This is part one of a new series on underrated bass players. First up is Colin Hodgkinson, best known for the innovative blues, rock and jazz group Back Door.
While players like Jaco Pastorius were still in high school, Colin Hodgkinson was playing solos, counter-melody, bass lines and chords with Back Door. In my opinion, Colin ranks up there with James Jamerson and Jaco as people who changed the course of the bass guitar.
Colin took some time out to chat with us about his career and approach to bass.
As a young musician starting out back in the early 70’s, I found the first Back Door album in a record store and bought it on a whim. After getting it home to listen, I realized that the format of the music was drastically different from anything else I had ever heard before. There were only three instruments – sax, bass guitar and drums – no chordal or “comping” instruments, in the traditional sense. The bass was covering counter melody, chordal and bass lines all at once. What led to this unusual format?
I always played chords on the bass, but the time that defined my style was Back Door 1969 to 1975. I wrote those tunes with Ron Aspery and because we had no chord instrument as such, I played the chords, melody and bass lines. It wasn’t a conscious attempt to be different, it just evolved and it sounded complete, we didn’t feel the need to add anyone else.
I’ve seen you playing both with a pick and fingers, especially on your solo stuff. Do you prefer one over the other or does the song dictate the choice?
The tune really dictates whether I use pick or fingers. I like the pick for definition, especially in something like my version of “San Francisco Bay Blues” or in rock stuff when I can pick damped against the bridge.
I searched YouTube and found that a lot of videos of you are showing up. “Snab’s Rag” is my favorite so far. You said it was dedicated to Ron Aspery. What inspired the finger-picking style?
“Snab’s Rag” just came out like that! It’s the finger picking style again, but I think the first time I recorded anything in that style was “Catcote Rag” from the first Back Door album.”
There’s something fascinating about the British jazz style in that era. Many of the bands seemed to include funky blues right along with the jazz of the day, in contrast to American groups who tended to stay a bit more in the traditional format. Was it a British thing or something organic?
The blues was very big in England in the 60’s. I think it influenced everyone to a certain extent, but there was a lot of straight ahead jazz too.
You play left-handed. What was it like finding a left-handed bass in the 70’s?
I bought my Precision bass in 1962. It had to be ordered, cost 15% extra, and it was a three month wait, but I still have it and will have a 50th birthday party for it this year!
On your website, you talk about the first time you play a solo bass set. What was that experience like for you?
My first totally solo set was when Bill Wyman asked me to be his opening act for the Rhythm Kings at the end of the 90’s. I played 30 minutes, and it was terrifying at first! Went down very well though and then I did the same thing for about twenty shows with Gary Moore.
For more about Colin, his career, gear, discography and more, check out his website.
Photo credit: Joachim Köhler