100 Days of Practice, Round 2 Day 36: Miss McCleod Meets Bob Marley

Perhaps I was inspired by Danny Morris. Perhaps I was bored. Perhaps I'm a wee bit nuts. And irreverent. Today I announced to my Bridgewater State College Traditional Irish Ensemble that we were going to jam.

We've spent the semester studying the "right" way to play Irish traditional music. Now it was time to have a little fun. As Coltrane reputedly said, "You have to learn to play 'in' before you can play 'out.'" Before you earn the right to, that is. We've been playing jigs, reels,and hornpipes all semester. It was time for new jive.

I started The Old Copperplate,the fiddle joined in, the bass player got going on a deep groove, the pianist soon added upbeats, and we had a reggae reel. (Note: Bass player was wearing tie-dye today.) Under those conditions, it's only a matter of time before Bob Marley will sneak in like bong smoke through a door jamb. Oh, he did. We discovered that one of Marley's most famous bass lines works beautifully with Miss McCleod's reel. Of course, right behind good old Bob was the ghost of Michael Jackson and his Billie Jean bass line. Folks, we've got a reel for that, too.

Today, the bass player learned to simplify. Like many a bass player, he couldn't help but want to fill all the spaces left by our slow grooving tempo. But you can't do that with a reel, where the melody line is already busy.

Here, we can all take a lesson or two from the famous Muscle Shoals rhythm section, the Swampers. You know... "Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers, and they've been known to pick a song or two. (Woo, ooh, ooh...)" That is, Muscle Shoals is the Alabama studio responsible for the sound on a list of anthems too extensive to list. Think Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Percy Sledge, Paul Simon, Bob Seger... and on. And on.

Soul Papa and I checked out Muscle Shoals tonight, thanks to suggestions from yet another Berkleemusic.com course, Music Production Analysis, a FABULOUS course from Professor of Music Production and Engineering Stephen Webber.

Now, let's remember. Muscle Shoals are the dudes that played on Wilson Pickett's super grooving "Mustang Sally," not to mention Paul Simon's "Love Me Like a Rock" and "Kodachrome," Bob Seger's "Main Street" and "We've Got Tonight," and a million other songs. But we had to check out Rod Stewart's "Sailing." Funky does not come to mind when I think of this 1970s anthem, so I thought I'd see what David Hood, the groovin' est bass player in the history of r&b (excepting, of course, Bootsy Collins), does with this tune.

Guess what he does in the intro? One-note per bar! Just the root! All those chops, and he's playing one note. There's a lesson. Check out his recording with the Swampers on the Atlantic Crossing album for a lesson in simplicity and solidity.

That's what those chops can teach you: Less is more. Less, in fact, is almost always more.