Electric bass player, songwriter, and producer is known for his work with Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, and on many film and television soundtracks. He has earned 17 platinum and gold records.
In this interview, Chuck shares stories from the early days, as well as current projects with Bass Musician Magazine - Ty Campbell.
What initially got you interested in playing bass?
I was playing guitar and was in a band that had three guitar players, and I was playing single note patterns on the guitar. Finally one night the drummer said, “Why don’t you go get one of those new electric basses?” I had lowered my strings down, my E string to D, and so on, and that’s how I got into playing bass. I was actually going to be a guitar player, but in that particular band, the lead player’s wife played rhythm and then I played the single note patterns on my guitar and sang background vocals behind him when he sang.
What was the experience like touring with King Curtis and opening for the Beatles?
Well, it was exceptional and I think the largest audience I had been around was when I was working with Jackie Wilson, he would draw about 1800 to 2500 people, which was a lot of people in those days, especially compared to the club dates I was playing where you don’t have that many people. It was very exciting, and the band, well, we didn’t know who the Beatles were because we were not listening to and playing that kind of music. We were playing pop music; we just weren’t listening to the radio. We didn’t get a chance to hear them till maybe the seventh or eighth concert. I forget where we were but I want to think it was The Cow Palace in San Francisco. There were so many people there that we couldn’t get to our dressing room and had to remain in a certain area off stage where they had monitors and we listened to the Beatles.
We had a private plane and the whole tour was on that plane. Every city we went to, we had police escorts from the airport to the hotel and of course, everyone had escorts to the venue from the hotel. I remember our first concert was at Shea Stadium in New York, and the sound check at around 2 PM had about 50,000 people there. We had a really good time and of course I enjoyed listening to the Beatles once I heard them; they were a very good vocal ensemble, who sang and played very well. George Harrison and John Lennon were always on our part of the plane playing cards, talking and stuff like that. Paul and Ringo were kind of snobbish and they did not bother at all to come back and visit with anybody on the plane, they just stayed in their part of the plane.
The tour was a lot of fun and ended in Los Angeles after which our band ended up staying an extra week because we had a gig in Hollywood. After we returned to New York and it was all over I wanted to go back some day and live in California and I ultimately did a few years later.
There is a rumor about how the bass was performed on Steely Dan’s song Peg; can you elaborate a little bit on that?
Well, Walter, Donald, and Gary, what they did on every song in Steely Dan was they would always listen for a drum track they could keep. So the rhythm section would be sitting in the room playing but they would be listening only to the drummer. When they felt that they had a good drum track, then the drummer could leave and the rest of the rhythm section would play to the drum track. Jeff Porcaro usually played drums first and if they had another drummer come in, they would listen to his track on a lot of those songs, up to Aja. Jeff was a really good friend and we had done a lot of sessions together outside of Steely Dan. Warner Brothers had signed Toto and they didn’t want Jeff to be associated with Steely Dan because both groups were with Warner Brothers. So, while we were playing to the track on Peg, Jeff wanted me to slap the bass on the bridge of the song. We had done a lot of other sessions together and I did slap on some of those things, but I was not known to be a slap player like Louis Johnson.
A lot of people didn’t like slap bass because it was so tinny. Louis Johnson at that time was the known slapper and Billy Preston had many hit records with Louis playing. Louis was a good friend of mine, except that I did not care for the sound of his bass because it didn’t sound like a bass, it had so much treble. I came up with upright players and listened to them slap the bass and it just had the certain sound to it, not like the same slap technique on the electric bass. I played a Fender with flat wound strings and slapping it would sound more like a slap on an upright bass. I’m pretty sure that Donald and Walter were listening to all the things going on at times, and as I mentioned earlier, Billy Preston had several hit records right in a row and Louis Johnson was playing the bass, except that the bass sounded a little bit tinny, so I think that’s why Donald didn’t want me to slap.
Jeff and I had played together on many other sessions other than Steely Dan where I did slap the bass and every time we got to the bridge, Jeff would ask me to play it with slap, and I would say, “No”. Jeff said since they are only listening to my track and not listening to you why not go ahead and do it. So since we had to play it again maybe 3 or 4 more times, I agreed and placed the sound partitions up around me because I had a live amp in the room and slapped on the bridge turning away from the control room view so they couldn’t see me doing it.
After the break the rest of the band, bass, guitar, and the piano player, began to overdub the song. We had been playing the song for about an hour as they were listening to the drums and I knew now that they were listening to the bass. So when I recorded the bass part, I didn’t slap when I got to the bridge and after the second or third time, Donald said, “It sounds so much different than it did when you were playing with Jeff.” It does sometimes happen that way once you take away one element of an instrument in the rhythm section and begin to play it; it is going to sound a little bit different.
Jeff was in the control room and he said, “Well, he was slapping it”, which they didn’t know I was doing, so Donald said, “Go ahead and do what you were doing when Jeff was playing.” Finally it worked out to where it sounded better. All in all, that’s basically how that went. We did two tunes a day from twelve to six on all projects, some of the songs we would do over and over and over, and I think they were trying to sample me, which is impossible because I don’t play with the same touch constantly the same way. If they had told me they were sampling me, I would probably have made more of an effort to play specifically all the time.
To read more about Chuck’s bio visit chuckrainey.com/bio.
JOHN ANTHONY MARTINEZ
IT ALL BEGAN…
…in the Bronx of New York City. I grew up in a Puerto Rican household surrounded by cousins and some aunts and uncles who were close to my age. My grandfather was a pastor of a storefront Pentecostal church where my mother played the drums. My earliest memories were those of music.
HIGH SCHOOL OF MUSIC & ART
I attended the high school that was made famous by the movie Fame where I was the first chair trumpet player in the school orchestra and jazz ensemble. As first chair I had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall with the New York All-City Orchestra on several occasions. My classmates and I performed at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, and a group of my closest friends and I formed our own band and performed at CBGBs. I had been awarded a music scholarship as a trumpet player, but that quickly dissolved when, out of the blue, I developed Bell’s Palsy and could no longer play my instrument. My career path suddenly shifted.
THE PATRIOT LEAGUE & BERKLEE
The summer I graduated high school I headed straight to college at Colgate University. It was an experience I will never forget. Being Puerto Rican with a distinct Bronx accent on a campus full of privileged, high society students, I felt sorely out of place. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was not destined to become a lawyer. What I wanted to do most of all was play the drums. After a year at Colgate, I walked away from my full-ride scholarship and moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. I have been drumming and producing music ever since.
To read more about John’s bio visit johnanthonymartinez.com/bio.