When did you start playing bass?
I started playing bass in 1959. I was fifteen. Frank Woolly, my guitar teacher, introduced me to two of his students and I joined their band, Paul Dennis & the Phantoms. At first I played the bass parts on an amplified Dobro guitar loaned to me by my guitar teacher. I eventually sold my bicycle to Bob, the Phantoms’ lead guitarist, to raise the deposit for my first bass. He had a job; I was still in school. The first thing I learned was probably the walking bass line on ‘Move It’ by Cliff & the Shadows or the riff on ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ by Eddie Cochran.
My first bass was a Höfner Senator, blonde and beautiful, and I can still remember how it smelt. I’d really wanted the Framus bass I'd seen in the window of Hardy Smiths, my local music store, but by the time I got back to the shop with the hire purchase forms signed the only available bass in town had mistakenly been sold to someone else. I was gutted and had to wait another two weeks for the next bass to arrive.
You started out as a guitarist. Did this influence your bass playing?
Playing another instrument helped to give me a better idea of chord structure but I consider myself first and foremost as a bass player and a member of the rhythm section. I’ve known many guitar players who have switched to bass but still think as guitarists. They play nice bass runs but never quite get underneath the music, pick it up and together with the drummer inject the energy needed to carry a song along.
Recently I’ve started playing Dobro to give me another angle on songwriting. No doubt it will stimulate some new ideas on bass, but I don’t think I’ll be using a slide bar.
You played the Hamburg Star-Club the week after the Beatles in 1962. Why was it so common for British and American acts to do well in Germany at the time?
The Germans love rock music and that enthusiasm still exists today in many countries in Europe. Hamburg, being a seaport, was exposed to all the ‘race records’ brought over from the States. Those records were not easily available in other countries. At that time in the UK there was little exposure in the media for rock music and, with a few exceptions, radio played only trite, contrived pop records of the day. Despite that, there were some great bands around playing the clubs and bars. I don’t think it’s really that different today.
Who are your influences?
Just about every record I’ve listened to has taught me something. I listened to the players with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins and many others. The bass players that first influenced me most was probably Bill Black and Jet Harris from the Shadows. Remember, bass guitars were a new concept and I was in awe of anyone who played one.
Later I was influenced by jazz and blues bassists and listened to Scott La Faro, Mingus and Ray Brown. I bought Ray Brown’s Bass Tutor and learnt all those thirds, fourths and fifths scales.
What is your preferred bass?
It’s a Lakland Skyline Series Joe Osborn model. Joe told me about them. I tried one in a store and loved it. My four-string is somewhere between a Fender Jazz and a Music Man and is pretty much standard except that I’ve added a D dropper. Fender talked to me a few years ago about a signature model based on my old 62 Jazz but it never happened. That may be just as well. I’ve always never had much luck with made-to-measure suits, preferring to find one on the rack that fitted me best.
My favorite bass, of all the ones I have ever owned, for sentimental reasons has to be my original 1962 Fender Jazz. I swapped it with Ian Hunter in 1962 in part exchange for my Precision bass plus a small amount of cash, 15 pounds to be exact. The Fender is something of a trademark for me after playing it in the movie of the 1969 Woodstock Festival.
Right now the Lakland is my favorite bass to play. It has the feel of my old Fender but I believe it plays and sounds better. My second playing choice would be my Warwick Streamer Pro or my Wal.
What is your amp and effects setup?
Gallien Krueger 1100 watt amp plus two GK 4x10 inch speaker cabinets with midrange horn and crossover. This is my main rig and I’m extremely pleased with it. With Ten Years After I don’t use effects aside from a bit of chorus on a slow song, but I’m always open to ideas. On a fly-in-fly-out show, if I’m unable to hire the amps I request a Bass Pod as a preamp. I prefer a tight punchy clean sound with a muddy bottom end. I like to hear the notes I play.
When recording, how do you find the right place for the bass in the mix?
The ‘right’ place in the mix depends on the type of material. As a recording engineer and producer, I place it where I think it’s needed to complement the track. In heavy rock I’d have a fair amount of bottom end on the bass and mix it in with in a big drum sound. In other music it would be a tighter, more mixed sound. With TYA the bass is more up-front duelling with the guitar.
What memories do you have of Woodstock?
I remember the helicopters, the rain, the mud, no sleep, no food, no hotel room… but most of all I remember the crowd and being on stage. Woodstock is singled out because of the movie, but really the film doesn’t just represent one gig but is a documentary of an era. It was fantastic to play but so were all the other festivals, The Isle of Wight Festival, the Texas Blues Festival, Toronto Peace Festival, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Singer Bowl concerts in Central Park, the Fillmores and the Windsor Jazz Festivals... The late 60s and early 70s were a great time to be around, and I consider myself fortunate to have been part of it all.