Bass-ic instinct New Stone may well get satisfaction

March 07, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

"TC It isn't the sort of job you're likely to find listed in the want ads. For one thing, they don't want just anybody sending in a resume; only applicants of the highest caliber will be seriously considered. Besides, they've gotten enough free publicity since the job opened that there hasn't been any real need to advertise.

But if there were an ad running somewhere, it would probably look like this:

"BASS PLAYER WANTED for established English rock band with recording contract. Good pay, reasonable hours, high visibility. Should be blues-influenced, with strong melodic instincts and ability to groove. Must be willing to travel."

What's the band? Why, the Rolling Stones, of course. And the sudden opening -- stemming from the recent retirement of 30-year veteran Bill Wyman -- is the band's first since guitarist Mick Taylor left the Stones at the end of 1974.

But unlike that departure, which was almost immediately followed by reports that Faces guitarist Ron Wood would be signing on with the Stones (which, in fact, he did), there is no buzz on who the new bassman will likely be. In fact, there aren't even any obvious contenders.

Strangely enough, though, that doesn't seem to bother die-hard Stones fans. Maybe it's because Wyman has always been something of a cipher onstage, standing expressionless in the background as Jagger, Richards and Wood strutted and mugged at stage's edge. Or perhaps it's that he was becoming an embarrassment -- not only was he, at 56, the oldest Stone, but he was also the randiest, with a lengthy (and painstakingly recorded) list of groupie conquests as well as an ex-wife younger than his son.

Still, I suspect the real reason Stones fans aren't upset by the band's bass-less state is that many of them secretly fantasize about auditioning themselves.

Admit it -- wouldn't you like a shot at becoming a Rolling Stone? For one thing, it's the closest thing to royalty the rock world has to offer. Moreover, once in, you'd be set for life, inasmuch as the Stones seem to make millions even if their albums don't sell big.

But the best thing about applying for this job is that you'd be meeting the band not as a fan, but as an (almost) equal. As Mick Jagger recently explained to Musician magazine, "You can't audition a bass player on his own, you have to audition him with a band."

And we all know which band that would be.

How would you know if you had a shot, though? What would it take to impress these guys?

Obviously, it would help if you already have a bass and know how to play it, but there's no need for fleet-fingered virtuosity. In fact, that sort of thing may actually work against you. As Jagger told the English magazine Q, "You don't want someone who's desperate to break out of this simple rock feel. 'Cause it's not a fusion band. . . . You don't want the bass player to be too showy."

OK, so you won't have to worry about competition from Jack Bruce or Stanley Clarke -- what else? Well, you may want to invest in some first-rate amplification.

That's how Wyman got the job. As he recounts in his book, "Stone Alone," Wyman turned up for his audition with a bass rig "about the size of a door, with my 18-inch speaker and amplifier that ran in. In those days, that was really big stuff."

Big stuff today is a little different, of course, but you may want to ditch your old Peavey amp and invest in a bi-amped system by Trace Elliott, SWR or Hartke Systems. With good cabinets and rack-mounted signal-processing gear, it should only set you back about as much as small Toyota.

Mainly, though, you've got to know the material. "Of course I know the material," you think. "I'm a Stones fan, aren't I?" Maybe so. But unless you listen carefully to your favorite singles, odds are that all you really know are the guitar lines.

Take "Satisfaction," for example. Everybody knows that one, with its familiar "duhnnt-dunn, da-da-dunn, da-dunn-dunn" hook. But were you aware that the bass line takes another course entirely? Listen closely, and you'll hear that the bass not only plays different notes from the guitar, but provides a separate set of accents. (Odds are that's one they'll expect you to know, too).

Likewise, the bass line in "Jumpin' Jack Flash" doesn't follow the signature guitar lick, but thumps along on the tonic, locked into the same groove as Charlie Watts' kick drum. And then there's "Brown Sugar," which not only gives all the good parts to the guitars, but expects the bass player to sit silently all the way to the first chorus.

This is no job for an egomaniac.

That's not to say that every bass part in the Stones' band book is bone simple. While there are few songs that call for the sort of fleet-fingered virtuosity John Entwistle brought to the Who, there are some surprisingly tricky bits sprinkled here and there (like the swooping octaves at the end of "Paint It Black").

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