Ask Willis - October - 1999

Hey Willis
Very,very disapointed -

Picked up Bent and the very first note on Big Time sounded familiar. I mastered that one note onto an LP and played it on one of those DJ turntables. Yep! Plain as day - sounded just like KC and the Sunshine Band "Celebration" - this is juust great.. now I'm in posession of stolen property

Spare me the grief. what other tunes are fakes?


OK, OK, I'll come clean...
Ever since I arranged "That's The Way, Uh-huh Uh-huh, I like it" for the Kilgore Junior College stage band that I was in my freshman year, everything I've written since then has been an effort to try to recapture the glory that I felt when we played my chart. Forget Count Basie, Sammy Nestico...we rocked those high school gymnasiums we played!
So, after 20 some odd yeas of somewhat disappointing results, I returned to the source...KC and the Sunshine band...where it all started.....wouldn't you?
Now, maybe I can get on with my life....

......'do a little dance'.....'make a little love'....'get down tonite'.....

Maybe not....?

Hey Willis
Is it better to start with the help of fretlines or not?What would you suggest ? Sometimes it's a bitch to play in tune on stage.
How did you start playing fretless ??

On stage, at home, in the studio...where is it easy to play in tune?
Here's what it takes to play in tune with lines:

This is the A on the G string, 2nd fret.
Notice how the line is centered with my finger.

Now here's the E on the G string, 21st fret.
Notice how far my finger isbehind the line.

On any fretless, you have to learn to adjust your relationship to the line the higer or lower you are on the neck. Lines definitely speed up the process. There's 2 basic steps involved in learning intonation. The first is hand-eye coordination, which involves looking at the lines. The second is muscle-memory, where you can play without looking at the neck. It took me 2 years to get to step 2, but that's still only on a good day.

Hey Willis
Could you hip the rest of us mere mortals as to your favorite harmonic territory or devices when soloing ( you like scale subs, pentatonics, penta subs (henderson likes this one), polychords or tetrachors (whatever the hell McCoy is doing). CAN you refer us to texts that have the best discussion of them..or take a shot at discussing em yourself? If favorite is the wrong word... How 'bout what do you tend to fall back on when your brain clouds up onstage...and don;t say "the nearest chair"...

I actually need something to fall back on when my brain wakes up on stage. If my brain starts to get in the way, I'm done for. As they say in Olympic Ice Skating..."the Gold is gone"... (usually after a big tumble)
I probably use pentatonics the most. It's possible to get a lot of energy going with the 4ths and 2nds in pentatonics. I hate scales. Basically, when I'm playing well, I'm just reacting to the idea I just played. An idea to me is a rhythm and a shape. The only thing that could possibly occupy my brain and ears is the the last idea I played and the next one I'm going to play. If I start thinking about more than that, then I'm in trouble.

Hey Willis
I'm a working musician for years, but still I don't know how to handle photo sessions.Should I grin? Should I look very serious? Smoke? Paint my nose or show a little muscles? Two things are important: I want to impress girls and I want to make great musicians like you believe that I can really play! Hell, Willis, what am I gonna do?
Thank you so much, Dino

I always thought crossing one's arms exuded confidence and masked self-consciousness but (as it was pointed out to me in a previous month's question) it can obviously be over done. Hey, all my photos suck so any advice I could give you (just like my sight-reading advice) is purely hypothetical.
Just stand there like a statue for every shot, don't move a muscle. Then the proofs will all look alike so your choice will be easy. Start moving and posing and you open up a whole new can 'o worms. Besides, if you're really photogenic, then you'll look great in every shot, the marketing dept. will have a field day, you'll impress the chicks, and the last thing you'll have to worry about is how you play.

Hey Willis
Can I apply the theroy in your Fingerboard Harmony book when I play swing?

Sure, that's the most immediate benefit of the book. You're walking bass lines will sound exactly like you want them to. The only thing to watch out for is that you should make your lines fit the style of music that you're playing. Some styles of swing don't call for an angular, harmonically adventurous way of playing, but at least with the book, you'll have a choice.

Hey Willis
I was just wondering, would the "ramp" be a good thing for a beginning bass player and if so, is there is a way to retrofit your ramp or something like it to fit an Ibanez SDGR bass (SR400 I believe) It has the two "staggered" pickups in the middle and the long thin pickup at the end nearest the bridge. I think the ramp is a great idea and would very much like to be able to use it so that I can avoid digging into the strings between the fretboard and pickup too much. Thanks for your help.

Back when I was teaching atBIT I probably made over a couple of hundred ramps for basses. A lot of them were P-J configurations like yours. It's definitely a good idea for any bass, although it's a little more work to fit it in between those kind of pickups. Hopefully with some careful carving you can get it to work.

Hey Willis
I've got an equipment question for you. I play an SVT, I know it's a heavy thing, but I love the tone and I shan't be parting with it any time soon. The 8x10 however needs to go. I've been looking for a "small" do-it-all cab that still can handle the power of the SVT. In other words it's gotta be rated at 4 ohms and it has to have some balls. I haven't been a big fan of 4x10s because they sound thin, but I like their size (I have 2 month old room for much else in the car now). I know you endorse Eden, so I played the D410XLT and was impressed with the punch and the bottom end. However I know they make a 212XLT that sounds a little lower, but not so punchy. I play fretless exclusively. If you were in my shoes and looking for one cab to do all, which would you choose, and why?

Sorry bout the SVT, back.....congrats on the baby. Anyway, the 410XLT is definitely the cabinet of choice for me. You can order it in the 4 ohm configuration that definitely kicks.Plus, it's rated at 750 watts. I just use the second 210 to fill out a little bottom here and there. The 210 runs a close second to the 410 in sound, but just doesn't have as much natural midrange. As far as size, the 210 isn't all that much smaller so if you've got the room,go with the 410XLT. Plus it has wheels so you can roll that SVT around on it...