One nice thing about the Houston Press Music Awards is the opportunity it provides to root into the brains of Houston's more acclaimed musicians. Here's a ready-made list of folks with music-filled brains, ripe for the picking. But with so many nominees in so many categories, where to start and what to ask?
I figured I'd start in the simplest fashion, by asking people who play the instrument I'd play -- if I weren't sadly void of all musical talent -- about their influences. So here are this year's Best Bassist nominees reflecting on their bass-playing heroes, the bottom-enders who are the tops in their eyes.
Nick Gaitan Nick Gaitan has been part of Houston's music circles from his first show in 1999. Since then, he's played with acts as diverse as Billy Joe Shaver, Los Skarnales, The Octanes, Sean Reefer, Ryan Scroggins & the Trenchtown Texans and Los Pistoleros de Texas, among others. That work has allowed him to tour across the U.S., into Canada and Mexico, and overseas in Norway and Sweden. Not bad for a native Houstonian and self-proclaimed "Gulf Coast Music Man."
Gaitan's band, The Umbrella Man, is headed back to the studio to record new songs to add to its growing discography. Listen to anything from the collection to spot his main influences in his work.
Willie Dixon: "[His] influence is heard all over the musical universe," Gaitan says. "Dixon wrote songs that have lived through generations of music fans and musicians alike. If that wasn't enough, take a listen to any of his stuff. My friend, Shawn Supra, put me onto his late-'40s/Big Three Trio stuff years ago. He was a pioneer is so many ways. His influence on rock and roll was huge as well. Chances are, if you haven't heard of Willie Dixon, you probably heard one of his songs before you knew who he was."
James Jamerson: "Another great bassist I think music fans should know about," adds Gaitan. "His work with Motown and every song he was a part of echoes and is the foundation for so much we know about music today. He was the creator of the slow jam, [and] he could make anything dance. Just put your ear to the speaker and let the music do the rest."
Bob Lane Bob Lane is a man of multitudinous, rock-and-roll-ready hair but few words. He holds it down for indie-rockers Another Run, who have a long and growing resume to make any Houston music fan proud. From Fuse TV video appearances to SXSW shows and more recently a spot on next month's Houston Whatever Fest, they stay busy. That may be why Lane had just enough time to share a few words on two bass players who showed him the way.
Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers: "[He] was a pretty big influence, as well as Jaco Pastorius from Weather Report," says Lane. "I try to draw influences from many genres to get a good, well-rounded groove."
Mark Riddell Mark Riddell is a native Houstonian who played his first gig at Fitzgerald's 20 years ago. Since then, he's played and recorded with several friends and projects, including the Small Sounds and Katie Stuckey.
He says he's "all but abandoned the traditional workforce" and is a working musician, splitting time between The Allen Oldies Band, Grand Old Grizzly, the Mike Stinson Band and teaching at Bojangles Music School.
"Narrowing down the field of bassists to two that a music fan should know about is like trying to walk through the pound and resisting the urge to take all the dogs home with you," he observes.
Still, Riddell gamely gave it a shot.
John Paul Jones: "I'd be remiss not to pay homage to [him]," he says. "When I picked up the bass at 13, both my aunts sent me Zeppelin records and he became my first teacher, if you will; but, damn, there's Jamerson -- you can't say bass without thinking Jamerson -- [David] Porter, Bootsy, McCartney, Duck Dunn, Noel Redding and [John] Entwistle, too. I want to take them all home with me."
Carol Kaye and David Hood: "Recently, I've been on a bit of an infatuation kick with [them]," Riddell says. "Hood recorded some of my favorite bass lines I can remember listening to growing up. He puts hammers into pockets that make me want to punch alligators and dance with your momma. On top of all that, the way he weaves melody into the groove is nothing short of special.
"Carol Kaye blows me away with her chameleon quality," he continues. "I'm convinced she can put down a groove on any track, and she's pretty much proved it. I remember hearing an interview of hers where she said something to the effect of, 'I just listen to the song and figure out what it needs.' That's the goal for bass, to me. It's the kind of work that I'd like to do for a long time to come."
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Chad Smalley Chad Smalley says he started playing bass about 20 years ago, but didn't start playing in earnest until he met Blaggards front man Patrick Devlin in 2003. The band celebrates ten years of "Stout Irish Rock" in 2014, and Smalley has been there from the start.
Klaus Voormann: "A vastly underrated bassist," offers Smalley. "He's a brilliant visual artist who befriended the Beatles in Hamburg long before they made it big, and is most famous for doing the cover of their album Revolver. But he's also a very tasteful and groovy bass player who appears on a lot of John Lennon and George Harrison's solo work. My favorite is the work he does on Lennon's Plastic Ono Band. Listening to Klaus has taught me how to give a song what it needs without getting in the way."
Geezer Butler: "[He's] another one of my faves and is definitely not underrated. His big, dirty style of playing has had a big influence on me, too. He's not as flashy as [Iron Maiden's] Steve Harris, for example, but is so incredibly distinctive. Whenever I have moments in a song where I want the bass to stick out a little more, it's usually Geezer I'm thinking of. "
Chris Wise Buxton bassist Chris Wise has been playing the instrument nearly half his life, and the reason he chose bass should tell you something about his drive and ingenuity.
"[At that time], I figured if I played bass, then I could play in whatever band I wanted since everyone was either a guitar player or a drummer," he says. Buxton has been laying low of late, Wise notes, but the good news is that the band has been writing and recording. They'll be playing Craig Kinsey's record release this Saturday at Fitzgerld's.
John Stirratt, Wilco: "The first choice would be [him]," Wise says. "I'm not a very flashy bass player, to the point where I'm surprised I'm even nominated. That being said, I like parts that are written to support the song. Sometimes root notes are the best call. John Stirratt seems to get that. Then you have a song like 'Handshake Drugs' where he carries the song.
"The other bass player would be Nick Cody from Wild Moccasins," Wise adds. "Super creative and makes me want to be a better player. I've really only been in Buxton, so I'm very comfortable with what we do. Then I see him play and want to push myself a little further."
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