Global Bass Online September 2000
Finding and keeping a steady gig is not an easy task. Building the skills and a reputation to the point where you are constantly in demand is even harder. If you are the sort of person that has the desire and the focus to assemble the necessary skills and the needed tools to become a career musician, you are in the right place now. Towards that end, it is from people like Roy Vogt that you can learn a great deal.
Roy has had his Masters in Electric Bass Performance since 1990, he teaches bass at Belmont University, has completed instructional videos on getting the most out of your 5 and 6 string bass and is preparing to release a solo CD entitled ‘Simplicity’.
All this while balancing a full time gig as the permanent bassist for 60’s vocal icon Englebert Humperdink.Roy refers to his gig as ‘a perpetual tour’. “It isn’t like the rock tours that a lot of friends of mine are doing”, he says, “where you’re out for two to three months straight, you are gone! We’re out for a week to two weeks at a time. Then we’re off for two to three weeks. Tomorrow I get on a plane and fly to Las Vegas to play the Hilton.”
Well, this is certainly better than a pickup gig at a local bar and grill! Up here in Canada, musicians who do what you do would be referred to as ‘jobbers’. But once they are done their one to three month stint, they arrive home unemployed, until they find another artist with another album to push.
Roy: “Well yeah, exactly. I have a couple of dear friends up there. One guy, the bass player with Bruce Cockburn, whose name is Steve Lucas will do that. He’ll go out with Bruce for six or seven months on tour at a time and then he’ll be pretty much unemployed for a year and a half. He’ll have to go out there and pick up other work. But if you look at what I am doing, I wear a lot of hats. I do a lot of sessions, I teach, I’ve done some instructional videos for some companies. Now I’m trying the ‘solo artiste entrepreneur’ part of my career. Also the clinician part of my career. I’ve been an endorser of Eden amplifiers for about 5 years, it looks like that within about another month and a half to two months I am going to be doing some clinics for Eden and also for Conklin.”
Roy: The lowest string that I find usable is the low B. Now Bill Dickens has a 9 string that will go down to an F#. I’ve played with Bill when he uses the 9 string. It’s like a subwoofer, it’s great, but you can’t really hear the pitch. I think Chris Squire has a Hipshot that drops down to an A but I don’t see much use for it. You know it’s an odd thing, I’ve been playing 6 string since about 1983 and when I first got it, it was the old Phil Lesh Modulus from about 17 years ago, the C string sounded really strange. I wasn’t sure if I really liked that sound or not. Now to my ears it’s normal to the point that even playing the 7 and then going back to a 6 string, I’m kinda feeling ‘Oh gee, is that all there is!’ ”.
GB: You talked about Bill Dickens using the 9 string, do you see yourself heading that way as well?
Roy: “Oh no, I think I’ll stop at 7!”
GB: Due to the sheer tenacity needed to play these instruments, how do you manage to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, never mind managing any control over what you’re playing?
Roy: “Actually this goes all the way back to a lady by the name of Carol Kaye, a major influence on how I teach reading and just in general, with regards to teaching professionalism and how I handle my career. She’s been a dear friend and a major influence for years. One of the things she advocates is that in the lower positions, even on a 4 string that you use a Thumb Pivot Technique. I find that with 5’s and 6’s and sevens that works incredibly well. The other thing is that when I got into the multi-stringed instruments, it was more out of laziness than anything. I hate to admit it, but back when I was in music school, I was studying a lot of BeBop soloing. I wanted to play Pat Martino lines and Joe Pass lines. But with a four string, you have to travel all over the neck to do it. I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if I had a couple of more strings so I could stay in one spot!’. I didn’t get it because I wanted to hear those extra high notes, I got them because I didn’t want to have to move around the neck so much to work out my ideas.”
GB: Now you play fretless as well…are they 5 and 6 strings also?
Roy: “That was another thing, you know. I think that in playing fretless anything, whether it’s an upright or electric, is to just have a degree of fearlessness in relaxing. Make sure you can always hear the pitch. One thing that always helped me in fretless was that I had taken a couple years of classical string bass. That has got to be one of the ugliest instruments in the world when you are learning it. Playing with a bow, even now, when I want to practice centering my intonation what I do is practice scales with very long tones. It’s ‘The Great Humbler’. A lot of the times, if I have been off for a while and haven’t played, I don’t want anyone to hear me!
Another thing is when I started using upright and fretless in sessions here a lot of times it comes down to being relaxed and confident. If you hear the pitch in your head then you will probably find it with your hands.
Now that doesn’t mean you’re just going to be able to pick up a fretless and play the right tones right away. Another thing that I do, that is a really simple and commonsense thing to do is when I am moving from fretted to fretless, I use identical instruments. I am a great believer in fret lines, but I don’t use them exclusively.
GB: So you are saying that you should be less concerned as to where your hands physically are on the neck, by sticking to the lines on the fret board, but also focussing on your ear instead?
Roy: I tend to use fretless more often than not. When you are a studio situation you may be depending on someone else’s cue mix as to whether you can hear yourself and you may not even have a monitor near you. You might also just be in a headphone mix. It might be one big compromise, you have one mix for the whole band. At least half the game as far as being a successful player is the ability to get along with other people.
So consequently, if you’re the cranky guy that the producer remembers kept fussing about the mix, you won’t get asked back. That actually happened to one of my bass teachers. He was in Criteria Studio’s in the early 70’s, he came out of a session and said, “Man that is the worst sounding cue I have ever heard, its godawful, I can’t hear myself!” The owner of the studio at the time, overheard that and he never got called back! I promised myself from that point on I was never gonna say anything wrong about the mix.
You know I think especially in Nashville that it is about half of the process of making a living and working for a lot of different people. If you are lucky enough to be in a band where you get together with a bunch of guys from the get-go, you go out, pay your dues, get a day job, put an album out, maybe tour, that’s a whole other thing. But if you are a hired gun, it’s all word of mouth. It’s all on the recommendation of other people.”
“Nathan East, who I have talked to a few times, has a great quote about this stuff. It’s something I try to remember, especially if things are not exactly they way I want them to be. That is, ‘your attitude determines your altitude’.
If you’re a guy that’s always gripping and finding fault with situations, there’s always going to be some situation that you’re not happy with. But if you’re that guy, people will remember that. They’ll be saying “Well, he’s kinda hard to deal with, I don’t think we want him on this tour.”
GB: One can’t help but imagine what it must be like to work in a whole band of people like that.
Roy: I’ll tell you one group of people that are happy with that kind of situation. It’s from my experience in the late 80’s when I was in a metal band that was on Polygram. The record companies worst enemy is sober clear-minded musicians who are wondering about their money.
GB: So if a musician is stoned and stunned, he isn’t complaining!?! He isn’t asking questions, is he?
Roy: No, as a matter of fact, and I don’t want to slam the whole industry because there is some good conscientious managers and business people. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in that kind of situation. It was really odd, there were a couple of guys in the band who were very sober and well rounded, good players and pretty centered. They were family oriented and they just wanted to make their money and take care of business. We had one guy who was a ‘nutter’ man, he was like Keith Moon, and the record company guys and the management guys would always egg this guy on. The management would say to us, ‘Why can’t you be more Rock and Roll like this guy?’ The other two of us the relatively sane ones would say, “Well basically it’s because we have house payments”. The other side of it is that if you worked as a hired gun, in order to be able to do that at all you pretty much studied your craft a lot.
GB: You’ve been at this a long time?
Roy: I’ve been in Nashville playing for a living for 20 years. Part of that I was in Miami in Graduate School as I was working in showrooms there with people like Joel Gray and Melissa Manchester and Marvin Hamlisch and folks like that.
GB: With these people you had better know how to work as a team member!
Roy: And you better know how to read too. When I was kid, and I think this has really saved me more than once, I was growing up in Dallas. Dallas was very close to North Texas State and all of the session guys in Dallas could read ANYTHING. They could pretty well much read flyspecks! That was my professional expectation. I thought if they do it, if they are going to be able to go in and read a jingle in 15 seconds, I better be able to do it too. I worked on that very very hard. One of things that helps me now is that I am a very fluent reader. It’s just like any other job qualification. The less people there are available to do what you do as well as you do, the more there is for you and the more you get to choose from.
GB: Hence the steady work?
Roy: Exactly, so if I look at myself and ask “what’s marketable about you?’ ‘Well Roy, you play and understand Rock n Roll, you play and understand Country, a lot of World Music and Jazz, plus you can ready anything. If somebody wants upright you can play it! If some one really wants odd stuff like a Chapman Stick you can put of that in. If someone wants a virtuoso with lots of chops you give them that.’
GB: Why would a carpenter train as an apprentice and learn to use only a saw, a screwdriver and a hammer. Nothing else?
Roy: That’s true although one of the things I’ve had to catch myself with in the past is ‘don’t neglect the value of the hammer’! I’ve been over there working with the cyclotron particle accelerator and then gone home and realized that most people who are going to hire me just want the ‘hammer’.
GB: Have you managed to find a lot of uses for your 7 string ‘hammer’?
So in about 2 or 3 years I started noticing something. All the guys were putting EMG’s in their Fenders along with high density bridges on the Fenders and all of a sudden I started realizing ‘these aren’t Fenders anymore!’. They were starting to sound very Alembic like to me so it became alright for me to move away from a Fender and maybe not use one at all. The thing is that a lot of the guys, A Team session guys like Michael Rhodes and Dave Pomeroy will still have a Fender, but it might be their second or third tier instrument. Their first tier might be a Sadowsky or it mike be a Lakland or it might be, they are still kinda Fender-y instruments, but the people began to get a whole lot less conservative. People began to get used to seeing bass players playing different instruments.
A lot of it still comes down to your hands. Getting back to the ‘hammer’ idea, I haven’t had a Fender type of instrument for years. Now Bert Gerecht who owns Hotwire Records is venturing into bass work. They sent me a 5 string Jazz Bass to basically try to get it into the U.S. and the American markets. It’s a fine bass that is a whole lot of fun to go back to a passive simple bass that sounds great! In order to be a successful free lancer you have to kind of split your personality a bit. Joe Osborne, who is a fantastic sort of ‘old school’ session player said ‘Being a studio player is a service occupation. You are there to make the client and the song sound good. If you can put a little bit of yourself in it, that’s fine’. When I first moved to Nashville, I was like a little baby ‘Jeff Berlin’ virtuoso guy and in order to work you have to be able to play the song. If you don’t understand that what happens is that you end up tolerating the playing of the song as opposed to getting all the music out of it. Had I moved to L.A. instead of Nashville, I would have had probably a career a whole lot more like Dann’s (Glenn). It wouldn’t have as much country stuff, but the thing that I’m glad that I came here for is that if I am working with a singer/songwriter I won’t be afraid to just play a whole note…if it’s gonna make the song work! There are about 1500 bass players in the Union Book here (in Nashville), so that’s a lot of people in a pretty small town. Consequently I would say that about 30% of them could do all the work, all the sessions. So why aren’t they? Basically the reason why they are not is luck, perseverance and being connected to the right people at the right time. Also it takes being a nice person as well as someone who can deal with a lot of different situations.”
So this guy you’ve probably never heard of till now has parleyed his skills, both social and technical, to the point where as you read this, he is playing the Las Vegas Hilton with Englebert. Then he heads off to the Tropicana in Atlantic City and Australia in the late fall. I don’t know where you’re playing this weekend but I am willing to guess there are a few things we might all learn from Roy, his aptitude, attitude and his therefore his altitude.
You can reach Roy via his website site at…
He will welcome questions and inquiries about his new CD and his teaching tapes as well.
You will find Eden amplification and cabinets at …
If you are interested in info and photos on 7, 8 and even the 9 string bass Bill Dickens plays visit Conklin Guitars at…
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