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Keith Rosier


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Pocket Time

By Brent-Anthony Johnson

  Keith Rosier (pronounced “Rosie-ay”) is a native of Texas who began playing bass guitar at the age of 10, and then began playing gigs at age 13.  Keith has a stunning resume’ that mentions gigs from Hoyt Axton to Yellowjackets’ Russell Ferrante… and then to The Meters’ Ziggy Modeliste.  In short, he has played with virtually everyone under the sun! Amongst his many awards and recognition, Keith was voted "Bass Guitarist of the Year", from the California Country Music Association. 

I met Keith recently, after the release of “Only A Whisper Away”, a disc he made with his vocalist wife, Denise.  As it turns out, the disc is the new favorite of both my wife and our young daughter!  So, after a listen to the disc for myself, I began preparations to get in a telephone call to this busy session bassist.

Though I knew of Keith through his books: "Studio Bass Masters"  (Miller Freeman Books), "Jump 'n' Blues Bass" (Hal Leonard Corp.), and "The Lost Art of Country Bass" (Hal Leonard Corp.) I didn’t know what type of person I was going to encounter.  I was more than comforted by the fact that Keith is an incredible human being who has a powerful, all-consuming love for the bass!  We share many similar experiences, and it is also nice to know that there are others in this world of music who also have a deep conviction to support their families as a first priority.  I have often recommended Keith’s “Studio Bass Masters” book to my students who have expressed an interest in session work.  

Keith and I chatted on the telephone during a recent, lazy, warm Sunday afternoon.  Though we were a thousand miles apart, geographically, we were experiencing identical weather (HOT!) as we both sat in our respective backyards and chatted about our favorite instrument!  After a lengthy conversation, that covered myriad topics, I hung up knowing that I had made a new friend.  

BAJ:  Hey Keith!  Though it’s a strange way to start… Let’s dig right in, and begin with the instruments you take to sessions and gigs, and why.  

KR:  Lately I’ve been using my 1966 Fender Precision Bass (stock), an early sixties original Silvertone single ‘lipstick’ pickup short-scale bass, and an early 1900’s German-made carved upright bass equipped with a Pierre Josephs magnetic pickup and a David Gage Realist pickup with their outputs joined and soldered together. I use Dunlop .88 mm picks. I pretty much show up at most live gigs with this setup because it covers a lot of bass tones and styles. I run these basses into an AC powered effects pedal board arranged in the following order: a Boss OC-2 Octave pedal, an old DBX 117 analog compressor/expander, and a Boss CEB-3 Bass Chorus. I’ve found that you should experiment with the order of your pedals until you find the best tone.  Some pedals can have higher output impedance than others and can load down your signal.  

Using an Alessandro Guitar Two cable, I plug this setup into a great sounding old 70’s Alembic F2B bass pre-amp I got from Stanley Clarke. The output of this pre-amp is plugged into the full range effects return jack of my Glockenklang Heart Core 400-watt bass head. This allows me to bypass the input section of the Glockenklang, yet still have access to the Glock’s 5-band EQ and DI output. For speakers, I use a Glockenklang Take Five 4x10 bass cabinet. It’s a dream bass rig.  

I always bring two basses to every job in a double gig bag. For casuals and pickup gigs, I tend to use my original 1966 Fender Jazz Bass a lot because its neck is easy to play and, sometimes, I’ll bring my James Tyler Custom 4 string.  

Amp-wise I like to keep it light and easy for most casuals because you sometimes don’t have an easy load-in. I use my modified 1966 Fender Bassman head w/Fender 2x12 speaker cabinet or my original 1963 Ampeg B18 flip-top amp. Both amps are 50 watts. I had an Ampeg B15N pre-amp circuit installed in the Normal channel of the Bassman, and I use that channel most of the time. I’ve had both amps completely revamped including replacing filter caps, worn parts, and tubes. Old tube amps need the caps and tubes changed every couple of years if you use them a bit. I use NOS Mullard pre-amp tubes in all my tube gear.  

For recording, I use the same basses.  I sometimes lean more toward my James Tyler Bass because it prints to tape strongly, with lots of personality. Other basses I use include: an Epiphone Jack Casady Signature Bass - for its rich tone making any track sound more organic; an old Mexican guitarron acoustic bass - made into a four string that sounds like an upright and a guitar playing together; and an early 60’s hollow-body ‘hockey puck head stock’ Kay electric bass – that has that famous Duck Dunn sound.  

My 1966 Fender Jazz and Precision basses record well, too. The Jazz has a clanky tone for rock tracks, and the P Bass has a beautiful low end. At sessions I plug the DI of my Alembic/Glock rig into the board or use the studios DI. I don’t usually add much EQ when tracking unless it fits the situation. I like to use my DBX 117 compressor/expander because it adds a warm presence to my sound. It has a normal and slow release switch that I use for different effects. I set it on slow for upright bass and when playing ballads because the notes seem to expand or bloom nicely. I use the normal setting for electric bass because the slow setting can’t catch the fast passages very well. I won’t use my 117 if the studio has an LA2A, Tube Tech, or other great compressor. I find that most engineers will add a touch of limiting or compression when they track.  

For strings, I use Rotosound Swing Bass 45-105 gauge for most basses with the exception of the Kay, Jack Casady Signature, and Silvertone basses which use LaBella Flatwound 760S (45-105) or their short scale medium gauge set. For my upright, I use Pyramid brand Ultraflex double bass strings made in Germany. Unfortunately, not many American bass players are aware of Pyramid. The Pyramids are the easiest playing and most gut-sounding metal string I’ve tried –they really are exceptional. The trebly sound of most upright strings doesn’t work for me, but the Pyramids don’t have that problem. 

BAJ:  I like the fact that you’ve never gotten on the bandwagon, and run out to buy extended-range basses, and that you’re a dedicated “4-string guy”.  Are there any words of encouragement that you could give to young players who are feeling the need to get into extended range basses… because everyone else is?  

KR: I like the sound of five string basses, and anyone with a set of ears can hear how great a well played extended range bass can sound, but I’m more comfortable playing a four string. Looking at my gear, one might see me as traditional. I definitely feel the extended range bass is here to stay. I’ll sometimes use my octave pedal for the ending note of songs… trying to duplicate a five string bass. I would suggest every bassist at least try one. Young bassists should find and play the bass that appeals to them four, five, six, seven, eight, or ten strings… it’s all good. 

BAJ:  Tell us about your most memorable sessions, and also what makes a session great in your opinion.  

KR:  I was called to do a movie date on upright bass and guitarron. The arranger faxed me some of the charts and asked me if I could handle the bass clef reading. The charts displayed slow Latin feels, simply written. I said no problem. I show up, and the orchestra work was already done… so I was to overdub my parts. The engineer set me up in the middle of the room with a microphone on my bass. The producer, the director, an actress from the cast, and others involved in the making of the movie were all there staring at me through the control room glass. They had me record a few musical pieces. Everything was going along great. Then, they handed me the hard charts for the chase and intense scenes which the arranger didn’t bother to fax to me. The charts contained rhythms I’d never seen or counted - fast, intricate, syncopated, quick tempos! It soon became apparent to everyone that I was having some trouble pulling it off.   Imagine playing a song you’ve never heard before, in a time signature you never played before… and playing really fast with no time to practice! Not only that, but when you’re finished with that, they want to hand you 6 more.  

The look on the arranger’s faces was indescribable. It got very uncomfortable, very quickly.  What could I do?  I couldn’t just leave.  That was my job, and I had to finish what I was hired to do. After asking the arranger for help with some of the rhythms, I finished the job.  It was a long day, but definitely a learning experience and the score came out great!  

On most sessions I have a great time and I’m sometimes inspired to play things I’ve never played.  I usually have the freedom to come up with my own parts and people usually don’t suggest what to play.  

Most artists or producers are more concerned with their own part, not bass parts, so they hire me because I will know what to play. The best recordings involve good songs and good musicians. Playing and creating with musicians who play well and play for the right reasons is like jumping into a warm bath. When I say ‘the right reasons’ I mean playing from the heart and with selflessness. Being creative and making good music has nothing to do with ego or power.  

BAJ:  Please also tell us about the special skills you have acquired after so many years of playing in the recording environment. 

KR: I’ve learned not to have a set approach to every session or gig. I’ve made the mistake of determining to keep it simple; of having rigid and unbending time; and of maintaining a certain tone. Each musical experience is different and needs to be approached individually. I’ve learned to listen to myself and to try to be honest about my shortcomings playing-wise and professionally.

It’s also important to be a versatile bassist… So, I picked up the double bass 10 years ago. I’ve also been honing my tic-tac playing technique and pick bass style, and also my use of bass effects. 

Artists and producers really like having a super-solid bassist who plays different bass instruments because of the sonic versatility they add.  I don’t depend on metronomes for time-keeping, or to determine how good my time keeping skills are. This is because metronomes have nothing to do with real, natural music. I think it’s important that players are self aware enough to tell when they are speeding up or slowing down.  

BAJ:  The thing I’ve most noticed about your playing style is that you are a bona fide, and fiercely dedicated pocket player.  There is no facet of a soloist in your approach – though you have great chops.  Tell us about your approach to the basses, and to the song.  

KR: Hopefully, my playing style fits the instrument’s most basic role which is identifying the chord root and providing a groove. I really enjoy playing a note at the right time and listening to it expand to the next note. A short list of bassists who knock me out are: Bob Moore, ‘Lightning’ Chance, Lee Sklar, Edgar Willis, Joe Osborn, Jerry Scheff, Ray Brown, and Bob Magnusson. These superb bassists play a big, strong, fat note and provide a solid foundation to any song or groove. With that in mind, I try to play with a relaxed, but firm groove no matter what the tempo. I’m careful about how many notes I play and that they make sense to the typical listener and work for the song. It’s important to play enough to propel the song, but not to be distracting. I also try to stay out of the singer and soloists way at all times. Groove-wise if I’m sounding disconnected with the drummer I won’t fight against what’s being played, I’ll quickly adjust and find the groove again. I try to keep my head in the game at all times by listening and watching for cues. I’ve learned that if I bring it down a touch on the verses it can create dynamics. After years of working and trying to hone my skills on upright, I’ve found my hands and ears adjusting together when I play so I’m enjoying what some call ‘muscle memory’. 

Instrument-wise, I choose basses for each job and artist. If someone says they really like my Jazz Bass I’ll bring that to their gigs. I like a bass that I can roll off the tone control for a ballad or dime it for a rocker. On a bluesy thing I might leave the tone control wide open and slide my picking hand up towards the neck. If I sound too bassy or trebly I quickly adjust my tone and make it fit the moment. I’m not perfect, and I never will be, but I always try to play my best when I pick up my bass – that’s the most important aspect of my approach.  

BAJ: The musician’s roster for Denise’s disc is outstanding!  I’ve been a huge fan of John Molo’s since his days with Bruce Hornsby & The Range!  Tell us about the musicians who played on Denise’s disc, and about your obviously great relationship with them.  

KR: John Molo, drummer for Bruce Hornsby, Wynonna, Hot Tuna, and others played drums and percussion. Molo is single-handedly responsible for putting me on the map in the Los Angeles music scene, and he is one of my musical heroes. John basically handed me a high profile gig recording, performing in videos, and touring with Charlie Sexton that started everything for me back in the mid 80’s. When producing projects I use Molo whenever I can because he inspires creativity in the other players, and makes a session happen -which shows that players bring much more than playing ability to projects.

Bob Metzger, producer and guitarist for Leonard Cohen, handled most of the acoustics, lots of electric rhythm guitar, some leads, and 12 string guitar. Bob plays very intricate and intelligent parts, and takes the acoustic guitar seriously as you can hear on the album. He also modifies and cares for my - and many other LA players - tube amps… when you can catch him at home!

Doug Livingston (Randy Newman, Sheena Easton and others) played all keyboard parts and patches, along with pedal steel. He played all the parts on the fly and I call him a “one-man studio army.” 

My good friend, Ron Fin, played lead guitar, electric rhythm guitar, and played acoustic mandola. Ron is also involved in movie editing and scoring for major film and TV projects. He has used me on many movies and commercial projects, and kindly continues to do so. 

(Author’s Note: Keith makes a point that I would like to stress here… making connecitons and lasting friendships is absolutely “key” to establishing and maintaining a career as a session musician!  My personal discography would be virtually non-existent without the likes of this type of relationship.) 

BAJ:  Cool.  The guys on Denise’s disc played with the passion for and with the conviction of the song, and it’s always a pleasure to hear great musicians making good music together.    How did Denise’s disc come together, and also tell us about your production approach to this disc?  

KR: I met Denise Rosier, my wife and soul-mate in 1991. Meeting and marrying Denise and having our daughter, Madeleine, is a continuing blessing that I’m most thankful for. Denise told me that she sang when we first started going out and I thought she was quite good. I had no idea how good, until we went into a studio a month or so later in 1991 - with Denise tracking only with an acoustic guitar player for backing!  The finished recording was very, very good and showed what a pure talent she is. I wanted to include it as a hidden track on her debut CD “Only A Whisper Away” but Denise wouldn’t let me.  We’ve been performing together since our meeting, and finally have her debut album out.

When producing the CD I kept in mind the best producers I’ve worked for were hands off in the tracking stage. I also stayed out of the players way, unless they asked for assistance. Arrangement-wise, I wrote out chord charts and noted where the starts, stops, and pushes were to occur, and where each instrument should play fills or solo. I relied on the players to come up with their own parts and made suggestions about overdubs such as strings, acoustic guitars, and percussion. Then, we tracked live - overdubbing two or three players at once while listening to a definitive playback. All the tracks for the album were recorded in one weekend… just like the old days!  It was fun and nerve-racking all at once! I kept all my live bass parts and we only fixed the obvious mistakes.

I used my Jack Casady Bass w/flatwounds for tracks one, two, and three. The Tyler Bass w/roundwounds was used for the rest of the tracks… with the exception of track five, which I used my 1966 P Bass w/flatwounds.  We recorded all basses direct with a Demeter tube DI. Then we mixed all the basses through a Pultec EQP1A tube EQ boosting a little @ 3K and 100hz. Then we compressed lightly with an old LA2A tube compressor.  Michael McDonald at Trax studios recorded, mixed, and mastered the CD.  

BAJ:  How are you promoting the disc?  

KR:  Right after releasing “Only A Whisper Away” we had a label interested. They sat on it for a few months and never made a move. Then another label with a hit pop group on the charts at the time came and heard Denise. That label felt she wasn’t street enough for them. We’ve sent CD’s out to labels and publications and received many positive reviews, and are hoping for the right connection and label. You can read the reviews and order the CD from our site at  

BAJ:  What’s happening next in your busy life?  

KR:  I’m about to produce a new rock/pop artist, Neil Morrow, who’s hooked up with RCA Germany. We’re gathering new material for Denise as well. I also played on Jann Browne’s new alternative country disc that’s about to be released.  

BAJ:  It appears that you have made a decent sanctuary for yourself in Los Angeles – a rare blessing!  Out of curiosity, why haven’t you moved to the Nashville area?  

KR:  At 19 I knew I had to get out of the Texas Panhandle if I was going to do anything with music.  I like rock ‘n roll so the obvious choice was Los Angeles. I loaded up my station wagon with my bass gear, some clothes, 300 bucks, and drove to California not knowing a soul. Everyone back home thought I was crazy.  I got a cheap apartment and started working in after-hours bars - and any other gig I could find!  I started at the bottom and worked my way up. 20 years later I now make a living off the road in LA playing casuals, gigs, casinos, corporate gigs, and sessions. I stopped touring in 1997 because Denise became pregnant with our now 3 year old beautiful daughter, Madeleine Denise Rosier… who is a heck of a dancer, by the way! 

BAJ:  How did you get into writing books, and can you tell us about the approach to getting your books published? 

KR:  In 1996, I was doing a lot of country gigs and I wanted to learn how to play the style convincingly so I started studying country recordings old and new. I really liked some of the players like Bob Moore, Allen Williams, Glenn Worf, and others.  So on a whim, and in homage, I wrote “The Lost Art of Country Bass”. 

A friend did the artwork and I sent it to Hal Leonard. They liked it and let me do, “Jump ‘n’ Blues Bass”, too.  I followed that with “Studio Bass Masters”.  All of my books have play-a-long CD’s which I feel is important because the CD allow bassists to play with top musicians while never having to leave their home. I would recommend anyone interested in writing to come up with a commercial concept, write it completely, and send it addressed to the person at the publisher who reviews new book submissions.  

BAJ:  Are there anymore books in Keith Rosier?  

KR: I’ve just finished a beginner book for upright and electric in all styles. I hope to have it published soon.  

BAJ:  Do you dedicate specific writing time?  Or, do your books just fall out?  

KR:  I decide on the title... Then, I mull it over for a few weeks and start writing an outline or I will make up chapters. It can take up to six months to complete a book and record the CD.  

BAJ:  What advice can you give to a player who is moving toward a career like yours?  

KR:  Playing bass for a living is a dream come true for me. I meet and play with people I admire and get paid for it… and I get to travel! Could any career be better? The reality is that it’s not all roses, and there have been many lean times and many mistakes made.  Fortunately, those mistakes and hard times are important to your development.  Play bass because you love to do it!  If things start happening for your band or you decide to give “making it as a bass player” a try, then give it all you’ve got.


Cool, man!  It’s been a blast chatting with you, and I’ll look forward to reading the new book when it comes out!   



Brent-Anthony Johnson’s group Sonal Anu is currently in session and the completion of their first disc, “Sleep Drum” will be completed by early October!  BAJ is an endorsing artist for Aguilar Amplification, HotWires Strings, LINE 6, PRO TEC, Status Graphite Basses, and Wayne Jones bass enclosures.






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