Paul Simon: “People have tried to cop that bass solo, but it’s physically impossible” – how engineer Roy Halee created the iconic bass break on Call Me Al

Paul Simon (L) performs with bass guitarist Bakithi Kumalo on the Auditorum Stravinski stage during the 42nd Montreux Jazz Festival on July 9, 2008 in Montreux.
(Image credit: Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

Three minutes and 44 seconds into Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al is a two-bar bass guitar solo that has confounded as many bassists as it has inspired. “That was my idea,” said Bakithi Kumalo of the wildly descending lick. “We were recording that song on my birthday, and there was space to fill, so Paul said, ‘Go ahead, Bakithi, do what you like.’ I just played – and they loved it. It was one take. Listening back, I didn’t know what happened; I thought it was from God, you know? I never planned it.”

Now for the tricky part: the second part of the solo is actually the first bar played backwards. Engineer Roy Halee simply flipped the tape over and spliced the two parts together. “People have tried to cop those licks, said Simon. “But it’s physically impossible.”

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Staff Writer