My Morning Jacket's Tom Blankenship

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“I’m not really of note as a bass player,” says humble Tom Blankenship. He may not be the most technically advanced bassist, but Blankenship’s balance of aggressiveness and delicacy works perfectly for My Morning Jacket’s super-eclectic and often epic songcraft. Like the band itself, Blankenship has evolved from being essentially a full-throttle rocker to a more multi-dimensional musician. He’s done so by being brutally honest with himself about his strengths and weaknesses, and realizing that strength itself can actually be a weakness.

What aspect of your playing have you put the most time into?
Dynamics. When I watch old My Morning Jacket clips on YouTube, it looks like I’m trying to destroy the bass with my hand. I’ve actually got a knot on my wrist from pounding the edge of my bass so hard for years; when My Morning Jacket started out, we played venues where I had to play as loud as I could in order to be heard. I didn’t really learn how to use dynamics until our fourth record, Z. I’ve learned that aggressive playing is one weapon that’s more effective when used very sparingly as part of an overall arsenal.
Have you refined any specific aspects of your playing style?

I’m a fingerstyle player, and I’ve noticed from watching and listening to clips of myself playing that I have a tendency to tap my fingers on the strings to keep track of the snare-drum hits I’m not playing along with. Even though I’m muting, you can still hear those taps on the first few records because I was playing so aggressively. When we were recording Evil Urges, [producer] Joe Chiccarelli hipped me to using flatwound strings as a way to reduce finger noise. Flatwounds made my tendency to tap along with the snare a non-issue, and I love the warm heaviness of the flatwound tone—especially on an old P-Bass. I did almost the whole new CD with that combination.

HEAR HIM ON
My Morning Jacket, Circuital [Red, 2011]; Bobby Bare Jr., A Storm, A Tree, My Mother’s Head [Thirty Tigers, 2010]

GEAR
Bass 1964 Fender Precision Bass with Fralin pickups
Rig Ampeg V-4B head, Mesa Powerhouse 4x10 + 1x15 cabinet
Effects Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synth, Caitlin Bread SFT overdrive
Strings D’Addario Chromes flatwounds (.050–.105)

Watch My Morning Jacket play “One Big Holiday” on Letterman.

Watch My Morning Jacket play “First Light” at Bonnaroo 2011.

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I FIRST MET TOM KENNEDY WHEN WE were put together in a bass quartet for a week-long gig at a now-defunct jazz club in St. Louis. Four bass players and a piano player—no drums. The double bassists— John Clayton, Todd Coolman, Tom, and myself—entertained the slightly confused, slightly amused, and deeply moved patrons with bass solos, duets, quartets, and quintets (with the warm support of Bill Mays, a very creative and bass-friendly pianist).