For forty years Mike Gordon has served as the sonic foundation of the biggest jam band in the world. In that span, Phish has gone from a small college outfit in Vermont to having millions of fans all over the world and one of the biggest devoted followings in music history. By melding rock, jam, reggae, funk, and blues into a sound all their own, their studio recording span a wide range of sonic territory, which is all anchored by the steady propulsion of Gordon’s playing. And when it comes to live performances, Phish outpaces any contemporaries. Known for playing extended, multiple sets each night, Gordon juggles complex riffs, sings counter-harmonies, and navigates a serious pedalboard, all while holding down his impeccable groove.
As a solo artist, Gordon has released 13 albums, with the most recent being the infinitely funky and danceable Flying Games . Much like his musical voice, Gordon’s rig is always evolving, which includes the many effects on his pedalboard, his arsenal of basses, and of course, his amp. On his recent solo tours, Gordon began using Bergantino Forté HP heads, which have now become his go-to for those shows. Bergantino Audio Systems is honored and excited to welcome accomplished bassist Mike Gordon as a featured artist. Our Marc Stranger-Najjar had an opportunity to meet Mike at a recent show and ask him a few questions.
When did you start playing bass and what drew you to it?
I started playing in high school. My family went to the Bahamas when I was 12 and I saw a calypso band perform called The Mustangs. They played this song “Ya Mar,” which Phish covers, and I was listening to it in the pool when I decided I loved the vibration of the bass. I could feel it in the water. I knew that that was the instrument I wanted to play.
What was the first bass you had?
It was a KENT and I bought it for $99 from my babysitter Kenny Getz. It came with a tube stereo amp and speaker that he had built from scratch.
You’ve mentioned in interviews that you’ve been influenced by Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead. What drew you to his approach on bass?
It was the way Phil seemed so uninhibited melodically, able to playfully vary the melody and the rhythm of his phrases. He simultaneously provides the oomph that creates a powerful propulsion. Also, the sweetness of his tone.
You’re known for your use of effects. What was your first effects pedal?
Oh, I’m trying to remember … ahmm… (still thinking). Well, the oldest one I can remember was The Funky Filter, a kitschy little envelope filter I used with Phish back in the day.
What led you to Bergantino?
Ed Grasmeyer, bass tech extraordinaire for my solo band, had some experience with Bergantino, and he encouraged me to try out your amps. I happily drank the Kool Aid.
What do you think of the Forté HP2?
There is a clarity and immediacy that I feel with the Forte HP amp, and on top of that there is a lot of punch. It’s almost a cliche, but that’s what we bassists seek a lot of the time – punch – and the Forté HP amp has it! Moreover, there is a lot of control – I feel like I can really dial in the sound with the drive, VRC and punch controls. Every knob I turn up makes it sound even better. Win win!
You have a background in electrical engineering. Does this influence the evolution of your rig? If so, how?
To be honest, I really fizzled out of my EE major pretty early on. I was 2.5 years in before changing majors, but I didn’t get much out of it that applies. I’ve been building gadgets since I was 5, so there was always the inclination to tinker. I suppose when I discovered that ported cabinets can be modeled as electrical circuits (speaker resonance, cubic volume, and port size relating to capacitance, inductance, and resistance), I was able to draw on my EE knowledge.
One of our favorite things about you is how inventive you are. For instance, the custom lanyard you created for your daughter to communicate with her during your shows. Care to tell us more about that and how it works?
It was other people who designed and built it, but I call it The Tessa Box, and it sits on my pedal board. My daughter Tessa has a fob, and when she’s out in the audience at a show, she can remotely signal me with a bright light on the box that lets me know she’s watching the show (other times she’s backstage). And then indicate with a dimmer light whether she’s stage left, front of house, or stage right. Then I can give a signal to acknowledge her. It’s a nice feeling and it can lead to better playing!
About Bergantino Audio Systems: Bergantino Audio Systems has been dedicated to developing and building the highest quality audio products and bass guitar amplification systems since 2001. Founder Jim Bergantino has worked in a number of fields in his career, from high-tech electrical engineering to the high-end professional audio world. After designing custom bass cabinets for many other leading brands, he started his own Bergantino Audio Systems. BAS has received numerous accolades within the musical instrument industry and continues to look forward via their designs and unique approach to developing products. https://bergantino.com
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