Never before have I been in a situation where I had to play bass lines written by someone else for a whole set. It is a challenge for sure, and an eye-opening experience as far as pushing my style in a different direction.
Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. He writes about what music is circulating through his space every Monday.
On June 9 and 11, I will be playing two European shows with Jane's Addiction. These gigs come at a time when we have been writing new songs for a while, and it's a chance to get outside the studio and sort of shake off the dust. But first I had to learn some of their old catalogue.
In all the bands I've been in, we have always done covers of other artists. GNR did Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "Mama Kin" by Aerosmith. Neurotic Outsiders did "New Rose" by the Damned; VR did "Surrender" by Cheap Trick and "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd. And Loaded has done everything from "TNT" by AC/DC to "Purple Rain" by Prince. But all these covers were played by bands I had already been playing with for some time. They were simply our interpretations of these songs . . . good or bad.
A couple of weeks ago, as I was in the Jane's rehearsal room going through a set of JA classics, I found myself feeling really uncomfortable and unsettled. I couldn't figure it out. Was my bass rig not sounding right? Could I not hear Steven Perkins' bass drum well enough? Was I playing in the right groove and at the right volume? These are not things one should be thinking while playing. You should be in the moment and let things flow. And suddenly it dawned on me: I was playing bass parts for a whole set of songs that were written by someone else WITH the band that had recorded them. Oh . . . this is new!JA's founding bassist, Eric Avery, was always a guy whom I very much respected as a bass player. Back in the mid-'80s club days in L.A., I remember going to see JA just to watch Avery and Perkins. The way they interwove rhythm was ridiculous, and a bit groundbreaking. For some reason over the years, he and I never actually met. This added to his mystique for me. So now as I am playing some of those bass lines, I feel the pressure that I perceive is probably out there. You know: Everyone will be looking at ME to see how I play those beloved bass lines, an integral part of the JA sound.
Really good bass players are a very rare thing in rock music. James Jamerson and Donald "Duck" Dunn from the Motown and Stax Records days set a high-water mark that has only been just touched upon since then.
John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin borrowed heavily from those two, but then added a lot of his own mojo and passed it forward for anyone else to try and improve on. Eric Avery and Robert DeLeo (from Stone Temple Pilots) have probably been the closest as far as carrying on JPJ's lineage, and this is meant as a huge compliment.
Paul Simonon from the Clash set the tone for me, as far as modern-day bass players go. He has such a killer sense of pocket and style. Randy Rampage from DOA and Simonon were for sure the two bassists who I chose to follow and mimic when I decided to switch from guitar to the four-strings in 1984.
Some of the great bass players from the post-'70s punk and noise era introduced more of a mood, almost a sense of color, to stereos around the world. Raven from Killing Joke is a good example of where the actual playing is not the thing that gets you; it's the attitude in which it's played that makes you want to break shit.
Krist Novoselic is a monster player too. Guys who I know and play with realize what a huge part he had in Nirvana's makeup. Without Krist being the aggressive and melodic player that he is and was, those records would have been oh-so-much different. You can actually hear his style develop and mature from Bleach to Nevermind to In Utero. I like it when I can hear and recognize a player getting better. I feel like I am somehow a part of it.
OK. So here I am, playing older Jane's songs and trying to be true to those bass lines while trying to infuse some of my own thing (whatever THAT is!). We are writing new songs, and I can only hope to leave my mark somehow and not do any damage to this great legacy.
At the end of the day, I still love what I do and am lucky to make a living at a thing that is also my passion.