Interview with Legendary Bassist Stu Hamm Continued

Posted on February 20, 2011


Welcome back to part 2 of my interview with Stu Hamm. This week we get more in depth on his thoughts as a player and composer. Stu talks about some of his writing techniques, who his inspirations are and a few of his road stories.

JS-Are you currently studying any players, composers or new techniques?

Stu-I’m always working on new stuff. I’ve got a couple of the  Simandl upright books that I’m working on, I love those. I’ve got a 12 year old and wife and job and stuff. Once I get them out the door boy I’ll just sit down and read these upright bass patterns, learn the techniques you know. I’m always working on a lot of Bach, a couple 2 part inventions where I’m singing one line and playing the other, just tyring to wrap my brain around that. I have this really incredibly stupid Chromatic Fantasy by Bach and I’m tyring to learn like one bar at a time. So yeah, I’m always trying to get better, it all just comes down to how much time I have to practice.

JS-Do you ever hit plateaus and how do you handle them?

Stu-Plateau? I don’t know what a plateau is. I found out very early in my career that if you have a goal, once you get to that goal you realize it’s just the tip of the iceberg. It really opens up a whole new level of stuff to work on. So I certainly have not ever peaked out or think, Oh man, I’ve got it down, I’m so bad, I don’t ever have to work on it. I have to go back and work on those chromatic approach notes that Jeff berlin told me about, try and figure out how to solo over Giant Steps, there’s ten years of my life.

So, I still find that I really love playing and love to learn and have that stuff that interests me. Hopefully I’m getting better and better.

JS-How do you go about writing a new groove?

Stu-Things just come to me you know. I’ll sit down and like I said, most of my stuff, it’s real inspiration comes from a book I’ve read, people I’ve met, a trip I’ve taken or a good title. For instance, I was doing a little clinic tour last year and I was in the town of Lill in France. I got caught up in the rail strikes so I had to miss a clinic in Germany. I ended up staying three nights in Lill. So there’s a great name for a song, Three nights in Lill, there’s a little double entendre.

Then I went to get my laundry done and the guy at this laundromat in this little town in France is playing all these King Crimson fusion songs. So I said, well I’ve to write a song with a doubling King Crimson kind of sax, goes between a bunch of different time signatures and unison lines….. So, there’s a song right there, now I’ve just got to write it.

JS-That’s cool, so you get the idea, it’s planted and you just put it on the shelf until you’re ready to write it.

Stu-It’s a matter of time and things come….If I’ve got an inspiration for some good chord changes, I’ll put them down and just keep working with them until the inspiration comes for me to know what the name of the song is or what’s it’s about. Then it becomes not just an exercise or a riff pattern, it becomes a song, a piece of music.

JS-Do you have two or three pinnacle musical moments?

Stu-Oh, I have tons and tons. One of the first ones was when I was like 21. I flew from Boston to germany to spend the summer playing with a German big band, a fusion big band. I got on the plane and I realized that I got to travel to some cool place in the world I’d never been to and they’re going to pay me and I get to play music. This is all because of what I do, no one did it for me. It was all my hard work and dedication, it wasn’t something that anyone handed me and that was certainly great.

The rise early on playing with Satriani. Just seeing it break so big, going from playing clubs to larger places was certainly very exciting. 

The end of last year I did this solo bass show in this small studio in Astoria……Some people have preconcieved notions of what I’m going to be about if they know me from Steve or Joe. They think it’s going to be some tapping or shredding and I’ll try and play Beethoven and people are disappointed and don’t know what to expect. But, this was in a small city and was booked by the cultural committee so people just showed up and they didn’t know who I was. Some people had but it’s just a local cultural concert in this beautiful 400 seat classical setting. I was able to play and do my thing and people absolutely loved it.

JS-Is it different to go up there by yourself as opposed to being with a band?

Stu-Oh yeah, it’s a totally different aesthetic. I work to do this whole solo thing that I do, effects and all that and I love doing that, it’s different, it’s a different vibe….If I do that long enough then I just can’t wait to get out there with a drummer and lay down some stuff, play some loud tunes and just lay it down.

I mean, I still love just playing music. I had a top 40 new years gig. I played with this band at a hotel, played a bunch of cover tunes and it was slamming, it was very musical. We played some good songs, laid it down, played Misty Mountain Hop by Led Zeppelin  and it was killing.

JS-You have a Zeppelin cover on your new cd, Going to California.

Stu-I was doing a gig with a band and it kind of fell apart. I just kind of kept playing the D to G chord changes with this harmonic arpeggio that I had come up with. Then it just seemed like a good idea. I went and listened to the recording and experimented with playing the melody up high with the D string and G string. Then I just played it a couple of years in my solo concerts and it just kind of morphed into what it was. I recorded it faster on the record because I knew Alan would be great to get that easy double time jazz feel on it. Mark Magee has a wonderful slide guitar solo on it. I’m really happy with the way that the song came out.

JS-Yeah, it sounds great. Who were you listening to when you first started playing?

Stu-It was Chris Squire from Yes for me and John Entwhistle from The Who. Then I got turned on to Stanley Clarke and then Bootsy Collins….Then I moved to Boston and saw Jaco play and he changed my life. I was fortunate Jeff Berlin was in town and I got to hear him play.

JS-Where did you see them?

Stu-Jeff lived in town and he would do these little jazz gigs at a place called Michael’s Pub. I’d be there every week in the front row just trying to absorb everything I could from it.

JS-I have this bass vault question that I like to ask everyone. Can you list 5 bass lines of yours that need to be heard 100 years from now?

Stu-Five bass lines of mine that need to be heard? Well, probably the slap tempo changing part in Radio Free Albemuth. I would have to say the bass line from Black Ice. People seem to like the Moonlight Sonata [Beethoven arrangement], that seems to kind of stand out. Then there’s Country Music, that’s kind of what I’m well known for. And then my version of Going to California would rank up there.

JS-How about five lines from other people that you would put into the vault?

Stu-Roundabout by Chris Squire. All of Jaco’s first record. School Days by Stanley Clarke. A lot of Percy Jones Stuff-the album mask by Brand X. And more Chris Squire, everything Chris Squire plays on Yes songs.

Thank you again to the incredibly talented Mr. Stu Hamm for his time, it was such an wonderful experience speaking with him.

The new cd is great and a definate necessity in my bass library.

Stu’s contact information:

Stu endorses:

Washburn acoustic and electric basses

HARTKE amplifiers

GHS strings

EMG pickups

Evidence audio cables