We launched our FSOR advisory panel, Champions Of Rock, with a couple of staffers who are professional musicians with a laundry list of credits. Our next stop is a journeyman musician who has appeared with superstars from Jimmy Cliff to Kylie Minogue, has toured with Jeff Lorber, Swing Out Sister, and our own FSOR staff alumni Jo Harmon, and is currently the bassist for Massive Attack, and London favourites Protect The Beat (featuring Jools Holland’s alto Saxophonist, Derek Nash). Winston belongs to The All-Stars; a select consortium of players called upon to be the ‘live’ band for touring foreign solo artists, and took some time out from his busy schedule to share some music wisdom and road stories with us:
Q. When did you start playing bass?
A. I was a late starter, around the age of 16 years old
Q. Did you choose the bass, or did the bass choose you?
A. I chose to play the bass as the gospel environment I was in had many musicians & singers so as the bass had less strings I thought it’d be easier to learn (lazy me).
Q. Was there an event or band or singer that inspired you to play an instrument? Or do you have a bass hero?
A. I never had a musical direction as there was no musical talent or inspiration in my family. The Pentecostal church and the general musical surroundings attracted me to the bass.
Q. How did you wind up with Massive Attack?
A. I was asked by their then bass player, Steve Lewinson many years back to cover for him. He then went on to be committed to other bands so they kept me on.
Q. Any good road stories?..
Someone did congratulate me on my playing once whilst I was sitting next to him. I asked who he was & he just laughed… Later found out it was SEAL. DOHHH
I was playing on a TV afternoon program once. I enquired what time it would be showing that day. The title of the show was “Pebble Mill At 1” :-\
Q. Favourite gig ever?
A.There’ve been many great moments with most bands I’ve played for, but off the top of my head, Massive Attack & Lisa Stansfield (separately) at the Royal Albert Hall – with orchestras!
Q. Rehearsals, gigs, recording – where do you feel most ‘in the zone’ (and why)?
A.Rehearsing is always the hardest bit. When you take the show on the road you get a buzz from the hard work invested by the whole band, especially when an audience show their appreciation. I love to play live and I love recording. Recording is great; especially when you hear it played on the radio or TV.
Q. You’ve played with many legends (Jimmy Cliff, Jeff Lorber, Lisa Stansfield…) – anybody on your bucket list?
A. I’d love to perform with great composers & performers such as Bruce Hornsby, Bonnie Raitt, and Eric Clapton.
Q. Any big lesson from a big mistake?
A. Learn the language of you instrument (Academia) & you’ll have great conversations with fellow players…
Q. What’s your favourite musical toy/gadget?
A. I’ve always loved to play my bass through an amp and just enjoy the music, but over the last few years I’ve traveled to gigs with a box of tricks which I have fun stepping all over. Octave pedals get used a lot.
TIPS & TRICKS?
Q. Do you have an approach to playing, or a philosophy about the function of your instrument in a band?
A. As far as playing bass guitar in a band, one must always remember the function of you’re instrument which is to be part of the foundation of the sound & to pick your spaces to embellish without competing with lead instruments & vocals. When you’re given a solo, then you can shine in your individual & expressive way.
Q. Any tips for kids starting out about playing the bass?
A. You don’t have to fill all the gaps & basically what I said above regards being a part of the foundation. Always warm up: I try to warm up by stretching tendons in my hand before big gigs as there’s a bit more nerves to perform in front of thousands of people.
Q. Best tip about playing in a band?
A. If it’s not your band, the band leaders musical interpretation of his sound is what you’re expected to reproduce so don’t impose your ideas unless you’re invited to.
Q. Any bass tip(s) – favourite strings? 5-string v 4-string? Amp & settings? Pedals?
- I use D’Addario strings. I find they have a good tone for fingers & slapping styles & pretty good life before having to change (which is great for me as I don’t change my strings that often).
- I mostly play 5 string electric & I play a 4 string electric upright bass. Slap bassists sometimes find 4 strings more comfortable as there’s more string spacing than 5 string basses. This gives you more percussive accuracy for any acrobatics to impress your audience :-)
- I use a small MarkBass combo with a 15” driver & a digital 300W amp for local Soul/Jazz gigs. It’s solid and loud enough for smaller venues. It’s also light weight and fits easily into a small car. For bigger venues, I have an SWR 4×10 speaker cabinet which I use with either a Gallien Krueger 800RB amp or a Mesa Boogie M Pulse 360 amp. They both sound amazing. The MarkBass is much more convenient to carry around. I tend to boost my EQ around the middle frequencies as tones in that region are more audible to an audience so my notes can be defined and not lost in a sea of low resonance.
- As I mentioned before, in the past I’ve limited the effects used until recently where for instance, I’ve started to kick in a reverb to suit a quiet dynamic in a song to add to the atmosphere for a few bars or use a phaser/flanger to highlight a slapping style or Plectrum use. The pedal board I’ve made up comprises of 1x volume pedal, TC Electronics compressor – tuner – reverb pedals, an MXR flanger phaser pedal and a Roland Boss Octavider pedal, all powered from T-REX FuelTank power distributer.
Q. Plectrum? Fingers? Both?
A. I play mostly with fingers. Recently I’ve started using a plectrum just to vary the sound or to replicate a cover tune’s tone. I use my thumb a lot which also gives a warm sound and at times with the use of my palm slightly resting against the strings, I pluck with my thumb. That gives a dead ‘Thuddy’ tone which has been popular with R&B/Soul bassists.
Q. Warming up: Scales? Fingers? Both?
A. Warming up is very important. What you do now is an investment into your playing longevity in the future. I’ve only found this out in the last 10 years or so of playing but I guess better late than never. There are many thoughts on stretches of which you’ll have to decide which is best for you. Whatever you decide to do, remember… IT’S A WARM UP, NOT AN EXERCISE. Usually I don’t have my instrument handy to do fretboard dexterity warm ups, so I use a tendon stretch for my wrists, flexing of fingers, back stretches i.e. touching toes (not quite in my case) with legs crossed then straightening up to complete with gentle twists from the waist, legs shoulder width apart, while extending arms into the direction of twist, which preps you for the constant load of a bass guitar across the shoulder & back.