As the world continues to recover from the Coronavirus, we're all finding ourselves in unfamiliar territory given the subsequent lockdown that is keeping us off of stages and confined to our homes. Luckily, there's comfort in the fact that we're all in this together, and that there are still many outlets for us musicians to keep us active and sane throughout this quarantine. We're checking in with bass players from all over the world to see what they're doing to stay entertained, healthy, productive, and safe during this trying time.
Bass Player: Rufus Philpot
Bands & Artists: Scott Kinsey, Scott Henderson, Mitchell Forman, Planet X, Derek Sherinian, Down to the Bone, B.A.D.
Home: Los Angeles, California
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
On the work side, I’ve been quite busy teaching. With my students, we look at new ways to work on improvising, technique, walking bass concepts, and bass line creation. It’s been helping me to reassess where my weak spots are, as well. With so much potential free time on everyone’s hands, music study seems a great way to keep busy and creative. I’ve created some downloadable video lessons on fingerboard mastery, essential solo lines for jazz, and practical chords for bass, and I’m working on another series of essential lines. I also wrote a prelude for bass guitar, and I’m working on a new series of bass etudes, which will have lots of ideas to expand your vocabulary. Just as the pandemic was first emerging, I managed to get my 1986 Wal Rufus Philpot custom bass sent from the UK, after 20 years apart! I’ve been getting used to playing her all over again, including posting a few videos. I was only 18 when I met Ian Waller and gave him my ideas, which he translated into the first ever 24-fret, single neck, fretted Wal, as I understand it.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
In addition to my fretted Wal, I got a gorgeous vintage Wal fretless recently, so I’ve been trying to develop and improve on fretless. I’ve posted a few things on Instagram and I’ve done some fretless sessions. I grew up loving Mick Karn, Percy Jones, John Giblin, and Laurence Cottle, who all play Wals, so I’m sort of coming full circle to my earliest fretless influences. I’ve been revisiting my prelude for bass guitar to find different fingerings and performance approaches and options—constant refinement! I’ve been studying some of the virtuoso horn players and revisiting some fantastic solos by Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, and Pat Metheny. One of the devices I’ve been employing is taking a one-, two-, or four-bar phrase of theirs, isolating it, and playing into and out of the phrase with my own ideas; then gradually altering the phrase to fit different chords and harmonic structures. Internalizing melodic content is the goal here.
What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?
Kate Bush, David Sylvian, Japan, and Brand X. Kate’s first four or five records; Sylvian’s Brilliant Trees, with the great Danny Thompson on acoustic bass; Japan’s Tin Drum—Steve Jansen and Karn, what a rhythm section; and Brand X’s Masques and Do They Hurt? I’m a huge vinyl record collector and fan, so I prefer all of these on LP, where possible. I’ve also been revisiting the Police, Elvis Costello, and Peter Gabriel. The bass parts in these bands are so integral and vital to the tunes; think of “Walking on the Moon,” “Sledgehammer,” or “Pump it Up”—incredible! And I always listen to classic ’60s jazz, like Joe Henderson, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Sam Rivers, Lee Morgan, and Art Blakey.
Rufus Philpot’s Discusses his D Minor Prelude for Bass Guitar:
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
After many years with Gallien-Kreuger, who are terrific people, I started endorsing Trickfish amps. I especially like their 112 cabinets and the Bullhead amps are killer. The gear is compact, extremely well built, and the way it’s voiced seems to suit my personal playing style and vision. Plus, I’ve been using their Minnow DI/preamp for social media posts; it adds a nice bit of “vibe” to the tone and it’s built like a tank. I confess to having a serious addiction to envelope filter pedals, and I recently aquired two killer ones: The Seamoon Funk Machine—which is designed by New York studio legend Neil Jason and emaculately recreates the vintage ’70s pedal the Brecker Brothers band used on albums like Heavy Metal Bebop—and the Source Audio Spectrum Intelligent Filter. I also love the Source Audio C4 Synth pedal. I’m going to do a three-envelope-pedal video roundup with the Seamoon, Spectrum, and Mike Beigel’s new Mu-Tron III. It seems in most gear demos online that bassists play a couple of slap licks and that’s it. So I try to evaluate how a pedal sounds with a slower, greasier, finger-pluck groove, a 16th-note staccato passage, and blowing in the solo register, in addition to slapping—the styles that professional bassists tend to look for.
What non-music activities, books, shows, movies, or workout recommendations do you have?
I’m a huge mountain bike fan, which means almost daily rides in the San Gabriel or Santa Monica Mountains. My current ride is a seven-year-old Giant Trance X 29 0; the large wheels help roll faster over the gnarly stuff. My bike tech did a full suspension rebuild, and combined with new brakes, seat post, chain, chain rings, and cassette, it’s almost a new bike! I think everyone should get outside on a daily basis—being safe and smart, of course. Mentally, seeing the sun, sky, and wildlife is so good for the mind and body. I get a huge thrill seeing a lynx, a deer, or a spectacular rattlesnake on the trail. As a kid I loved reptiles, so snakes always fascinate me—just don’t pick ’em up! For home viewing, I think the single most powerful and engrossing show I’ve watched all is Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. I came to it late, after Anthony’s tragic passing, and I was immediately hooked. I love his straight talking, opinionated, yet never patronizing approach to his subject matter. He manages to cover pithy social and economic issues with the more troubled spots he visits, while simultaneously being genuinely interested to learn from the locals, and get you hooked on the region’s culture and cuisine!
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
I’ve been doing some remote recordings for friends’ CDs. I play in a trio with drummer Kirk Covington and keyboardist Scott Tibbs, and we’ve been discussing recording a new album remotely. As much fun as recording live together is, I also like coming up with bass parts to existing drum tracks. Our last CD, Starship Cadillac, started as a live jam/recording and then Scott and I later fine-tuned our parts, applying a more compositional approach. Overall, I think the world will not return to exactly how it was, so we need to adapt. And we could sure use some new, quality music. So many Youtube videos are compilations of old performances or top ten lists of performances that have been recycled endlessly. I don’t want to see Led Zeppelin as the world’s greatest rock band in a video poll for the 50th time. I absolutely love them, but I want to learn something new. That’s why I tend to champion Mick Karn, John Giblin, Carles Benavent, or Michel Alibo, who most of my students have never heard of. Also, what’s with the “beast mode” thing? These expressions make me wince. How about a video entitled, “That time Wayne Shorter played the most lyrical phrase on ‘Infant Eyes,’ which made you cry?” Or “The top ten most musical bass solos of all time?” Of course, it’s all subjective, but I see a lot of emphasis on speed and chops without a nod to harmony, musicality, or finding something individual.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
Study something new daily! Even if it’s four bars of a Rocco Prestia groove, the melody from Joe Henderson’s “Isotope,” or finally tackling the modes of the harmonic minor scale—anything that leads you to discover what you don’t know on your instrument.
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All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi