“THE MORE I LEARN TO PLAY, THE more I feel the benefit of studying Latin bass,” says Otra’s Sam Price. Sam has led the New Orleans-based Afro-Cuban ensemble since 2002, although these days he spends the bulk of his time contributing low end and high vocal harmonies to the Honey Island Swamp Band, which sounds authentic playing myriad forms of roots music from country to R&B.
How did you get into Latin bass?
Growing up in Slidell, Louisiana, I was a typical rock bassist who was influenced by Geddy Lee and Geezer Butler. I was thrown into the world of Latin bass when I joined a Brazilian band after moving to New Orleans in the early ’90s. I was also starting to discover fusion—Jaco Pastorius in particular. He grew up in South Florida, and was influenced by Cuban music. The more I got into Jaco, the more I recognized how much of a Cuban feel he brought to his playing, and in turn to Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, and so on. Once I started playing Cuban music, I was able to home in on how specific elements informed the feel, like syncopation, and the holding of notes across the bar so as not to emphasize the one.
Cuba played a big role in the development of New Orleans music, which led to the development of American music from ragtime to rock. For example, the clave—the rhythmic figure in Cuban music—is essentially the mambo, the dance craze of the ’50s, and that is the core of New Orleans music as well as the famous Bo Diddley beat. Sometimes the Latin influence isn’t as apparent if you count in common time, but if you count in cut time—which is how most Cuban music is counted—you’ll hear more of that syncopation.
What’s your recommend listening for studying Latin bass?
First and foremost, Cachao. Anyone unfamiliar with him should check out the Andy Garcia documentary Cachao … Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos. Cachao is credited with inventing the mambo. He was amazing, but he played acoustic upright, which made it hard to hear every nuance.
Bobby Rodriguez from Tito Puente’s band is another one of my favorites. He played an Ampeg Baby Bass—the electric upright that became the defining sound for the Latin jazz of the ’60s and ’70s. The amplified bass was more prominent, so you can hear all the funky stuff he was doing.
HEAR HIM ON
Honey Island Swamp Band, Good to You [Threadhead, 2010]; Otra, Todo Pa’La Gente [Indpt, 2004]
Basses Lakland 55-01, Ampeg Baby Bass, Kala U-Bass
“The sound of the U-Bass is huge. I’ve been using it on two-step country stuff, and for that muted, James Jamerson sound.”
Rig Ampeg BA-115
Effects Boss ME-50B
Strings Rotosound roundwounds