The Lightbulb Moment: A Week In The Life

Ryan Madora

Every now and then, a fellow bass player asks me what it’s like to write the “Bass Players To Know” column for No Treble. My mind immediately goes to the moments of researching, writing, and editing… the hours sitting in front of my computer screen, the obsessive re-readings, and the wildly diverse Spotify searches. Once I snap out of the flashback, I respond by saying: “It’s like taking a crash course in music and submitting a final essay.” It involves extensive perusing of records… some that live in my collection, some that I’ve been recommended, and some that I stumble on by chance. It turns into a build-your-own-adventure treasure map where clues are secretly scattered across the Internet and throughout liner notes. It’s my job to connect the dots of a player’s career and ultimately receive the knowledge and gratification that comes along with that. It also requires listening… lots and lots of listening. And it’s not necessarily easy, “oh, I like this song on the radio” listening; it’s attentive, microscopic, “let’s discover the nuances of this player’s style” listening. It is equal parts inspiring, informative, and challenging — I love it.

While most people don’t have the ever-looming deadline to consider, there’s a lot to be gained by taking a personal crash course in a particular area of music. This may involve listening to one particular band, an artist who has used multiple players throughout their career, a particular live or session player who has worked with a wide range of artists, or a producer or record label that has made an indelible mark on music. You can read biographies, go to a live performance, watch concert DVD’s, or reference anything else… you make the rules. The key is to immerse yourself in the music and to come out the other end with more knowledge that you started with. I promise that you won’t have to write a paper at the end of the week (unless you really want to…) but it’s a fun and rewarding exercise. Here’s my guide to spending “A Week In The Life.”

First things first, start off with some inspiration and run with it. This inspiration may be a ridiculously groovy lick played by a bass player that you’ve never heard of. It may be in response to watching the “Muscle Shoals” documentary on Netflix and deciding to explore the old Atlantic recordings from FAME or the bass playing of David Hood. Or perhaps you get a wild hair and decide to rekindle the flame of an old musical friend… there’s always value in revisiting an artist with more mature ears.

Next, begin your search. Take full advantage of Google, Wikipedia, All Music, YouTube, and other publications. Watch a few videos, stream or purchase some records, and read an interview. Look through your personal music library to see what you can uncover… sometimes you don’t realize that you have a can of chicken soup in your pantry until you feel a cold coming on.

And finally, give yourself the freedom to enjoy. Remember the experiences you’ve had listening to this artist or, if you’re investigating someone completely new, declare it “____ Week” and hit the ground running. Learn how to play some of the songs that you listen to or try to achieve the tone on a particular record. Have fun, listen hard, and if you’re so inclined, don’t limit yourself to one week. The more time you give yourself to dig, the more diamonds you’re likely to discover. Pack your lunch, grab a flashlight, and start looking for the treasure.

Just in case you need a little more direction, here’s a run down of the first (and hopefully annual): John Mayer Week.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to see John Mayer perform on his current tour — I highly recommend purchasing tickets if he comes to your neck of the woods. I’ve always been a fan of his music (and particularly of his rhythm sections) so this was a great opportunity to revisit his catalogue and become more acquainted with his new material.

On the way to the show, I listened to his most recent record just to prepare myself for what the evening may bring. It was the perfect pre-show ritual. The production was awesome, the grooves were deep, and I was grateful to check it off of the bucket list.

The next day, I listened back to the records that made a permanent mark on my musical development: Continuum and TRY! by the John Mayer Trio. I remembered the joy I experienced while walking the streets of New York as a college student and wondering, “how did Pino do that?!?,” (specifically referring to the high chords in “Good Love Is On The Way). I also revisited Paradise Valley and focused on the subtle and refined playing by Sean Hurley, a modern session master who plays each note exactly the way it should be played. Coincidentally, I listened to this record a week prior while headed to perform at The Gorge, an epically beautiful venue in Washington State. “Dear Marie” will forever be associated with that journey. These were exercises in both nostalgia and enlightenment, especially because some of the lyrics make a little more sense now that I’m past my quarter-life crisis.

Next, I watched the live DVD, Where The Light Is, only to be floored by the tasteful yet undeniably creative David LaBruyere. His bass playing on the first few Mayer albums remind me that it’s possible to play more than what is obvious and expected. He strings together chord progressions with clever passing notes and intricate phrasing, adding plenty of groove and excitement to these pop records.

And lastly, I took a stroll through YouTube and stumbled on some pretty cool guitar videos. It was refreshing to hear John describe his approach to soloing, to recognize the influence of the blues greats (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King), and to watch his technique close-up.

Needless to say, it was a fun musical week and a great reminder of the respect that I have for this artist. Now, on to the next one.

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!

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