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Adrian Davison

 

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In a relatively short period of time Adrian Davison caught the ear and interest of a lot of people. Out of seemingly nowhere, this young bassist arose and soon found himself rubbing elbows with the worlds top bassists. Four albums later, each one increasingly more mature, each one further establishing his presence as a force to be reckoned with, after massive television exposure, then conducting teaching clinics and endless endorsement clinics, he simply disappeared. 

It was 1995.

From time to time this magazine would get enquiries into the whereabouts of Adrian. Even this writer did some 'investigative work', but every lead led nowhere. Then one day, from out of the blue, an email arrived. It was addressed from Adrian himself.

Short and to the point, it first stated that regardless of the rumors, he was alive and well. He wanted people to know that though some years had passed since people had spoken to him as an artist, he still had copies of his four releases and that if people were at all interested in them, those copies were still available. 

Needless to say, I had some questions for Adrian. I had heard rumors from various 'reliable sources' that he had lost everything, or maybe just given it up. In fact, at one point 3 or 4 years ago, I had ventured into a Toronto luthiers shop and found a custom build LADO bass hanging on the wall with 'Adrian Davison' engraved in the 24th fret position. The shop owner told me that Adrian had lost everything in a bitter divorce, but I questioned that. At least 50% of us at one point or another go through similar trauma but still strive on. We rebuilt ourselves, our lives. I knew there had to be more than simply that to so completely end the incredible career of this brilliant bassist.

In one of life's ironies, it turned out that Adrian was not in fact, 5000 miles away, "living in a cave in Tibet". In fact he was a mere 50 miles down the road from me. I asked for an in-person talk with this man who had turned a corner one day and disappeared. He agreed to meet.

A few days later, I found myself standing on a pier in a boat arena in a small town. Half of me expected a limousine to pull up, the other half looking out over the water for a boat. I realized once again that I had been watching way too much TV. I had called him a moment before to confirm that I was there and he assured me he was soon to arrive.  

Arrive he did, but not in the limo or the boat. Instead in an ancient and beat-to-death Oldsmobile 'Something or Other' covered in antennae and a paint job directly from a spray can. Added mystery demanded smoked glass and I got it.

Pictures of Adrian show a tall man with hair cascading down his back. Piercing eyes with a haunted look. The years since the  promo shots give me a man with short salt and pepper hair, of course still tall, perhaps a little heavier, but still there are those haunted eyes. His hand, more the size of a baseball glove, envelopes mine as we meet. 

We find a couple of slabs of cement and plant ourselves. I came for some answers, and over the next hour and a half, I got `em.

 

Global Bass:  So one day, out of nowhere, arrives this email, stating you were alive and well and wanted to 'high-five' the world. How did you find out about Global Bass?

Adrian:  I found a search engine on the Internet and had punched in my name to see if anything would come up. Sure enough, the Global Bass interview Orin Isaacs had my name mentioned in it. You know how they work, the search engines, they just look for words or phrases. 

So I made a list of all the people I'm gonna let know that I am not dead, not living in an igloo, I'd just send out this 'mass' email. This consisted of only 10 or 15 people plus people I used to know like the guys from Guitar World. Before the bass magazines came into being it was all just part or a section in guitar magazines. 

GB:  In the early 80's I had packed it in for a while as a bassist. Prior to that I would never have thought I would and was contemptuous of those that had walked away. However at that time I was SO FED UP with the politics, not the music itself, that I saw no other recourse. I simply sold everything and walked away. So I understand now how someone could do this. In your case, however, the question remains: Why?

Adrian:  My career was really 1988 to 1994. That was really about the time when the record companies were allowing and promoting artists like Billy Sheehan, Stuart Hamm, Randy Coven. The reason they did that was that Mike Varney, who 'discovered' me, had a column in Guitar Player and owned a record label called Shrapnel Records. I did a lot of demo work for Mike and his brother Mark.

At that time it was still the 'Decadent' late `80's and early `90's and everybody was really into that kind of thing. The bands out there were kind of, well there was Cinderella, Ratt and Van Halen was peaking as well. You had Queensryche, you had all these bands into production, flashpots, bombs, good playing, long hair everywhere, you had all this corporate massive rock.

So the record companies like Relativity that had Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, they thought that this was great, 'let's broaden this out' to include Stuart Hamm and all these other bass players. At that time it was a really wonderful time for me.

GB:  It was The Perfect Time. Of all the times to come down the pike, this was the Golden Age for Player Rock. 

Adrian:  On top of that, companies like Ibanez, Ampeg, Crate, Washburn, all the big names, they thought that the way they could sell product was through big corporate musicians that would appeal to the young 16 year old male. That was the best time for us because, say you endorsed Ampeg...Stand in front of an Ampeg amp in a photograph, they'll give you good money, product for free. It was a wonderful world for corporate endorsement. 

GB:  Did you benefit from this?

Adrian:  Absolutely! I loved the GHS strings from the day I got them, Bass Boomers were the first ones I used.  I had a friend that was a student at MIT. I got a request to come down and do an informal clinic and hang out in California for a week. It was no cost. I thought I wasn't going to make very much money but it was a great introduction for a 20 year old!

After I went down there and did that stuff, they suggested I just send a tape to GHS. The demo sounded great, the strings are brilliant sounding, they sound just lovely. So I did send them a tape. The funny story was, about 3 weeks later I got a call from a guy who introduced himself as a rep from GHS. I have a friend who plays practical jokes all the time, so I told the guy "F you!' and I hung up the phone!

The phone rings again and the guy says, "This is NO JOKE." The endorsement agreement was a very simple deal. It was, 'we'll give you strings for free' but it built up to a relationship. I went down to the Chicago NAMM show and I went via GHS. I went into Battle Creek, Michigan, where their Head Office is while I was down there. 

I remember wondering if this really was the place that made these strings. It was one of the biggest companies in the world making bass strings...and it was all done in portables. The whole factory was in portables! It was this small little place! It looked like a school that had lost its financing! 

One thing that was amazing, was that I didn't realize all the people that they make strings for, like Rickenbacker, they use GHS strings. So within 10 days, he says "So you use Rickenbacker, I know the guy there!" So things were happening so fast. Bang! Bang! Bang! 

So we have these Rickenbacker posters and I am signing those. Life was good! My 'Bass Symphony' album had only been out for about  3 months. I had this great record review in Rolling Stone, all these things. Things were great, I knew where the money was coming from. $700 US for 25 minutes of playing!  Those kinds of deals were going on constantly. 

We did that for a while and suddenly the whole corporate investment into the player changed. The 90's were changing things. Steve Vai was not selling quite as many records. Stuart Hamm's albums didn't do as well, Billly Sheehan's albums didn't do as well. He couldn't even get a deal. 

Then you have the Seattle scene suddenly coming up. You have the Anti-Hero. People who couldn't even tune their guitars. Those times were just about the best time I had in music. This is because the corporate stuff in the music was so corporate. The best times were when you played for the whole rock and roll atmosphere. 

The best times were things like when my guitarist held up his guitar and I held up my bass. I'm strumming his and he's picking my guitar. Those kinds of things got people really into it. It was so cheesy, the average person watching you play doesn't even know there is a difference between an acoustic guitar and a bass. they would stand there and say, "You guys are great guitar players. 

Even at home right now, this is true. My girl friend manages a restaurant and has live jazz music. I'll ask her 'Who's playing tonight and what instrumentation?' and she'll say, "Well, there's a guy with big tall guitar and there was guy who was playing something that may have been a clarinet or a flute or something. I ask here if it was made out of brass and she'll say 'Yeah!'. That's the mentality of a lot of people. 

GB: Back to the Big Guitar you play, did you start on Big Guitar?

Adrian:  Interestingly enough, classical guitar was what I started on. I was born in Britain, and by the time I reached 13 I had been playing for about two years already. I studied with Julian Bream, I was very fortunate. I also had another teacher that conducted a class, his name was Trevor Guest.

It was not a personal class, it held about 10 people. He would probably only spend about 10 minutes with you in the hour and a half you were there. You never even thought you were getting anywhere. I went to this guy for many many months and then one day he says, "You're gonna be doing your Royal School of Music Grade 7 exam...next Wednesday."  I said, "I am doing my exam in four days!!!?".  He said, "You're going to do the pieces here and these scales."   I thought I was completely unprepared. 

I was scared. It was $90 to do this exam and I thought, "I can't do it!".  I went there and did really well. I realized afterwards that all the little subtleties he taught, you didn't even realize they were sinking in and that you were growing as a musician, they were all so simple . 

GB:  And he didn't fill you with pointless stress.

Adrian:  You're right, no stress. It was amazing, it all became so fluent. After that I did other Master classes with a lot of people. I basically got my Teachers diploma at age 14. So I started doing a little bit of piano. I found the piano to be such a simple instrument compared to any string instrument. Getting into bass was just such a fluke.

I was in Grade 11 and I was trying to figure out a way to do some easy credits, just so I could graduate. (Laughs) I took the musical program, an examination to get in. I was doing Dizzy Gillespie tunes, playing "Night in Tunisia', I was playing guitar parts. 

The bass player got sick in the concert band/stage band. They knew I could play guitar so they said, 'could you play the bass line'? They had the mentality where they thought they were identical, bass and guitar, whereas they are not. So within a couple of minutes I am working through some runs, then the horns start in. I remember thinking, "The bass is the coolest thing!" 

So afterwards when I am listening to things like RUSH, I am thinking, "Hey, those lines are NOT guitar lines!" The next thing I was working on was the bass solo from RUSH's 'Free Will'. 

Since I didn't have enough money to buy a bass, I rented it out, or borrowed it from school. I took it to a buddies, he was drummer. We brought in a guitar player and in a couple of months, we are playing tunes. It was all very simple. We were not trying to be technical. We were trying to be in tune, and having some fun. That was it, simple fun stuff.

GB:  So that explains the beginning. How did you move to a point where things like Bass Symphony became possible? There's a long journey between being in a Rock `n Roll band and building a Symphony. Did you make a conscious effort to move into a lead instrument mentality? 

Adrian:  I think that for me we tried to keep everything simple. We had a guitar player, a bass player, a drummer and a vocalist. I didn't have any keyboards and we were doing stuff that had two or three guitar overdubs, keyboard parts, very complicated stuff. In order for it to work when it came to the solo section where everybody would back off, I would start adding a couple of the melodies or rhythmic variationswith my right hand on the fret board. I would do some kind of thing to work with the guitar player. We would also invent our own solo sections in that song. We just couldn't do it otherwise. 

I realized that my classic background emphasized a heavy influence on melody, trying to separate the melody from the accompaniment on a classical guitar. This is one of the hardest things that any classical guitarist is gonna strive for. You're playing all these other strings with your fingers, but you emphasis that 'E' on the high string. Using vibrato and bringing it out louder while you're bringing out all these other things. 


When I started thinking about that with the bass, it was when I started loving it so much. At that time I was using Rickenbackers and there are only 19 or 20 frets on those, so there is not very far to go. So I started playing these  tunes by myself. The first one I arranged was "YESTERDAY", the Beatles song. I started it in D Major even if the original is in F, because I didn't have enough room to do this. It took me about 6 months to do the first piece that was really orchestrated, technically, rhythmically good! 

I mean I actually liked it. After that it became easier. 

GB:  How and why did you move from Rickenbacker to Lado?

Adrian:  In the later albums that was one of the things that grew. I spent more time focusing on sound, which led me to change the instrument I was playing from Rickenbaker to Lado. The primary reason was the fact that the newer instrument had all the wonderful things that Rickenbacker had, with the stereo outputs, different tonal effects right there on board, and 24 frets. It changed everything I was playing at these shows. 

Instead of now moving up here like on the Rickenbacker (mimics playing at top of the neck), now I could play way down here (between the 5th and 7th fret). It gave me so much more room to do all these things.  It was probably the best change I had even though I credit Rickenbacker with being the reason I got into music. It was Chris Squire, Geddy Lee and a funny looking bass. 

GB:   What do you think of luthiers in general?

Adrian:  They are all artistes, fly by night, flighty in the way they think. One day it's "I'm packing it in, everybody in music is a bunch of idiots!'. The next day it's, "You know what?  I love this industry!"

GB:  I know what you mean, I have a luthier friend who right now is driving a transport truck in the Carolina's. I called him up the other day on his cell phone and he is madder than hell that he is stuck driving a truck. This is the same guy that wanted me to act as a rep for him, selling his incredible instruments.   

Right before Christmas he is all excited that he is going to build me the Ultimate Bass that I can use as a demo to sell his basses for him. Christmas comes and goes, months pass, no bass. I call him, he's in his truck in Virginia and he says he has no money after Christmas to make a demo model, that I should now sell the basses using photos. Up and down like a toilet seat!

Adrian:  My luthier, I could never read him!  The first show we did together was in Anaheim, California at the NAMM show. He was unveiling all the basses that he had made. He built a massive booth, brought tons of basses, spent thousands of dollars. 

After the first two days of the show, I had been doing some playing and promoting. I was right with him the whole time. I was into it. I was getting paid and everything was great. I also had a new album out there. 

He comes to me and says, "I've got these orders for 14 basses from one company, 20 from another, 30 from another!" He says, "We're going out for dinner!!!! Big Time!!" 

So here's this huge dinner table with about 40 people and he's saying, "Don't worry, I'm taking care of it!" It must have been a million dollar meal!  The excitement of the moment, it's understandable. But like a drug addict, two month later and all these deals are in fruition, they are working. He's running around saying , "I can't do this in time! I can't do this in time! I only wanted to make two basses a month, not 45!". 

The thing that amazed me was their contradictory feelings from week to week, you never knew!  Independent luthiers are such artistes.

GB:  They never hire marketing experts and do what they council. They never hire a buffer between them as creators and the buying public. 

Adrian:  And they should! 

GB: A creator seldom succeeds as a salesman. It even shows up in the larger companies from time to time.

Adrian:  You can use this. The first show that Rickenbacker sent me to was a good money making gig; they said to me..."Just show up at this time". What was the amp company? Gallien-Kruger, one of those companies. It was a beautiful manicured booth we were in. All these polished basses, incredible. 

My first 'Rick' I had bought, I gotten second hand. It didn't have the knobs on top of the machine heads, so I had a part  from a transistor radio on there. Every part of the bass was completely worn out! The frets were worn right down to the bottom. It looked like a piece of crap. I had bolts in the tuning pegs, they could no longer sit straight to the headstock, so I had moved them. I had already tuned the bass so I just took it out and started playing. 

You should have seen the faces of the Rickenbacker staff.  People were coming around asking if those were the real Rickenbacker knobs? Later they told me they were gonna have to build me one. It was an interesting relationship. I never even thought about it. To me, this bass I had was a Rickenbacker! I told them, "I like your product, so this is my bass for years."

I had actually bolted in the knobs for the guitar strap, so it was permanent. I even had blood in the pickups. When I was younger and I was playing in the rock bands it was my first bass. I hadn't played a lot, because I was a classical guitar player. My calluses would break, I had to play every night and you couldn't play with bandages, so I would take them off. So these pickups were covered in blood.

You should have seen their faces! 

***********************

GB: So here it is Adrian, the reason I asked to get together with you today. We've talked about a lot of things, but this is the crux of why I am here. 

Some bass players work their asses off, practicing, taking lessons,  studying videos, attending schools, and  mature into moderate to competent bassists. One bassist in a long while will really catch on and 'make it'. Most bassists have to fight for every success they have. 

In your case, in spite of an acknowledged amount of training, it appears as if this all came easy for you. It appears that you walked in at the right time, put 4 powerhouse albums together and seemingly just walked away, leaving us all wondering if this had all never happened. If you had really wanted it, you could have been a Jeff Berlin, a Victor Wooten, a Ron Carter, and made a life long career of all this. You could still do it today.

So why did you walk away from all this?


Adrian:  Well, I think I could do it today. I do have Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. I know that one of my favorite guitar players, Yngwie Malmsteen has it and he took 6 months off and had surgery. To say the operation doesn't scare me, I think anytime you go under the knife is scary.

I think the other point is that people often have different careers in their life. I was reading an article with Harrison Ford about how he didn't become an actor until he was in his late 30's. Before that he was a carpenter. I think that what happened to me was that I enjoyed the youthfulness. I probably had the best time when I was doing the rock and roll stuff. I really enjoyed it. 

I think that at the time I had personal problems and it gave me an opportunity to do other things that I really love. I had many different passions when I was younger. I took off from home when I was barely 18 years old to pursue the rock and roll dream. It was easy for me, I had an aptitude for music and the training when I was younger. It never really was complicated for me to pick up parts or for me to play anything really. The hardest part was just writing. Even that was not that complicated. 

Then I had my injury, I think my injury came when I stopped playing.

GB:  What injury is this?

Adrian:  My Carpel Tunnel. I consider it an injury because it developed when I took a long break during my personal relationship problems for 6 or 7 months. I remember thinking trying to play my bass and thinking "This is really hard, really difficult'. I didn't want to have to start again. I kept reminding myself of Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath  and having to start guitar again after having lost the tips of his right hand fingers. I didn't really want to start all over again. 

I can't say it's never gonna happen again, I can't say I will never play again.

GB:  Does it haunt you at all?

Adrian:  It haunts me, before coming down here for this interview, I actually played the first 10 minutes of Dorian's Mode. It haunted me to think that I couldn't visualize what I was doing to produce that song. The piece of music was all one take. I listened to it and thought, 'Who am I listening to?'. 

It was an incredible uplifting feeling because now I am listening to it as an outsider for the first time. Now I can walk in to see a band I can enjoy it. I don't have to analyze it, I don't have that thing on my shoulders. After spending 12 hours a day playing, if you walked in to see someone else play, you can't help but analyze it. It was no fun anymore.

GB:  Do you think that because music flowed into your life, that you don't cling to it like a life raft, shaping your opinion of yourself around your playing?

Adrian:  Actually, that is probably very much true. I've been around a lot of players who've worked hard to play. They really savored their growth and really clung to their growth. Yeah, I probably didn't respect that amount of talent that was given to me, that I had. Not in the same way that a lot of people who have spent a lot of time do. It was easy to give it away. Right now I drive a car that I really really love, but I know it's not going to last much longer. It's an antique!

GB:  All things change.

Adrian:  All things change! But changing from music to something else for me didn't seem like a lot.  I know that it's there, it was something I did. Something I really enjoyed. I had a great time. I think that life tosses different things. I think that at that particular moment of my life, at the end of doing that last album (Dorian's Mode) it culminated into a point where I realized I needed a break.

Now that break might be a month, 2 months, six months, a year, or longer.

GB:  When you came to this point, did you at any time consider other actions than packing it in?

Adrian:  I guess I set out to do as much as I could have done on my own. My next plan was to put a group together. I can't imagine doing any more solo projects.

Adrian messing up the place with Robyn Leech

 

Adrian is presently putting together a 'sampler' of the best tunes from his four albums. This CD will also contain songs not previously released from over 30 hours of music.

As mentioned earlier, his four previously released albums:

MENS REA,

ALIBI,

BASS SYMPHONY and

DORIANS MODE   are also available. 

 

You can reach Adrian at:

www.adriandavison.com

 

  Read this article in German

 

 

 

                                  

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