Global Bass Online December 2000
ROCKY MOUNTAIN BASS
Kenny Passarelli was among the first bassists in the history of the bass guitar to play a fretless bass... PERIOD!!!! Granted, there were a few others, most notably Rick Danko of The Band, and Boz Burrell of Bad Company, but Kenny was the one to utilize the fretless to it’s fullest sonic possibilities.As early as 1973, he was making bass history by playing some of the most tasteful rock bass ever heard on Joe Walsh’s The Smoker you Drink, the Player you Get LP.1974, Kenny recorded Souvenirs with Dan Fogelberg. On this recording, he demonstrated his knack for coming up with bass lines that often outlined or paraphrased the song melody. The song entitled Part of the Plan is a great example of how Kenny plays off of the melody to construct his soaring lines. His lines are brimming with great knowledge, musicality, and restraint. You don’t record and tour with Elton John, Joe Walsh, and Stephen Stills by overplaying and wanking. Despite all of his phenomenal work, few people know of Kenny’s contributions to the advancement of the bass guitar. I am pleased that Global Bass has given me this opportunity to tell the story of one of my biggest inspirations ... Mr. Kenny Passarelli.
Kenny was born on October 28, 1949 in Denver, Colorado. His first instrument was the Trumpet. His parents encouraged his love for music at a very young age. In 1956, at age 7, Kenny showed tremendous promise. Studying with orchestral and studio legend Byron Jolivett, Kenny auditioned for the Denver Junior Police Band. He played first trumpet in the elite “Inaugural band.”
In truth, Kenny may very well have gone on to a career in Classical Trumpet, but a conference call and meeting with Stephen Stills changed his life forever. Kenny was impressed by Stills, and who wouldn’t be? Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young was producing some of the most amazing music. Kenny recalls this introduction, “I was introduced to a guy that owned a local music store that knew Stephen Stills. He took me up to Goldhill, which was a place in Colorado that Stephen spent a lot of time.” Stills took a liking to Kenny, and played him some tracks that Stills had been working on. Stills then played Kenny a rough version of Carry On, and Kenny was simply blown away.Shortly thereafter, Kenny was slated to join Stills at Woodstock, but a bout with hepatitis ended his dreams with sudden swiftness. In the summer of 1971, Kenny got his first big break. >He received an invitation from Joe Walsh to join Barnstorm. Kenny recalls that Joe was the person responsible for his getting involved with the fretless. Joe received one of the very first fretless P-Basses, and gave it to Kenny. Though intimidated at first, Kenny eventually made it his trademark, and started to get a great deal of session work because of it. Kenny worked with some of the best ... Russ Kunkel, Joe Vitale, Dan Fogelberg and so many others from that memorable period. Things hit a high point when Kenny co-wrote the classic track Rocky Mountain Way with Joe Walsh.
Photo: Mike Hewitson
Kenny’s biggest break came when Joe Walsh recommended him to Elton John, who was in need of a new bassist. Elton flew Kenny to Paris, where he auditioned. Kenny remembers, “I really didn’t know a whole lot of Elton’s music. When I auditioned, it was just the two of us. I was intimidated the whole time, but he was impressed by some of the people that I recorded with.” Before long, Kenny started laying down tracks for the Rock of the Westies LP, which was done under the direction of famed producer James William Guercio. Kenny recalls that Guercio made him lay down the tracks with an old Hofner Beatle Bass. Kenny was not happy at first but in the end he was very satisfied with the result. In 1976, Elton recorded his double album entitled Blue Moves. Kenny saw that the music on this album was much more difficult, so he put down his fretless P-Bass, and cut all the tracks on an Alembic Bass, obviously one of the earliest models. When Elton toured in support of Blue Moves, Kenny kept playing his Alembic.During a week of sold out shows at Madison Square Garden, Elton informed his band that that was his last tour for a while. Kenny recalls that Elton was very gracious and generous with the band. When Elton stopped touring, Elton's entire band became the backup band for the up and coming duo Hall and Oates.
Kenny was well compensated while working with Hall and Oates. He recorded Along the Red Ledge, and the live LP entitled Livetime. In time, Kenny left Hall and Oates and started touring with Dan Fogelberg. In 1983, Kenny finally got his chance to play with Crosby, Stills and Nash, but it was a bittersweet experience. Kenny was dissatisfied with the band's new sound. In addition, Kenny was starting to get burnt out from all of the touring. By the mid 1980’s Kenny decided to stop touring. This period lasted well into the mid 1990’s.
During this 10 year period, Kenny reinvented himself, getting back into playing the piano, and composing his brand of music which he calls “Contemporary Classical Music.” His recent CDs include Twelve Twelve and Miracle of Tepeyac. He now makes New Mexico his home, and is playing quite a bit these days. He produces and tours with Otis Taylor, a blues guitarist that Kenny really believes in, and he recently played a show with his old pal Stephen Stills.
Kenny Passarelli is a very humble man who is very much unaware of the tremendous impact his music has had on the world. My decision to make music my life was born in part because of him. Listening to his playing helped me to shape my sound, and edit all of the nonsense. His playing taught me that to work with the elite of the music business, your playing must be mature and totally musical. >With over 20 gold records to his credit, Kenny is someone to learn from, whether you are a beginner or playing for over 20 years. It is no surprise that after over 30 years in the business he is still going strong....
Kenny's email is Ralipmusic2@aol.com
Tony Senatore, November 29, 2000
Tony can be reached at email@example.com
His website is http://www.senny.com/
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