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The Bill Laswell Interview: Holding It Down

A rare chat with the bassist-producer

Bill Laswell (r.) with Milford Graves at The Stone, NYC
Chad Smith and Bill Laswell during sessions for "The Process"
Charles Hayward, Bill Laswell and Fred Frith in Massacre
Bill Laswell

“And it was kind of magic, as everything should be,” says the prolific and imposing bassist-producer Bill Laswell, 60, seated in the Landmark Tavern in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Almost wistfully, he’s remembering the road trip that relocated him from Michigan to New York City in the late ’70s. The first place Laswell and his associates stopped in New York was in front of a building marked “Musicians’ Union,” and they moved into an adjacent rehearsal complex.

Kool & the Gang was living there too; Steve Gadd would practice there. Laswell wouldn’t stay at the address long though. He moved downtown, winding up next door to Brian Eno. The bassist would bug Eno for work, and, after reading a glowing review of a Laswell concert, Eno extended an invite to the studio. Laswell would play bass on and co-arrange the opening track from the Eno/David Byrne classic My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Then, in response to Laswell’s Eno efforts, producer Tony Meilandt connected Laswell and Michael Beinhorn, the bassist’s collaborator in the group Material, with Herbie Hancock, resulting in 1983’s game-changing “Rockit,” which was co-written and co-produced by Laswell and features turntablist GrandMixer DXT. And it was all kind of magic: Before the age of 30, Laswell had cast a spell on the music world.

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