I wish I could have met him. After 43 years only truly timeless songs don’t get old to play year in and year out. Berry’s baselines are integral to those compositions. Berry’s bass lines on Don’t Keep me Wondering, Every Hungry Woman, Stand Back, Ain’t Wastin’ Time, Black Hearted Woman, and the iconic Whipping Post have been the fountain I get water from in the ABB for the last 15 years. Those bass lines ain’t ever gonna get old.
There are a lot of great bassists in rock and roll. But everyone knows how much I need the funk. Billy Cox and Berry are my two favorites when it comes to that. I always thought funk and rock had the same parents. Thank God I grew up in the era of Sly Stone and Band Of Gypsies. Personally I always thought of Sly as a funk band more than a rock band. But I thinkgets missed by the funk community. I’m generalizing of course but I think its a safe bet to say that he’s not thought of as a “funk” bassist. But a song like Don’t Keep Me Wondering will raise it’s fist in protest. And the fact that he did it with a pick is all the more impressive. I never used a pick before the ABB. When I first started, (thanks to a suggestion by Dickey’s guitar tech Joe Dan Petty) I thought to myself, “Well I ain’t gonna be able to play funky with this thing.” Then I remembered, most of the funkiest rhythm guitarists in funk and r&b all played with picks. What a cool new road I had to go down now and it was something I never would have thought of if it wasn’t for me having to really study Berry in depth.
He was a true American innovator. And he was fearless about it. Check out how he is playing the bass line to Leave My Blues At Home in B minor even though the song is in D. For the non musician this wouldn’t seem that radical because they are sympathetic to each other but it is like turning something and looking at it from a different angle. You see something new. He also took the bass improvs to new levels. As Duane and Dickey would slowly build their solos, gradually climbing the guitar neck, Berry would go with them. He refused to be the kid left at home while the parents took a trip. He wanted to see all those places too and he took us there with him. Who knows what would have come out of his head and heart through that bass had he lived. I hope he can hear what we’re doing with it since he can’t be here. And I hope he is well pleased.
Thanks Berry. For all the music, the sick bass lines, grooves and improvisations, we are truly grateful.