Rob Statham - Bass Guitar

Thursday, October 30, 2008

“Fretless bass seemed like a natural transition, having spent 10 years playing the violin,” says Statham, whose long aquiline fingers delicately and precisely pick out the pitch on the high patina of the rosewood slab.

“I’m following a tradition,” he states in a matter of fact sort of manner. “There’s always been one musician in the family in every generation. My grandfather was a professional violinist, and my uncle rose to become musical director of the Welsh Guards.”

Needless to say, Statham grew up in a musical household where there was always interesting music to listen to. His father was a jazz fan, while his mother liked listening to classical orchestral music. “That was the first thing that captivated me,” says Statham, “Greig’s Piano Concerto.” When Statham was seven he started playing the violin, “following in my grandfather’s footsteps. I was lucky to have such a wonderful teacher,” he remembers. “He gave me a lot of confidence in my own ability and it all followed on from there really.” Statham went on to play with the Hampshire County Youth Orchestra.

“I kind of gave it up when I was 17,” he says, his voice tinged with a slight air of disappointment. “But I got to fooling around on the guitar and was more keen to join the local band. No one wanted to play bass,” says Statham. “As it turned out it was a great move, as I was listening to a lot of jazz at the time – funky stuff like Herbie Hancock. And because I had been saddled with playing the bass in this band, I started listening to the bass lines much more and got completely hooked,” Statham continues. “I remember my first big influence was Paul Jackson, the bass player on the Headhunters album. I thought now that is so cool. Then I heard the band Tower of Power from the California Bay area. They were the ultimate rhythm section – real funky R&B. I actually got to meet their bass player Rocco Prestia a few years back – he was just fantastic.” But it wasn’t just the funky side of bass that Statham was listening in on. “I was also listening to a lot of straight ahead jazz,” he confirms. “I always loved guys like Ron Carter, particularly his bass playing with Miles’ Quintet.”

So what kind of bass was Statham playing? “My first bass was an Aria Fender Precision copy,” he starts. “That was back in the days when Aria used to make copies. It was a fretless, and I’ve always liked the sound of a fretless – even before I heard Jaco.” Statham though had always hankered after an early 60s Fender Jazz, “because the guy who sold me the Aria had a beautiful ‘62 Fender Jazz that I immediately fell in love with”! Statham remembers spending hours scouring the Melody Maker and Loot ads and finally finding a guy selling an early 60s Fender Jazz for £400. “It was an absolute giveaway – he could have sold it for twice that amount. I went over and looked at it – and bought it. And that’s the bass that I‘ve played ever since.”

Then I notice a fretted Yamaha 5 string propped up against the far wall, and wonder what place that might have in this fretless flat. “Oh I bought that purely for a particular gig I was doing that needed the bottom B,” explains Statham. “I often practise on it rather than the Fender though, because it’s harder work on the Yamaha, so when I come to play on the Fender it’s like running downhill!”

I ask if he’s ever been tempted away onto other instruments. “Like all musicians I walk into shops and try instruments,” says Statham, “but I rarely think Oh that’s nice. But last year when I was in New Orleans (before the levees broke), I went into a music store where they had a ‘graphite’ Modulus bass and that was fantastic. Not only did it feel beautiful. It sounded wonderful and played great but I didn’t buy it!”

I notice the jazz is strung with a set of Rotosounds. “Yep”, says Statham. “I‘ve always ended up by going back to the Rotosound Swing Bass. I like the feel of roundwounds, and also because you get a bit more bite”. So what’s the setup plugged into? “I like a bass to sound fat, rounded and warm,” says Statham. “I’ve been using an Acoustic amp for the past 20 years. It’s a combo solid state with a 15inch speaker – it’s a great amp and it’s very reliable and I don’t see any reason to change.” Just as we’re winding up, I notice a couple of old Motown vinyls on a corner cupboard and sense a closet Soulmate. “I always liked the James Jamerson approach,” says Statham. “I’m a fingerstyle player and I guess I have a natural affinity with those sort of funk grooves. Letting the music breathe – leaving spaces . . . that’s what it’s all about.”

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