Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fat Bass

"Bass" as in guitar, not fish.

The "fat" bass sound was pioneered in funk and R&B about 40 years ago.  A fat bass note is the sonic equivalent of schmearing cream cheese on a bagel.  If you're writing musical notation a fat bass note would take up more than the usual allotted space for a note, sagging down a couple of lines.

Larry Graham of Sly & The Family Stone(a great live band) played a key role in popularizing this style.  But before that he was the first bass player to use the "slap-pop" style of playing on a hit single.  Wikipedia describes the style as coupling:
". . . a percussive thumb-slapping technique of the lower strings with an aggressive finger-snap of the higher strings, often in rhythmic alternation. The slap and pop technique incorporates a large ratio of muted or "dead" notes to normal notes, which adds to the rhythmic effect."
You can hear it on Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

The best example of Larry's fat bass technique can be heard on the band's #1 hit from 1971, Family Affair.  Just listen to the wallowing bottom:

Alert and observant THC reader, Dr Rob, has pointed out that on this song, Sly Stone seems to be channeling Bill Clinton in the sound and phrasing of his vocal, as well as much of the lyrical content, and indeed, at times I think there is an eerie similarity.
But how could Sly be channeling Bill Clinton when, at the time, Clinton was an unknown student at Yale Law School?  After pondering this for several days I now think the answer is clear.  What we have is the first documented real-life example of what Arthur C Clarke wrote about in his famous science-fiction novel, Childhood's End - a collective unconscious memory of a future event!  An ur-Clinton had been buried in Sly's subconscious as a memory passed down hundreds of generations which was somehow unlocked in 1971.  There's a Riot Goin' On, the album on which Family Affair appears, is notorious for the difficulty of its recording due to Sly Stone's incredibly drug-addled condition and perhaps that had something to do with unlocking this "future memory".  How remarkable it is to see proof of concept in such an unlikely circumstance.

Sly's drug habit bring us full circle back to Larry Graham.  Larry finally quit the band in 1972 due to Sly Stone's increasingly erratic behavior which included failing to show up for concerts and threatening to have Larry killed.

Graham formed a new band, Graham Central Station, and also went on to have a modestly successful solo career in the 1980s with one single making the Top 10.  Over the past two decades, Larry has frequently collaborated with Prince and often plays with him on tour.  Larry and Prince also share a spiritual connection.  In 1975, Graham became a Jehovah's Witness and in 2001 he persuaded Prince to also become a Witness. 
(Larry Graham today)(Prince/                                                                                                                                    Larry)


  1. Well. THAT is a way to start a Friday morning!

  2. The larry bass routines have been well known for over thirty years now and as one who started out being inspired by Larry its good to hear about him