“Hey dude, who is the bassist and drummer in your band?”
How many have asked this question or have been asked? Not many for sure.
Legendary trumpeter Warren Vache’s father once told him to never be a bassist as they are the forgotten ones. Ironically his father was a bassist. So why is it that the bassists and drummers are the unknown ones in a band?
Ok before you heap the choicest of praises on me and name the famous ones, most of them played a dual role. John Bonham and Keith Moon were way to kickass so let’s not go there. Paul McCartney, Sting, Roger Waters are all bassists but are widely acknowledged for their other role.
Music is comprised of three main elements—rhythm, harmony and melody. The foundation for two of them is laid by the bass. A bassist needs to study rhythm and harmony and the techniques to create them on the bass. It plays a prominent role in how we hear harmonies.
Behind the bass drum, ride cymbal, crash cymbal, tom-toms and hi-hats sits the ‘timekeeper’ of the band. The drummer. They are responsible for the rhythm of the song thus making them integral to the group. The drummer generates the beat and timing of the song for other band members to follow.
“The chair we sit on is called the drum throne. So to say we are the kings. But the bassists will have a different view of this,” quipped Gino Banks.
To counter the ace drummer, one of the finest bassists around Sheldon D’silva said,
“Drums are the heart of music, melody and harmony are the brains but bass is the soul. Even when you cut somebody up you can see the heart and the brain but not the soul. Without the soul the body is never going to be alive.”
Backstage at the Piano Day concert in Mumbai, I managed to get hold of two of the busiest musicians in the circuit right now. Gino, son of the legendary Louis Banks, is an ace drummer who started playing the instrument for its look and physicality. While the bass chose Sheldon. The bassist never wanted to be a music professional but life had other plans for him.
The role of the bassist and drummer
Though the two play a supportive role, they handle the song and carry it through. Drums are an accompanying instrument whose role is to support the artist and the song. Visually it is placed at the far end of the stage but audio wise it runs the band. The drummer navigates the song arrangement with the band while the bassist gives life to the music and binds everything making it a bridge.
“Bassists define the harmony and groove together,” said Sheldon.
The importance of the bass can be figured out by the fact that there are hardly any bands without a bassist. Well one such band is The Dodos and their name speaks for them! The drummer is in charge of making the song feel the way they perceived it as the other musicians are playing their chords, melodies and improvising. The drummer dictates the rhythm.
Despite being such crucial elements of the band,
why are they largely the ‘forgotten ones’?
“It also depends on your personality. It depends on you as a musician, do you want to be behind or want to lead. The musicians to make the instrument popular. If musicians develop and become great, people will want to see them. It is up to us to keep it going,” asserted Gino.
As I turned my attention towards Sheldon, we were interrupted by a knock on the door. A pretty fan has a gift for Sheldon.
“See it is not that we are completely forgotten. Even we get gifts,” gleamed Sheldon.
Coming back to the work in progress Gino said,
“We play the groove that everybody bobs their head to. The drummer creates the volume and makes the transitions from section to section. It is up to us to make the transition obvious and help the band through.”
Adding to Gino’s thoughts Sheldon quipped,
“Sadly a lot of music now does not involve the bass guitar. It is either programmed or has this weird sound which is not exactly bass. It just fills up the frequency but does not fulfill the role of a bass guitar. The drummer and bassist define what the song sounds like. They are crucial to the band.”
The ringing of the bell reminded us that there is a concert for them to play and me to attend in the next 10 minutes. A quick shake of hands and it was show time!