There was a period in which I was a sponge, absorbing a lot of music and formulating in my own head whether I really wanted to be a bass player. I was encountering all kinds of stuff: Afro-Cuban and straight-ahead jazz, of course, and then the funk music that was coming out at the time, which I was listening to with my homies. Most of these tracks were instrumental in my development back then, and some of them have continued to influence me in my latter-day career. I think of them as “the bass of my life.”
Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring the songs mentioned below:
Carly Simon, Soup for One: Original Soundtrack (Mirage, 1982)
Bernard Edwards was both the bassist on this record and a co-producer, along with Nile Rodgers. It took them to a different context than Chic, but it kept their whole concept of the rhythm section: It wasn’t necessarily all the stuff that they were playing, it was just the fact that it was such a killing pocket. Working together, but also being sensitive to everybody else—I took a lot of that for playing in big bands.
“It’s Good to Be Alive”
D.J. Rogers, It’s Good to Be Alive (RCA, 1975)
My brother Kenny was very into D.J. As I kept listening to “It’s Good to Be Alive,” I finally caught on to something in it that just wasn’t happening anywhere else: it was two basses, a bass line and an overdub. As I started playing bass more, I wanted more and more to find out who this bassist was, because it was so happening. It was this guy Keith Hatchell, not tremendously well-known. I think he’s still alive; I’ve tried to get in touch with him just to say how much of an effect he had on me.
Dizzy Gillespie, Dizzy in Greece (Verve, 1957)
I used to hear this tune all the time, and I knew that that bass was killin’—check out the two-bar break at the top. But I had no idea that my bass teacher was the guy playing on this record, not until a couple years after I stopped taking lessons with him. “Aw, man! The same Paul West who used to be pissed off at me for coming to lessons late?” Same cat. A cool guy who’ll put his foot in your ass if you need him to. He’s got good notes. They make sense. What more do you want?
“Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up”
Barry White, Stone Gon’ (20th Century, 1973)
Wilton Felder was the tenor player in the Crusaders, so when I saw him credited with the bass on Barry White’s record, I thought it must be a typo. I didn’t find out until later that he could play both—and he was good! The bass on “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up” is so tight and tastefully done that you can sit down with this record and a piece of paper and write out the line in real time. It’s a textbook for superior rhythm section playing: funky, soulful, and to the point.
Eddie “Gua Gua” Rivera
“Nada de Ti”
Eddie Palmieri, The Sun of Latin Music (Coco, 1974)
When I was maybe eight or nine, I played conga, and my brother Kenny and I had a percussion duo. This record was played a lotin the house: an early influence. But I never knew who played the bass until finally I heard the name of Eddie “Gua Gua” Rivera, and checking him out pulled me into so many other things; Afro-Cuban bass is a different kingdom.
“Never Will I Marry”
Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley (Capitol, 1961)
I started listening to this record even before I played bass, for two reasons: because Cannonball’s alto sax playing was so joyous, and because Nancy Wilson on the cover looked ridiculously fine. Then my brother started playing with Sam Jones, and I took to him, hard. “Never Will I Marry” is a great example of why: The way he was attacking the instrument—a little bit funkier—I could emulate that better than I could an Oscar Pettiford or a Paul Chambers.
“Shoot’n Up and Gett’n High”
Plantation Lullabies (Maverick, 1993)
Meshell is such an interesting soul. She played with some of the go-go cats in D.C., and was also listening to Paul Jackson on Herbie’s Headhunters records. Then she got into Steve Coleman. She played me a very early, rough mix of this tune, and you could hear all that stuff she’d absorbed, but also how she’d developed it into her own singular rhythmic concept. She’s not a soloist, but she’s got a gift for understanding a groove, and her feeling is open and organic.
Graham Central Station (Warner Bros., 1974)
Larry spans my whole lifetime, even to this day. “Hair,” that’s a pain-in-the-ass tune, man. I’ve had to play it with some R&B singers, and I had to practice it. I even went to YouTube looking for videos of Larry doing it live. I have such a hard time counting that shit off—I think it’s right and then all of a sudden it’s not. It is so horribly funky. You have to throw the scholarly approach aside and just get ’groid to feel it.
[As told to Michael J. West]