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Orin Isaacs

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It might appear odd to some that we chose Canadian ORIN ISAACS as our Cover Story for this premiere issue of GLOBAL BASS. Odd only in the sense that many people around the world have yet to hear of this monster bass player. It also has to be said that the list of Canadian bass players that have reached international fame so far is sadly rather short. Geddy Lee of Rush, of course, Alain Caron of UZEB and later Le Band, possibly Ken 'Spider' Sinnaeve of Streetheart, and Adrian Davison. That is pretty well it, and even some of these names won’t ring a bell for our readers in Australia, Japan, the U.K. or even the States.

Granted there are some fine bassists in the Great White North, but most of them remain as yet undiscovered. Recently however, one of these Canadian 'Hosers' has caught the attention of a lot of his fellow Canadians with his stint as Band Leader and Musical Director for the award winning variety/talk comedy show OPEN MIKE with Mike Bullard.

Five blissful nights a week we are treated to what Orin calls some of the finest 'funk `n roll, rock `n soul' on the planet. His ultra-tight fusion band, consisting of Wilson Laurencin on Drums, Mark Patterson on Guitar, Tony Padalino on Keys and of course Orin Isaacs himself, tear up the musical pavement each night, much to the amazement and admiration of fans and bass players all across Canada.

His work on upright bass, fretless, 4, 5 and six string electric is consistently stunning and tasteful, a perfect combination of fast and furious when it needs to be and deliciously understated and to the point when that is what it will take to get the job done and the message across.

As well as keeping himself busy working his ‘day job’ for the television show, Orin has also recently found the time to release his first solo album, “WHERE I’M FROM” Orin uses this first foray into the world of recorded music to lay his roots and his inspirations out on the table for all to see. An intelligent and sonically appealing hybrid of Rap, Hip Hop, Light Jazz, a bit of Fusion and soulful ballads, “WHERE I’M FROM”, makes a solid first statement for this up and coming artist. Though “WHERE I’M FROM’ covers a lot of musical ground, it still succeeds in remaining focused throughout. Overall impressions of the album are reminiscent of some of the finer collaborations between Stanley Clarke and George Duke.

So, as to why you are being presented with Canadian ORIN ISAACS as our COVER STORY in this first issue of GLOBAL BASS? It comes down to two reasons really. One…because he is a talent worth the recognition. Two…because we wanted to be one of the first to acknowledge a bass player that is really gonna shake things up all around the world.

Without a moments hesitation we at GLOBAL BASS feel confident in stating that within 5 years there won’t be a bass player on the planet that doesn’t know the name ORIN ISAACS.

So here it is, an in-depth chat with our first honored guest for the front cover…ORIN ISAACS

Tall, with a football players build and a friendly face that the camera seems to love, Orin leads me through the catacomb of tunnels that lead to change rooms in the converted Masonic Temple that now serves as Ground Zero for the Mike Bullard Variety talk show.

Finally locating his own room, we sit down to discuss his crazy life in Television Land, his incredible collection of VADIM hand crafted basses, his new album and of course the career catapulting opportunity he has been presented with as Musical Directory for this award winning television show.

ORIN is Mike Bullards straight man, his confidante, his foil and his friend. The show itself regularly parades a group of known, unknown and ‘should-be-knowns’ across its stage. Mike, himself originally a stand-up comedian, weaves dry wit, timely anecdotes and his own brand of mugging with his audience to the point that his is now the most successful talk show in Canada.

Aside from his role as bandleader, Orin truly enjoys the dynamic he shares with Mike. Similarities in their comedic style can found with another successful television team…HOME IMPROVEMENTS Tim Taylor (TIM ALLEN) and his counterpart Al Borland (RICHARD KARN).

A number of times during the interview, a door behind me would open and Mike would pop his head in to ask if perhaps there had been a mistake, and did I understand that HE was the star of the show, wanting to know exactly why ORIN was being interviewed. ORIN cops the pose you will see nightly on the show…a mildly exasperated but infinitely patient look usually reserved for parents and their errant children. It is a dynamic that works.

This is actually one of the first interviews you’ve held as a solo artist with a new release, isn’t it?

Orin: The Canadian Press did something, but it was for the show, and then a whole bunch of newspapers did it. But that was for newspapers, not really magazines. We’ve done an article with CANADIAN MUSICIAN but as THE OPEN MIKE BAND. I really haven’t pursued it as a solo artist. I’m gonna get to it, but I really thought my summer was going to be freed up, where I’d put my package together and start introducing myself to some people. Then my summer got busy!

Busy, in what way?

Orin: Composition, I do a lot of composition. That was my main gig before I got this. I was composing for television and scoring for other people’s records. All of a sudden, that came back again. It was great. I hadn’t got that kind of call since I got this (the television gig). Suddenly people start calling for some reason. I’d be like “What is goin’ on?”.

So let’s start with some of the basics. How long have you been playing?

Orin: Since I was around 11. I’m 30 now, so nineteen years? That’s scary, I didn’t know it had been that long!

Any other instruments than bass?

Orin: I can fool around on keyboards, when I compose I use keyboards. I work it out on the bass, I figure out what I want to do on bass first, and then I convert it to keyboards. This is so I can print out the scores on the computer.

You’ve worked with Salome Bey and in Dream Warriors, were you hired as a sideman or as a bandleader?

Orin: Hired as a sideman for certain things, hired as musical director for others. I’ve been in this whole Urban Music game from the get-go.

What do you mean by Urban Music?

Orin: Good question, perfect question! Because some people say Urban means ‘Black’, and I don’t think it means ‘Black’. To me Urban means whatever is on the street level. So whatever is the underground grass roots level. You could say Black Music, but Black Music R & B you could be talkin` about the `60’s, but I say Urban R & B today, I mean ‘now’!  

So instead of Rhythm and Blues I mean more Rhythm and Beats. More Dru Hill than the Whispers.

So how do you find out what this is? Do you go out and talk to the people on the street?

Orin: It’s just whatever is happening on the street. You can have Reggae Music but the Urban equivalent to that for me is Dancehall.

So with every musical genre there is in the mainstream, there is a street level style that matches it. That to me is what Urban Music means. I’m putting R & B, Hip-Hop, Dancehall, all those things in the category called Urban.

When you were building your considerable chops working with live bands like Salome Bey, did you find some bassists approaching you with a negative competition mindset, saying “Oh I can do that”? Because I find that on a ‘street level’ in the bars, there is a lot of that going on.

Orin: I get that more now than I ever got when I was coming up. Cause when I was coming up, I didn’t know what I was doin’. I didn’t know that what I was doing was affecting people by the way I was doin’ it. I was just doing it!

No budding ego attached to it?

Orin: No, because I didn’t know any better!

You’re a better bass player for that, aren’t you?

Orin: I think so. Now I run into it, while I’m on a little bit of a stage, but before with Salome Bey she would just say “Okay Orin, I think just you and me will do this song”. I wouldn’t think nothing of it. I’d just say, okay let me go and work it out. I’d have the chart there and I’d work it out. She was doing this with me when I was 18. So I would be just thinking, “well okay, I’m not gonna be playing roots all the way through this thing, let me just figure out how to put all the comping in there too! So I’d just sit there with the chart and I’d figure out, well that’s a G-7th and I work out halfway walking and comping, halfway soloing.

So instead of taking the path of studying with some great luminary on bass, you built this ability, by yourself, brick by brick.

Orin: I’ve never studied that way, oh I did do some studying with a great bass player by the name of DAVE JOHNS . Now Dave couldn’t really teach me my attitude on the bass, but he showed what I was doing. So I could identify it and use it as a tool elsewhere. So that I developed my vocabulary.

Watching you as you play on the show, I’m struck by all the facial expressions you have while playing. It looks like you are in a state of total bliss, total involvement.

Orin: It could not be better dude. What could be better, really? It’s not because I’m just a bass player on TV; it’s because I’m putting the bass out front! That to me, is the most exciting part. Seventy percent of the time I just sit there with the rest of the guys and hold the groove and let Mark (guitars) blow or let Wilson (drums) blow. But the rest of the time… .

At this point Mike Bullard walks in and asks what going on. Orin introduces me and the magazine and tells Mike what the interview is for. I ask Mike if he plays bass, and he says “If it’s gonna get me this much attention, I’m gonna take it up!’ He turns around and walks out the door. The door opens again, he pops his head in and says, “Thanks for dropping by the set of OPEN ORIN”.

He smirks impishly and the door closes again.

Orin says that his job is to keep a straight face through all of Mike’s antics. This backfired once when Mike noticed Orin looking rather solemn. He asked Orin what he was thinking about. Mike had just pulled one of his endless pranks on Orin, and Orin deadpanned that he was just thinking about killing Mike. It was an obvious send-up, but next day they received so many e-mails asking ‘What was Orin so pissed off about?” They had spent the evening after that show just laughing and joking, but not realizing that so many people thought there really was a problem.

Orin says about Mike…He’s a joker, 24 and 7. I understand that, but I guess some people don’t necessarily understand that. I work with him all day long. That is exactly what it is, jokes from the time he walks in till the end of the show. The straight lines just throw a lot of people off.

Is a lot of it spontaneous?

Orin: Yeah a lot of it. The only thing that is written is when we’re trying to set up something. Or like when we do the tape bits. Those monologues and dialogues are written.

So without delving into ‘how much’ you’re getting from this gig, are things a bit better now financially than they were a few years ago?

I’ll tell ya something, this gig is steady, I don’t have to worry about life for the year. But it shoulda been more! (Laughs) Because before I was running my studio, I had all these clients, I had a staff! I closed it all down because this took up all my energy, and I couldn’t be two places at once.

When the day is over, when this show winds down, whether it’s five or even ten years from now, what would you do then? (The reason I ask this is that it is driving me crazy that he has this incredible new CD out and as far as I can see, he hasn’t even begun to pursue its potential. They are so many songs on this thing that radio would love. He plays his bass so melodically that it would pass for keyboard or guitar, but he is caught up responsibility-wise with the television show.)

Orin: I don’t know, whatever happens, happens. But I am a man always on the hustle, you know what I mean? I’ve got a great gig here, but this is my ORIN ISAACS Bass Player Gig. There’s still a lot of things I want to pursue. I want to keep doing records, not necessarily my own records. My records are for kicks, for self-satisfaction. These are just for me. I’d like to keep doing television shows.

What about soundtracks?

Orin: If the opportunity comes up, I don’t know anybody in that field yet. It takes a relationship, a connection in a field, but you never know whose going to see you on the show. People have called with crazier ideas so… . Right now though, I am just looking for a new house. So I can set up a studio in the basement. I’ll relax, do my music whenever I want, and that’s what I want.

So you’ve produced 5 JUNO award-winning albums.

Orin: Okay, I’ve produced two JUNO award-winning albums and my company has produced another three.

You did the music composition for the FOX Television show ‘STUDS’.

Orin: It was a hit show on FOX, but what happened was I actually did a co-write. The actual people who got the gig were the DREAM WARRIORS. But with television you can’t sample, you have to compose. It had to be all-original, so they came to me to co-write the music.

With “Where I’m From’, was there a temptation to pull out all the stops and make a Player album. Mile a minute solos, everything Starring ORIN?

Orin: No, because that’s not me. This was about the vibe. My vibe is I am a bass player, but at the same time I just love Urban music. And Urban music ain’t about a thousand notes a bar. It’s about the steady groove, so I want the focus more on the bobbing of your head than I want it to be about filling up everything in between. So if I was gonna do a lot of notes, that pile of notes has to be part of the groove to keep your head movin’. If I end up doing a bunch of triplet runs, it’s still gotta keep your head bobbin’. If I’m just gonna be blowin’ in super Locrian Mode, I’m just gonna lose you.

You’ve got quite the collection of basses. All VADIM’s.

Orin: I’ve got different basses for different sounds. On my album though, it’s only two basses. My Yellow six string, that’s my main Six. Every time I want to groove on a Six, I use that one. But all the lead lines, all the super fast lead lines you hear, that’s done on my Purple Six. You can’t groove on the Purple Six, it actually feels terrible to groove on. But to blow lines it is the ultimate line blowing bass.

Where do you think the difference lies?

Orin: It’s in the neck. For some reason everything you do just connects. It’s not like you’re fighting the instrument to get the line off. When you feel something, or you hear something, it comes out on the Purple one. All my slap stuff is done on the four string. (VADIM, of course!)

When you first took on the six string, where you intimidated at all?
Orin: Oh, yeah, still am!

What do you use for an amp?

Orin: I use and SWR Workingman’s Combo, but I would prefer to not use an amp at all. I don’t like carrying them around. I don’t really care too much about the amps, to tell you the truth, I don’t get into all that. My mentality is that I am only going to be up here for an hour. If I’m only up there for an hour and the show’s not about me, I am going to use the PA. Just give me a monitor and that’s good enough.

Have you narrowed down your search for the ‘right’ string?

Orin: All the strings I use are done through a guy by the name of DAVE WYRES. He has a web site, it’s ‘’. These ones really last a long time.

Why VADIM Basses, and has it always been that way?

Orin: The first season it was a Mike Tobias. Then I lucked into VADIM. I’ve tried a lot of basses, but to me, and maybe I’m biased, but he knows what he’s doing.

There is a subtle similarity between your playing and Stanley Clarke’s, was he an early influence?

Orin: That was the bass man for me, period. I got into Stanley late, around `88. Someone hipped me to Stanley and I was just like “WOOOW!!!” That is the way I want to play bass!

Well, when I first heard this new album, I was working up another interview on the computer. I had placed the CD into the CD-ROM player, and as soon as the opening chords started up, I began to laugh. At first I couldn’t figure out why, and then it dawned on me that this was the first time I had heard such playing since I put on my first Stanley Clarke album in 1974. I have waited for 25 years to hear That Sound, to hear that originality and that exuberance.

Orin: Well I listened to Stanley for The Attitude. Marcus (Miller) for the Groove. And Vic (Victor Wooten) for raising the bar on the whole game!

Speaking of Victor Wooten, how did he end up on your album? Was that done by sending each other DAT tapes?

Orin: No, we recorded it here. I had him on the show. He sat in, it October 27th, 1998. (Laughs)

I imagine that’s a day that was burned forever in your mind?

Orin: It was so simple. The Flecktones were coming into town. I was told this on Friday and they were coming in on Tuesday. I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have him on the show?’ Vic’s album ‘A SHOW OF HANDS’ I had heard at a gig. Someone said to me, ‘Do you wanna hear a bass player?’ So they throw Vic’s album on and I realize that he is playing the bass beyond what anybody else is doing. This guy inspired me, he really did!

With this album you will be inspiring a whole new generation of up and coming bass players. At times you hold down the role of Rhythm Enforcer, at other times you soar, have you ever been approached by a guitarist and told that you were nothing more than a frustrated guitarist?

Orin: No, because I can usually kick the guitar players ass! (Laughs) I’ll tell you the truth, I see it like this. Let’s say someone says, ‘Let’s play ball, and you know what, don’t dribble because you will dribble circles around me.’

But I have worked on dribbling. You’ve worked on your gig. You bring Orin in and this is what you get. I'll play gigs where I actually prefer that there is no guitar player. Sometimes I would prefer it was me that started the strumming, let me play the lick. When you look at a song on my album like ‘I’m in Love’, it’s all bass. In the original recording it was Mark on guitar. When I heard the intro I thought that it would be cooler on bass. If bass is your instrument, who says it has to be stuck completely in a role? If I am getting hired by someone, I’m probably gonna be a bit funkier on my joints than the average guy. But that’s what you get when you hire Orin Isaacs. I stand by that.

Orin has a great new web site that will keep you current on his activities. You can also hear his album “Where I’m From” on the GLOBAL BASS STATION.

How to find the site for Orin Isaacs~~~The Man Himself, with tons of great pictures of his VADIM basses…he actually has one with no tone or volume pots on the front of the bass. Years ago, while he was winding up for some great solo, in his excitement he accidentally broke of the volume and tone controls of the bass he had at the time. Needless to say the remaining sound was like a strangled duck. So he had VADIM build him a bass with the volume full out, and the tone controls permanently set. He can do minor adjustments via a couple of small holes on the back plate that a jewelers screwdriver will fit through.


OPEN MIKE with Mike Bullard


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