Funk bassist Freekbass and his band the Bump Assembly are returning to Traverse City Friday night. MyNorth Media entertainment writer Ross Boissoneau tells us more about the bassist before his Northern Michigan music performance at Union Street Station.
With a name like Freekbass, you know two things immediately: He’s a bass player, and his music has got to be somewhere out there. Turns out you’re right on both counts. Freekbass is a 38-year-old bass phenom from Cincinnati who grew up on the music of Zapp, Midnight Star, the Ohio Players, and Parliament/Funkadelic. “I liked Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, but what I was connecting with was funk. I’d hear Zapp, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. That’s what connected with me.”
He got his initial rhythmic musical experience on drums and also picked up guitar, but bass just felt right to him. “The guitar felt kind of dainty, like if I play too hard I’ll break a string. Bass was meaty and full.” One of the seminal music experiences of his youth was seeing the Oberlin College jazz band. “I sat in front of the bass player. Those low frequencies really resonated with me,” he said.
Like virtually every bassist, he knelt for a time at the altar of jazz legend Jaco Pastorius, who reinvented the bassist’s role in the late 70s and 80s before his life spiraled out of control. “Everyone goes through their Jaco phase,” said Freekbass. “There are a million guys and gals now who can move their fingers up and down the neck, but Jaco, no matter how high he played, he always sounded like a bass. He had that pocket groove.”
He also absorbed music from acoustic bassists like Charles Mingus and Ray Brown and took lessons from Rufus Reid. “Mingus grooved so much. As a kid I didn’t think of it as jazz or funk. You just listen to what you like. I emailed Rufus a year or two ago, and he got right back to me. I teach and do instructional DVDs and he said it’s our responsibility to pass that knowledge on.”
Freekbass doesn’t just play music, he also writes it. “I love the art of writing songs,” he said. He said you know when you’ve written a great song when it works in different arrangements and genres. “A song should be strong enough ideally to fit country or rock or funk. I wrote a song with Bernie (the late keyboardist Bernie Worrell). It had a little country feel but it’s a Freekbass funk song. I really think there are a million great players, but not a million great songwriters. Songwriting is where the real magic happens.”
That brings up another point the bassist is eager to make, that cultivating one’s own style is always the key. “You are your style. My songs will always be funky because that’s who I am. It’s like with David Bowie,” he continued, though he was quick to say he wasn’t comparing himself to the rock icon. Stylistically, the Thin White Duke’s music veered from avant garde rock to dance, soul to jazz. “No matter what, the songs sounded like Bowie.”
Freekbass has played at Union Street Station previously. “It’s been a while, a good six months. It’s always a good time in Traverse City and Union Street Station,” he said. He’s touring with his power trio, Razor Sharp Johnson on keyboards and drummer Rico Lewis, both of whom hail from the Bootsy Collins/George Clinton and P-Funk camps. Freekbass said the three of them have become “ultra-tight” as a result of touring almost non-stop the last two years. Most recently the band was out west — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, and before that New Zealand.
Funk bassist Freekbass and his band the Bump Assembly
How He Got His Start
Freekbass absorbed the sound of Cincinnati, which included the music of King Records, home of R&B musicians such as Champion Jack Dupree, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Throw in the sound of Zapp from the Cincinnati suburb of Hamilton and the Ohio Players from nearby Dayton, and you have the early Ohio funk playbook. He took lessons on bass, including studies with the Jamey Abersold series of Play-Along books and discs, and eventually adopted the name Freekbass for his outrageous funk grooves.
Classic funk/hip hop
Inspirations and Influences
Bootsy Collins, Jaco Pastorius, Sly Stone, Larry Graham, Rufus Reid, Ray Brown, Geddy Lee, Marcus Miller
Freekbass has released six CDs, with performers including Buckethead, Bootsy, Skerik, and the late Bernie Worrell from P-Funk and Talking Heads. In addition to his instructional DVDs, he’s appeared at the London Bass Guitar Show.
“The groove only gets deeper with each successive song. Archetypical funk, sans hype or gimmickry, Cincinnati recalls the sound of vintage radio-ready R&B with an approach that’s as fresh and vital as ever.’” – Relix
“I feel teaching/mentoring young players is very important, and almost a responsibility as a musician. That is one of the many ways you grow as both a musician and a person.” – Freekbass
Date & Time
Friday, September 2 at 9 p.m.
Cover charge $5 at the door