This post is inconveniently subtitled: “From the guitar to the bass to the guitar and back to the bass again.”
My history as a musician has been, in the words of The Beatles, a long and winding road. My father (who plays the guitar himself) cajoled and pleaded with me for years to pick up the instrument. I finally began playing in 1982 when my best friend started learning the guitar and I didn’t want to be left out of the fun. My earliest guitar heroes included Alex Lifeson of Rush, Randy Rhoads from Ozzy Osbourne’s band, Edward Van Halen, and Yngwie Malmsteen. My musical aspirations were simple–I wanted to be the fastest guitar player in the world and I wanted to meet girls. With the benefit of hindsight it is apparent that the second aspiration was really only tangentially musical.
I was on a straight and narrow rock guitar trajectory until 1984 when my aforementioned best friend landed the guitar slot in our high school’s jazz band. Suddenly he was exposed to music by bands other than REO Speedwagon, Styx, and Loverboy. By close proximity, so was I. We both fell in love with “jazzier music” by bands such as Spyro Gyra, Weather Report, Grover Washington, Jr., and Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters. From there we went further up and further into jazz by exploring the music of Miles Davis, Return to Forever, John Coltrane, Pat Metheny Group, Larry Carlton, and any album put out on the ECM record label.
I graduated high school in the spring of 1986, entered college at Wichita State University as a radio communications major, and took private guitar lessons studying jazz at the university from Craig Owens. During my early college years my infatuation with the music of Pat Metheny grew into an obsession. Just as Metheny had wanted to sound exactly like Wes Montgomery during his musically formative years, so now I wanted to sound just like Metheny during mine. Change was in the air as heavy metal guitar shredding was out; clean-toned archtop jazz guitars were in.
I hit my first musical fork in the road around 1988 when the contemporary Christian band that I was playing in lost its bass player. After some intra-band discussion the decision was made that, instead of finding a new bassist, my best friend (who was the other guitarist in the band) and I would split time between the guitar and bass chairs. After the initial period of fumbling around on the instrument–after all, I had been playing with a guitar pick for all those years–I grew rather fond of playing the bass. For a few years I was officially doubling in that band on both guitar and bass.
I doubled until I changed my college major to music education in 1994. At that point I either had to declare one instrument as my “main instrument” or enter the program as a vocal major. I had no desire to be a vocal major and was gravitating more and more toward being a full-time bassist. The decision was easy. I would set aside the guitar altogether and focus exclusively on the electric bass. My bass instructor (Dr. Mark Foley) also convinced me to dabble in playing the upright bass, which I did. I was never able to acquire much proficiency on the upright, but I really loved playing it and have great admiration for guys like John Patitucci and Alain Caron who can double on electric and upright basses with such ease.
After my senior electric bass recital and graduation with a Bachelors in Music Education in 1996, I continued to play electric bass with only occasional dips back into the guitar. This continued until 2007 when I decided to ditch the bass and go back to guitar. I was no longer gigging much on the bass, I had kids at home (three at the time), and I needed a change. I sold my remaining basses, including a beautiful 1986 Fodera Monarch that I had purchased used for a song in 1994.
But that is another post for another time.
After making that jump in 2007 back into the guitar world, a strange thing happened. I drifted. I couldn’t really decide what I wanted to do with the guitar. I purchased a 7-string Ibanez guitar and considered going in a Dream Theater-esque direction. That proved to be a dead end. I traded the 7-string for a custom-built Strat and a used Gibson Lab Series L5 amp with the intention of doing something in a King’s X vein. Another dead end. I acquired an Epiphone Les Paul and did some sideman work with a young singer-songwriter friend. That fizzled out after a time. I taught a few guitar students but that proved uninspiring. I even acquired an Ibanez semi-hollowbody guitar and attempted to reconnect with my inner-Metheny wannabe. It also proved to be a creative dead-end.
Fast-forward to 2014. A friend of mine who teaches middle school strings called me, said he needed an electric bass player to play on an upcoming concert, and asked if I still owned an electric bass. I did not. However, I was able to scramble and borrow an instrument from a bass player friend of mine. As I plugged in and began rehearsing the music for the concert, a strange sensation overtook me. “This is where I am supposed to be.” I thought. “I am supposed to be a bass player, not a guitar player.” I can’t claim that I heard any audible voices declaring such a thing. However, that moment of epiphany was quite real and I can remember it clearly.
Somewhere along the line, I became a bass player and didn’t really own that fact. When I went back to the guitar in 2007 I “lost my voice” (so to speak) and only after coming back to the bass once again have I found it. I’m happy to be back in the bass section again. It’s a groovy place to be.