Doug Johns, Nate Watts, Bill Clements, and Jauqo III-X (l–r) at Detroit Bass Fest 2012 November 17th, 2012 marked the third installment of the Detroit Bass Fest, Motown’s salute to our favorite low end instrument and its masters. Some of the Midwest’s finest bass slingers converged on Bert’s Warehouse Theatre in Detroit’s historic Eastern Marketplace to put their chops on display and celebrate their instrument.
Kalamazoo’s Bill Clements kicked off the show with a drums-and-organ power trio that ripped through a set of fiery improvised fusion. The crowd was wowed by his technical mastery, and even more amazed that he does it all with one arm. [Clements lost his lower right arm in an industrial accident in 1989.]
Chicago native Jauqo III-X then delivered a sizzling jazz-rock set with his guitar-and-drum power trio. Jauqo touched on some of his unique methods, including an explanation of his “slap and pick” technique that incorporates a pickstyle finger attack in place of a pop. Jauqo was also accompanied by Ben Leck of Xotic Guitars, who co-sponsored the Fest and brought more than a dozen instruments and effects for festivalgoers to sample.
Bass powerhouse Doug Johns was up next, and covered the gambit of eye-popping and jaw-dropping bass playing that included chording, slapping, tapping, and looping. The Cleveland native, who released his latest album, Blomp!, at the Fest, was accompanied by drummer Jay Simmons and concluded his set with a medley of Led Zeppelin tunes, all arranged for bass.
The night wrapped up with Detroit native son Nate Watts, longtime bass player and musical director for Stevie Wonder. Admitting, “I don’t usually do clinics like this,” Watts opted to jam on such Stevie classics as “I Wish,” “Sir Duke,” “As,” and “Do I Do,” as the crowd clapped and sang along. Joined by Mahavishnu Orchestra alums Jean-Luc Ponty on violin and Ralphe Armstrong on electric upright bass, Watts delighted the crowd with his renditions and stopped to answer questions about his career with Wonder along the way. Both Watts and Armstrong took a moment to remember former bass cohort and Motown session bassist Bob Babbitt and Detroit jazz bassist Don Mayberry, who both passed away in 2012. Mayberry was posthumously presented with the Detroit Bass Fest Guardian Award.
“All the players were just fantastic this year,” said Bass Fest president Les Collie, Jr. “We were very happy we could once again bring all these folks together to celebrate our under-appreciated instrument and put it center stage for a change”. Currently in talks with several potential corporate sponsors, Collie hopes to make next year’s Detroit Bass Fest an even bigger and better celebration of the bass.