Bass Players to Know: David Hood
It’s been roughly a year since we featured David Hood in the interview, I’ll Take You There, so it’s about time we highlighted him in this series. Taking an opportunity to revisit his music, I am yet again reminded of his musical sensibilities, refined approach, and unmistakable feel. Known for his session work with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, he has provided the bass line for countless records and has worked with the Staple Singers, Aretha Franklin, Linda Ronstadt, Wilson Pickett, Boz Scaggs, Delbert McClinton, Joe Cocker, Traffic, and Rod Stewart – just to name a few. The man behind some of the most memorable, soulful, and swinging grooves, David Hood is a bass player to know.
So Who Is David Hood?
Hailing from Sheffield, Alabama, Hood has spent most of his life involved in the music scene of Muscle Shoals. First picking up guitar, he switched to bass at around age 16 and gravitated towards rhythm and blues records by artists like Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, and Jimmy Reed. A local band he played with, The Mystics, decided to make a record with Rick Hall at FAME studios and a few years later, Hood got a call to play bass on a Percy Sledge session. This quickly resulted in more phone calls for session work with soul and R&B artists like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, Johnnie Taylor, and Clarence Carter.
In 1969, Hood and fellow rhythm section players Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, and Jimmy Johnson, decided to break away from FAME studios. They opened Muscle Shoals Sound at 3614 Jackson Highway and began attracting artists from all over the country, including Cher, Paul Simon, Bob Seger, Laura Nyro, Leon Russel, Eddie Floyd, and Levon Helm, among others. Known as “The Swampers” (as referenced in Lynryd Skynryd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”), the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section played as a unit and adapted their style to fit the song, session, and artist. Hood still resides in Muscle Shoals and frequently finds himself taking calls for sessions.
Let’s Talk Style
Hood has spent most of his life in the studio, working for artists and producers that decidedly hired him and the MSRS. Time is money and the MSRS were held accountable for contributing to the music in an inventive, focused, and timely manner. Hood and the MSRS became masters at this, working collaboratively to play to and for the song. With a remarkable sense of time and feel, he is the ultimate “pocket player,” locking in perfectly with Roger Hawkins’ groove behind the kit. On soul and R&B records, Hood crafts a simple yet catchy part, usually based on the pentatonic scale or the “box” pattern. “I’ll Take You There” is perhaps the best known example of Hood’s steady and consistent execution of a memorable bass part, one that doesn’t need fills or improvisation to keep the attention of the listener and that does one thing really, really well: groove.
Working primarily in the studio rather than on the stage, he plays with keen attention to the impact of every note, knowing full well that he will soon be listening to a playback. His approach is rarely busy, obviously played with a “less is more” approach that omits gratuitous fills and leaves space for the other players, musical hooks, and vocalists to shine. Sessions with songwriters like Paul Simon required playing to the vision of the artist and the specific song arrangement. Simon’s song “Kodachrome” features Hood following the chord changes with solid half notes, joining the instrumental hooks during the verse, driving the choruses with a bouncy triad groove, and throwing in quick voice leading lines. It’s hard to imagine a better approach to playing such a song, a common trait of Hood’s bass lines and the mark of a versatile, open minded player.
Where Can I Hear Him?
“Warm and Tender Love” (Percy Sledge: Warm & Tender Soul)
Hood’s first call as a session bass player at FAME happened to be for this tune and his precision, consistency, and feel are clear indicators of his future in the studio. He executes a simple and soulful bass line that seamlessly locks in with the drummer, providing the perfect sway for slow-dancing couples. Derived from the major pentatonic scale, this is an ideal example of a ’60s style Southern R&B groove — it remains consistent throughout the song, transposes the same pattern to every chord, and is reminiscent of many other bass lines from that era.
“My Little Town” (Paul Simon: Still Crazy After All These Years)
Paul Simon traveled to Muscle Shoals to record his previous record, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, and decided to call upon the MSRS once again. Hood demonstrates sincere reverence for song arrangement by creating parts dictated by the form and instrumentation. He often plays in sync with the lower register of the piano and with the horns, at times enhancing the impact of the chord changes by using inversions. Gliding through the song with slick voice-leading lines, he adds rhythmic accents with quick triplet flourishes and playful root-fifth-octave moves. As if that weren’t enough, he executes a catchy descending melodic line during the chorus and outro, infusing the song with a truly memorable musical motif.
“(Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired” (Traffic: On The Road)
While Hood stayed busy as a session player, “The Swampers” joined Traffic for a few tours of the US and Europe in the mid-1970s. This live record features him as the incomparable groove master, providing solid tone and a steady foundation for the other players to jam over. He executes beautiful voice leading and melodic counterpoint during the verses and plays with an acute sense of dynamics and drive throughout the solo sections.
How about you? What’s your favorite tune or album with David Hood? Please share with us in the comments.
Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!