TONY GARNIER HAS PLAYED MORE GIGS FOR BOB DYLAN THAN ANY OTHER SIDEMAN. Since joining the Never Ending Tour Band in 1989, Garnier (who, like Dylan, hails from Minnesota) has provided a sympathetic, hard-swinging backbone for the tireless troubadour’s timeless songs. This includes Dylan’s latest, Together Through Life. Tony anchored Asleep At The Wheel, Buster Poindexter, the Lounge Lizards, and Tom Waits before connecting with Dylan while subbing on Saturday Night Live. The Brooklyn-based Garnier shares some insight after 20 years with the original Tambourine Man.
How has working with Bob Dylan shaped your bass concept?
Before I came to play with Bob I didn’t listen to a song the same way; I focused on my part. Now I’m much more aware of what the singer is doing lyrically, melodically, and rhythmically. Ultimately you have to play the bass, but more important, play the song. The other challenge is that Bob sings and phrases differently each night. I have to keep my ears open for other note choices and new spaces to play in, which keeps it exciting.
How do you come up with bass lines for Dylan’s songs?
Generally, we learn them right in the studio, we record them live as a band, and we rarely do more than two takes. So I have to instantly come up with a part while figuring out the changes and the form. I focus on having the right feel, playing with the drums, and not getting in the way of the vocal. It can be trying when you hear the track back and go, Oh—I should have done this or that, and you can’t. Ultimately, though, you realize a simple bass line is best when you have a really great song. My goal is to give motion to the song in the available spaces. That’s what a good bass line does.
What are the keys to playing upright in a loud setting?
Having a good parametric EQ—turn up and just start rolling off the frequencies that are feeding back. Having a lot of power is important, I think more so for upright than electric bass. I favor solid-state over tube amps, which color the sound—the acoustic bass has enough color on its own. Also, a bi-amp system helps you get a bigger bottom end. I generally set my crossover around 120Hz. Then there are the musical aspects: simplifying your part, playing more firmly, and knowing how to string-dampen. You can’t finesse the notes or worry about ghosted pickups. You have to dig in with both hands, but especially the left hand, which is how you get notes to project. If you have a bigger sound, you won’t have to turn up as loud.
Upright 2006 bass built by Paul Davies of Arts Music, Melbourne, Australia, with Fishman Full Circle or David Gage Realist pickup; Rodney Mohr Germanstyle bow; Pirastro Flat-Chromesteel G and D strings with Pirastro Obligato Aand E(Pirastro Eudoxa Silver/Gut or Oliv strings for recording)
Electrics Lakland Hollowbody, Lakland Duck Dunn signature (both with Lakland Joe Osborn flatwounds)
Live rig Ashdown ABM APM 1000 EVO II power amp with ABM RPM-1 preamp, Pendulum Quartet Tube Recording Channel, Speck ASC-T parametric EQ, Epifani custom 2x15 cabinet (for subs) and 2x12 (for mids and highs)
Studio rig Ray Benson DI, paired Telefunken V76 mic preamp rigged by Marquette Audio Labs, Neumann M 49 or Sony ECM 70 lavalier mic (Nat Priest DI and 1965 B-15 for electrics)
CHECK HIM OUT
With Bob Dylan (all on Columbia), Together Through Life , The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs ; Lucinda Williams, West [2007, Lost Highway]; Appearances with Elvis Costello on Specatacle (Sundance Channel)
Jazz Icon DVD series: Oscar Peterson Trio (with Ray Brown), Live in ’63,’64 & ’65; John Coltrane (with Paul Chambers, Reggie Workman, and Jimmy Garrison), Live in ’60, ’61 & ’65 [2008, www.jazzicons.com]; Ludwig Streicher, Ludwig Streicher Spielt Bottesini [1978, Telefunken]