In 1985, Beaver Felton’s career as a bass player was rocketing to new heights, as his playing in the Orlando scene and teachings as an instructor were reaching people all over. This included Mike Varney of Guitar Player magazine, who was about to run a spotlight article about him that would surely thrust his career even further. But Felton’s rising trajectory and ambitious plans seemingly came to an abrupt halt when got into a car accident on the way to a gig. He sustained major spinal injuries and was left paralyzed from the waist down. Having been a national champion olympic weightlifter-turned performing musician for the whole of his life, his world was now turned upside down. But unlike many people in that position, Felton was determined to move forward and work even harder towards his success.
It was a week into his recovery that the Guitar Player feature was released, followed by articles in the West German music magazine Fachblatt Musikmagazin and then Inside Bass in Switzerland, which added to his notoriety and credibility in the bass world. Felton knew he had to ride that wave as he made his next moves. After becoming a finalist in the 1990 D’Addario solo contest and also in the 1991 Marshall Stun contest, he decided to take his teachings and turn them in to Superchops instructional audio and video recordings, which were then picked up by Hot Licks, Metal Method, MVP (Music Video Production), and Hal Leonard, and distributed all over the world. By now he was getting praised as an influence by players like Victor Wooten, Will Lee, Bill Dickens, and others, and a generation of up-and-coming bassists were learning from his materials. But in never settling, Felton got the idea to open a bass-only store that catered to low enders in supplying them with instruments that weren’t easily available to purchase at the time. And thus, Bass Central was born in 1996.
Putting his life savings into the venture and rolling the dice on a risky business move, Felton quickly procured 45 basses and filled his Florida storefront with bass accessories and gear. It became evident early on that his risk paid off, as more and more players flocked to Orlando to peruse Bass Central and get their hands on the gear that they only read about in magazines or saw in music videos. Now, at 67, Felton is seeing his vision blossom, as Bass Central is one of the largest and most popular bass stores in the country, with a stock of between 500-600 instruments at all times. Never letting adversity sway his path, Felton has proven that with enough determination and love for what you do, you can accomplish anything, regardless of the obstacles you face.
How and when did you first start playing bass?
I started out on drums and that’s when I discovered my love for music by listening to The Beatles. I was in sixth grade when I realized I was more interested in playing guitar, but my friends played guitar, so they asked me to play bass. I agreed and at first I played the bass lines on my electric guitar; then I went out and bought a 4-string bass, which I still own. It’s 54 years old now.
What attracted you to bass once you started playing it?
My first bass hero was Paul McCartney, and then I got into Jack Bruce and Cream and Chris Squire and Yes, and that’s when I started truly taking it seriously. I began taking lessons and I wanted to know what theory was all about. But that’s about all of the formal training I’ve had. I just love this instrument. I don’t want to play guitar; I only want to play bass. But I want to do it like Jaco, Stanley, and the players I grew up idolizing.
In the early ’80s you created and released your Superchops instructional series. What inspired that idea?
I’m a very methodical person and what I did was steal an idea from guitarist Doug Marks. He had always been successful in placing ads in Cream magazine and other music magazines. The way he set up his instructional series was in tiers, like Beginner 1, Beginner 2, Intermediate, Advanced, and so on. I ran with that and ended up putting out over 30 titles. I targeted different styles and different playing levels to try to make it accessible to everyone who picks up a bass. I wasn’t the first to do this by any stretch, but I put out so many courses that they ended up being distributed on six continents and used by a whole lot of people.
What is it like having Will Lee, Victor Wooten, and other prominent bassists cite you as an influence?
It’s good for the ego, but pretty surreal. I met Vic when I was a featured player at a ’90s NAMM show. I had just started hearing that this new guy named Victor Wooten was going to become the next Stanley Clarke. I got off the stage and Vic came up and started talking to me, and told me he had heard my tapes and liked my playing a lot. I invited him onto the stage when I performed next, and I learned something valuable that I will share with you all now: Never invite Vic onto your stage! Never do it. When he started playing, I just disintegrated. The whole audience went crazy for him and it was like I disappeared. But still, he praised me up and down and we’ve been close friends ever since.
In 1985 you were involved in an accident, but that didn’t stop you from doing what you love. How did that experience drive you to succeed as you have?
I would love to say that I’m just a naturally gifted person, but the truth of it is I grew up with a dad who worked seven days a week; my family was hard working, so it was definitely a learned behavior. I was a championship athlete and then went to being onstage my whole life as an entertainer. To go from that to being a paraplegic in a wheelchair was very difficult. All I can say is that I was fortunate to have a huge support system all around me. By nature, I’m a workaholic, so I just kept going and focused my attention and energy on pursuing bigger things.
After the accident, [journalist] Mike Varney and I spoke once the article he did on me ran a week after my accident, and he told me that I should come out to Los Angeles to play with the groups he was producing. I told him I had sustained a serious injury and I couldn’t just hop on a plane. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. It changed my whole trajectory. I didn’t become the rock star I had wanted to be, but realistically, I could’ve ended up a CPA, a drug addict, or who knows. Steve Bailey told me years ago that you can’t second guess life or fate. We’ll never know what we might’ve done. I’m a driven person and a workaholic, and I’ve been lucky in many ways. I just always kept working and moving forward.
When did you first get the idea of Bass Central?
Around 1992, I was living in Orlando and I was teaching and playing and looking for what could be a financially stable future for myself. As you get older you need to look at where you’re at and where you need to go. I had become well known in the bass community from my playing and teaching, and I was in a lot of ads in magazines for bass products. Through my books with Superchops and Hal Leonard, I was high visibility, so I started thinking of how I could use that in my next move. Right around that time, one of my bass students wanted to get a Pedulla bass and there were no dealers around Orlando. But because of my place in the bass world I already knew Mike Pedulla and his brother Ted. I called them up and told them I had a student who wanted to buy a 4-string and Mike told me that I could be the dealer and make the sale. And that’s exactly where the idea started. I had made $300 with one phone call. Two or three years later I had done a lot of research and I took a big chunk of my life savings and I went out on a limb and created Bass Central. Early on we thought it was enormous when we had 45 basses that were mid- to high-end. Then it grew and grew and grew, and now we have 500-600 basses in stock at all times. It grew out of one student wanting a bass and me knowing the builder personally.
Creating a sales space exclusively for bass was an ambitious idea. What were your thoughts when you were first getting started?
I can tell you that I didn’t sleep or the first three damn years! It was a heavy investment and even to this day I don’t call myself a good businessman. I simply do what I figure makes sense and use my instincts. But I was scared to death for the first few years. I didn’t take a paycheck. My right-hand-man, Grasshopper, started out as a student and he stuck with me and is still doing onboard today. Dave LaRue, who was instrumental to the creation of Bass Central, joined us and that helped a lot. To this day he teaches every Saturday at the store if he’s not touring or recording. So much of the success of Bass Central has come from those who have helped me as my staff. I owe so much to my hardworking, committed employees like Scott “Grasshopper” Ryder (Assistant Manager), who was there from day one, J.D. Owens (website and sales), Will Weiner (shipping & receiving, sales, social media), and Jim Lucas, who wears many hats.
What are the keys to the longevity and success of Bass Central?
Figure out what works and then put in the work. Those are literally the main ingredients. There also has to be a certain element of luck where you’re in the right place at the right time. Then you have to surround yourself with good people who make great employees. They say that in business, your number one asset is your employees, and I can tell you firsthand that is 100% correct.
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