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: Jack Casady
Bands & Artists: Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Starship, SVT, Acoustic Hot Tuna
Home: Los Angeles, California and Jersey, the Channel Islands
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
Opportunity always rears its head in the oddest of circumstances. Due to touring and owning a second home in the Channel Islands, I haven’t spent much time in my L.A. home over the last ten years. So when I got locked down here I went to work on various house projects. I replaced some flooring from termite damage, I repaired and restored some antique furniture, and I went room by room and cleared out stuff that had accumulated. I’m an avid hiker and biker, but the trails were closed for awhile here, so I finished building my home gym; it has a functional trainer, a leg press machine, a barbell press, hand weights, and a treadmill. I try to use it five days a week—I love the discipline involved. Musically, Jorma and Vanessa Kaukonen have been putting on weekly Covid-19 webcast concerts from their Fur Peace Ranch, and I’ve been playing along with them in my home studio and then posting those to the Hot Tuna/Jorma Kaukonen Fan Facebook page, which has been fun [Here]. Jorma is going back through his entire catalog, so I’m getting to play rarely heard compositions. We have some surprises upcoming.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
I pick up the instrument and play it a good hour every day—not a regimen, per say, but I try cover all the different areas of the fingerboard. Over the last six years of mainly playing the acoustic bass guitar, I feel like I’m at last entering a territory of playing it unlike I would play the electric bass guitar. I’m trying to be a true acoutic bass guitarist. It’s part of my ongoing quest of always chasing tone. It has helped save my hearing, as well. I’ve also been working on new music with my partner in crime [producer/engineer] Stacy Parrish. Over the last three years of recording in L.A. and the Channel Islands, with people like the harmonica player Ross Guerin, cellist Isiah Gage, electronic music composer/guitarist Daniel Masson, and Yair Dalal, who plays oud and violin, Stacy and I have assembled about 25 instrumental pieces, which we’re in the process of mixing.
What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?
One of my home projects was to get back into the vinyl, analog experience. I dragged out my Thorens turntable, that I bought in 1968, and I installed my Dynaudio speakers and my new Conrad-Johnson ET6 vacuum tube preamp and Conrad-Johnson Classic 120 stereo power amp. Then I went through my collection, randomly, which is wide-ranging: Pianist Sviatoslav Richter playing Rachmaninoff, rhythm-and-blues singer and pianist Amos Milburn, pipe organist Alan Morrison’s American Voyage, electronic music composer/guitarist Daniel Masson’s Baul Dimension, pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi, opera singer Claron McFadden’s Veldhuis: Paradiso, and a Brazilian opera singer from the ’50s named Bidu Sayão. I also devote some of my time to downloading music I know nothing about. I heartily recommend searching out music you haven’t heard before.
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
My Tom Ribbecke Diana Series acoustic bass guitars. I have three and the fourth one is being built by Tom now [Here]. It will have a round shape, like number three, as opposed to the teardrop shape of numbers one and two, and it has a floating top that moves inside the instrument. I got on a quest in 2012 because playing opposite Jorma—in my opinion the greatest acoustic guitarist alive—I wanted to have a top-notch acoustic bass guitar, not just a jumbo guitar with no science in it. Tom is one of the few builders who has put the time and the science into it. I’ve also taken out my 1930s bass balalaika and my 1911 mandobass—both of which I got in the ’60s—and my bass banjo, an oddity made in China, in 1906. I had Rick Turner, who built my Alembic Bass #1, in 1971, add a high G string to the balalaika bass. I played it on Jefferson Airplane’s “Third Week in the Chelsea” [from Bark, 1971] and a few other Airplane and Hot Tuna songs. I’m trying to fix the bass banjo; the neck snapped off, and I want to insert a couple of truss rods in it. And of course I still play and love my Epiphone Jack Casady Signature Model basses, my Aguilar DB 285 JC “Little Jack” cabinet, my Alessandro Basset Hound head, and my Versatone Pan-O-Flex amp.
What non-music activities, books, shows, or movie recommendations do you have?
At Jorma’s recommendation, I’ve been watching The Strain on Hulu, which seems timely. And I’ve been reading a lot of historical titles.
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
I think we’re still in a wait-and-see pattern. Right after the pandemic started I said to someone, You know what would work is if you bring back drive-in movies and throw concerts instead. And sure enough they started doing that in Denmark, and now it has reached the U.S. We had postponed all Hot Tuna dates for 2020; I hope we can resume those as soon as it’s safe to do so. People will want to hear live music and we want to play it! In the meantime, the live streaming shows have been a great boon. Jorma continues to teach online and I’m going start to teaching, too, as soon as I can get some techncial issues together. And I’ll be releasing an instrumental album culled from all the new music I’ve been recording with Stacy Parrish.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
Stay busy, stay creative. Find something fun to do—or even if it’s not fun, enjoy the fact that you did it and did it well. The quarantine also gives you time to reflect on your place in the world and your purpose in the world. This is a reset in so many ways. Hopefully it will open your mindset instead of closing it down.
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All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D’Auria & Chris Jisi