Global Bass Online May 2000
‘Official Bass Player for Star Trek’s
Deep Space 9’s Holodeck’ and a few other rather cool gigs, most of them here on Earth
Acoustic Jazz bassist Luther Hughes’ experiencesstretch across decades and light years too. That inter-stellar career includes stints as the bass player for television shows like The Tonight Show, Pat Sajak, The Midnight Special, various Dick Clark specials and even 6 shows for the now completed Star Trek ‘Deep Space Nine’, where he held the position as bassist for the fictitious lounge singer character Vic Fontaine in what was known to fans as a ‘holodeck program’, basically a computer generated reality.
Back here on Earth, Luther began his career in the mid `60’s. He was originally influenced by an uncle who played semi-professionally as a singer/guitar player in a Country & Western band inPortsmith, Ohio. His uncle would rent a local theatre and regularly perform a version of the Grand Ole Opry there. Hanging out with this uncle over summer vacations as a youth, Luther was strongly influenced to become a musician. His uncle had an early Gibson electric bass around the house that young Luther was allowed to play. It was later however, already primed for a career in music, that Luther saw his first jazz group. Watching the double bass player smoking through some tunes truly sparked his interest.
He told also Global that in thinking back over the years, searching as to why exactly he choose the bass, he recalls how as a youngster he would sit on his Grandfathers lap, with his head against the older mans chest, listening to him singing the bass part to old Hymns along with the radio. Luther muses that perhaps it was also that warm memory, his grandfather’s deep voice and the comfort he derived from the companionship, that helped steer him towards an instrument with such a deep personal resonance.
Luther also plays electric occasionally and owns one of the original basses made by Michael Tobias, in fact for a while in the early 80’s, he was an endorsee for Tobias. This bass was a stock 5 string to which they later added a custom 5 string fretless.
As a solo artist his career has to this point only ventured twice into the realm of recording and releasing music. His albums, ‘Cahoots’ and ‘Perfect Partners’, were both done on electric bass, one in `89 and one around `87. Now we find him well on the way to finishing a third release in the very near future. On this one however he’s opting for the acoustic bass.
Over the years Luther has played with and for some of the very biggest names in Jazz. Until recently, last fall to be exact, he was working with one of his best musical friends, pianist Gene Harris. Having worked off and on with Gene for 30 years, recording and performing live, it was to Luther’s great dismay that Gene passed away in January of this year. Luther described Gene Harris as one of the funkiest, hardest driving, bluesy, piano players he has ever worked with. He misses him greatly not only as a musician to share gigs with, but as a fine friend as well.
This past year has been difficult for Luther from the standpoint of losing friends and fellow musicians. Just yesterday (in late May 2000) he said ‘good-bye’ to Joe Massimino, one of his closest friends. Joe was the long time Musical Director for the Mike Douglas television show and until a month ago the M.D. as well for Jack Jones. Joe went from strapping great health, playing his butt off for Jack, to his passing yesterday, in a mere 6 weeks. Luther pondered the transience of all things, vehemently stating, “Don’t wait, don’t put things off. Get it done now!’”
Even in March of last year, long time friend and fellow Jazz musician George Van Eps, then 85 also passed on. George was the originator of the 7-string guitar back in the 1930’s. He played with Fats Waller and Benny Goodman and many others of equal stature including George Gershwin.
All of this has Luther Hughes feeling a bit pensive, a bit thoughtful these days. A natural born laugher, Luther is quick to find the joy in anything, so this is an unusual mindset for Luther, but he realizes that he has to find his own way out of this loss.
One sure fire way to do that is to recall happier moments. He thinks back to the time when George Van Eps was in a hospital. Still not doing too badly, yet well aware of his frailty, George still found the strength to laugh at life and its foibles. The nature of Luther and George’s relationship was a gentle chiding directed towards each other. As George sat in the hospital, his fate yet unclear, in an effort to strengthen George’s resolve to recover, Luther admonished him, “George, you gotta cut out this goldbricking, we’ve got gigs, we’ve gotta play. Let’s cut this crap and get out of here!’ To this George, a man who never swore, replied, but not without first looking around the room to make sure all was clear, he says: “Well I hope to get better, but you’ve gotta remember, I’m 85*&*$*#@’ years old!”
Perhaps it is the impermanence of life that gives it it’s deepest value. As Luther says, waxing philosophical, “If you procrastinate, you’re an idiot.”
Not all is serious in Luther’s life these days. He still derives great pleasure teaching at Cal State University and Fullerton College. He has also been speaking with the Program Director at a local radio show about reprising his career as a radio show host. His goal is to place some of his natural humor and irreverence on the airways for the drive home crowd.
Once Luther eyeballs the famous couple, he rushes over to their table and introduces himself. It turns out in fact that they know of him and Gene also, are big fans and in fact own a number of Gene’s CD’s, all on which Luther has played. In spite of Luther’s introduction to the couple going something along the lines of “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”, they all hit it off immediately. So much so that ‘Kira’ asks Luther if he would like to visit the shows soundstage. His quick retort was to the effect of “How much do I have to pay!?!”
‘Kira’ also mentions that in one of the forthcoming episodes she has to sing a song (‘Fever’) on the ‘holodeck’ in an imaginary jazz club set in 1962. She asks him if he would be interested in playing bass in the holographic band. Luther is of course beside himself with amazement. As a long term “Trekker’ this is a dream come true.
Over a period of a year or so, Luther was invited back to appear in 6 episodes, including the series Final Episode of last fall. He revels in the fact that while ‘Kira’ sang her song, part of her stage antics included running her fingers down Luther’s face in a sultry manner.
Luther went on to meet all the characters in the show, describing Quark (Armin Shimerman) to be an intelligent and warm individual, highly mannered and a pleasure to talk to. The Captain, Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) was a big fan of jazz, and the makeup on these actors was so realistic that as Luther stood speaking to the actor that played Odo (Rene Auberjonois), the Changeling, part of his mind realized he was just talking to an actor, while the rest of his mind was screaming “I’m actually talking to Odo!”.
Across from the DS9 soundstage sat the area where VOYAGER was shot. He made sure that he introduced himself to Captain Janeway, (Kate Mulgrew) telling me that she is very attractive in person, moreso than even the show conveys. As well, one of the oddest sights he saw on set was the actress who plays Seven of Nine, the Borg, sitting in a Directors chair cuddling her young daughter. According to Luther “It was both odd and hilarious”.
He revealed to Global that in fact there is a bass player in the actor crew for both Deep Space 9 and The Next Generation. It turns out the actor who plays the Klingon Worf, Michael Dorn was a long time bassist. He confided to Luther that one of the things he was going to do now that the series was over, was get out there and join a band!
It is at this point that both Luther and the Global Bass staffer realize that they are in fact, compete nerds. Luther pipes up…”And proud of it!”. He tells us that even now he has a friend that sends him letters in Klingonese and he has to whip out the English/Klingon dictionary the friend sent him earlier, if he wants to know what the letter has for him.
One of the last things that Luther wants to know as he leaves
the set of Deep Space 9 for the last time is whether or not he can consider
himself to be the “Official Bass Player for Vic Fontiane’s Holodeck Jazz
Club’ on Deep Space 9. He producers looked at each other and agree. “Certainly,
consider it a fact””
So Luther Hughes, bass player for the stars and bass player amongst the stars as well, continues work on his next solo CD. We will keep you posted as to when it becomes available. We’ll also place it on the Global Bass Station for your aural approval and give you an address where you can write to buy a copy.
As mentioned earlier, he is presently working 4 to 5 days a week for an incredibly talented woman he refers to as the Elder Stateswoman for Vocal Jazz, Ernestine Anderson. He thinks of her as the vocal equivalent of Gene Harris and Sarah Vaughn. Overall in spite of the many changes in his life over the past year, he sounds happy. It is a truly wise man that realizes that as one friend walks off the stage of our lifetimes, it is often not very long before another one enters.
If you would like to pose any more questions to Luther, please feel to fax him at (714) 890-1615
You can also pose your questions and inquiries to us and we will pass them along. One of the more inadvertently humorous things about Luther is that in spite of his love for the ultra high tech world of Star Trek he neither owns a computer nor knows what to do with one, so e-mail is not an option at this time. This is part of his charm. Saluting the past with his music and embracing the future in his imagination, reveling in both at the same time.
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