Category Archives: Chuck’s View
CharWalt Records is pleased to announce the release of Chuck Rainey’s Interpretations of a Groove. His fifth solo record, Interpretations of a Groove offers a collection of songs that, as Chris Jisi puts it, “draws from his Rust Belt roots, his legendary studio span on both coasts, and his longtime Texas home base.” Groove-infused originals like “Think About It” and the title track “Interpretation of a Groove,” along with innovative covers of hits like “She’s A Brick House” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” demonstrate that Chuck is far from done speaking through the instrument he helped pioneer.
Interpretations of a Groove almost didn’t make it out of the studio. In November 2011, with the tracking of the album completed but still in need of final mixing and mastering, Chuck suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed the left half of his body and left him unable to speak. Determined to beat the odds, he devoted himself to therapy and by January had regained the ability to speak as well as some mobility. In October 2012, Tommy Sims and Rod Taylor invited Chuck to Nashville TN for the final mixing and mastering of the album at James Waddell’s studio, Lyricanvas, enabling the album to be completed.
by Rod Taylor
Let’s face it, if you call yourself a bass player and don’t know and speak the name Chuck Rainey with reverence, then you would be in the minority. The bulk of us have long admired and emulated this pioneer of the bass guitar from the moment we began playing anything that grooved. Indeed, for most of us, that admiration started long before we became bassists. I was just a toddler when Sanford and Son began airing on TV (1972-77), too young to understand what a heart attack was or why my dad laughed so hard when Redd Foxx grabbed his chest and yelled, “I’m coming, Elizabeth.” But I knew I liked the music that played before the show started, and I can’t help but think that the seeds of my career as a bass guitarist were first sown through Chuck’s iconic contribution to that show. Throughout the seventies, I would groove to a host of Chuck Rainey bass lines on TV and radio, and, without a doubt, like many players, my own style is rooted in his.
It’s Wednesday the 9th of February and as the new 2005 year is kicking into full swing, I am finally picking up the master reference of my latest CD project and anticipating the radio sound of the music – especially the bass. Also today, Jimmy Smith died – he was 70 years old and left us in his sleep.
I have been concerned about the sound and placement of the bass in the music throughout this project and frankly I still fret a bit since I am the bass player and it’s my production.
My original conception and feel for the bass in organized live and recorded music began in the era of music that promoted the feel and sound of the Hammond Organ and the musicians that used the instrument in church, Jazz and R&B music genres’.
Today my mind takes me back to 1957 in Youngstown, Ohio where at that time I was a teenage trumpet player hanging out on the back porch of a close friend who was also a trumpet player.
I had gone to his house to jam and listen to a new recording that he had with Lee Morgan playing trumpet. He and I both felt that Lee Morgan was close to Clifford Brown’s style and sound and had chosen him as our favorite trumpet player since Clifford was gone. There were only one or two recordings that we knew of where Clifford was the trumpet player during his life.
The new recording that Bub had of our interest was a vinyl LP entitled ‘The Sermon’ by Jimmy Smith. The tune we wanted to listen to and learn on this recording was ‘Flamingo’ on the B side and we were also equally excited to here how Lee took his melodic solos on each tune on the LP.
After spending a couple of hours listening, playing along and studying Lee Morgan’s style of soloing, my friend had to run an errand and left me to hang out alone for about an hour until he returned. So while he was gone I flipped the LP over to the A side to listen to something different than what we had been listening to for the last two or three hours.
Side A had only one tune entitled ‘The Sermon’ and it was 20 minuets long. I put the needle down on the LP and 5 seconds later I was completely transformed and music in my life changed forever. Although I had been around and involved in all kinds of music genres and musical instruments, only once before that day had I ever heard and/or felt the bass as I did over the next hour or so.
The power, conviction and melodic movement of the way he was playing/’walking’ the bass line was the ultimate ‘mountain top’ of my musical life thus far as a musician. Although I was not a keyboard enthusiast, that hour or so alone with Jimmy Smith’s original recording of the ‘Sermon’ was the beginning of my close association with and love for the sound and feel of the bass in organized music.
As well as in today’s music of most popular genres of music, there were many great organ players before and during the ’50’s era playing bass either with their feet or with the left hand. The organ players of today’s popular music all recognize and pay tribute to Jimmy Smith hailed as the ‘God Father’ of the Hammond Organ. I hail him as a ‘God Father’ of walking bass lines and he is at the top of my list of personal mentors and hero’s as one who inspired me, a young trumpet player to play the bass.
During the next 4 years other elements and mentors of such in my musical environments guided me to play baritone horn, tuba, trombone in college and later guitar professionally. I often wonder where my career as a bass player would have gone if not for Jimmy Smith’s inspiration, skill and recorded success during my young life listening to music.
Upon arriving in New York in the early 60’s, I had a 4 or 5 month stint with Bill Doggett then known for his original recording, ‘Honky Tonk’. This tune was an R&B hit of the day and had a lot of the same character and feel of Jimmy Smith’s recording of ‘The Sermon’. Both artist were primarily Jazz players with hit’s in the R&B market.
Bill Played bass with his feet on early recordings and hired electric bass players to play the bass on live concerts/gigs. I got a thrill out of successfully imitating the feel and the style of note progressions traditionally played in the bass by organ players as they accompanied themselves playing melodies, solos and rhythm accompaniment in support of the other musicians. While playing bass with Bill I was always thinking of the Jimmy Smith’s recording of ‘The Sermon’.
When I moved to LA in the early 70’s, Jerome Richardson another special mentor to me during my career, took me to meet Jimmy Smith – I was very excited! He was doing a gig at his restaurant out in the ‘valley’, we were hungry and my visit to meet Jimmy was unannounced to my knowledge.
After a set, Jerome took me back to the kitchen and introduced me to Jimmy with a few accolades regarding my growing popularity as a bass player. With a big smile and a very firm hand shake (he had huge strong hands for a man his size being around 5’10”) he said; “Hey man, how ya doing? I see you came to hear a real bass player!” I smiled back and said; “I don’t know about all that, but you can never know how much this hand shake means to both of us!”
He stopped smiling – looked me up and down and said; “Got your ax with you?” and before I could say anything, he smiled again and said; “Just playing with you, nice to meet you – I see your hangin right , as he smiled toward Jerome. He and Jerome talked a bit and we left to eat, listen to the 2nd set left waving ‘later’ to Jimmy.
Some years later while a member of Herbie Mann’s ‘Reunion Band’, the Universe again put me in a music situation in Jimmy Smith’s presence. The Reunion Band was a group of all star musicians and was one of 6 or 7 acts touring the ‘Playboy Festival’ circuit of concerts. I was elated to know that I would be able to see and hear first hand and in person music performed by Jimmy Smith and with the Playboy All Stars and Etta James with whom I spent a year on the road with in the early ’60’s.
This tour was very special, in that the plane ride to Japan was full of performing artist and their musicians. About half were going to perform at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival in Tokyo and the other half going to perform at the Playboy Jazz Festival in Fukuoka. Since The Reunion Band and The Playboy All Stars were “All Star” bands, our flight tickets were business class placing us in and around the ‘artist during the 12 hour flight.
Jimmy Smith was a member of the ‘Playboy All Stars’ and was seated very close to me. During the trip I got the opportunity to experience his character, energy and his general conversation about music and his disposition and thoughts about things other than music. There were around 5 Playboy concerts spanning about a month’s time and I enjoyed so much listening to Jimmy Smith walk the that bass.
He had been told how much he meant to me before and during the tour and did make it obvious to me that he appreciated my musical reverence to him, respected me as a bass player and liked me as a person. It would have been OK if he didn’t, but since he did – another ‘mountain top’ for me.
My voice in music is from the bass clef and the inspiration to lay down good solid grooves was built on the shoulders of Jimmy Smith. My thanks and appreciation with much respect to the life and on going music energy and memory of my personal groove merchant.
It was always good to hear from Freddie. I have known him since he was 16 or 18 years old and I considered him as one of my favorite electric bass players – especially as the performing bass player over the last few years with Walter and Donald and the ‘Dan’ recording legacy.
I immediately called him back and after a short hello and ‘how ya been’, etc., he invited me to the show that evening. I had been invited several times before in the past by Tom Barney and always enjoyed briefly visiting with them before their performance.
This invitation turned out to be a very special night and will be monumental in the pleasurable memories that I have during my career in organized music as a bass player.
I called up a friend, Dan Bradford, who had once played bass in the local ‘Dan’ copy band and we went to the venue. Walter was the first to greet us when we went back stage before the show. We were later joined by Donald and then Freddie. Together we all had a good chat about current, past, future, etc., stuff.
Although I was recovering well from my stroke a year and a half earlier, Walter, Donald and Freddie expressed their well wishes for a complete recovery and expressed understanding and concern they had during my ordeal.
As I left the dressing room going to our seats, I was given a gift to good to mention other than it was right on time and something needed.
I enjoyed listening to the 2 hour show – reliving in my head how pleasurable it was to have been a special part in the audio making of the music now being performed and enjoyed by so many people – and the best was yet to come!
During the back half of the show, when the musicians on stage were introduced, Walter said , as he had always done before, very kind words to the audience about my participation in the making of the now celebrated ‘Steely Dan’ music.
He then invited me up on stage and introduced mew to the audience and I shared on stage hugs with him, Donald and of course Freddie. – I have had many great experiences during my career and this one will stick out as one of the best. It was the final energy that further promoted my ability to climb ‘back in the saddle’ and ride again as a bass player in organized music.
In August 1999, James Jamerson was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for his legendary bass line artistry in contributing to Motown Records’ endless hit record successes in the music evolution of the 60’s.
As a child growing up in Youngstown Ohio, my entire mind and life seemed revolved in and around some form of music. I loved the warm sound of my viola in the 4th & 5th grades after piano lessons in the 3rd grade and ended my teen years as a trumpet player and also enjoyed singing bass in a singing group. In college, I was an intricate part of a well traveled brass ensemble playing the baritone horn. The point of this brief history about me basically shows that from age 9 to age 20, I gradually edged, without knowing it, closer and closer to the feel, sound and rhythm of music in the bass clef – the instrument of my choice was the new electric bass instrument AKA and referred to as a ‘Fender’.
When speaking and/or writing about that ‘day in time’ (the 60’s musical revelations), James Jamerson and Pop music are as synonymous to music legend as Little Richard & Chuck Berry are to Rock n Roll, and as are The 5 Keys & The Moonglows are to doo-wop singing. I could go on, but I must elaborate on Jamerson.
As the 60’s music scene arrived, the original style and sound of the electric bass had already been pre-empted and made famous or at least interesting in jazz by Monk Montgomery and Muscles Swanston. Rock artist such as Bill Haley & The Comets and the smooth/pop music by groups such as The Flamingos were seen with the instrument. Keep in mind that the early 60’s were still showing a heavy 50’s music concept that ultimately changed quickly as Berry Gordy’s Motown Record Company in Detroit began to achieve multi-chart space with hit record after hit record …Jamerson after Jamerson!
Ever wonder what the specific ingredient of a hit record was or is? If you are a producer, writer, arranger, artist, an avid fan of the artist or a listener – you might consider first – the groove, sound and feel of the bass instrument and who is playing it. True, The 4 Tops, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Mary Wells, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and Jr. Walker were indeed very special and talented artists, but consider three things; (1) all the songs were good songs, (2) all the horn and string arrangements were great and (3) all songs and arrangements were led by the bass part. All but a few bass parts were played by my hero James Jamerson.
I did not observe until the mid 70’s, record companies giving credit to the unsung heroes (sidemen) on record projects. Some unique history may be lost, but for us musicians, we have more than memories – we have ears! You can hear the difference between Clifford Brown and any other trumpet player and the same is true for Jimmy Hendrix’ Guitar style or King Curtis tenor sax style. Having ears is the stepping stone to feeling what is heard or if your a player, having a feeling is like a smile or a laugh that is synonymous to you. Next is the sound of a player- put ears, feel and sound together and it designates the individual (like a finger print). All this points to one James Jamerson, one DNA and one fingerprint.
Motown’s history and success is chronicled over and over by those who were there with him at the time of the actual recordings, those who have successful listening and or hearing skills and those with an ability to hear the difference between the sound, style and feel of different players. I applaud and I am proud to be a part of Allan Slutsky’s efforts in his documentary of the life and music of James Jamerson entitled STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN – JAMES JAMERSON distributed by Hal Leonard Publishing. Here Motown artist, producers and fellow musicians give recorded comments in honoring him and 29 of the most influential and successful electric bassists give recorded comments and perform Jamerson’s original Motown bass lines.
The 60’s were very tough for the so-called professional bassist who chose to play the electric instrument. In New York, and I imagine in most other places, a lot of prominent bassists negated the instrument along with those musicians who were playing it. It has come to past that in reality, some of those that did bother to make negative comments never learned to play the electric instrument while some of them did learn how to function with it and subsided their negative comments. Once any bassist heard or hears Jamerson play the electric bass instrument, an immediate respect for him and the instrument occurs.
I am proud to say that I came through that 60’s era with flying colors and Jamerson had a lot to do with my prevailing thoughts and habits regarding the new sound(s) and feels that were unfolding in the music industry. Although James was an acoustic bass player first, he opened the career door for the rest of us electric players basically by being heard so many times on radio hits produced by Detroit Motown. When I herd Bernadette by the 4 Tops in the 60’s, my heart throbbed for a week. I Was Made To Love Her by Stevie Wonder during that same time period caused another week of sheer electric bass ecstasy.
After moving to LA in the early 70’s, You can imagine how thrilling it was to join other studio bassist in periodically going over to the new Motown Studios and playing most of my favorite Jamerson bass parts on either artist roster remakes of the original hits or instrumental versions of the same. Since most or all of the Motown hits were led by the bass line, orchestrators made sure that the original bass parts were noted and in having the ability to read the part – one surely would see it as a treasure and something to remember.
The following list of bass players, artist and producers have recognized and collectively honored James Jamerson’s contribution to their careers and to organized music by participating in Dr. Licks STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN – JAMES JAMERSON: James Jamerson Jr., Paul McCartney, Anthony Jackson, Basil Fearrington, Jimmy Haslip, Pino Palladino, Bob Babbitt, Marcus Miller, Smokey Robinson, Gerald Veasley, Stevie Wonder, Chuck Rainey, John Patitucci, Phil Chen, Will Lee, Allen McGrier, Willie Weeks, Gary Talent, John Entwistle, The Funk Brothers, Freddy Washington, Nathan Watts, Geddy Lee, Rocco Prestia, Jack Bruce, Brian & Eddie Holland, Kenny Aaronson, David Hungate and The Philadelphia International Rhythm Section – forward by Berry Gordy / Motown Founder. You will find so much more literary sources of his legacy in STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN – JAMES JAMERSON.
Jamerson moved to LA in the mid 70’s as did so many others at that time. Motown however, was again on the move with new artist added to the label and in an environment that was very different from Detroit. In Detroit everyone lived about the same and close to one another. The LA (Hollywood) life style invites and creates environmental distance and competition. Having helped to make Motown and its Detroit artist rich and successful, Jamerson found himself in a much larger musical environment where the Competition that he created earlier in Detroit now ruled. Some say the change in music and bass styles caused him problems in working a lot, and some say that he was just set in his way and it came off as ‘old fashioned’.
I tend to feel that he was just ‘set in his ways’ about people and the music. LA people and their environments certainly are not at all like Detroit, and for sure their is a certain amount of environmental shock to be experienced and expected during the first year(s) of an environmental move. Some fare well with it and some do not. Of what I saw and what little I knew of him personally, he was very proud of himself and was out spoken in conversations about music and in the music. I am very proud of myself and I can be out spoken in conversations about music and in the music, but I do not believe that I would have my energy and zeal for the electric bass without the life and success of James Jamerson.
In 1999 I attended a reunion with 4 other musicians who were instrumental in the making of ‘Aja’, a 1978 Steely Dan album Recording. Although the project was actually recorded in Los Angeles with various musicians, this particular reunion was filmed and recorded in New York City at River Sound uptown in the neighborhood of Spanish Harlem.
The scene was spirited, playful and exciting while the stoic and mundane persona and personalities of ‘Steely Dan’ duo Donald Fagen and Walter Becker was accepted and overlooked and did not dampen our heart felled excitement in being there.
The musicians included Walter Becker, Donald Fagen, Bernard Purdie, Paul Griffen and myself. Also present and a contributing musician in the filming and recording was Paul Harrington, who was not an original musician on the project, but was a member of the Steely Dan touring band at that time. Also present were Elliot Reason and Roger Nichols, two recording and remix engineers that were regulars in many Steel Dan recordings.
Mysteriously absent was producer Gary Katz who was indeed the most important person in the success of Steely Dan recordings. He was the continuity director of personnel and held everything together with a watchful eye representing the record company, Warner Bros. Music. Although the songs written by Donald and Walter were exceptional in their apparent value as songs, Gary’s experience with and knowledge of the ability, success and prominence of valued studio players hired, was the link that tied the project together.
Rhythm section players – Paul Griffen, Bernard Purdie, Larry Carlton, Victor Feldman, Ed Green, Dean Parks, Steve Gadd, Rick Marada, and Joe Sample are just a few of the many celebrated studio ‘sideman’ that participated in creating the music parts, orchestrations and general feel of Steely Dan recorded music. I asked about Gary’s absence, got no answers and put it out of my mind – at another time and place, I asked Gary and got just enough to understand and to leave it alone.
With the exception of meeting for the first time Paul Harrington and although I had seen and worked with Bernard many times since the recording of ‘Aja’, with graying hair at everyone’s temples and mustaches, it was a blast to see each other together again in the same room after some 20 plus years had passed. The affair brought many memories.
We re-recorded 4 original songs from the ‘Aja’ project with added interaction among us for the sake of the film. Although it was many years ‘after the fact’ of the original recording and the interaction was planned, it was still very interesting and musical. However, I am intrigued in wondering how the outcome reality of the original circumstances and un-rehearsed interaction of the original recording of ‘Aja’ would have differed on film for the eye and ear of the public at large who bought that recording many years before.
Like Gary Katz, another unsung hero associated with Steely Dan recorded success was Jeff Pocarro. Jeff was an ‘A team’ studio call at the time and was also an ex member of the original Steely Dan band. During that time Jeff was also a member of Toto. He obviously had a very close relationship with Walter and Donald because he was always either the drummer on any demos that were presented on material to be recorded by ‘Dan’ or for sure the first drummer that I worked with on all ‘Dan’ songs in the studio. For reasons not known to me, he was not aired on the ‘Dan’ albums that I am associated with, but sure had an impact on the feel of what was recorded by the other drummer(s).
My relationship with Walter was never musically strained. During my career most associations with other bass players on a project were always musically strained a bit and somewhat uncomfortable. I found Walter to be very respectful to me, full of ideas and easy to work with and work for – even though he had a tendency to be sometimes strange, but was in his way a ‘people person’ and never difficult to get along with. On the other hand, my relationship with Donald was always a bit strained, but professional and respectful – he was always strange and not too much of a people person.
A lot has been said and written about Steely Dan recordings, Walter and Donald, some negative and some positive, this goes with the territory when a group or artist attains great success. I have been asked hundreds of times why I was not on tour with ‘Dan’ concerts, especially when they got a negative review. I feel that since none of the original players on their recorded mega hit’s from the ‘Gaucho’ back to ‘Pretzel Logic’ toured with them, no explanation is really necessary.
It’s obvious that they had their reasons for not asking any of us and it is their right to do what they think is best for them. There is a drama aspect to everything and each of us probably has a reason of our own and while some of us have talked about it from time to time, that is not my intent in writing about the subject matter – the ‘Aja’ Reunion.
Personally, after seeing them in concert a few times, I would not have felt comfortable being there for many reasons; (1) Although Tom Barney is an excellent bass player and reader, and happens to be a good personal friend, I have yet to hear a clear bass part in the mix at the ‘Dan’ concerts. Since the bass is an intricate part of the ‘Dan’s’ music, I would not like being on stage with them if they did the same to my playing on stage, (2) I’m not sure that I would have the same spirit energy musically, if a Bernard Purdie, Larry Carlton, Dean Parks, Steve Gadd, Victor Feldman, etc., were not also present on the bandstand and (3) I doubt very seriously that I would be financially accommodated to tour with them.
Up until the recording of ‘Aja’, I had been a well known and first call bass player in the world’s community of organized music with all the accolades of success however, my presence on the recording of ‘Aja’ has done more for my career than all the other projects put together. All in all, everyone must acknowledge and remember that ‘Aja’ will go down in history as one of the greatest recordings of organized music and it would not be so without the music and song genius of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.
I am very proud to have been a part of the project and I thank Gary Katz for thinking of me and putting me in Walter and Donald’s view for their music.
Interview with Mike Connolly June 25th, 2004 San Jose, CA
I have the good fortune to know Chuck Rainey for over 20 years. I first came in contact with Chuck while I was working at a Guitar String manufacturer. I was snooping through the Artist file and found a file named Chuck Rainey. I thought how could his file be lost in the artist roster. My heart almost dropped because Chuck was and is my favorite Bass Player. I got up the nerve to pick up the phone and give him a call. I did not know what to expect because at the time I was used to talking to Metal bands and musicians who were popular at the time with big egos not much talent but a lot of hair. What I found in Chuck was a humble, kind and generous man.
To me there are a handful of bass players who have sustained the span of time and have carved out specific roles in different styles of recorded music. Chuck on the other hand has carved a niche that has crossed over into many musical styles Jazz, Country, Gospel, R&B rock, Fusion, POP, Funk, Soul and many others. Chuck possesses a chameleon-like ability of stealing second bass with his interpretation of the music over and over. With Chuck it is were you put it or were you don’t put it, it’s were to sustain or were to chock, its were to sneak the chord etc.etc.etc
Chuck is one of the best storytellers I have ever met. He has very detailed memories of his career. We are going to try and give you a glimpse into Chucks view of the Steely Dan era and try to get a feel of what it was like to be in the sessions dealing with all the thing that go on that never seem to get asked. There will be many more interviews about many other artists Chuck has recorded with. So sit back, get your groove on and enjoy. – Michael Connolly
MC – What were some of the Artists / projects were you working at that time when you started to record with SD?
CR – Quincy Jones, Donald Byrd, The Ben Vereen Show, The Lola Falana Show, Robert Palmer, Barreta, Grammy Awards, Academy Awards presentations, etc.
MC – How familiar were you with Steely Dan before you got the call and what did you think of their music at that time?
CR – I was not familiar with them at all – had no idea who they were. At the time of doing the dates for the first time, I basically had no specific opinion of the music other than that I t was a job that was easy and I understood the concept. Actually it was a pleasant experience, because I love to play all kinds of music and this was a rare occasion to perform on a recording of what I call a ‘hard rock’ style of music.
MC- How did you first hook up with Steel Dan?
CR – Through Gary Katz, their producer. In was in the early 70’s, around 1973 or 4, and we spotted each other on the freeway going into Hollywood one day. At that time there were a lot of New York transplants in LA and it was always a ‘hoot’ to run across someone you knew and worked with of the New York days.
The very next day he called, we did the usual ‘what’s up with you’ and ‘how’s ‘it going’ thing which led to me being hired to come and play on a couple of ‘Dan’ recording tracks that ended up being on their ‘Pretzel Logic’ album.
MC – What equipment did you use on the sessions?
CR – My original Fender 57′ P-Bass going through a direct box. I was always a bit uncomfortable about not having an amp in the studio for my live monitor, but I was pretty much use to it by then because a lot of other studio situations were the same. The reason mainly being to avoid the sound of the bass getting into the tracks of the other instruments when recording.
MC – What was the mood in the sessions or the attitudes?
CR – Basically stoic in a way, but professional. With the personalities of guys like Jeff Pocarro or Bernard Purdy around, we were always pretty much OK with mood. Although sort of stoic at times, Gary Katz also was an uplift to mood swinging in a stall position. Mood in the recording studio is not something that the professional player is concerned with and most cases not even noticed. Musicians and music makers are already complex, strange and/or moody as a way of life to begin with and can or will function in the worst as well as the best of environments and the in-between.
Musicians that successfully make a living, cannot afford to have environmental moods affect what is musically being done. A jerk or egotistical person can play, write, produce good music while causing dim moods, etc., – they also provide the means and avenues for a musician and all parties involved to make a living. ‘Dan’ projects were never stressful to me.
Everyone makes choices from time to time as to what they choose to put up with while on projects. I’m fortunate to do something that is relatively easy for me to do for a living and learned the hard way to press on, get paid and hopefully cause a platform on which I can come back, get paid again and be a part of good music along the way.
MC – Did you have to read bass charts written for the songs or did you do your own bass lines?
CR – All my charts on all sessions were chord charts with no bass lines written. However there were occasions where Walter had great ideas, some worked out and some didn’t.
MC – How long did the sessions go for?
CR – They were always 6 hour dates that began at noon
MC – You and Purdy have a magical combination for a rhythm section what was Purdy like during the SD sessions and or in general?
CR – In general, Purdy is one of the greatest drummers that ever lived. I grew up with him musically in New York and he is a personal friend. If I were a drummer, I would play just like him. Working with him is like working with myself. He does exactly what I would do as a drummer, I know this is wishful thinking – but I trust that you get my ‘drift’.
MC – Larry Carlton?
CR – Larry is an excellent musician and a good friend. Going to work and knowing that Larry was the guitar player was always a plus for any musician.
MC – How many times were the songs recorded/changed?
CR – Many times! Every chance I get when complimented on my playing on ”Aja”, I also say that I had many many opportunities in rehearsing and recording the whole project many times.
MC – Did they try different musicians on the same music that you recorded?
CR – Always – I’m sure they did! ‘Aja’ is the best example. Just about every song on the album has a different and that drummer did the whole album.
MC – Were you and the other musicians able to offer different changes to the structure of that music?
CR – I only know about myself – No
MC – There was a time when you did some work with WB what was that about?
CR – During the period between the recordings of ”Aja” and ‘The Gaucho’, Walter was doing some recordings in Hawaii and LA on material explained to be his own project. I think that Donald had recorded his solo album ‘The Night Fly’ during this time. Walter contacted me and sent me a tape to listen to before sending for me to come to LA and record.
The material was typical Steely Dan and I wondered for a quick minute if he was attempting to do a solo album. It did not matter to me if he was or not – I was just a bass player happy to be thought of for good projects and successful people.
I listened to the music memorizing the songs and how I was going to play them. In the past all of Walter and Donald’s songs were written out on a chord chart guide by the guitar player or piano player on the sessions, but this time I had to learn each song without a chord sheet.
When I got to LA a few weeks later for the recordings, Walter had chord charts available, prepared I believe by Dean Parks. I remember how interesting it was to see how the charts differed from what I had heard on the initial tapes. As a matter of fact it was a great theory example for improvisation. What one hears is what one plays to, however an extended chord can be called various things that depend on what note is called the root of the chord. In preparing a chord chart someone initiates exactly what the chord is to be called and what note is to be played in the bass part.
The chords on the charts for these songs were strange but also musical and I was awed by the difference of what I heard as to what the chords actually were. As a matter of fact, I found the actual charts to be extremely difficult to play bass parts that were not mundane – a lot of the chords had the bass note not on the tonic of the chord and that made it difficult for me to create bass patterns.
Also strange to me was that Walter was amused and congratulatory, even with blushes, in regard to what I had come up with before I saw the charts, but insisted that I create something over the actual chord that was written with the bass part showing to be the 3rd or the 5th of the actual chord. Kind of dumb to me and also to one or two players in the group, but again I’m just a bass player in the eyes of the situation and one who was happy to get out of Dallas/Ft.Worth for a musical and progressive breath of fresh air.
To me, the music did not go anywhere exciting as did other ‘Dan’ music and I have no idea as to what ever happened with the project after that – my involvement was what it was, I got paid and enjoyed the experience.
MC – How was DF to work with and did he contribute to the musical direction?
CR – As I have mentioned earlier, it was hard from my perspective, but not stressful. The piano players on the projects had more one on one time spent with him. My contact and relationship was more with Walter and Gary or whoever the person was that wrote out the chord charts.
MC – As a bass player, how do you compare or think of yourself as a contributor to Steely Dan’s success?
CR – In listening to all of my bass tracks, I hear a style of playing that is consistent with many recordings that I have done before Steely Dan recordings. The style, touch and sound of how I approach the feel of music is known and connected to my legacy as a bass player. All in all, I think that the bass parts stand head to head with everything else in the production.
I have great pride in that and feel that my contribution was as successful and equaled to the greatness of the music. I also know that if not for the music (melody, lyric and chord progressions) written by Walter and Donald and the fact that someone was having confidence in me as a bass player, we would not be having this conversation regarding my participation with one of the most successful and talked about music of the century.
MC – What was it like to deal with them personally in the recording studio (WB) (DF)?
CR – I was very excited and elated to be around musicians and music that I had not environmentally been privy to during my career and as I got used to them, I became more aware their individual personalities – as is the case in any new found situation or environment.
Walter seemed a bit strange but was very personable and friendly, I guess it’s a bass player thing in a good way. I have found bass players to be a bit weird or intimidated by my presence on projects that were shared, but Walter was a real cool guy and I liked him ‘right of the bat’.
Donald didn’t seem strange, he was strange and before I go any further, I need to say that there is nothing wrong with being strange. Everyone has their ‘niche’ and reasons for appearing and or being strange, including me. With Donald however, it took quite a while to look past what appeared to be an introversion of his character and to accept him as he was without any prejudices, after all we were attempting to make music and making music was my job, expertise and passion.
It was interesting to hear what and how they were thinking about the music they were recording and always refreshing. Dealing with both of them was very challenging, but something that I looked forward to doing because I wanted to and I liked the music. I noticed that unfortunately it was not the same and was stressful for others – or at least it felt that way.
Because of the music presented to me, I gained great respect for them both. I never listened to the words of the material if and when they were available, the music style and melody thoughts were the catalyst that I liked a lot and seemed familiar.
I recalled hearing something familiar in their music from a band that was signed to A&M a year or so earlier – I can’t recall the name of the band at this moment
MC – Talk a bit about DF and his ‘Nightfly’ recording project.
CR – This was probably the one ‘trying time’ that I had with Donald and Gary. I tried very hard to accommodate them, but this time the mood and scene was something that I just did not care for.
I was living in Boulder at the time and Gary’s office booked and sent for me to come to LA and participate on Donald’s solo project. Upon arriving in LA, Gary asked me to be on standby while they worked some things out and that they would call me to come over and overdub to some tracks that they were preparing for me.
So the first day, I spent in my suite at the hotel in Brentwood waiting for the call. This was annoying to me, in that I was there to play not sit around. The following day, I went over to the studio just to be around and check out what was going on. They had no tracks of music value, no demo’s and no melodies, instead they had laid down a drum machine track to a song and Rick Deringer was there laying down a guitar track.
I left after a while going back to my hotel suite to sit through a 5.2 earthquake and scratch my head over being there. Later that evening they called me over to the studio and I sat through what I felt to be the dumbest music situation ever. Donald was trying to write out a simple byone figure for me to play and I was insulted.
For one, in the past there were never any guest or on lookers in the studio while we were working, but this time there were two women just sitting there. The other thing was that Donald Fagen had no professional experience in writing out anything musical, he did not have that skill. If he, Walter or Gary had an idea they would just hum it. All the writing out of anything was done by someone who professional knew what they were doing, but here I find my successful educated self in the presence of someone attempting to impress his guest by doing something he could not.
After I finally figured out what he was trying to write, I showed him how easy it was to write it and asked him why didn’t he just hum it like he always had in the past. I also told him he was wasting his time and mine. It was probably the first time I ever confronted him in that way and he probably didn’t like it, especially in front of the guest. Anyway, we got through laying down 2 tracks and I went back to my hotel and called Gary and complained.
I don’t remember if I went back the following day or not before going back to Boulder, but I do remember being professionally insulted by the whole trip. I was paid very well, but at that point I knew that my days of trying to work with him in the future were numbered and here I found myself not practicing what I would preach to someone else. That’s OK though, I’m not perfect and I can be pissed off too.
I am somewhat disappointed or appalled to have done so much creativity for Walter and Donald only to find that my creativity was claimed as theirs or Donald’s in publications. There is a book out on the market entitled Pop Bass Lines and in it are two Steely Dan or maybe one from Donald’s solo album that I and I alone created the entire part, but the credit says, by Donald Fagen. I feel sorry for him, because his Spirit must be sad because of his egotism.
When I was writing columns for Bass Player Magazine, I included a passage that I played on the bridge of ‘Peg’ for a Jamerson style study in improvisation and the magazine received a call from Hal Leonard, the publisher administrator of the song and claimed that the magazine and I were in violation of using the pattern without permission and demanded add space in the magazine for payment.
The bass pattern on the bridge of ‘Peg’ is totally my creation and it’s crap like that among other things that causes reasons to be angry with Walter and Donald – as they openly admit too on the ‘Remaking of ‘Aja” project. I don’t know what the specifics were or are of the problems that some of the other players have with them, but I certainly have mine.
In speaking of the ‘Remaking of ‘Aja” project; a few months after participating in the project, I began to receive positive E-mails from fans in Europe in regards to the DVD that was out and began attempting to get one through the producer, the ‘Dan’ manager and even Walter only to be completely ignored after several attempts on all fronts. I still don’t have it and refuse to buy it. This kinda tells me what frame of mind they are in on all fronts and I accept it all with no problem. Musically, the whole world knows of my contribution and I enjoyed most of it very much – there will never be a next time.
MC – What was Gary Katz’s contributions/ involvement/t in the SD sessions and how was it for him to inter act with WB ,DF and the musicians?
CR – Gary was the producer and contractor on all dates. He was the eyes and ears of the record company responsible for musicians, recording studio, fees to arrangers and musicians, etc. He acted as and seemed to be a member of ‘Dan’. His interaction with Walter, Donald and the musicians was as if he were a partner and member. If it was anything less or more, it certainly was not apparent to me.
MC – What other Katz productions did you record on?
CR -The Mirettes, ‘Eye To Eye’, Jr. Parker, ‘The Night Fly’/Donald Fagen are the ones that first come to mind, but during the New York days back before album projects came into being a way of recordings productions, Bernard Purdy and I frequently worked with Gary on ‘singles’ projects.
MC – What is your opinion of SD last few CDs compared to the ones you recorded on?
CR – I think that the magic was over after ‘The Gaucho’ recording and that’s not meaning to say that the following recordings were not good – they are good records. Somehow I feel that the last few CD’s sound more like a group emulating Steely Dan, rather than the recordings actually being Steely Dan.
My opinion has absolutely nothing to do with me not playing on those recordings. As a matter of fact, very few recording artist are able to continue making astounding mega hit popular top chart records, ‘there is only so much in the gas tank’ of any artist.
MC – Why do you think that you or Purdy, Carlton or any of the players who were on the songs that made SD what they were at the time were not given the proper credit or asked to do the tours?
CR -With exception of the ‘Greatest Hits’ CD’s, I think we were given proper credit, no more can be done than to list on the original recordings the names of the musicians. As far as touring with them, they may be a bit strange but are certainly not gluttons for the attitudes and punishment that financially secure sidemen can dish out if and when things get funky from management or WB and DF.
The recording studio scene is much different than being in a touring band. When attitudes and charades of egoism appear in a band by financial and career secure musicians, a life of hell is in store for management and leaders, not mentioning salary’s to fit each individual’s worth. They absolutely did the best thing for them in those respects.
MC – On the instruments that they play, what is your opinion or impression of Walter and Donald’s musicianship?
CR – Contrary to what I’ve heard and read about their playing, Walter is definitely a good bass player for what he envisions about his music. However, like Paul McCartney, he is not a bass player’s bass player or one of the ‘cats’ per say, who functions in all kinds of music genres – he is however a legit bass player with bass player skills. He is also the same as a guitar player.
All musicians have limits and he having a limited physical inability to play what he sometimes creatively hears causes him to work with other bass players that have more experience in organized music. As a guitar player, the same applies.
Donald is in the same category as a piano player. He is an adequate musician for his songs, but just lacks the experience(s) and playing ability of other piano players with more ability and experience.
Walter and Donald both are aware of their short comings, which is more than I can say for other musicians who really think that they are competitive with all musicians. They both are aware of how far they can go with their musicianship and know when it’s necessary to involve someone else in order to satisfy what the concept of their music needs.
MC – You have had and are still enjoying a stellar career in participating in many successful recordings. How do you compare your work with Steely Dan in comparison to those other successful projects that you have been involved in?
CR – Basically anyone born after 1975 makes no connection to me in organized music and that includes musicians and music makers, unless of course they have ears to know where, when and who the current music styles came from.
Even the current artist and musician’s surviving from the era of the music before 1975, have moved into what is current today. I am basically considered and thought of as an ‘oldie’ by the current standards of thought in the arena of today’s music scene .
The Quincy Jones, Donald Byrd, Aretha Franklin, Gary McFarland, King Curtis, Herbie Mann, Marvin Gaye, Lowell George, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Rascals’ of yesterdays music era is not known nor are they a main subject matter in and of today’s music enthusiast. If and when they are, those recordings are copied and the basic listener has no knowledge of where it came.
Musicians participating in the hit’s of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s are indeed unsung hero’s and soon forgotten as time passes. The bulk of my fan base through E-mail, clinic appearances and stage performances are 90% based on being recognized as the bass player on many Steely Dan recordings. Where I came from musically and the great music hit’s that I was involved in before Steely Dan has meaning to me, but the current bulk of my reputation today is because of Steely Dan.
Musically, I feel that out of all the music that I have participated in and enjoyed, At the top of my list is ‘Aja’ along with Quincy Jones’s ‘Summer in the City’ and Bobbi Humphrey’s ‘Harlem River Drive’. Noticing however, that without Steely Dan in my career, I would not be as known or legendary in the sight and ears of the world’s community of music. Despite the things that I have said in this interview that may seem negative, I applaud my spirit for preparing and causing a path professionally for me to participate in Walter and Donald’s music. I have been to many mountain tops in music, but the ‘Dan’ was the highest and best known to more people.
MC – What is your favorite SD recording?
CR – Oddly enough, my favorite recording is one that I was not aired on. I remember playing the whole ‘Gaucho’ project and liking in particular the song ‘The New Frontier’, but they obviously felt that they got a better performance with another rhythm section that included Anthony Jackson on bass. So, the SD recording that I listen to more than any of the ones that I played on is ‘The New Frontier’. Anthony has a great feel on it and I really like the song and the groove.
If your asking about a track of their recordings that I was aired on, I would put ‘Kid Chalemane’, ‘Green Earrings’ and ‘Aja’ at the top of a list if forced to make one. Actually I like all my tracks equally, but I think it’s also the song structures as well as what I played on them that has me a fan of the music.