This is the third in this mini-series. If you’ve not yet read Parts 1 and 2, you can do so by clicking on the links below:
In a moment I’ll tell you about the time our “manager” shot me with a firework. First let me tell you about the songwriting lesson he arranged that led me to the third piece of the bass line creation puzzle.
Here’s the skinny:
The band I was then in played regular gigs at weddings, birthday parties, corporate parties and the like. Back in 91 we played a wedding at one of the many 5 Star hotels based out near Heathrow Airport.
At the end of the gig this guy comes up and speaks to our singer and gives him a card and says Call Me.
So thinking this is about a future gig – over half of our gigs at the time came from word of mouth recommendations – our singer phoned the guy (Robert) to find out what kind of gig inquiry he has.
Only he doesn’t.
Robert has a much more intriguing pitch.
He really liked what we’d played at the wedding. And he wants to turn us into an original band. And manage us.
He talks about songwriting. And videos. And record contracts.
We’re like: WTF?
Anyways…we meet up with him – with lawyers present I hasten to add! – and we start thrashing out a deal on how he sees this working. And how we see it working.
Whilst said deal is being thrashed by the lawyers Robert arranged for us to have a song writing lesson as he suggests we should be learning to write songs.
Now I quickly found that I personally have got zero interest in writing songs. It just doesn’t float my boat. And the songwriting lesson we had – at which I was principle note taker for the band – wasn’t something that interested me much.
Except that one of the topics that we were taught was about common chord progressions. And mixing and matching common chord progressions to create songs. (Sidebar: if you know the blues form, that’s a common chord progression. It’s a I-IV-V. Or if you’ve ever seen the video by Aussie comedy rock band The Axis OF Awesome called the Four Chord Song..that’s another great example of a common chord progression.)
Now there are two reasons why this is so important.
Firstly, you can spend time exploring the chord progression, checking out how to navigate the chord changes, what chord tones work as approach tones. And then if you need to come up with a bass line to that chord progression you’re not starting from a blank canvas – you already have worked through it and know several things that work. And those ideas that you already have just need adapting rhythmically for the new song you’re working on.
And second if you learn bass lines to songs you can lift ideas from OTHER songs with the same chord progression. And just change up the rhythm to suit. Maybe add in some extra chord tones or approach tones. And you can very quickly come up with what sounds like a new bass line. Do it right and only you will know where the original line came from.
If you want an example of this from the real world, Paul McCartney is on record as saying that the bass line for I Saw Her Standing There was lifted almost note for note from a Chuck Berry tune!
So although the deal with Robert never materialized – he pulled out once the contracts had been thrashed out and it was time to sign on the dotted line – I’ll always be thankful for that songwriting lesson.
Because it unlocked the third piece of the creating bass line puzzle – common chord progressions and exploring them.
Of course I’m less thankful for the scar on the back of my right knee where he shot me with a firework. A bunch of you emailed to find out what happened.
Here’s the story.
By coincidence it turned out that Robert lived just two streets away from us. About a 100 yards. And how freaky is that? He had young-ish kids and during the contract negotiation period he invited us round for the bonfire and fireworks party he was having for his kids, their friends, and families.
Anyhows, the firework display he arranged goes off without incident. And most of the kids go home. We are standing outside on his patio having a beer, chatting, waiting to chat more to him. Robert is tidying the garden with his eldest son.
Tidying the garden entails going around collecting all the spent pieces of firework.
For reasons known only to himself he collects the firework debris and proceeds to dispose of it in the most stupid way known to man.
He put all those bits of firework onto the bonfire.
For about 10 seconds it sounds like a reprise of a WW1 trench bombardment. And one of the pieces of debris his son had collected was a rocket that hadn’t ignited.
Needless to say, said rocket now ignites and ‘launches’ itself from the bonfire.
And no prizes for guessing who the rocket hits on the back of the right leg just below the knee. The thing burned a hole right through my jeans and caused a nasty burn below my right knee! Fortunately we were standing near the beer bucket that was full of ice and so I was able to minimize damage by getting ice onto it immediately.
So, to recap where we are in the story of how I acquired the knowledge to create my own basslines.
Puzzle Piece 1 – Transposable Riffs
Puzzle Piece 2 – Approach Notes (and Placement of Chord Tones)
Puzzle Piece 3 – Common Chord Progressions
There’s one more puzzle piece to go which I’ll share with you in the next article. There’s no cool firework story to go with it, but it’s just as important a part of the learning process in creating your own basslines as the other parts.
PS if you want to see the Axis Of Awesome video, here’s the link:
And some folks can’t see that one, so here’s another one that’s not blocked: