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Darrell Freeman: “Playing simpler makes the whole thing feel good – people feel the music better when there’s less going on“

Darrell Freeman
(Image credit: Amadi J Phillips)

A seasoned session player who has embraced the online medium and built a fanbase devoted to his “electric versus synth bass” videos, Darrell ‘The Real Free’ Freeman explains how it all gets done.

You have a large online following. Are you in personal contact with these people?

“Well, I do work with some of them: people that send a message, like ‘Hey, can you play bass on this?’ And sometimes there’s a few celebrities that might ask me, ‘Do you want to work on this?’ I try to interact where I can.“

I love your synth bass versus real bass videos. Was the idea to open people’s minds to the fact that bass can come from another source?

“Oh, thank you. Yeah, definitely. I’m always trying to stick in more synth bass when I can. I have a piano keyboard background so it’s very easy for me.“

How much of your session work is bass guitar and how much is synth bass?

“I’ll say at this point, it’s 50-50, whereas before now electric bass was 80-20, something like that.“

Talk me through some of the amazing basses that I’ve seen you play in your videos.

“Okay, I guess my favorite is my Fodera, and then also a Callowhill J5 made by a friend of mine, the late Tim Cloonan. That’s my favorite Jazz right now. I have an Eighties Japanese P-Bass, and then a host of Fenders. I endorse Dunlop strings. Amps-wise, it’s Trickfish.“

I picked up the bass guitar while still being the drummer. Then I ventured into keyboards, and somewhere in there, the love for bass came back and I just solely focused on that

Tell me how you got started on bass.

“I come from a musical family in Macon, Georgia, and early on – around five or six – I played drums. My dad and my brother played guitar, so there were always basses and guitars around. 

“So I picked up the bass guitar while still being the drummer. Then I ventured into keyboards, and somewhere in there, the love for bass came back and I just solely focused on that. As a professional, you know, things just started happening.“

Who were the bass players you admired when you were coming up?

“Oh, wow. Obviously the music that was around in the '80s, the R&B on the radio, like the stuff Marcus Miller was playing on, and Prince of course. As far as today, a lot of my work is in gospel music, and there’s a lot of gospel players that I admire like Andrew Gouche, the late Joel Smith, and Reggie Young. 

“I also studied R&B greats like Bernard Edwards, Leon Sylvers III, and Anthony Jackson. I’m getting more into the bassist-composer side of things, where the driving force of the song is the bass.“

Is your playing changing as the years pass?

“Oh, definitely. When I started, I was more about – not flashiness, that’s not the correct word – but kind of standing out with the bass. Now I’m getting older, I just really want to find what moves the song, and sheds new light from a group standpoint. 

“If that’s very, very simple, then that’s great. Playing simpler makes the whole thing feel good, because I think people feel the music better when there’s less going on. I think people attach themselves more to the music when it’s simple.“ 

Have you got any advice for our readers about playing bass? 

“Well, it seems like the players coming up now are so advanced and so talented, because they have a wealth of resources that I didn’t have when I was coming up. But in the simplest sense, we still have to make the foundation be very, very important, right? So if you know all the theory and all the scales and rhythms, you still need to know what makes a song, unless you’re going to be a solo performer. 

“Make the basics important, as well as the advanced things that you want to do. Like I said, as a youngster, you’re drawn to the flash and the acrobatics, but when you really study music, you will find that you got to have the basics and the foundation very, very tight.“

Do you spend all day editing video and audio?

“Not at all, because I have a very rigorous practice schedule. Most of the time, it’s just playing along with songs that I like, just to see how I fit in without overplaying, or just adding a little vibe to it. So I thought, why not just turn the camera on while I’m practicing? That’s actually where it started, and now it’s a streamlined process. Now I’ve got it set up to where I can just walk in, pick what song I want to play, record it and edit it in five or 10 minutes. It’s not really that long a process.

Can you play a wrong note, or will everyone hate you?

“You can definitely do that, but getting back to the point about taking the craft seriously and having the basics down, as a touring guy and a session guy, you have that down like second nature to where you don’t mess up. 

“It might seem like, ‘Oh man, he doesn’t ever mess up. He’s perfect.’ But it’s from the years and years put in practicing. It’s like riding a bike – once you learn how to ride a bike, you don’t really fall off.“

  • For more from Darrell Freeman, head over to YouTube (opens in new tab).

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Bass Player Staff
Bass Player Staff

Bass Player is the world’s most comprehensive, trusted and insightful bass publication for passionate bassists and active musicians of all ages. Whatever your ability, BP has the interviews, reviews and lessons that will make you a better bass player. We go behind the scenes with bass manufacturers, ask a stellar crew of bass players for their advice, and bring you insights into pretty much every style of bass playing that exists, from reggae to jazz to metal and beyond. The gear we review ranges from the affordable to the upmarket and we maximise the opportunity to evolve our playing with the best teachers on the planet.