Global Bass Online September 2000
Tony Senatore’s story is
one in a series of four within this issue covering great bass players that have
carved a career out of playing bass. No pizza delivery jobs, no factory
production lines for these guys. Well worth the read with something for
everybody, these articles cover a lot of points that will by their example save
you years of struggling in the quest to make a living in music. In
this series we will be featuring conversations with Tony,
Baba Elefante, Roy Vogt and Lucas Pickford.
Tony Senatore is of four bass players you haven’t yet seen on the covers of any of the other magazines for bassists. It is very easy to get caught up in the myth that only the truly famous have anything worthwhile to say. In talking with these guys, we discover excellent musicians and artists who have managed to get a firm grip on the music industry, eventually learning to make it work for them. They may not be household names yet, but they all have something to share with us, something we can learn from.
This Tony sounds like another Tony, Levin that is.
The voice is
very similar but with a faint New York accent. I ask him if he’s okay forming
whole sentences this early in the day, that he’s not too tired…It’s 9
o’clock now but he says it isn’t a problem. “Absolutely, I’m up at 6
o’clock every day”.
Even when you play the night
“I try to get up early at all times. I just stay up late and get up
be quite honest with you for the last seven years I been taking care of my
sister’s baby, my niece. I had to get into the groove seven years ago, taking
care of a little infant, now she’s going into second grade. But I’m used to
it now though, man.”
you’re ‘Super Uncle?
exactly right. I feel that it’s very important for me to be doing this, you
know? It’s a lot to ask for, but she’s really all I have. Prior to taking
care of my little niece, I hadn’t even held a day-old baby. I was always
scared. Well you know what? Very quickly I had to get myself together, learn
what it takes to take care of a kid. With most parents, the mother does most of
the homework and the father goes off to work. In my case, I was with her all day
and night. It was like taking the place of both mother and father. ”
And you had to give up a lot of
freedom, it must have affected a lot of choices.
Tony: “Exactly right, things have come up in the past where I had the chance to go out on the road. I had to turn down a bunch of things. My parents also helped me watched her, but even so, they are up there. My father is 70 years old and he can’t be running after a 6 year old kid.”
this is far from over for you?!
“This is not
over! I’ve got her forever. Until
she’s able to take care of herself, she’s got me to rely on. Just because I
didn’t father her, doesn’t mean a thing. As far as I am concerned, she’s
my daughter. I made a decision a long time ago, that was going to be my Number
One priority in my life, to get her self-sufficient. To get her through College.
That was most important to me, and still is! That’s my main thing. Of course,
I do my sessions, I do gigs, I teach, but she’s the number one thing for me.
What is life all about? Sure, I would like to make millions of dollars but I
have managed to play music for the last 20 years. I’ve managed to make a good
We move to talking about his website. Very nicely put
together with clear bold colors and an excellent 4-string fretboard running up
the one side of the screen. There’s also a series of quotes floating in and
out of focus, taking turns over various photos of Tony. A lot of thought went
“None of which was mine. (Laughs) A
good friend of mine of about 20 years is in the computer industry. He had been
telling me for the longest time that he wanted me to have a place on the
Internet. As of 2 years ago, I was absolutely computer illiterate, like so many
people. I was scared to get involved. This friend of mine, named Joey, he gave
me a computer fully stocked up with things like Windows 98. He showed me some
basic things. He said ‘Trust me, go mess around, you’re smart, you’ll get
Sure enough, I got it, I love it,
there’s nothing better than going out on the Internet and meeting people and
stuff. He said “Now I’m gonna put a site together for you. You need a
website. It was quite an expensive site that he designed for me. All the text is
mine and he obviously put it together. All the descriptions of my basses are
Talking about the major labels
and all the changes they have gone through this past two or three years. Gone
are the days that any musician or band that wanted success had but one choice.
To go to the Big 7 with a tape and hope and pray for a record deal. Most of the
Big 7 are gone now or have eaten each other up these days.
At first this seemed like a
terrible thing because most of us believed they had to only key there was to the
Magic Kingdom of Musical Success. Well, the dust has settled on that issue and a
lot of bands and recording artists are discovering the benefits of the smaller
label. Some are even opting to create their own labels.
The Internet is in the news a lot these days with Napster of course, and
other ways of disseminating music but no one really knows what the end result
will be. The times are exciting regardless. Now an artist can put together,
record and distribute a few thousand copies of their album for a lot less than
what they would end up owing the major labels. The best part of this whole deal
is that for the first time, you won’t have to do what They, the record
companies, tell you to do. You have the room to be creative and to follow your own instincts.
the neat thing, is right. The thing is, I live across the river from New York
City, from Manhattan. I know A & R guys in the record labels and over the
years, I’ve ended up in their little offices with a demo. They don’t want to
see you, they say they are going to come to see you play and they never
come…it was like a game. But now, I have a band and we could absolutely sell
countless CD’s on the Internet and the money goes to us instead of nine
hundred other people. You can also just do what you want. It’s the best thing.
The best thing I like about it is you are in touch with everybody. It’s
definitely the way to go.”
You sent us a compilation CD with 15 songs. Is that a specially made up CD as a tool to open doors for you?
exactly what it is. What I did was that a lot of times, people would call me for
sessions or gigs and they would always want to know if I could cut it. Could I
do blues or progressive rock? So I decided to just grab all the things I’ve
done over the last few years. I went to a friends studio and cut it from 6 or 7
different projects over the years.”
a very diverse grouping of styles and types of music. You are living proof that
to be a successful studio musician you have to play most styles convincingly
that’s basically how I make a living. I like a lot of different kinds of music
so I don’t specialize in one thing. You gotta do everything to make a living
here in New York, you gotta do everything. People call me up asking for stuff
from the 40s, the 50’s or anything from that to progressive insane stuff. I
feel that I can take a lot of pride in what I do in giving everyone what they
You have an all original band as well, are some of the songs on this CD from that band?
songs, ‘Stop Time’, Freezing’ and ‘Descent’, I do all the background
vocals on that stuff, those are my originals, I wrote those. That band’s
called Mary’s Magnet.”
Where did you get the name ‘Mary’s Magnet’
Tony: “To this day I don’t know what the significance of it is. The first singer in the band, who’s no longer in the band, he’s 3 years gone, he came up with the name and when he left, we just kept it.”
you have people coming up and asking for Mary?
say, ‘what does it mean, there’s no girl in the band?!?’ “
Do you play a lot with this group?
we do, the story is we been playing the last 5 or 6 years around the city. Now
the singer left the band as I said, we’ve been auditioning singers for the
band for the last two years and we can’t find anybody! All of the sudden, I
get to be the front man, I’m the singer. The cool thing is we’re going over
great, people are loving the band!”
all of a sudden I get to be a front man and it’s kinda cool, being center
stage and singing.”
It also makes you realize that suddenly the girls will be looking at YOU!
now I have to put a lot more attention into how I look.”
write it so that I know that I can play this at the same time as I am
You have said that you discovered that you have Perfect Pitch, how did that discovery come about?
playing trumpet when I was 5, my father was teaching me. He would tell me to
play a ‘C’ and I would play it. After a couple of weeks just for the heck of
it he would play a note on the trumpet and he would say ‘What note is that?’
and I would say, ‘Yeah, that’s a D?’ I knew that early on, well I didn’t know what it was early on, but he knew. He would
show me to all his friends, he would say, “You won’t believe this!’ and he
would show them.”
Do you feel that Perfect Pitch can be taught, or is it a case of having it or not?
Tony: “I definitely believe that you can greatly better your sense of pitch. I do it all the time with kids that I teach, some who seem almost tone deaf. By the time I am finished with them they may not have Perfect Pitch, but they end up a lot better than they were.”
Do you have many students?
“Yeah I have
about 15 people. I cut it down a bit. A lot of times people cancel, so I get
them to pay me in advance, so they tend to come to get their money’s worth.
You know something, I’ve been known in the past to teach people for nothing. A
kid would see me play, but usually it ends up that when you don’t pay for
something you just don’t take it seriously. They don’t value it.”
So you’re playing along,
playing trumpet till you’re about 16, and from what it says here in the bio,
you just fell in love with the bass. These instruments are so different from
each other, what’s the connection?
Tony: “Through the period from when I was 6 till I was 16 I played guitar, I picked up the drums, I played a lot of things. My father, being a musician, one day brings home a cheap Rhythm-Line Bass guitar. I plugged it in, man, and when I would just play one note. It would fill all the sound up of the band. Plus there was a good friend of mine who was a lot better guitar player and so I just stuck to the bass at that point. At 16, it was Rock `n Roll and I wanted to play bass.”
So you have relied upon your music since 1980 to provide you with your only income. Even with the recessions of the early 80s and then 90’s?
basically because of my ability to be familiar with a lot of different kinds of
music. Also teaching kept me alive in the 80’s. There’s not too many gigs
that I couldn’t do. That diversity kept me going for the last 20 years.”
So you didn’t have to eat a lot of Kraft dinners and peanut butter sandwiches then?
“I did okay.
The only actual regular job I ever had was in 1980 and it lasted only for about
a year. That’s about when I really started playing and it’s been that way
ever since. I’m by no means a wealthy man but I’m okay. I do all right.”
How did you meet up with Mike
Varney of Shrapnel Records?
out like everybody else, starting trying to get into the giant world of all the
monster players out there, just trying to get noticed. I realized at 20 years
old that this was gonna be difficult. People don’t really want to stick their
necks out for people that are up and coming or even in general. People don’t
wanna reach out.
You send a tape and they just say ‘yeah well, like sure’. I put
together a very short demo tape and I sent it to Mike at Guitar Player Magazine
when he was doing that spotlight column. A lot of heavy guys have come through
that. People like Billy Shehan. I didn’t hear from them for about 6 months and
then one day I was at
a newsstand and I just saw it. It was one of the
greatest things in the world.”
You just opened a magazine and saw you?
“Yes, I was
ecstatic, I just couldn’t believe it. I had wanted to get in that column and
that magazine so badly, to be on a par with some of the people that were in
there. It was great.”
Did you get much of a reaction to the article?
“I got so many letters for years after
that. It had my address in the article and people would just write me from all
over the place. I only wish that I had had the Internet back then `cos it would
have been a lot easier! Now you just go ‘e-mail’… and boom!”
Have you ventured into playing the fretless at all?
have been playing fretless on a lot of sessions I have been doing lately. Matter
of fact, I don’t even consider myself by any stretch a fretless player but
people like what I am doing on it.”
You are the house bassist for a recording studio called Visionary Sound, correct?
studio here in Jersey and they do a lot of music for all the networks, TV
movies, soap operas, movies, you name it, stuff like that. I’ve been working
out of there since `93 or so.”
So you do a fair bit of work for them. Are we correct in saying that for you studio work is more lucrative than being in a touring band as a sideman?
Tony: "I make money working in the studio here and teaching so going out on the road for me, the only way I could do it is if I am going to make significantly more than I am making here.
And if you go out on the road, you lose your place in line when it comes to studio work.
"Absolutely, I would also lose my students, lose everything. But if
somebody like a Bruce Springsteen were going to call me, that’s different."
I know you’re not being sarcastic, from a purely business point of view, you mean it!
"Yeah even right now, I know the
guy who plays bass in Bon Jovi, when Bon Jovi goes on the road, he’s fine, but
when he comes back home, he’s looking for work again. All these guys. I know
the drummer in Rod Stewart, he’ll be on the road for a whole year, but the
next time Road Stewart goes on the road, he doesn’t use him, he wants a whole
new band. In a way, it’s kind of a scary thing."
The only way to do it that would make it really worth while to you would be if the music, the project, the band was all about Tony Senatore. The Tony Senatore Project. Being an employee in someone else’s band just wouldn’t work for you.
unless it was some exorbitant amount of money. If something came in, I would
take a look at it.”
When you take a look at your bass collection on the site, you almost have one of each of the major basses from over the years. Any new ones?
"I just bought a Danelectro, it’s amazing. They sound phenomenal,
they’re light as a feather and even with all my great gear, everyone is
digging this new Danelectro. Even with all the vintage Fenders and all that,
that’s the one they like! It’s like about $250 U.S, it’s a steal. It’s
was looking at the `68 Gibson EB3 on your site (Tony says at this
point~’I bought it specifically because I was the biggest Jack Bruce fan in
the world!”) and in your comments, you say that the
tone control options include:
you click that fourth position and it sounds just like a bunch of pigeons
“Yeah, but it
was Jack Bruce that made it happen, I don’t know how he did it. I guess maybe
because he plugged into a Marshall and he cranked it and added that edge to it.
I do a lot of hip-hop rap sessions and they love that bas because there’s no
top end to it. It’s all bottom, it’s incredible.”
What about the `68 Gibson EB2
with the ‘humdingers’??
“I have a story behind all my basses
actually. This guy I bought it from was about 80 years old and he says ‘It was
my son’s, it’s got one pickup, a humdinger.’
You have quite the eclectic collection.
"My approach is that anybody can go out there an pick up a bass for 3 or
4 grand but it’s really hard to find some of the weird axes that were used in
the `70’s recordings. I enjoy looking for them."
The `78 Gibson Ripper, when they first came out there was a very aggressive ad campaign for these things, and then it kind of just died out. Actually a very good bass, but you’re right in your web page comments when you say it look like a big pizza flipper.
does, or a canoe paddle! It’s a
beautiful sounding bass, my only problem with it is that if you play a bit heavy
handed like I do, the pickups would peak out, they would distort out a bit. But
otherwise it sounded like an Alembic.”
So how do you decide, with all
these basses, when you are called into a session, which one(s) you’ll take?
Well I always take the Fender P Bass and I always take the fretless. Between
those two, I’ve never really had a problem. But if it’s something sort of
demanding a certain sound, like Queensryche or Extreme, that very bright sound,
I’ll bring the NS II Spector in. Sometimes what people will do is go on my
website, see what basses I have and they’ll say, ‘bring this and bring
Anybody ever ask you for the Rickenbacker sound?
know, I had a Ricky, and once I get this new house, that’s next on the list! (Laughs).
Now you have successfully been doing this, making a living playing for 20 years plus. Do you see yourself doing this for the next 20 years as well?
Tony: “I still love to play more than anything and as long as the work is there, ultimately, sure, I would like to make a bit more money and get a bit more notoriety, but this is what I do! I just want to make a living playing good music”
You can take a look at of Tony’s great basses and
get in touch with him through his web site at…