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: James “Hutch” Hutchinson
Bands & Artists: Bonnie Raitt, Neville Brothers, Etta James, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Bob Seger, Roy Orbison, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, Ivan Neville, David Crosby, B.B. King, Linda Ronstadt, Joe Cocker, Ziggy Marley, Boz Scaggs, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lyle Lovett, Keb’ Mo’
Home: Haiku-Pauwela, Maui, Hawaii and Los Angeles, California
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
I’ve been running in the morning with my wife, Leslie, and our dog, Kui, on Maui’s north shore, trying to stay healthy both mentally and physically. From there, I usually spend a few hours playing—honing my chops on U-Bass, ukulele, and guitar—doing some remote sessions on bass, and figuring out some new gear. I was rehearsing with Bonnie Raitt in the Bay Area for her upcoming tour when the pandemic hit and our west coast warm-up dates started being postponed. So I flew to L.A., closed up our house there, caught one of the last flights to Maui, and quarantined at home in Haiku for 14 days. I had played an impromptu gig at Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael on Saturday, March 7th, with my friend Roger McNamee and his band Doobie Decimal System. Roger’s a pretty prescient guy in the tech and financial sectors, and he mentioned before the set that this might be the last time any of us plays a gig for awhile. Boy, was he right.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
Practice comes during my few hours of playing each day, which is easy to do with a home studio. I love Logic Pro X. It’s fun to play along with, and it’s great for tracking remotely.
What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?
As always, I listen to a wide variety of music. Lately it’s been Tom Petty: An American Treasure, which my friend [Petty organist] Benmont Tench helped compile, and The Live Anthology. A staple is Hawaiian slack key legend, Gabby Pahinui, with the late, great Joe Marshall on bass. Gabby was a big influence on Ry Cooder, who has been putting up some amazing material on Bandcamp and his Instagram page. Check out his LA Banda-style version of the Stones’ “Under My Thumb” on Bandcamp. I believe the proceeds go to Covid-19 relief on the Navajo reservation. I’ve been listening to Norwegian singer-songwriters Ane Brun and Mari Boine, and the early-Dylan box set, Man on the Street. Michael Rische’s recent recordings of C.P.E. Bach’s Keyboard Concertos are fantastic. Late in the day, I’ll listen to Aaron Copland and Francesco Geminiani, who frequently composed with the bass in mind. Bass-wise I’ve been listening to my friend, the late Bob Babbitt’s 1970s recordings with the Temptations and Marvin Gaye—the psychedelic soul period. Also, some Aston “Family Man” Barrett with the Wailers, and John Paul Jones with Led Zeppelin—the latest live releases sound terrific. And lastly, I always listen to Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. I recently found a recording online of a Wolf show that I’d attended as a 13-year-old, in 1966. Afterward I went out and bought a Gibson EB-0, that I still have, and an Ampeg B-15.
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
I’m digging the Phil Jones Bighead HA-1; it’s super portable and has many uses—from recording to a practice amp. I’ve been going through my trunk of effects and I love Aguilar’s Chorusaurus. Ampeg sent me the new BA-112V2, which is a fun little amp for around the house and maybe even a small gig. Sadly, my Upton Gary Karr Double Bass, which has an adjustable/removeable neck, is sitting in L.A., as I was waiting for a flight case. The pandemic has messed with supply chains in many ways. I have my NS Design CRT Electric Upright Bass handy, if needed.
What non-music activities books, shows, movies, or workout recommendations do you have?
I read constantly; many topics and mostly non-fiction: Harvard Musicologist Thomas Forrest Kelly’s First Nights: Five Musical Premieres, which illustrates that when it comes to putting on a show, not much has changed from 1600 to the present. Promoters, musicians, and venues still deal with us in similar ways. The Ghosts Of A Whiter Shade of Pale, by Henry Scott-Irvine, which is the story of Procol Harum, with a nice forward by Martin Scorcese. Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, by Christina Thompson, a very good book about interactions with Polynesian cultures—the title is a type of Māori greeting and it’s not as dire as it sounds. We’ve been watching After Life, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Outlander, which we love. I hike the Peahi coast everyday. I’ve been brushing up on my Hawaiian language skills. And I’ve also made a point to stay in touch with friends—some of whom I may have neglected by having been busy touring and recording the past few years. One wonderful reconnection was with the great bassist Danny Thompson.
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
I was busy right up to the lockdown, recording the theme for the Netflix show, Money Heist, with Samantha Powell, and tracking some blues records with Nick Schnebelen, Phil Colombatto, and Johnny Ray Jones at Johnny Lee Schell’s Ultratone Studio in Studio City, California. I had started co-producing a UK folk/rock artist named Holly Lerski, who I met years back when she was opening for John Hiatt in London. We’re doing it at Ultratone, as well, with our little repertory group of musicians: Johnny Lee playing guitar and engineering, drummer and frequent producer Tony Braunagel, keyboardist Mike Finnigan, and Spanish guitarist Diego Garcia. I’ve been doing work with the Playing For Change organization and engineer/producer/founder Mark Johnson. A video of the Band’s “The Weight” that we filmed last year, featuring Ringo, Robbie Robertson, Larkin Poe, and other artists from around the world, has taken off during the pandemic. I played bass on the track and later filmed a video segment here in Hawaii with my friend, singer-songwriter John Cruz, using my Lakeland Skyline Hollowbody 30 [Below]. Mainly, I’m looking forward to hitting the road again with Bonnie, hopefully for a rescheduled tour of Canada opposite James Taylor [Here]. We’ve also cut some demos for a new record, as Bonnie is always looking forward.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
I try to concentrate on staying healthy and expanding my knowledge musically, and in as many other ways as possible. Life gets tough sometimes but we will make it through this physically, socially, and politically difficult time. It’s very important to remember that. Keeping active physically and mentally is essential right now; especially for we who are creative personalities, as our outlets for that creativity have in some cases seemingly disappeared. Things will change and most likely in a positive way. I’ve been doing this professionally for over 50 years, I ain’t done yet, man!
Read all 180+ Bass Magazine Check-in Features: Here
All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi