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Reader Spotlight: Michael Olson

Michael OlsonMeet Michael Olson, a self-described “perfeshinul bassist” from Fort Collins, Colorado who makes his day all about music. Michael is our player in the spotlight for December 20, 2011.

You have to check out the “Band & Gigs” section below – that story is awesome.

Bio:

I have been a professional bassist since the day I got out of music school 22 years ago. I used to “triple” on bass (fretted, fretless, upright), but have had to abandon the latter for physical reasons. I spent eight fantastic years recording and touring as a fretless bassist with Wind Machine, an acoustic guitar-driven quintet, and I have played with Jennifer Lane in Denver for the last seven years (we have a standing gig three nights a week – we’ve played the same little stage over 1,000 times!).

Outside of live performance, I teach privately two days a week and record bass tracks for folks all over the country from my comfy chair in front of my computer when called upon.

Five years ago I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and it has begun to affect my right hand, and so I have had to come up with interesting ways to keep gigging; Planet Waves Adjustable Insert Picks, V-Picks, new thumb techniques and such. By the grace of God, I still have work and demand for my services!

Location:

Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Day gig:

I have no day job. I get to do this (teaching, gigging, recording, charting and arranging) for a living. That’s right, I are a perfeshinul bassist.

Years experience:

28 years… although my earliest memory is pounding on the low notes of the piano, so maybe even longer than that!

Bands & Gigs:

I play in the Jennifer Lane Duo (sometimes Trio, with Harold Lee on alto sax) three nights a week in the Cherry Creek neighborhood of Denver, CO. Jennifer is a pianist and vocalist with some wicked blues and boogie-woogie chops, but this gig is rock ‘n’ roll, old soul, R&B, and modern pop and pop/rock. It’s a challenge to take a two-piece band and create the sound of a full rhythm section, so I developed a way to sound like a drummer and bassist at the same time. With Jennifer playing percussion while she’s playing piano, and stomping on the floor and singing, we’re both pretty busy even on the simple songs! I am also charged with playing a lot of solos in the tunes, and because of that I have a pedalboard with some simple stuff (compressor, flanger) and some cooler stuff (Bass Balls, Tube Screamer, Octaver). I’m even able to get a passable overdriven guitar tone for solos and such. It’s a wonderfully challenging gig – especially when we have to learn a requested song in about thirty seconds! (This usually entails Jennifer pulling up lyrics on her iPad and me hollering out the chords off-mic as we go. Exciting!) And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much playing bass and “drums” at the same time has tightened up my groove and sense of time, especially when playing with a musician who really likes to rush! (So this is what Stu Hamm meant when he said “First one to the bridge gets a solo”…)

Gear:

  • (2) Ibanez ATK305 5bangers, ’94 and ’07
  • 1998 MIM Fender Jazz V
  • 1990 Korean Squier “Double P-bass”
  • Hofner Icon
  • Univox “Hofner Copy” (which actually sounds BETTER)
  • (2) Danelectro Hodad basses, fretted & fretless
  • Epiphone Rivoli
  • Boss Limiter/Enhancer
  • Boss Hi-Band Flanger (hard to find; WONDERFUL on basses)
  • EH BassBalls
  • Ibanez Bass Tube Screamer
  • MXR Bass Octave Deluxe
  • BBE Sonic Stomp
  • Fender Bassman 25 practice amp for live work, flown on a speaker stand directly behind my head while seated. (Let the sound company carry all of the volume!)

Why I play the bass:

I had gone through about ten different instruments trying them out – piano, flute, clarinet, french horn, sax, etc. – until my older brother came home one day with a bass and an electric guitar. I thought the bass sounded cool… but he had chosen bass first, and my mom didn’t want us fighting over it, so I got stuck with guitar. But I kept finding myself sneaking into his room to play that bass and feel that vibration that it made (even unplugged it felt cool!). About a year after that, I came home from school and almost got hit by my brother’s bass being chucked up the basement stairs (he had gotten frustrated by being unable to learn a song). I asked him if he still wanted it, he hollered back, “Nooooo!”, and so I grabbed it and ran to plug it into my amp. I realized at that moment that I had been trying to play bass lines on all of the other instruments I had before, and this was the instrument that made the most sense to me. Four years of piano, 1.5 years of guitar, various stints on various band instruments, vs. 25 minutes of bass playing (which was when my brother returned to reclaim his bass)… and it was all over.

My bass superpower/claim to fame

Back when my hands worked properly, I used to be able to perform a two-handed tapping version of “The Pink Panther”, which may be found somewhere on YouTube (look for the geek in the cowboy hat). These days, I seem to be known for my adaption of the technique popularized by Victor Wooten known as “double thumping”, but more as a groove device than a soloing device. With my thumb going both directions, I can keep an eighth-note feel behind fewer notes, and I get a bass tone that’s somewhere between a thumb, a finger, and a pick. It’s quite unique; I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone else do this quite the same way!

My influences

Just about everyone… but the main ones would have to be Geddy Lee, Steve Harris, Jaco Pastorius, Larry Graham, Stanley Clarke, Doug Wimbish, Pino Palladino and Charlie Haden.

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