Watch Nathan East play a virtuosic Sir Duke... while having a conversation with Stevie Wonder

Bassist Nathan East performs on stage at The NAMM Show 2020 - Day 2 at Anaheim Convention Center on January 17, 2020
(Image credit: Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

During an esteemed career as a first-call LA session player, Nathan East has played and written for the likes of Eric Clapton, Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Madonna. He sings, he doubles on upright and electric bass, has received a range of awards (including an Ivor Novello for co-writing the Phil Collins hit ‘Easy Lover’), and recently provided bass duties on Ringo Starr’s third EP, EP3.

Aside from his session work, East has continued to raise the bar as a solo artist, and his 2014 debut album featured a version of Stevie Wonder’s hit song, ‘Sir Duke.’ The idea came from a chance performance.

“I was in Norway with Toto," explains East, "and when we got back to the hotel from the gig, there was a big band playing a wedding in one of the ballrooms. As soon as the bass player saw me, he took off his bass and handed it to me.

"They broke into ‘Sir Duke,’ and the dance floor was packed. I’m thinking: 'We’re 6,000 miles from home, and everyone is dancing. This is such a feel-good song, I’ve got to record it'.”

Record it he did, and at the 2020 NAMM Show, he played it to the conference crowd. The video below captures the moment when Stevie Wonder emerged from the crowd during Nate’s solo rendition of 'Sir Duke'. Unbelievably, while Stvie talks to him and he chats back (Stevie emerges at 1:50), East amazingly doesn’t miss a note.

Raised in San Diego, California, Nathan East’s first big break came as a member of a local top 40 group named Power, who were hired as the house band for a Stax revue. On the roster that day was Barry White, who was by this time a major recording artist, and upon hearing the group he hired the entire band for a national tour. The year was 1973 and East, who was still in his teens, became the youngest member of White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra. 

“I call it Barry White University,” he says. “I learnt so much from him. He used to come up with some of the greatest parts and bass lines. He would just walk around and sing them to us; he’d sing anything – string parts, bass lines – and, along with Gene Page, had this whole vision of the band in his head. 

I call it Barry White University. He used to come up with some of the greatest parts and bass lines. He would just walk around and sing them to us

East soon established himself as one of the world’s most versatile and in-demand bass players, equally at home performing on Eric Clapton’s multi-platinum MTV Unplugged, or at The White House for the inauguration of Barack Obama. “I’ve played three different presidential inaugurations in the States now, but that one was one of the most exciting gigs I’ve ever done – it was certainly the biggest! There were two million people in the audience!”

For more info on Nathan East, visit his website (opens in new tab).

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Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.