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Brian Bromberg dishes on his album 'Bromberg Plays Hendrix' and plays an exclusive playthrough of "Purple Haze"
To mark the 50th Anniversary of Jimi Hendix’s passing, Brian Bromberg is re-releasing his 2008 tour-de-force tribute to the iconic guitarist, Bromberg Plays Hendrix, on Sept. 18, 2020. Bromberg, who played nine different basses in tandem with drum great Vinnie Colaiuta on the album, reports that the updated version contains a new mix and a bonus track from the original sessions, entitled “Jimi.” Album pre-sale begins Friday, August 14th. We asked Brian, who provided Bass Magazine with an exclusive play-along video of “Purple Haze” [below] about both versions.
What was your original reason and for making Bromberg Plays Hendrix?
That’s an unusual story, as I had never thought about doing a Jimi Hendrix project. Many years back I was having lunch with a record company executive friend of mine, Jon Diamond, and out of the clear blue he said, “You should do a Jimi Hendrix record.” I looked at him like he was crazy, thinking to myself, I’m a jazz bass player who has toured with legends like Stan Getz and Horace Silver; why and how would I possibly do a Hendrix album? He was a revolutionary artist and guitarist; it wouldn’t be a typical project for a bass player to do. So, I just changed the subject and completely forgot about our conversation. Two years later I was talking with another record company executive friend of mine, Susumu Morikawa from King Records in Japan, and out of the clear blue he suggested that I do a Jimi Hendrix CD. At that point I remembered my conversation with Jon in New York City and I was kind of blown away. Here were two different record company guys thousands of miles apart, and two years apart, saying exactly the same thing about me doing a Hendrix project. Obviously they both were hearing and feeling something in me that led them to believe I should pursue this. At that point I had to stop and consider their recommendation, and look inside myself to find what they saw in me. It’s was pretty amazing, upon reflection. After that insane, mind-f**k moment, I dug deep into Jimi’s music and put my own spin on it!
Perhaps the most interesting part of the album is it comes from a bass perspective, how did you decide how much other bass to include besides the lead piccolo bass and the support bass?
Anyone who knows my catalog knows that even though the bass is usually the prominent voice on my records, the music always comes first—that is, the songs, the arrangements, and the production, sound, and mix. That said, I love the challenge of relying on my basses to make the music; using them as a vehicle to sing and share my feelings and humanity, versus just playing as many notes as I possibly can. In the case of this record, because it’s just me and Vinnie Colaiuta, I had to rely on my basses to provide the grooves, chords, melodies, and rhythm and lead guitar parts. More specifically, the CD had to be about Jimi Hendrix’s brilliant music, not his guitar playing, as I don’t play guitar. I never learned any of his licks; it’s all about the songs and my interpretation of them, for which I chose a more rock/metal setting. I used walls of overdriven piccolo bass, like guitar players do on a metal record. It made the tracks huge and it gave them a ton of energy.
Ultimately, the most challenging aspect for me was to try and play Jimi’s music on an electric bass and have it have soul and feeling. Technically, his music translates to the bass very well. However, a metal string on a metal fret doesn’t come close to the heartfelt delivery of Jimi’s singing voice. When I first started playing through his songs and heard his vocal melodies on my electric bass, they didn’t sound that great, for the most part. So I tried fretless bass, which sounds more like a human voice than a fretted bass and has a ton more personality. And as it turned out, the fretless bass saved the record, as it made a huge difference in the melodies I used it on.
What are the challenges of playing lead guitar on piccolo bass?
As with most of my piccolo basses, my Kiesel/Carvin B24 that played a starring role on the record is tuned an octave and a fourth higher than a standard bass: A-D-G-C. The C string is a half-step higher than the B string on a guitar. With 24 frets, it puts the instrument in the range of a guitar, just a few notes shy of the high notes on a typical Strat or Les Paul. I play it through guitar amps and guitar effects pedals, and I use Pro tools guitar plug-ins; there’s nothing in my signal chain that has anything to do with bass. So I can emulate a guitar sound and approach in a musically convincing way. It will never sound exactly like a guitar for a few reasons: I don’t use a pick, so I don’t have the sharp, hard-edged attack guitar players get. And even though my top string is an .11 gauge, with the 34-inch string length I can’t bend the strings as far as guitar players can without breaking them or going out of tune. Likewise, I’ve had whammy bars on my basses in the past, but it pulls the bass out of tune, so I’ve had to do without them. Maybe there are better locking gears, nuts, and bridges available for bass whammy bars, I haven’t investigated. A whammy sure would be fun to have. Having said all that, I love playing lead guitar on a piccolo bass because it has it’s own voice and vibe, and it’s still played like a bass.
Why are you reissuing the record and what are the enhancements and bonus features?
I wanted to reissue it for two basic reasons that were very personal to me, in no order of importance: The first is that the album release date, September 18, 2020, is the 50th Anniversary of Jimi’s untimely passing, and maybe the record will add some more societal awareness of Jimi and his music. He truly was an icon and a groundbreaker culturally; to me a larger-than-life figure as a guitar player, artist, and soul on this planet. The second reason is that I’m the kind of person for whom “good enough” is never good enough, and I knew there was room for improvement here. I’ve grown a lot as a producer and recording artist since I originally recorded the CD almost 10 years ago. Plus, we have much better recording, mixing, and mastering equipment now, so from a technical side I knew I could make the CD sound a lot better, which to me it deserves. It also gave me the ability to release a bonus, never-before-heard original song that I call, simply, “Jimi.” The name says it all! That track is absolutely intense and powerful, and Vinnie is just insane on it! He’s a freak of nature and it was so much fun having him on the album!
What basses and gear did you use on the record?
There were quite a few: My Kiesel/Carvin B25 5-string fretted and fretless electric basses, B24 4-string fretted and fretless electric basses, B24 4-string fretted electric piccolo bass, and B24 4-string fretted electric tenor bass; my 300-year-old Italian upright acoustic bass, on “The Wind Cries Mary”; my steel-string acoustic piccolo bass, on “The Wind Cries Mary,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Hey Joe”; and my BSX electric upright bass on “Hey Joe.” All the different basses made it possible for me to do the album essentially by myself—along with Vinnie’s amazing playing. I’m very proud of this record for many reasons, but the main reason is that it breathes, has peaks and valleys, and does not in any way sound like just a bass player and a drummer. It’s a project honoring a giant, and I am humbled to offer my take on Jimi’s music.
Read Article: Bass Magazine