Do?

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!

Last month, I wrote that I was on the other side and that I’m still alive. Well, this one is about getting to the other side, and what it all turned into.

I started playing in Bay Area clubs when I was 15 years old, back in the early ’70s, and it was at places like the Stone, Keystone Berkeley, Keystone Palo Alto, Frenchy’s, Country Road, the Lion’s Share, the Jolly Fryer, Woodstock, the Orphanage, Mr. D’s, and the Country Store that I really started to learn how to play bass. My first real band, in seventh grade, was called Drug, and we made noise—loud noise—and we thought it was music. God bless Dwight Runner’s parents, because we sucked. We were loud and terrible, but that was the first time I got to play wide open, turn my amp up, and hear my bass. Man, I was playing, and for the first time, I felt the power of playing music!

Okay, fast forward. I’ve been very blessed, lucky, and fortunate to have played with some of greatest musicians and entertainers in the history of R&B, soul, funk, blues, psychedelic rock, and jazz fusion. This is where I learned how to make music with people. Yes, when you play with people, you learn how to make music and really play music.

Most of the time I got called to audition for a band or play a gig, I didn’t know how to play that style of music. But because I was new, open, and willing to learn, they let me in. It’s like The Karate Kid and Mr. Miyagi: I didn’t know I was learning how to play music until it was over, and after it was over, it became part of my DNA. The way I play now is an accumulation of all my experiences with people, music concerts I’ve been to, and gigs I’ve played. Part of what I learned how to do is to play the sound of the music—not just the bass line, but the sound of the whole band together, the whole biscuit.

For example, I’ve played in both Jefferson Starships— yes, there are two Jefferson Starships! One of them is Mickey “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” Thomas’s Starship. He’s the guy who sang on all the Starship’s hits in the ’80s, and he has one of the greatest voices in music. That man can sang! That’s the gig where I learned how to play pop-rock, songs like “Jane,” “Sara,” “We Built This City,” “Nothing Gonna Stop Us,” “No Way Out,” and “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” The other ’Ship is really the Jefferson Airplane, where Mr. Jack Casady played the BASS on those songs. Jack Casady was my first bass hero! He was the first bass player I ever saw playing chords and melody in his bass lines, and man—what a (((sound))). He has that thing called TONE. I didn’t know you could do this on a bass.

This is an iconic bass chair, and when people come to see that band play, they’re expecting to see Jack Casady play songs like “White Rabbit,” “Somebody to Love,” and “Crown of Creation.” At one show, I played the bass intro to “White Rabbit” with a thumb-style triplet, and I thought it was cool—well, creative, at least. Right in the middle of the lick, I hear Paul Kantner say, “That ain’t the way it goes!” As soon as I heard him say that, I switched over and played it with my fingers, and then I heard him say, “That’s the way it goes.”

It’s about how it feels and the sound. Later on, this would happen to me again, but this time I got it. I’ve learned what not to do—not what to do. There is a difference! Rewinding way back, what can I say? Sometimes I’m all over the place like a glass of spilt water. I need a mop and a bucket!

May the groove be with us.