Ask Willis - November - 1998

Hey Willis,
I saw TT at the Jazz & Blues Bar in Brisbane, Australia last year and was blown away. I bought "Reality Check" at the gig, but I have to say that, although it is great stuff, a Live CD would be the only way to appreciate you guys when we can't get to a gig, which leads me to the next part of my note. How come you blokes haven't come back like you said you would? I distinctly remember hearing one of you say at that gig that you would be back in 1998. Well you better bloody hurry up because it's nearly over, unless you want to end up having Christmas here (probably be better than freezing your arse off over there). Let us know when you are returning as we are starving for some good Fusion, TT style. Get them to promote the next gig properly so that more people know about it and tell them to get you a bigger venue so we can all fit, without getting too intimate with each other. Hope to see you soon and I'm sure I speak for a lot of others as well.
Regards, Noel
PS: What are CFL & NFL ? Is it that pussy football game that Yanks play where they wear all that padding and helmets and have a rest between plays. Next time you are here come and watch a game of Rugby League and see the best football in the world.

Hey Noel,
Sorry mate, '99's the year. Don't know if it'll be Spring or Fall (that's Fall or Spring for you) but I'll put up the info here on the site. We'd do a live CD if we didn't have the bloody guitar bleedin into all the other mikes;-)
Maybe you should wear those NFL pads and helmet to the Jazz & Blues Bar, besides, without the breaks, you don't get to watch all those commercials.

Hey Willis,
I just picked up "No Sweat" and find it truly incredible. I, myself, am a part-time bass player and lover of all challenging music. My questions for you is: How can someone like myself (33 yrs old, wife, mortgage, etc), get really useful training or lessons? The local music stores offer teaching, however the teachers I've encountered have spent more time trying to show me how impressive they are. I did take some correspondence lessons from Dale Titus, and found that most helpful. I want to impove my ability to improvise solos over any given chord progression. Any tips?
Also, thanks for all the excellent music. I really enjoy it. By the way, I'm from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Thanks Hamm,
and now a word from our sponsor,
Oh yeah, that's me. I've got a whole book full of tips for creating lines. Fingerboard Harmony for Bass.
How's that for crass commercialism?
When you're playing the bass and the chords change, you want the fingerboard to "look" different. The book takes advantage of the geometry of the neck, so that you can "see" your options harmonically. It applies to soloing, walking, fills, grooves-anytime you get to choose the notes.
Dale's a great guy, but as far as who's available locally, I don't have a clue. The main thing to look for is someone who can teach you how to teach yourself. It's one thing to show you what they know, it's another to give you the tools to develop yourself.

Hey Willis,
dude keep up the good work on the site. It's coming out awesome! I went and got Bent yesterday and am enjoying the CD a lot. Awesome lineup. Are you going to tour with the Bent band? Also, consider you should consider booking the Iron Horse in Northhampton MA again on the Spring TT tour. I saw you play there with TT on the Illicit tour and it was one of the best shows I can remember. Great room. Anyway, thanks for the continued high-quality on all fronts.
cdr - computer geek by day, plain old freak by night

CDR, thanks dude. 'Don't expect to be able to tour with the BENT lineup in the states, maybe abroad. Yeah, I liked that venue, 'hope to be back someday.
....the geek shall inherit the earth.... (there's a typo in the Bible)

Hey Willis,
cool thing you have a web page! Does Scott Henderson have a web page too? There must be some web pages about him. I also want to say you are a wonderful composer; your tunes on the TT albums are often the best. Your melodic and rythmic ideas are awesome. One more question, did you transcribe solos when you started out? Like Miles or Bird or someone like that to learn from? Would you recommend doing that? Ok, that was two questions . . . :-) Thanks, C.A.R.

Thanks C.A.R.
There is a page the someone else made for Henderson.
And thanks for the kind, but possibly inflammatory, words. (i bet you say that to all the Tribal Tech composers)
I did a lot of transcribing. I wasn't very good at the notation side, but eventually got there. You're better off staying away from transcribing bass players, they tend to stick to things that bass players can do, imagine that.The main thing is to transcribe with the goal of not having to write it out but have it translate directly to you instrument.

Hey Willis,
I appear to have a small bow in my (bass)neck between the 12th and 18th fret, which prevents me from dropping the strings too far without getting a buzz off the end of the fretboard. Suggestions? There's room to drop the strings some more at the 12th, but it buzzes. The dogs are cute, but I'm allergic(ah-choo)so I gotta go. NFL's fine if you can't get CFL(yeah I know eight teams are boring but...). Later,
Double D

Hey Double D,
Fret the first fret (any string) and hold the string down against your highest fret with your right elbow. Now take your right foot......
OK, actually nevermind the foot, what you've created is a perfectly straight line between the first and last frets to see how much bow is in the neck. With your right hand (still holding down that string with your elbow) tap on the string as close to the 12th fret as possible. There's no real set height it should be off the neck, but there should be some movement. Tighten the truss rod a little (1/4 to 1/2 turn per day, max) and check the releif (elbow and all). Once you adjust the truss rod, you might have to adjust the height of the strings. The basic deal is that if the strings buzz up towards the nut, then the neck is too straight, if you lower the strings and they buzz down at the heel of the neck then there's too much bow.
**If you're tightening a truss rod, always help the truss rod by pushing on the neck in the direction you intend for it to go as you tighten. I learned that lesson the hard way... snapped a truss rod on a $2500 student's bass.**
8 CFL teams? how many NHL teams are left up there?
Isn't there one in Hawaii now?;-)

Hey Willis,
your web site looks great. i think it's cool that you've got your own domain. are you ever coming up to canada (toronto) in the near future? i'd love to hear you play live...if not anywhere close like new york state?....RM

Thanks RM,
'Next chance we have to tour North America will be fall '99.
I'll keep a schedule on my site.

Hey Willis,
Just got Bent, Great playing as usual, but ever since i got the CD I've been trying to figure out the chord your holding in the mug shot. Is that some wacky altered dominant chord or the international sign for our featherd friends ?.....tvo

tvo.....We're number one!
I can't play chords on fretless to save my life, so what else could it be?

Hey Willis,
You can't imagine how I'm glad to write this letter to you... I'm just talking to my great bass idol!!! You're my one, man! Now, let me ask you something: I never saw you slapping on the bass... can I see it anywhere? I mean, do you slap, too? And, another question: do you like Brazil? Actually, it's my country, and I would like to know what my idol thinks of my country (it doesn't mean that I like it: on the contrary, I HATE IT!!!). Thanx, man!!!!....DB

Hey DB,
Thanks for writing, funny you should ask, 'cause the title tune from 'Bent' is one I'm slapping on. I never slap on my fretless, but I'll pick up a fretted and bang on it if necessary.
I've enjoyed the visits I've had to Brazil. There's always good and bad in every country.

Hey Willis,
Thank you for the % 22Stoopid" chords! As a matter of fact I really feel stoopid looking at your Collection book (as well as Henderson's 2 other books). I was flabbergasted at the fact that the solos were transcribed note for note. Anyways, until you guys show up at the land of 10,000 lakes, I wish you happy Thanksgiving and by the way, it will take more than a dozen bags of Cheezy Poofs to have the Boys go past the Vikes! You're the man!.....Walid

Thanks Walid,
Randall Cunningham's the man. Knee surgery, 6 days later starting. Best deep ball in the biz. mmmmm.... who should we put Deion on, Cris Carter or Randy Moss. If Deion's still hurting, forget it. 'Gonna be fun to watch either way.

Hey Willis,
i bought a new alembic epic 5 string bass and played it on my g.k. amp. i never played on 5 string or 6 string basses before , and when i play on my new alembic i get a lot of unwanted over tones! how can i get rid of them? is it because the pickups are sensitive or may be the strings ? what do you think? this never happened to me on my 4 string fender!
thank you , ami

Hey Ami,
The obvious cause of all your problems is that Alembic logo on you bass, it should say IBANEZ. I've also noticed people having trouble with that GK logo. If it said EDEN even the Alembic would sound better..;-)
OK, you actually need to be more specific about "unwanted overtones". I'm guessing you're probably not dampening the E string when you play on the D and G strings. 'Couple of solution, I use a "floating thumb" (for lack of a better label) that moves from my ramp, to the B, to the E and sometimes the A string, depending on which strings I'm playing on. As I go higher, I keep the B and E strings from ringing with the side of my thumb. Another way people do it is to put the 3rd and 4th fingers of the right hand on the B and E string as you play higher. I have no idea how to tell you to do that, since I don't do it myself. Let me know if that's the problem, otherwise you'll be left with no choice but trade in that Alembic for the Willis model Ibanez (fretted or freless) when it comes out in Jan.

Hey Willis,
Like many, I have really enjoyed your music over the years, and being able to ask an artist such as yourself questions and to stay informed about your career developments is exciting. Thanks a bunch!! So my question is, how have you pushed yourself throughout your career to continually grow and be honest about your development as a musician? This especially in light of all the distractions that can occur in dealing with the music business. Again thanks for this forum!!.....Damon

Hey Damon,
Yikes, that's a loaded question. In order to answer it I have to accept your compliments, so thanks, but to actually answer it means taking myself way more seriously that I want to. I just try to do the best I can with what I've got. 'nuff said. Thanks again.

Hey Willis,
What you talking bout Willis? What up with the New Mexico Hang? Hope you are riding in Pecos Wilderness. Would like to get composistion book, but afraid there may be some dotted rythms....C.T.

Hey C.T.
NM's cool, 'don't need to get out of SF much to ride, everything's local.
Where's Pecos Wilderness. ? If it involves camping, I'm calling Tom Bodette.
Hey, buy the comp book for the same reason you buy literary classics: impress the chicks!

Hey Willis,
1.Are the fingerboards on your fretless basses lined?
2. What is it that most helped you with your abiblity to improvise (Mastery of the fretboard)?...Frank

Hey Frank,
1. The fingerboards are definitely lined.
2. The connection between the geometry of the neck and what it sounds like is the most direct thing. I "see" sounds and "hear" shapes.

Hey Willis,
what to practice?
how to practice?
essential books?
essential cd's?

Hey G.R.
the connection between your ear and the bass
make music, anything you can't execute becomes an exercise
books? mine
cds? mine
OK, you asked for the last two, why do you think they call it ".com"
Also, I've got an almost top 10 essential CD list on a reply this month.

Hey Willis,
What a great site!  I'm glad I found it.  I've been a huge fan for 5 or 6 years.  I'm 21, I play bass in the mountains of Boone, NC.  (Lots of rockin' biking)  I love your songs.  The chords in Speak and the everlasting night are awesome,  especially during your solos.  How did you arrive at those and/or what are they? Later,

Thanks JP,
Yeah, I've heard about that east coast style singletrack. 'Hope to ride it someday.
When I'm working on progressions, I try to treat the top voice of the harmony like a melody. That'll usually give some direction to the progression and holds everything together better. The solo progression in Speak is mostly mi7 chords except for 1 sus7 chord and a maj7 chord. (you can figure those out, right?;-) get ready for the commercial: the whole tune with chords, solo & all is in my composition book, The Gary Willis Collection.
The solo progression in the Everlasting Night is the same as the melody progression.

Hey Willis,
I'm out of the fusion gossip circle so maybe you could tell me what happened to Tribal Tech. I never heard any stories about a break up but I have not heard of any up coming tours or albums. On top of that, Henderson and yourself appear to be focusing on your solo projects and session work exclusivly.
So as you can see I'm very confused(in more than one way),so if you could set me straight on the whole Tribal Tech situation I would be thankful.  The other two things I wanted to ask you are 1)are you planing on doing any future projects with Allan Holdsworth(the last two kicked ass),and do you have a e-mail address for him,Ii have looked every where and I can't find one.  Jason

Hey Jason,
How could you possibly live in the fusion hotbed of Maine and not be up on the latest?
TT's got a new CD out in Feb. on ESC called "Thick".
TT's been in between labels, so we took advantage of the time off to rethink our approach. The new CD is a jam record, no compositions going into the studio. 'Lot of fun to record.
Big Al has a trio record (Dave Carpenter & Gary Novak) that he's working on. 'dont have an e-mail for him.

Hey Willis,
I really like your book about fingerboard harmony on bass.
But there are some thing I don¥t understand:
Using your system to memorize chord changes:
Imagine a: 2 5 1 maj3 up 2 5 1..
Let¥s say the first 1 is an Emaj7, they following chord would be a (processing, please wait...) G#m7 (in F# major)? Right? If its like that, then there is a mistake in your book (in the chapter about the 2(7)).. Roland

Hey Roland,
Thanks, and thanks for pointing out the mistake.
There are several mistakes in that book. I'm going to put the corrections up on my site so you can go through and have all the correct information.
They'll be up soon, so let me know if it's incomplete.

Hey Willis,
Every nite while lying in bed with my hubby, he plays Tribal Tech Cds!! Not that I don't like them, I do, in fact I turned him onto TT a few years back...Now whats the best TT song to help me drift peacefully off to sleep? (Boat Gig doesn't cut it!)
Oh, and I love the pic of your dog..a yellow lab? And I also love Brett Farve and the Packers... Trish and the Lunatic

You guys are nuts.
Maybe I could suggest some Pantera , or some Rage Against the Machine to snuggle up to.
TT's got a slim collection of dreamy ballads (probably 1 per CD) but they usually get intense somewhere within the tune. I could suggest some selections off my own CD's but that would be pretty opportunistic of me, wouldn't it?
My yellow and chocolate labs will be featured in the canine section, to be finished soon.
I like Brett Farve better without a running game, go Cowboys.

Hey Willis,
i just wonder what inspires you to write all that great music?

Hey Krille, Thanks, sometimes life in general, works its way into my writing, but inspiration usually only keeps me from tossing an idea in the trash, the rest just comes from being stubborn.

Hey Willis,
How long have you played bass?
What is important to do when i practice?
I use a metronome. o.e.

Hey O.E.
I've had a bass since I was 13. 'Been playing 28 years. (you do the math)
Try to be creative when you practice. Learn to solve your own problems, create your own exercises. Try to create music (grooves, lines, etc.) and you'll discover plenty of things to work on that directly relate to making music, not just somebody else's routine. Do it all with a metronome, but leave out the downbeats (put the metronome on 2 & 4, or upbeats).

Hey Willis,
Are you planning on having a discography on your site? Also, I know you played on the two Garsed/Helmerich CDs, "Quid Pro Quo" and "Exempt"; any idea on where I can get them? I am having no luck on the 'Net?
Thanks, Mark

Hey Mark,
A selected discography (a complete one will eventually be up) is under the "guy" section. Audiophile Imports might have some of the Garsed/Helmerich CD's left, I think they might be out of print.

Hey Willis,
I'd like to start playing some of S. Henderson's stuff. Is there anything available in sheet music format(or, reluctantly, tablature)? ...Vlad

Hey Vlad,
Here's where I start sounding like you're dad.
Back in my day, when we wanted to learn a tune or a solo or anything else, we got the record (ancient black vinyl data storage media) and started dropping the needle on what we wanted to learn. Then those "cassettes" came along and made life a whole lot easier.
Anyway, don't forget to use your ear in the process.
Scott's got a couple of books out on Hal Leonard.

Hey Willis,
i just wonder when Tribal Tech is visiting Copenhagen? and if you're coming over withyour "own" band?
PS I'm the guy who always show up first at the gigs. Thanks in advance.

Hey Tobe,
We'll probably be in Copenhagen in the spring. Check this site (I promise to finish it someday) for info. If my band gets a chance to tour, it will be next summer. 'See ya for sure in March or April.

Hey Willis,
Using chord positions is a good way to ground your licks to the harmony underneath. Don't you think so? What do you think of playing solos over chord positions,like 15th fret A string for Cm7(any chord shape!)?

Hey Francesco,
I definitely recommend "seeing" harmony through hand positions. (lookout, here comes the commercial) My book "Fingerboard Harmony for Bass" covers what you're asking about pretty thoroughly.

Hey Willis,
i've never played 5 nor 6-string bass before. kinda curious--how do you tune them? and when are you guys playing san francisco again? best regards, rob

Hey Rob,
A 5 is usually tuned with a low B below the E string and a 6 is like a 5 but adds a high C string. Once I finish the site (ever?) I'll post any schedule I've got, but I don't see any chance of playing SF until maybe next fall.

Hey Willis,
Is the fingerboard on the Ibanez natural or finished ? I always assumed (from the sound you get) that it would have a finish on it.

I used to use an epoxy finish on rosewood, but I've switched to ebony and that'll be on the Signature bass. Ebony is not as bright, but the new pickup ends up a little brighter so it compensates. We were still in the prototype stage when I recorded Bent so it has both kinds of necks on it.

Hey Willis,
Please sign my CD to "Cliff", thanks! I just started buying CDs again (that darn cash problem!) I see you guys whenever you play in NYC/NJ area. I was disappointed to hear there's no Fall US tour. Kinsey lied to me last year! In '95 at the Turning Point in Piermont, NY Henderson told me that the "new" TT CD coming out in early '96 was going to be mostly improvisational, live jams, no written songs. Is that what Thick is going to be? My other question is: Where do you ride in New Mexico and what's the setup on your bike? If you come to NYC/NJ and want to ride here, let me know. I'll take you around to some great spots! - Cliff PS: I like the website!

Thanks, yeah, that Kinsey......
So anyway, "Thick" is real different for us, but was fun to record. No tunes to start with, just jamming. Then we went back and composed to the jams where they needed it.

There's a few great trails just 20 min. from town. I haven't checked it out, but there's supposed to be some great riding within a hour or two of Santa Fe as well. I've got a '96 GT LTS "Thermo" with a Marzocci B1 up front. It's an older bike but it's the bomb for me. I still like to climb, but when you turn that thing around at the top...whoo-hoo!.

Hey Willis,
Do you know how I can get a hold of the Wayne Johnson disc "Keeping The Dream Alive" with you on it? I can't tell how hard I've looked for it!

I checked but it's not there. If it's not there, then I wouldn't know where to tell ya. You probably know that if you can't find it on the "net" then you're gonna have trouble finding it.
good luck.

Hey Willis,
What Is the ten most "essential" album's for a bass player to own?

I know I'm going to leave something out here:

Back to Oakland....TOP
Thrust....Herbie Hancock
Four and More....Miles Davis (or "The Complete ConcertL:1964")
Bitches Brew....Miles Davis
Heavy Weather....Weather Report
Eyewitness....Steve Kahn
Night Passage....Weather Report
We Want Miles....Miles Davis
Word of Mouth....Jaco Pastorious

That's only 9, I knew I was going to leave something out.

Hey Willis,
Who were your favorite bass players growing up? P.S. Go Red Wings! Go Steelers! P.P.S. Your website kicks ass! -Rich

Rocco Prestia, Paul Jackson, Anthony Jackson, Jaco Pastorius, of course Gerald Calhoun.
OK, you probably haven't heard of Gerald Calhoun (local player in Dallas back in the early 80's) , but I learned how to slap by listening to a tape that Kirk Covington had played on with him. I'm not EVEN known for my slapping, (not Gerald's fault) but know you know.
Don't the Red Wings play that game that's sort of like contact soccer on ice?