Pointers for Phil sound?

Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby bigandtall » Fri Jul 08, 2016 9:41 pm

Hey all,
Longtime player but I've never really focused on learning Phil style. I have always been more of a root nite player. I've been reading old threads and have some ideas on what to learn but thought that I'd pose the question fresh (rusty?). What are a few specific things I can work into my metronome routine every day to really start getting more Phil under my fingers? :)

Thanks,
JR
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Re: Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby hieronymous7 » Sat Jul 09, 2016 10:21 am

That's a tough one! I'd like to hear other people's insights as well - not so much so that I can play like that, more in order to get a deeper appreciation of the Phil Zone.

I did find an article online: The Musical Imagination of Phil Lesh: The Grateful Dead's Difference Engine by Brent Wood - haven't had a chance to dive in but this caught my attention because it's what I have found through my own listening:

"Lesh’s playing, in a general sense, relies on long, non-repeating phrases composed of series of brief melodic figures which swing around the main harmonic downbeats, forming obtuse counter melodies to the implied central melody."

I saw him perform a few months ago with his group at Terrapin Crossroads, and they played "Proud Mary" - on the second time around he didn't reinforce the riff that opens the song, he was noodling around up high instead. It sounded thin and I was really surprised, then I remembered who I was listening to! So often he doesn't play what you would expect a "normal" bassist to play, and at times I find it disconcerting. But then when he does something like reinforce the riff or pump root quarter notes, it's that much more powerful.

There was an issue of Bass Player where they offered an analysis of Phil's style and a transcription of "Scarlet Begonias" (I think) - not available online anymore but I'll see if I can find my copy (if I still have it) and scan it. I did find this quote that I had copied though:

“I went in with the idea I didn’t want to be a standard bassist,” he says. “At that time, who played anything interesting in rock & roll bass? There wasn’t anything going on, and I didn’t want to be relegated to the role of just thumping along. I wanted to bring a more fluid, melodic approach to the instrument.” With little background in pop music, Lesh drew instead on his classical training—particularly contrapuntal composers such as Bach and Palestrina—for inspiration. “In counterpoint the bass line is a melody, as are all the other lines, yet they all fit together. They move at different speeds sometimes, but it’s always interesting, and it’s always linear. The voices always lead somewhere.”
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Re: Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby lovetoboogie » Sat Jul 09, 2016 11:54 am

Phil tends to play ahead or behind the beat ever so slightly. It's a constant tension that pulls the band along. When the Dead were really firing back in the late 60's and early 70's, especially as a 4 and 5 piece(71'-74'), you could hear examples of this all over the place. Hard to explain but he would 'punch in' on the 'and' of the beat. Dropping anything but the root in the most creative spots of the measure. Jerry once described Phil as a "stretched out rubberband".

Check out this botched version of Playing in the Band from 74'... after they regroup to start it over Phil obviously takes control of the ship. His notes never seem to fall in the obvious places. This is a cookin' version of Playin'...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYJPBXFQAAc
"It all rolls into one..."
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Re: Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby brbadg » Sat Jul 09, 2016 4:45 pm

Okay. Hoo boy.( long deep breath). I started with Live Dead.It's a lively one,I have to warn you.
The Lovelight would be a good place to start because its only 2 chords and shows you how he weaves between the 2 of them.
You kind of have to let inspiration take hold, and try to free yourself of being tied down to root fifth combos.
Its a lot like learning guitar leads.I can get more specific , but here's a start.
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Re: Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Mon Jul 11, 2016 6:35 am

I put a few Phil thoughts together in video form a few years ago, maybe something here can help out:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=P ... tlBwEO07sC
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Re: Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby hieronymous7 » Sat Jul 16, 2016 1:39 pm

Bummer - I got rid of my Bass Player Magazines, so no go on the Phil issue :oops:
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Re: Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby zambiland » Tue Jul 19, 2016 9:22 pm

A couple of helpful starting places would be to spend some time with the Bach cello suites and other Bach basslines.

Then explore jazz. Especially Scott LaFaro and Jimmy Garrison.

I also throw in some Steve Swallow inspired stuff.

But, you have to know all your chords and modes backwards and forwards. Remember that each note, even if played as a scale, implies a chord and its attendant harmony. Always, always, always, think chords. Both Bach and Garrison, etc., knew that.
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Re: Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby strumminsix » Wed Jul 20, 2016 6:11 am

zambiland wrote:A couple of helpful starting places would be to spend some time with the Bach cello suites and other Bach basslines.

Then explore jazz. Especially Scott LaFaro and Jimmy Garrison.

I also throw in some Steve Swallow inspired stuff.

But, you have to know all your chords and modes backwards and forwards. Remember that each note, even if played as a scale, implies a chord and its attendant harmony. Always, always, always, think chords. Both Bach and Garrison, etc., knew that.

i think this is good advice. i have played with bassists who think this way and others who are move groove oriented. The former really nail the phil stuff.
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Re: Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby zambiland » Wed Jul 20, 2016 8:31 am

My philosophy has always been not to copy Phil's licks and parts but to follow his approach as I would in my own music. I had a head start because prior to being a bass player, I studied classical music (recorder, clarinet, piano, and finally oboe) and my grandfather was modern classical composer of post-12 twelve tone piano music, so I had a lot of exposure to the modern stuff Phil was into from the time I was born. I also played a lot of chamber music, which was a great education to playing in a rock band and bringing it to the next level of group dynamics. I had a counselor at music camp who came up in NYC and said he went to the Fillmore a few times in the late 60s, but the only band he liked at all was the GD because they "played with the intensity of a string quartet".

The jazz stuff came later for me, but I started getting it, things moved quickly. I think a good jazz theory education serves every musician well on their path to harmonic organization, especially of improvisational music.
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Re: Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby wisconsindead » Fri Jul 22, 2016 1:47 pm

I would agree with what Zambiland said. I don't have nearly as extensive of knowledge of music theory though. In my experience, listening to so much Grateful Dead from such a young age made it that I mostly thought of bass as how Phil would play it. So that has indefinitely affected my playing. But learning basic music theory and approaching what I play in terms of what note, chord and chord tones are going on at the time has made a big difference. I still probably don't focus on chord tones enough. But ultimately being well versed in your instrument and having listened to a TON of grateful dead has made me semi-decent at playing like Phil. YMMV.
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Re: Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby BassPlayerLB » Wed Aug 03, 2016 11:49 am

That's a tough question, but lots of good advice in the reply's on here!

I had another bassist come up to me after our last show complimenting me on my ability to not just copy Phil but to have taken his approach and technique and utilize the part that worked best. Not everything Phil did worked all the time obviously, but he had a lot of similar approaches to the songs. There are versions of songs where Phil played a specific riff or melody that catch my attention that I then try to incorporate into those songs. Other than that though it's more about the music theory behind what he is doing and how he accompanies everyone else. Phil uses a lot of substitutions, (using the 3rd or the 5th mainly) on the downbeat instead of the root. There is a lot of voice leading as if writing a score for a piano trying to move the shortest distance from note to note. A great example of this is "Comes A Time". If you transcribe Phil's bass lines from several different versions, they will all be subtly different but they are simply using different substitutions and voice leading. He also likes to delay the root so that it falls on an off beat a lot of times. He has a very unique sense of rhythm and timing that seems to focus more on full phrases rather than 1 bar at a time. So as far as specific things to work with a metronome for Phil's style, there aren't really many. You can focus on not playing the root on the downbeat or playing the 3rd or 5th on the downbeat. I remember reading an article somewhere a few years back where they broke down a specific version of "Bird Song" The author mentioned that it wasn't until bar 12 that Phil his an "E" (the root note) on beat 1. Obviously there are no set rules as he played each song differently every time, but these are things that I have found common among his playing throughout all the eras. Hope it helps!
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Re: Pointers for Phil sound?

Postby seanc » Thu Sep 08, 2016 12:25 pm

In a lot of respects all of the above suggestions are true. But, in a lot of cases the best advise is take everything you know to be "true" about playing a bass in a band, now do the opposite.

1. Traditional, focus on root note.
Phil, try to avoid the root note all together.

2. Traditional, Always hit (the root) on the down beat.
Phil, Avoid the down beat, avoiding root note at that time preferred.

3. Traditional, Count each measure. repeat phrases and riffs for consistency and pull the flow together.
Phil, ignore measures. Look in terms of musical phrases. Be part of the flow.

But I think the biggest thing is to LISTEN. Listen to what the drums are doing, listen to what the guitars and keys are doing understand what the singer is doing. Now, how can you fit into that? You have 2 drummers a rhyth guitar and a keyboard player and a singer ALL "playing" the Root note on a Downbeat (metaphorically). What do YOU as a bass player add to this by playing another root note on the down beat? If "nothing" is the answer, why play it?

Once you start thinking in terms of "the song" and thinking of "where am I in the way", "where do I need to lead the way". And "where can I play such that it does not step all over what the other person is doing and how can I add to/ improve the whole".

You will be started on the right path.
Worcester/ Providence area Bass player, looking to hook up and play some tunes!!
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