When In Doubt

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BRIAN FOX, EDITOR
I HAD THE RECENT GOOD FORTUNE TO ATTEND (and play at) the 50th annual Philadelphia Folk Festival, a three-day shindig about an hour outside of Philly. It was a pretty awesome hang—I was playing just two sets throughout the weekend, giving me a chance to check out dozens of fabulous bands: the Wood Brothers, Arlo Guthrie, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Jorma Kaukonen, Justin Townes Earle, and David Wax Museum, to name a few. On Saturday evening, I was in the photo pit with my band’s drummer when the Campbell Brothers, a “sacred steel” gospel band out of New York, took the stage. From the downbeat of the first song, we knew we were in for a treat. The vocals, the guitar picking, the pedal steel and lap steel playing were all off the hook. Naturally, Adolfo and I were transfixed by the rhythm section—bassist Malcolm Kirby Jr. and drummer Carlton Campbell. Kirby was fast, fluid, and way groovy, and Campbell’s playing was downright explosive. A few songs in, Adolfo turned to me and shook his head. “Man,” he said. “I don’t want to play drums no more.”

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Having watched some of the best bass players in the world do their thing, I knew exactly what Adolfo meant. “You’ll never be able play like that,” the little voice in my head often tells me. “They’re on another level. Don’t bother trying.” Fortunately, there are a lot of players out there who are able to block this inner monologue entirely, telling themselves, “I can do that,” and then locking themselves in the woodshed until they actually can. It’s players like these who help elevate the craft of bass playing for the rest of us. As for me, I’d like to think I’ve reached a level of personal poise and musical maturity where I can recognize and appreciate those whose talents exceed mine, I can honestly assess my own strengths and weaknesses as a player, and I can seek to learn from every player I hear.

In a big way, I’m writing this now to psych myself up for BASS PLAYER LIVE!, which on October 22–23 is guaranteed to trigger those voices in my head. Faced with the monster talent of players like Jack Casady, Larry Graham, Anthony Jackson, Steve Bailey, and countless more, who could blame me for feeling a little self-doubt? By the time this goes to print, we will have confirmed more top players for the weekend. You can find an updated list at bassplayer.com/live. If you can make it out to BPL—and I really hope you can—be sure to say hello. I’ll be easy to spot—I’m that guy in the background shaking his head in awe.

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