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Reference Library: Paul and the Bass

From: theronster@aol.com (TheRonster)
Newsgroups: rec.music.beatles
Subject: Re: Paul moving to bass from guitar in the early days
Date: 29 Dec 1995 16:35:31 -0500

Wondered "carl@netaxs.com" (Carl Christensen)"

The short thread about Paul's guitar solos made me think of something I never read about in the three Beatles books I've read. I know Paul ended up playing bass after Stu left, but they never really discuss this actual move. As a rock guitarist myself, I know that such a move is usually given to the worst guitarist, and isn't really that exciting because let's face it, in rock the guitar player is THE MAN! But this wasn't the case with Paul -- he wasn't the worst guitarist at the time, John was.

Paul admits he got fumble-fingered doing guitar leads on stage -- nerves, apparently. But he didn't switch from guitar to bass; he switched from *piano* to bass, because his cheap guitar had fallen apart in Hamburg before Stu Sutcliffe left the group. That made him the logical choice for bass, so he went out and bought that Hofner. He addresses this switch and talks about the bass player's role in an interview I'll copy below. But first ... not all bass players are guitarist wanna-be's. Some of us chose bass for the same reasons that Paul discovered *after* becoming a bassist. :-)

-- Ron


Excerpts from Paul McCartney interview in 'Bass Player' magazine
July/August 95 By Tony Bacon

"Meanwhile I'd met John through another friend of mine, and he'd asked me to join the Quarrymen, which was my very first group. I went in as lead guitarist, really because I wasn't bad on guitar. When I wasn't onstage I was even better-but when I got up onstage my fingers all went very stiff and found themselves underneath the strings instead of on top of them. So I vowed that first night that that was the end of my career as the lead guitar player. Then we went to play in Hamburg, Germany, and I'd bought a Rosetti Solid Seven electric guitar in Liverpool before we went. It was a terrible guitar. It was really just a good-looking piece of wood. It had a nice paint job, but it was a disastrous, cheap guitar. It fell apart when I got to Hamburg-the sweat and the damp and the getting knocked around, falling over and stuff. So in Hamburg, with my guitar bust, I turned to the piano.

[snip]

"None of us wanted to be the bass player," admits Paul. "It wasn't the #1 job: we wanted to be up front. In our minds, it was the fat guy in the group who nearly always played the bass, and he stood at the back. None of us wanted that; we wanted to be up front singing, looking good, to pull the birds." The Beatles played a second grueling season of gigs in Hamburg in mid-1961. "Stu said he was going to stay in Hamburg. He'd met a girl and was going to stay there with her and paint," Paul remembers. So it was like, Uh-oh, we haven't got a bass player. And evreone sort of turned 'round and looked at me. I was a bit lumbered with it, realy it was like, 'Well ... it'd better be you then.'I dont think you would have caught John doing it; he would have said: 'No, you're kidding. I've got a nice new Rickenbacker!' I was playing piano and didn't even have a guitar at the time, so I couldn't really say that I wanted to be a guitarist." You may have seen the Beatles' Hamburg period portrayed in the movie Backbeat, and in one scene McCartney/s character picks up Sutcliffe's right-handed bass and plays it left-handed and upside down. Did you really do that, Paul? "I did, yes. I had to! Guys wouldn't let you change their strings around," he laughs. "When John wasn't there, I'd pick up his guitar and play it upside down. John did that [with my guitar] as well - he got pretty good playing upside down because of me.

[snip]

I wondered if Paul had found that bass line and the bass player's frame of mind came easier when he moved over to bass in the Beatles? Did he listen to other bass players much? "Funnily enough, I'd always liked bass," he says. "As I said me dad was a musician, and I remember him giving me little lessons-not actual sit-down lesson but maybe there'd be something on the radio and he'd say, 'Hear that low stuff? That's the bass.' remember him actually pointing out what bass was, and he'd do little lessons in harmony. So when I came to the Beatles, I had a little bit of musical knowledge through him - very amateur. "Then I started listening to other bass players - mainty Motown. As time went on, James Jamerson became my hero, although I didn't actually know his name until quite recently Jamerson and later Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys were my two biggest influences: James because he was so good and melodic, and Brian because he went to very unusual places. With the Beach Boys, the band might be playing in C, but the bass might stay on the G just to hold it a back. I started to realize the power the bass player had within the band. Not vengeful power - it was just that you could actually control it. So even though the whole band is going along in A, you could stick in E," he says, and sings an insistent repeated bass note. "And they'd say: 'Let us of the hook!' You're actually in control then - an amazing thing. So I sussed that and got particurlarly interested in playing the bass." Eight Days A Week "Interested" is something of an understatement. Gradually, the bass parts became more and more important to the melodic and harmonic development of the Beatles' recorded songs, an McCartney's thoughtful and often uncoventional approach began to liberate the bass from its traditional rote of simply providing unexciting and unchallenging roots beneath the chord progression. Not only that, Paul's engaging bass lines began to be pushed further forward in the mixes, and the band's interest in recording maters became almost as revolutionary as their composing skills.

[snip]

"As time went on, I began to realize you didn't have to play just the root notes. If it was C, F, G, the it was normally C, F, G that I played. But I started to realize you could be pulling on the G, or stay on the C when it went into F. And then I took it beyond that. I thought, Well, if you can do that, what else could you do, how much further could you take it. You might even be able to play note that aren't in the chord. I just started to experiment." Those experiments gradually led McCartney to come up with bass line, where he played an independent line against the arrangement. 'Michelle' (recorded November 1965) is often cited as an early example of this trend. "That was actually thought up on that spot," Paul reveals. "I would never have played 'Michelle' on bass until I had to record the bass line. Bass isn't an instrument you sit around and sing to. I don't, anyway. But I remember that opening six-note phrase against the descending chords in 'Michelle'- that was like, oh a great moment in my life. I think I had enough musical experience after year of playing, so it was just in me. I realized I could do that. It's quite a well-known trick-I'm sure jazz players have done that against a descending sequence-but wherever I got it from something in the back of my brain said 'Do that. It's a bit more clever for the arrangement, and it'll really sound good on those descending chords.'"

[snip]

And, when Sgt. Pepper appeared in 1967, rock bass playing moved up another discernible notch. By that time, McCartney was using the Rickenbacker almost exclusively in the studio, and it directness and clarity aided his new quest distinctive bass lines. "Now I was thinking that maybe I could even run a little tune through the chords that doesn't exist anywhere else," he remembers. "Maybe I can have an independent melody? Sgt. Pepper ended up being my strongest thing on bass that has independent melodies. On 'Lucy in the Sky with Di amonds', for example, you could easily have had root notes, whereas I was running an independent melody through it, and that became my thing. It is really only a way of getting from C to F or whatever, but you get there in an interesting way. So once I got over the fact that I was lumbered with bass, I did get quite proud to be a bass player. It was all very exciting. "Once you realized the control you had over the band, you were in control. They can't go anywhere, man. Ha! Power! I then started to identify with other bass players and talk bass with the guys in the bands. In fact, when we met Elvis he was trying to learn bass, so I was like, 'You're trying to learn bass are you son? Sit down, let me show you a few things.' So I was very proud of being the bass player. As it went on and got into that melodic thing, that was probably the peak of my interest."


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