Bass Guitar (19xx – 19xx)
To this day, Polo Jones is one of the greatest bass players I’ve known. Here’s the story of why we decided to get a bass player in our group, at least for a short while.
Whenever you’re working with new instruments, you are definitely branching out to new territories that no one’s ever explored before, and whenever you’re doing something completely new you’re always going to run into somebody who has a different idea about it, positive or negative. Of course, we ran into that now and then; some people/fellow musicians were responding to us using a Stick to cover bass parts in our group as a bad thing. Some people loved it, and some people didn’t. Interestingly, there were musicians that felt threatened that somehow the Stick was going to take over the bass guitar. That might sound silly today, but trust me, that subject came up more than once.
It’s the same fear that musicians had when a Hammond organ player first started playing left-hand bass with bass pedals. The Hammond can function as a replacement for the bass type instrument, and in the hands of a great player, it can really be very dynamic. It happened again with drum machines. Rap musicians and industrial rock bands were using drum machines instead of drummers and creating beats and using loops, and they took a lot of criticism for it. From our perspective, regardless of the genre or style or instruments that are used, inspiration was the main focus.
In the end, it just turns out to be another timbre that can be used as long as the instruments in the hands of competent player be it a bass guitar, organ, bass or the Chapman stick. One isn’t better than the other – they’re just different with different sounds. We were constantly experimenting and trying to come up with new and creative ways to lay down great groves and to keep the music evolving.
While Bob and I were playing in the band we were always working on bass techniques on the Stick, and while we were developing rapidly as players, we were constantly reaching beyond what we could actually play. It’s not so easy to be singing, playing bass rhythms and chords simultaneously – keeping everything rhythmically on point while chording takes a lot of practice and a lot of musical taste to figure out how to put the right parts in the right place. Our writing was becoming increasingly complex, and even other stick players were wondering why we would want to have two Stick players, as that was already like having two bass players in the band.
So there we were with these incredible instruments that totally covered the bass guitar parts, but we were really struggling to be able to actually play everything that we wanted to. We didn’t want to limit ourselves, even from a traditional instrument stand point, so, we decided to explore adding a regular bass player to the group.
Well, if you’re going to get a bass player you might as well get the best bass player you can find. We were operating at a high level of musicianship, so we needed a bassist that could understand what we were doing, both musically and from a technical standpoint. Polo didn’t disappoint, and I can honestly say that having Polo Jones in our group for a while was amazing. Polo was then, and is now, a highly skilled bass player. He is an amazing musician and a genuinely nice guy.
Polo and I had been friends for many years and he was totally into the idea of playing in the group. In him, we had this unbelievable funk bass player, but because Bob and I where very competently handling the main bass parts already, he ended up playing high note string parts on his bass. That was because we were already covering all the best lines, but it was still fun and Polo was with us when we played at Maboohay Gardens in San Francisco, where a lot of very famous bands got their start. Even the Police played there – I once heard Sting mention playing there for a crowd of around 24 or 25 people during their first tour in America – it was a great venue.
Having a bass player in Stickband was a grand experiment. It was fun, but Polo didn’t stay in the group for very long. He’s a world-class bass player and he went on to do amazing things.