There’s nothing like keeping busy, and Jerry Duplessis’s schedule is enough to make most musicians green with envy, with his playing and production skills in constant demand. When BGM contacted him at Platinum Sound, his New York studio, he told us: “I’m on fire right now! Everybody wants my bass-lines, man. Right now I’m doing a song with Mary J Blige and I’ve just finished producing Musiq Soulchild. I’ve also got Estelle from England, who got a Grammy for the song ‘American Boy’: I have about four songs from her album. I’m working with John Legend, Alicia Keys… I’ve even done stuff with Justin Bieber! I’ve just come back from the New Orleans Jazz Festival where I performed with Wyclef Jean, and before that I was in Barbados and I came straight from the airport to mix Akon’s next single.”

Wonda, as he is known, is in the fortunate position of being able to pick and choose his assignments, which stretch across the pop and R&B fields. He’s popular not just because of his slinky, groove-heavy bass parts, but also because he’s a songwriter, arranger and producer extraordinaire. “It’s a blessing being a musician,” he remarks, “and it’s great being on stage and playing bass, but it’s also good when you’re in a studio and writing songs and being on a Number One record. I pick the projects that I love doing. I do a lot of stuff with Atlantic.”

In order to do his job, Wonda is equipped with a range of instruments. “I have so many basses,” he tells us. “I got a 1965 Fender, I got a red and yellow PBC custom that they made for me and which I played on the song ‘Maria Maria’ by Carlos Santana. Let’s see, what else? I have a Pensa bass, check them out. It’s like a Fodera, about four or five thousand bucks. I also have a six-string Fodera: a lot of the time, people think I’m playing a guitar when I play that. I played a silver eight-string bass with a chorus on it for the Hotel Rwanda soundtrack – and it was a Cort bass, the cheapest bass out there! I took the second G string off. I call it the Seventh Wonda.”

"Live, I don’t use any effects: I just use a Trace Elliot and play with the EQ until I get the best tone I can. In the studio I use a whole lot of plug-ins, though, because I’m sitting there listening to the sonics.”

Asked how he comes up with his bass parts for the many different projects he’s involved in, Wonda explains: “A lot of times, when I’m mixing the beats I start with a bass-line: the music comes first. But sometimes the bass comes last, even after the vocal. I just go with the vibe, man. I’m not gonna go in there and do a bass solo, I’m writing songs, so I usually get a groove. Listen to Bob Marley: the groove was always what came first. Oh, and you know Lee Sklar? He’s my man, oh my God, I really like his playing. He sounds almost like a fretless player.”

Wonda’s story is an eye-opening one. Born in Haiti – which he frequently revisits today, especially since the disastrous earthquake of 2010 – he was an early convert to the bass. As he recalls, “When I was 11 years old and going to church, one day I just fell in love with listening to the band that played there. They gave me a little guitar and I had lessons, but I saw that everybody was playing the guitar. I said ‘Do they have another instrument?’ so they introduced me to bass. I was like, ‘Oh my God, no-one else is playing bass!’ and I ended up playing it in church. Girls started saying ‘Hi!’, ha ha! I was so skinny and little and the bass was so big, it was like carrying a giant object. If you listen to the Fugees’ ‘Killing Me Softly’ you can hear them saying ‘Little bass up in here!’ and that’s me.”

He continues: “When I came to America my dad sent me to his sister’s house in New Jersey, which was [Fugees rapper] Wyclef Jean’s mom. Wyclef’s dad was a preacher and we used to live above the church. When I was going to church, I was so good that I would go and play merengue and salsa and reggae in bars after the service and I would get 25 or 50 bucks. That’s what taught me to play every style of music and it’s helped me so much today. You know when you learn those things when you’re little, later on they come out and help you.

“Then my dad moved to New Jersey, not far from Wyclef’s parents, and he told me to take the bass and do whatever I wanted with it. He installed a studio in his basement and that’s where the whole of [the Fugees’ 1996 debut album] The Score was recorded – literally in our house. I’d been to school to study how to be a recording engineer, so I had a little idea about how to build a studio. I couldn’t believe how much that album sold when we didn’t know anything about it. Now I have two SSLs [Solid State Logic recording consoles]: my studio cost 10 million dollars to build. I’m the only one in New York with a K9000 SSL. I have 80 channels and it’s fully loaded: it’s like my best friend.”

Despite all his high-end gear, Wonda stays in touch with the simple principles that got him started. “A good bass-line is one that makes people want to dance, just on its own,” he tells us. “Make sure you leave the groove open, so the other instruments can come in and work their magic. If your bass-line is too busy, there’s no passion in it!” 

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