Doug Wimbish is a unique bass player. Not only does he have an established background in funk, hip-hop, rock, metal, electronic music, and polished pop, he’s equally at home with traditional and effected bass tones, and he’s a fixture in the American and British music industry.
He first came into the limelight as a member of the fabled house band at New Jersey’s Sugar Hill Records and, as well as being a long-time member of Tackhead and Living Colour, he has amassed a body of session and stage work alongside huge stars and cult acts alike.
You’ll see him toting a signature Spector bass alongside a massive pedalboard that nearly killed our editor when Doug asked him to carry it at the London Bass Guitar Show a few years ago. We salute the great man with this run-down of four essential Wimbish bass performances – as well as one that never happened... '
Must-have album: Wood, Brass & Steel (Wood, Brass & Steel, 1976)
"I was 19 years old when we recorded this album, and the beauty of that is that I was fortunate enough to be around elders. Harold Sargent, my mentor who passed away in August, was the drummer in Wood, Brass & Steel. He was 14 years older than me and he used to say that he took me out of daycare to be in the band.
"Then it was Hubert Powell on keyboards, guitarist Skip McDonald who lives in Ramsgate in the UK, Randy Bost on trumpet, the late sax player Otha Stokes, and Barton Campbell on guitar. We ended up doing a version of Always There by Ronnie Laws, which was a hit.
"Not long before we went into the studio, we were at a George Clinton and Bootsy Collins concert. Harold knew Bootsy’s brother Catfish and it was a huge hang – back in those days, it would take you a week to recover from a hang like that!
"It’s really inspiring when you go straight into the studio from a frequency like that. One of my favorite songs on there is Funkanova written by Hubert. We worked very fast: We did all the rhythm tracks in two days.
"The whole album was done in maybe about a week. Seeing Bootsy on stage with that star-shaped bass, coming out slamming – that was so inspiring. It was like a shot of adrenaline."
Worthy Contender: Annie Lennox – Diva (1992)
"I loved doing this album; Annie is so great. She and I hit it off instantly. We would get into these deep conversations in the studio lounge. I’d have calls coming in, asking me to do sessions, and Annie would ask ‘How do you do so many sessions?’ and I’d say ‘Well, I could ask you the same thing. How do you keep coming up with songs that give me goosebumps?’
"We’d chat about her background, and she would talk about how Diva was her trying to make a comeback after being away from the scene for a while. We’d drink tea and talk about life, family, everything.
"I remember the song Precious, which has a great bass-line. Joe Satriani had gifted me a Whammy pedal, and I brought it along with me to the Diva session. Annie heard it and said ‘What’s that? I love it! Let’s use it on the main bass-line’.
"Some artists you feel you’ve known for a thousand years. Before you play, you’ve got to know the person; it’s not about doing a quadruple slap played sideways – nobody gives a fuck about that. I love all the modern players, believe me, but this is why so many bassists sound the same these days.
"If Jaco hits a single note; it’s Jaco; if Stanley Clarke hits a single note, I know it’s him. It’s about finding your spirit, and finding a way to separate yourself from everyone else."
Wild Card: Wandering Spirit – Mick Jagger (1993)
"This album was a lot of fun too. We recorded it in Los Angeles in the summer of 1992, and it led to an interesting conversation with the Rolling Stones. I knew most of them already, having recorded with Ron Wood and jammed with Charlie Watts at Mick Jagger’s château in France.
"In the summer of 1993, after Wandering Spirit was released, I got a call from Mick, saying ‘Dougie, can you come and jam with us?’ because Bill Wyman was leaving. I was still a member of Living Colour, but I could see that Vernon [Reid, LC guitarist] was going to break up the band at some point, so I flew over. The only Stone I didn’t know was Keith Richards, but we hit it off.
"Later, Mick called me up and says, ‘Dougie, we’d like you to do the record’, which was Voodoo Lounge. He told me the recording dates, but they clashed with a forthcoming Living Colour tour.
"I really wanted to do the Stones album, but I also wanted to do the right thing by Living Colour, so I asked Mick to give Vernon a call to ask if it was okay. I did that out of respect for Living Colour. You have to do the right thing in life. So Mick contacted Vernon, who said ‘No, we really need to do this tour’.
"So I did the tour – and the following year Vernon broke the band up. That was a tough one, but if you join a band, you stick with them, even if it cost me an opportunity to work with the Rolling Stones."
Cool Grooves: Living Color – Stain (1992)
"I got the offer to join Living Colour after we played a gig at Hollywood Rock, which had Seal on the bill, who I was also working with at the time. That gig was on January 26, 1992.
"Seal wanted me to be his MD, and I’d also had a call from Bruce Springsteen’s people asking me to audition. It was nuts, how much stuff there was going on at the time. I had to make a decision between all these people, and although I did a couple of big gigs with Seal, I went with Living Colour, because I was a 25 percent member of the band as opposed to a hired gun, so it made sense.
"They had a rehearsal loft in Queens, so we prepared for the record, which was great – daily rehearsals, prepping up, getting everything together, in a band that I was a part of.
"We recorded the overdubs at Long View Farm Studio in Massachusetts, with producer Ron St. Germain.
"During the recording, there was a UFO sighting over the property; Jack DeJohnette was visiting with his family, and they said it was hovering around the house we were staying in.
"Go Away was the opening track of Stain and I’ll never forget it, because Will [Calhoun, LC drummer] and I were so tight. We locked in perfectly. Some of those songs had a lot of twists and turns, and we had to watch each other’s body language to make it happen right."
Avoid at all costs: Malcolm McClaren – Waltz Darling (1989)
"Malcolm McLaren had a hit with Buffalo Gals in 1982 and a crew called the World’s Famous Supreme Team appeared on it, which was my connection to him. Malcolm didn’t do jack on that song. He was sitting in the studio drinking tea, ha ha!
"Fast forward to 1986, when we – the Sugar Hill rhythm section – were in London. Malcolm called us up to do a recording session. We said yes because we thought it would be a nice earner, and worked out a fee with him for a day’s work.
"Let me tell you something. That dude thought that we charged him too much, so he worked us for literally 24 hours – an exact day’s work. He said ‘I’ve got you for a day, and a day is 24 hours!’ Ha ha! I’ll never forget it. We worked our asses off. Now, I don’t mind working hard, but we cut loads of stuff that day that never made the record.
"We had been told that our tracks were going to appear on the album Waltz Darling, which came out in 1989, but we never heard those tracks again. Of course, these things happen.
"The record simply took a different direction, and the opportunity to morph into a different quadrant of music was lost. This is the reality of the music industry, though, and it’s all right. I’ve done enough stuff in my life; the diversity of my resumé speaks for itself."