Updated: Feb 26
I heard this story about bassists: they get all the girls. Frontmen are prima donnas. Lead guitar players are too intense. Rhythm guitar is too busy working. Drummers are in committed relationships. Rock and roll keyboard players are too mysterious. And there aren’t enough rock and roll harmonica players to provide appreciable statistics data.
So bassists get all the girls.
Joseph Harris neither confirmed nor denied this story. He said he’s glad to be in the scene.
We all know what it means when people can neither confirm nor deny the story, don’t we?
Feel it in Your Spine
Bass can be a hard instrument to talk about. Bassists, for whatever reason, haven’t gained the star power that guitar players have. I don’t quite understand how it happened. Make the instrument bigger and darken the sound and you don’t get to be as famous, for some reason. Viola players have the same problem. Yo-yo Ma wouldn’t be a household name if he’d been a double-bass player.
I don’t know why. When basses are strangled well, they’ll make your spinal cord jiggle. So I don’t know why the bassists we talk about are a rare breed.
It might be a personality thing. I don’t know. I’d love to see the study that looks at the personality type that a) attracts to, and b) embraces playing bass. Because I think that there are two kinds of bass players.
There are the kind that see it as the low bar of entry to get into the band. They’re just attracted to it.
Then there are people like Victor Wooten.
Joseph Harris on Victor Wooten.
Joseph said there’s a particular cool thing that he likes about watching Victor Wooten play bass.
The way Victor plays reminds us why it’s called playing. That cat doesn’t look like he learned how to perform bass music. When he’s playing, he’s playing. He’s having a good time. There’s music—there’s technique—there’s skill that’ll give you chills. But the dude is playing. He’s like some kid who picked up the bass and decided to mess around for a while.
Victor Wooten‘s the bassist for the Flecktones. He jams with Bela Fleck. I got to see them in concert once. I agree with Joseph’s observation. When you hear Victor Wooten play bass, you aren’t just hearing a bass played well: you’re hearing him having a good time. You’re hearing Victor Wooten getting right with his own bomb self.
That’s what Joseph and I spent a lot of time talking about when I called him the other day. Joseph said that you can spend all your energy learning technique and skill. You can learn to play like Yngwie Malmsteen if you drill hard enough. At some point you need to find out how your personality fits into what you do.
Bass Guitarists are the backbone of rock and roll; at least to this writer. Thought I'd put it out there...
Where’s Your Soul?
Joseph grew up in the Carolinas, in the U.S.. He was born in North Carolina and moved to South Carolina when he was six. Apparently, his family was moving, and it sounded like six-year-old Joseph Harris figured he’d come along too. I picture an already jamming Joseph weighing his options. Then I see him deciding on the day that he may as well come along when his parents.
Because at six, Joseph was already jamming. They stuck a pair of drumsticks in the kid’s hands when he was four. Like most parents, they gave him a set of pots and pans first.
Unlike all parents, they decided to cope with that mistake by giving him a set of drums instead of taking the drumsticks away. He started performing in church services.
After that he played saxophone. Then he learned guitar. Then he moved back to drums.
Then his Aunt Jackie—and God bless his Aunt Jackie for this—gave him a Marcus Miller record called M2. She suggested Joseph might like bass.
You Heard Marcus Miller Jam? It Makes Your Spinal Column Dance.
Joseph decided to give it a try.
He still played for churches for a while after that. The circumstances meant he had to deal with a lot of different performance puzzles. Like if he had only a partial band to play with.
Sometimes there wouldn’t be a guitar, so he had to figure out the chords to keep the singing in key.
Or maybe there wasn’t a drummer. That made it necessary to keep the rhythm precise and clear, but then play the melody of the songs too.
He mentioned that sometimes he’d play in churches where they expected an organ, but they only had him and his five-string bass. I’ve been trying to figure how that would sound. I bet it was pretty sweet.
After Years of This, Joseph Says He Mastered Jazz and Gospel.
Stuff comes before jazz and gospel. Stuff came from adjacent to jazz and gospel. But If you’ve got jazz and gospel figured out you’ve got a good root language to build an understanding of everything else.
Joseph has this depth of musicianship reaching back into the dark ages! Practically. I don’t know. I’m not good with numbers. Five years, at least. He’s a dude who lives it.
And that’s what you want from your bassist. Bass is like the human soul. You never THINK you notice it’s there. You just figure you’re SUPPOSED to have one because everyone else does. You just grab any available one and call it good. But then you sure as shit notice if it ain’t there. And then, on those occasions when the thing works in overdrive, your feelings kick into overdrive and you go all tingly.
So you’ve got bassist who are some dude who wants to be in the band, and you need a bass, and he’s no good, so you just put him in there.
And you’ve got bassists who get it and pluck at your spine because there’s a reason they called it “soul music.”
Bass Players Make Us Happy. That’s Why We All Want to Date Them.
Joseph’s that last kind of bassist. You don’t hear the names of bassists as often. Which is why finding a Marcus Miller or a Paul McCartney (who doesn’t quite count, does he?) or a Flea a John Paul Jones feels extra precious. It’s why Joseph’s cool, I think. Some bands just expect their bassists to show up. Some bands don’t even expect that much. Joseph is the kind of bassist who can be the whole show, if he has to be, and if he doesn’t then he’ll give the show that tingling strength that builds the sound out to something special.
I asked Joseph what he’d do if he had unlimited resources tomorrow. He answered me by basically saying he wanted to be the bassist to the whole music scene in Barcelona, in Europe, and, eventually, the world. He wants to open his own studio. From there he wants to produce. He wants to create tools for musicians to build careers off of getting right with their bomb selves. Joseph wants to create tools for musicians to find or build, but then build off of, a market for the coolest version of themselves.
Because that’s the big answer to the question that is life. Joseph is on a great adventure to discover to be the coolest version of himself. That, to me, seems like a good adventure to be on. And I believe that Joseph’s already damn close, if not already there.
You can hear the cat's fingers playing the spinal chord with Jezebel Lies here.
Spinal chord: a chord you can hear in your spine. Right? Okay, never mind.
Watch Joseph do the bass thing he does with Liam Cloud and Jezebel Lies - Next event is a Leap Day Party in EDGE Brewing, Poble Nou Barcelona