Few bassists come with as distinguished a pedigree as Victor Bailey. A man whose effortless grasp of every bass style in the book has made him a valued touring and recording partner for artists as diverse as Sonny Rollins, Weather Report, Madonna, Dave Gilmour, Sting and many others, Bailey doesn’t so much play the bass as embody it.
“My bass style encompasses every approach to the bass guitar, including slapping, tapping, grooving, chords, solos – you name it!” he tells us. “Whether it’s jazz, funk, swing or what have you, I give it as good as it gets. My style is to always look for something unique and interesting which says something and tells a story, more than showing off technique. I do it all. There are no secrets in music. You work as hard as you can, do what you do, and you either got it or you don’t.”
Victor delivers the bass in the best possible way – via his signature instrument. “My bass is the Fender Victor Bailey model. I spent two full years with their chief designers, changing things to the centimeter until it was exactly what I wanted. It is a huge seller for Fender and myself, and is available all over the world to anyone who’s interested in playing one. It’s basically a souped-up high-end Fender Jazz bass. These days I’m using a Zoom 607 Bass pedal, and I play through Hartke 3500 or 5500 amps with two Hartke 4x10” speaker cabinets for a beautiful clear sound.”
Listing a prestigious range of players as his heroes (“Ron Carter, Stanley Clarke, both Alphonso Johnson and Jaco Pastorius with Weather Report, Larry Graham, Louis Johnson, Jimmy Garrison, Percy Heath, Paul Chambers and Anthony Jackson”), Bailey has a correspondingly refined attitude about the importance of finding an individual approach. “I play four-string,” he explains. “By the time five- and six-string basses became fashionable, I already had a style and a lot of success – there was no need to change. Most importantly, I already had my sound, and you don’t want to change that when you have it, because so few players have one. But I have nothing against five- or six-strings. Those instruments have certainly expanded the range of the bass guitar, and lots of guys are doing great things with them.”
Victor’s career as a bassist started with humble roots, he tells us: “My first bass was a tiny little Fender Musicmaster, candy-apple red with a white pickguard. It’s like a Fender Mustang bass, but with a split pickup. I was very short until I was 18 years old so I needed a little bass. My parents got me the Musicmaster: it was Fender’s cheapest model, but let me tell you, it was a fine-sounding instrument.”
To this day, he knows that trying to identify the greatest bassist of all time is futile, explaining: “There’s no such thing as the greatest. You’d have to have a very small musical perspective to think that one person was the best. There are so many different styles of music, and varying styles of bass-playing within those musics. Nowadays, it seems that a lot of people get caught up in who’s the most popular in magazines, or who is the greatest in some book. In my time we never asked anything about the greatest – we just listened to everybody and everything.”