The 1974 Fender Jazz.
Started taking guitar lessons at the age of eight. My Mom had a copy of The Beatles' Hard Days Night movie soundtrack. The one with the red cover. We used to listen to it on the ol' console stereo. That wonderful vacuum-tubed, walnut-encased, 33 1/3 record player that sat in the living room. My brothers and I played that record over and over again. I must have got the idea, to want to play guitar, mostly from that. You hear guys say stuff like, "There I was, watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan...". Now, TV most certainly played a role in influencing me to become a guitar player. But it was that record. On that magnificent console, that did it for me. I don't recall seeing the Fab Four on Ed Sullivan. I do however, remember the Beatles' TV Specials, which were pretty important events and the whole family would gather around to watch. So, at any rate, either way I got the bug to rock. At a pretty young age.
My Parents got me a guitar, and a teacher. Mr Cuthbert, I think was his name. I remember he'd come driving up to the house in his station wagon. Bring in his acoustic guitar. The guy was a dyed-in-the-wool folkie, looking back on it. He proceeded to teach me On Top Of Old Smokey and Down In The Valley. He really tried. But I wanted to play something like those cool songs I heard the Beatles singing. I couldn't have articulated it back then, but what I wanted, was to rock. And these folk lessons weren't happening. I did learn how to use a pick, and fret some notes, but that was about it. My guitar playing went nowhere.
Around five years later when my hands were a bit bigger I got a hold of a song book, the kind with the chord shape diagrams above the lyrics, and taught myself to play John Denver's Country Roads. Not the Beatles, but something a little more with it. In the 70's, JD had some cool factor going. Looked like my music education might actually get rolling. But at the age of 13, the guitar had some serious competition coming in the form of skateboards, weed, and girls. That guitar education was going to have to wait.
Around the time I turned 16, my older brother who was a very good piano player, built a Heathkit Solid State Amplifier. It was quite a thing to behold. Silver face control panel, black tolex covering, and the latest solid state technology. The problem was we didn't have anything to plug into it. He seemed happy just to have built it. That seemed to satisfy him. Me? It drove me crazy being under the same roof with this potential modern music making machinery. I wanted to rock that thing.
I went down to JB Wilson's Music on Ventura Blvd. Walked in and scanned the goods Looking for something I could afford, that I could plug into that amp. The catch being, at that age, I didn't have any money. Well, I did have fifty bucks saved up. But that was it. Perusing the price tags I determined a purchase was not likely. So, I asked the proprietor Mr J.B. Wilson, what was the cheapest electric instrument he had in the store. For a price $125.00 he offered an old hollow body Vox Cougar Bass. Red finish, with white plastic pick-ups. Some hipster kid would kill to have that thing, today, probably. But in 1976, Mr Wilson apparently couldn't give it away. And I didn't jump at it. I couldn't. I asked him if he might rent it to me?
"Why do you want to rent it, It's only $125.00"
"I only have fifty bucks"
"Go home and get 10 more bucks kid, and it's yours"
I made it happen. Later that night me and Pat broke ground on the foundation of our garage band careers. By default I became a bass player, because I only had enough money for that old Vox Cougar Bass. But it was on...
A happy accident thru all this was all the kids who wanted to start bands in High School were either guitar players or drummers. Being one of only two kids in the whole school (who I knew of) who had a bass guitar I was instantly in demand by the local garage band. In spite of my failed attempts at folk music as a child, and my aborted effort to learn to play soft hippy rock, I did know how to hold the instrument and fret the notes. And that was enough. It was time to rock!
The guitar-case for that Vox electric bass guitar, wouldn't latch. I had to hold it shut with one finger when I carried it, till I found a bungee cord to wrap around it to hold it shut. More than once other people would grab the handle to pick it up, and the guitar would come tumbling out. That was more embarrassing, than anything. That hollow bass was funky too. It'd make some crazy howling feedback at the volumes we played at. Which was loud. As we aspired to cover the music of Ronnie Montrose, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, UFO, and Rush. Having the bass player producing all this feedback, ala Jimi Hendrix, or maybe more appropriately like Ted Nugent and his howling hollow-body guitar, didn't sit well with the guitar player in the band. So, even though I was in demand, I still got crap from the guys I played with, for playing this funky-outdated instrument. Gibson's and Fenders ruled the day. The peer pressure was on.
I cobbled together $300.00 somehow. Throwing papers maybe? Or maybe it was when I was cleaning pools for the surfer-poolman next door. Anyways, I started looking for a real electric bass. And I found this Fender Jazz Bass in 'The Recycler' paper. The problem was, it was over the hill in L.A. But as luck would have it, that week one of my friends who had a car, wanted to go down to Hollywood to the Guitar Center. A couple of us tagged along and I asked the driver if he'd take me to see this used bass in L.A. since it wasn't that far, relatively speaking, from Hollywood.
After we left Hollywood, we headed across town to an address off Washington Blvd. Being from the valley, we didn't really know the neighborhoods. We started to notice however, as we ventured along, that we were getting into an all-black part of town. I think we started feeling a little self conscious, possibly being aware that we didn't really fit in. Maybe we were just getting some odd looks, being a bunch of white-punk, long-haired teenagers. We were probably pretty conspicuous. Maybe we were a little paranoid, to boot, as we most certainly had partook of our favorite herbs along the way.
By the time we got to the address in question, I think we were getting pretty nervous. As we came down the street we realized the place was a small house, back down a long alley, between two large apartment buildings. Going down there looked akin to running a gauntlet, in our state of minds at the time. And I was a skinny kid with three hundred bucks cash in my pocket. We took a quick vote and decided we'd pass on this deal. And head on back to the valley. The driver made a U-turn, but before we could follow thru with our egress, a tall dark figure appeared and flagged us down. "You're the guys that want to see the bass, right?". He had a manner that must have set us at ease. He was a musician after all. So were we. There is a kinship among musicians. Like the kinship among solders, union men, or any group of people who can signify on some level. So we parked the car.
Headed down the alley with our amiable escort. We entered what was sort of like a rear house, guest house, or granny flat sort of pad. Little kids running around the place. A large wall of Acoustic 360 bass-amps lined the wall of the small living room, a professional rig in those days. The Fender Jazz Bass was in it's case on the floor in front of the rig. Our host handed the bass to me. Now, in the period prior to making this excursion into the big city, I'd taken some bass lessons from a guitar teacher named Ted Labash. One of the first things Ted taught me was the riff to the Stevie Wonder song, "I Wish".
So... when in Rome... I probably tried, or made my best attempt, to play that funky riff...
"...Sneaking out the back door to hang out with those hoodlum friends of mine
Greeted at the back door, I thought I told you not to go outside
Tryin' your best to bring the water to your eyes
Thinkin' it might stop her from whippin' your behind
I wish those days could come back once more
Why did those days ever have to go?
I wish those days could come back once more
Why did those days ever have to go?
'Cause I love them so..."
He must have been amused. He asked me, "Do you thump?" I wasn't sure what that meant. So he took the bass and proceeded to play in the style that I would later hear other bass players call 'slap and pop'. Real funk style. To this day, I think back on that, and what a cool memory. Opened the door to playing the Stanley Clark style, and that kind of thing, for me. And I didn't get it from a book or a video, I got schooled by this guy, who was a legit practitioner. To this day I still call it 'The Thump'.
We made the deal. I asked him why he was selling this bass guitar? He explained that with his ol' lady, and now the kids, his playing the nightclubs just wasn't cutting it anymore financially. He was hanging it up. Selling the gear and getting a day job. As a fellow musician, what he was doing looked like a pretty big sacrifice. I felt a little guilty. I almost didn't want to be a party to this. This man was way more qualified than me, and obviously had a passion for this craft. He was a kind man, who invited us into his home, and shared some secrets of his playing style with me. I didn't want to be the one to take this foil from him. My friends and I had worried about being robbed or something when we got to that neighborhood, but left feeling almost like we were the bandits. Something about leaving with that Fender Jazz Bass didn't seem right. As we headed back to the valley with this prize, I felt a I had more than a guitar in my possession, I felt I was also carrying a certain responsibility. I don't think that feeling has ever left me.
At the end of Saving Private Ryan, United States Army Rangers Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks), as he lays dying, pulls Ryan close and tells him "Earn This". The scene fades to the elderly Ryan, at Millers grave in Normandy, telling his wife, "tell me I lived a good life".
Looking back on it, the experience of acquiring this electric bass guitar during that trip to the city, makes me feel like I'm carrying some sort of legacy now. I'm the 'Elderly Ryan' of bass players. Life's had it's share of ups and downs, and twists and turns. I even traded the bass away for a spell, but something, maybe that feeling? Made me buy it back after a few years (and I paid a lot more for it the second time).
So I'm happy to tell you I still play this guitar. If you see me playing it out somewhere, please, don't be alarmed or confused if I suddenly say out of nowhere, "tell me I've lived a good life".
We carry on in gratitude. Let's rock.
Salty Rose, 2020
The Kustom 200 Amp Head in the Salty Rose collection since 1978, and a JBL Speaker, key to my bass sound for many years.
Tracking bass studio preview.
The New Single.