Stanley Clarke Interview: School Days Revisited for Bass Legend
“School Days” has come full circle for Stanley Clarke. The 1976 jazz rock hit long ago made the celebrated bassist a household name, this even after an already productive and successful stint in Return to Forever, the pioneering jazz fusion group he had put together with Chick Corea in 1972.
With his brand new album, Up, Clarke has rounded up a bunch of friends – old and new – to lay down tracks that move the focus from jazz to rock to funk to fusion and then back deeper into straight-ahead jazz again. Though he has long made a career of genre-hopping guest spots and collaborations, the unfamiliar may be surprised to find the likes of rockers Joe Walsh and Police drummer Stewart Copeland on the disc. Clarke even pulls in prog-jam cat and sometimes Gregg Allman sideman, guitarist Jimmy Herring, for a blistering remake of “School Days” that rivals the original.
But possibly where the 63-year-old bassist’s life-long mission all comes to fruition – all the promise of Clarke’s own music education, his early pro gigs as a teenager, right through a celebrated career spanning five decades – is the four-time Grammy-winning bassist’s inclusion of the younger players he brought in for Up, and on the ensuing tour.
For the now elder statesman of bass, taking keyboardist 30-year old Cameron Graves, and two immensely talented teens in drummer Mike Mitchell and pianist Beka Gochiashvili under his wing – not unlike jazz legend Stan Getz did with him when he was 17 – drives home the timelessness of the tradition of music-making, and music mentoring. But kids are different these days, right? Maybe so, and maybe, at this point, Clarke is asking himself, “Who’s schooling whom?”
In this in-depth Guitar.com interview, Stanley Clarke shares his thoughts on both the state of the music business and music education, offers invaluable advice for musicians young and old (and their parents), and encourages the use of social media to bring attention to one’s creativity, all while weighing in on the art vs. commerce debate.
That’s not to say we didn’t talk about the bassics, too, like gear. In this discussion you’ll find out what Clarke’s favorite new pedals and effects are, why he uses a less-than top-of-the-line pickup on his touring acoustic bass, and whether or not that gorgeous instrument on his website and album cover is actually made of marble.
School Days, indeed.
Stanley Clarke: Hello
Guitar.com: Hi Stanley. How are you?
Clarke: I’m good. How are you?
Guitar.com: Pretty good. Where am I calling you today? Are you at home?
Clarke: Right now I’m at home in Topanga.
Guitar.com: Excited about the new tour?
Clarke: Yeah, I’m excited. I’m excited about the new record, excited about the tour. You know nowadays I make records more, I won’t say for myself, but on this particular record, I have a lot of my friends on it, so the music is kind of exactly how I like. It's not necessarily 100 percent geared toward radio, but there’s not a lot of access for instrumental music on radio anymore.
Most musicians don’t really think about that too much. So there’s a certain kind of a freedom that you get with that, with that in mind. That you make music that sounds nice. So you make a nice record, I have some friends of mine who play live with me, some young kids that are coming up that are really tremendous. And, it’s gonna be fun. We’re rehearsing, and so our things are gonna be really well put-together. It’s nice. I haven’t done that in a while. Sometimes, you know, when you make records, or you launch a tour campaign, it’s nice when you have new music and you spend the time to rehearse things. So, this, this is fun.
Guitar.com: You do have a lot of friends on this album don’t you?
Clarke: Yeah. I decided that I was going to do a record where every day, as much fun as we’re gonna have playing the music, we’re gonna have as much fun telling stories and just hanging out in the studio. So I got a lot of my old friends together. For the album the first people I recorded with were Stewart Copeland and Joe Walsh. They’re really old friends of mine, and we go way back. In Stewart’s case, way before The Police. And with Joe, a little bit later. And you know, they are just guys, friends, and it was nice to talk about mutual friends, and tell stories, and this and that.
And I got together, on the first track, guys who are essentially Michael Jackson’s rhythm section: John Robinson, Greg Phillinganes, Paul Jackson. They played on so many records, and I met them when they were really young. We’ve done lots of things together: movies, records. We live in the same city, and we’re friends. It was just a really cool experience.
Guitar.com: I bet you a lot of those stories that you sat around telling would actually make for some pretty cool TV, wouldnt they?
Clarke: Yeah, some of it would be X-rated (laughs), some stuff would come under mysteries, suspense, comedy, you know -- the whole spectrum and dynamics of life would be included in all these stories. And then of course, you have to lie a little bit, too, when you get down to it, ’cause some of them would be absolutely untrue.
Guitar.com: Just to one-up the guy next to you.
Clarke: Yeah, yeah. Just to, you know, at the moment, get a laugh. And then somebody would say, “Ah, that’s not true,” and then of course somebody would say, “Nah, it’s not, but it sounds good.”
Guitar.com: Yeah. Sounds like it was a fun time. So there’s a wide mixture of music on this album, as I might expect from the nature of how you put this together -- from picking all these different friends, and from the different aspects of your journey, and your career. Some of it is acoustic bass, some of it solo -- all kinds of different genres.
Clarke: Exactly. That’s sort of been something that I’ve done all my career. I used to, early on, get criticized a little bit about that. My hardcore fans kind of understand this: The real thread that goes through all the music is the bass playing. It’s me playing the bass and for the most part the bass is a stand-out element in every song.
And that’s kind of the string that takes you through the record. People hear that really good, interesting, distinctive kind of bass playing, and they don’t really care if one song is a reggae song, the next song is like 1965 straight-ahead swing, or the next tune is ultra funky. They don’t really care, you know?
Some of the newer fans have come along and that are now older fans, and I could see someone pull up a record, -- especially some of my earlier records – and you go, “Whoa, this guy’s all over the place here.” But that’s the way it is. I’m a bass player and I play all kinds of different music and that’s just the way it is.
I’m a bass player before any other name like Jazz musician, Rock musician, Funk musician, Jazz-Rock musician, Fusion musician, whatever. Really the overall tag for me is that I’m a bass player, and that’s what I do, I play the bass.
Guitar.com: And if we go back to your early education – and I want to talk to you about education because you’re a big supporter of music education. So if we go way back, you actually had designs on a career in classical music. Did you not?
Clarke: Absolutely. My original goal was to be, if not the first African-American, then one of the first African-Americans in the Philadelphia Orchestra. I was planning to do that, and I was pretty much on that path. But I sort of got dissuaded by a teacher. And then I met Chick Corea, and Chick was kinda, “Man, you don’t want to do that, let’s go hang out together. You’re gonna have much more fun hanging out with us.”
And you know, he was right, actually. It was interesting, you know: Chick always being the composer, you really get to know him. He’s a composer even more so than him as a pianist. He’s a real composer. And he says “Yeah, you can write your own music, write your own classical music, write your own stuff. Maybe one day you’ll get an orchestra to play your music. And there’s nothing wrong with playing or interpreting the great masters from years ago.”
But, you know, I actually tell students this: If you have a gift of improvisation, if you have a gift of being able to handle composition, to create and write music, you should do that, because that’s what the masters did. They played instruments and they wrote music and that’s what they did.
Nowadays what they call classical music was not called classical music back then. It was the pop music. Mozart was, probably, like, Michael Jackson or something, you know? So back then, these were the guys. They wrote music for the dances. They wrote for all the kings -- funerals, and celebrations, and things like that. The music business has evolved to what it is now and it wouldn’t be the music business without players and composers. And that rings really loud to me.
Guitar.com: With that said, and with what you said about radio not being open to instrumental music, and with the evolution of what happened over the last 10 or 15 years -- with record companies and everyone downloading songs -- there’s obviously pros and cons to what’s happened. Maybe there’s been a leveling of the playing field for unknown artists because they can use social media to get their music out there, and suddenly get big followings.
Clarke: How I look at things is when there’s new inventions, or when there’s a paradigm shift in a particular area, there’s always good and bad things about it. When all these new things come in, old things have to go out. So there’s a yin and yang, a plus-negative dynamic to something like that.
So when social media came along – I don’t know whether I would say “leveling of the playing field.” I would characterize it more as, it gave access to more people who would usually never have had a chance. Now on the surface, you would think it’s a level playing field, but there are some people who make better (sounding) records, but who are just not very good (musicians).
They’ll write something and post it on YouTube and they’re not very good. But me, being a liberal-minded person on the subject of art, I kinda like that. I like the fact that, as far as access is concerned, it does level the playing field. But as far as the art is concerned, and the performance and quality, it hasn’t improved anything. It just let’s anyone in there.
But for me, it’s cool, because I always kid with my kids that I’ll play with anybody. If the guy can play a spoon and he’s got a rhythm, I’ll try something. I may learn something from this guy. Now, as far as great instrumentalists -- let’s just take the great jazz musicians. The access avenues were… there were kind of a bunch of radio stations which were pretty much hijacked, and to be quite honest, a lot of those stations were hijacked by the Clear Channel company, and turned into what was called “Smooth Jazz” radio.
But that was a dumbed-down version from straight-ahead jazz, jazz fusion or jazz rock, like guitar-bass-drum-piano music – the straight-ahead, more open kind of music that had a lot more emphasis on improvisation. That was dumbed-down to basically just saxophone music. You just have saxophone. All the saxophone players sound the same. You wouldn’t hear a guitar. I can’t even remember when I turned on a popular radio station and heard a really good guitar solo, you know -- a guy playing a Les Paul, like someone that’s actually playing the guitar, playing to some changes or something.
I have to search for a serious jazz station, all that stuff’s been dumbed-down to “Smooth Jazz.” And I knew that that was not what would have survived either, because it’s not the truth. And now even that’s been dumbed-down to -- like in L.A. our smooth jazz radio is now called “Smooth R&B,” so you hear the B-sides of famous R&B singers who never ever intended to have their music released on a jazz radio station.
So they don’t even call it jazz anymore, and so after saying all that, I’ll just say business -- the business and the art world is, probably at this time in history, is the furthest apart from each other. There’s a partition between those two universes probably more than there ever was in the history of the world. From the time the first guy, played, you know, a rock or something, or threw a rock and there was a sound and he said “You gotta pay me for it.”
It’s pretty bad right now. But getting back to social media that allows musicians, young musicians and all the musicians to create, and at the same time, create their own business, which essentially creates their own economy within the music business. And that’s good. That’s the thing I like the most, that, like if my son or one of my sons made a record in his bedroom, he made the cover in his bedroom, posted it in his bedroom, and sold it in his bedroom, that’s great.
Guitar.com: I agree with you, but I think that for so many musicians, their entire brain is geared toward creativity, and not business.
Clarke: That’s right.
Guitar.com: And so, while all of a sudden we can go on YouTube and find anybody who releases a song, how does that person get paid for that song? How do they make a living with music, so that they can continue to spend the necessary time to improve as a musician, or a songwriter, or composer?
Clarke: Well, you just answered your own question. There are a lot of artists who are not interested in getting paid. They don’t really view music and writing music as a job. Maybe the guy has a job, maybe he’s working somewhere doing something else, or maybe he’s got a rich family and he just sits home on the computer all day. Who knows?
But then the idea of creating some art... See I actually don’t even like to use the word money, even though that’s what we’re talking about. But the underlying intention under that dynamic is exchange. Some people just like to put their art out and they’re not interested in some sort of exchange.
Now me, I am. I like to exchange, and the reason is I think I do something that’s unique. And I spent a lot of time and a large part of my life perfecting that. So it’s kind of an interesting way of giving a certain amount of respect to some efforts I made when I was 15, 16 years old all the way up until my 20’s studying.
But some people are not interested in that. And you know, I don’t think that we should get rid of either side. I’m not quite sure where you land on it, but I don’t think we should get rid of people who want to get paid for music, and I don’t think we should get rid of people who don’t want to get paid for music.
But I do think there needs to be a balance there, and what creates that balance -- I don’t think there should be regulations or anything -- but there’s gotta be some kind of natural balance. Maybe the balance is there already.
You know that I still do tours, and I can walk on a stage in Bulgaria tomorrow and people will buy tickets to see what I have to do. Maybe there are some other guys that are on the net, maybe they’ll go to Bulgaria, and maybe no one will show up. Maybe no one will know they’re even there. So, maybe the balance is there already. But one thing I do know is that there’s room for all. Does that kind of answer what you were saying?
Guitar.com: You know, I’m a guitar player…
Clarke: Ah, a musician. I see.
Guitar.com: Well, yeah. And I wrote a bunch of instructional books for Hal Leonard, and I’ve made a living largely as a music journalist throughout most of my life. So I guess in that regard I have to consider myself fortunate to be able to have my life so heavily involved in music. But I have children, 11 and 14, who are fairly gifted musicians, and I have to admit that I’m very torn. Do I push them? Do I -- I don't want to say “push.” Do I guide them with the thought that there’s a chance for them to be lifelong... Well, to be a lifelong musician is one thing, but to earn a living as a musician is another thing all together. So how far and hard do I “guide” them?
Clarke: I have the same thing. I’m 63 and I have kids. My oldest son is 36, my daughter is 29, my other son is 28. My oldest son is like a hip-hop producer, and my only daughter is a really fine jazz singer. She’s just releasing her first album and she works hard, hard, hard, hard. My youngest son is a filmmaker/avant-garde drummer. Okay, so you know, I have the same thing.
Like none of these guys have had the breaks that I’ve gotten. You know, that’s part of it too. When I came up, you have to understand that, when I was a teenager, or early 20’s, there were five record companies, major record companies. And if you're an artist and you wanted to record, first of all you had to go through those five companies. And they were all so smart at the time, and went on to buy up all the little companies, and they became subsidiaries of the bigger companies. Just like Atlantic bought up Rolling Stones Records.
So basically, you had to go through these record labels, which means that there were a lot of artists who were just cut off and, you know, if you didn’t make the cut -- just like sports -- you’re just not there. And so, in my time, there were fewer people. There was less competition.
Except now, the competition -- it’s actually beyond competition. You can say that a large part of society just makes records, and a large part of society, they make art. Now, the artist in me thinks that’s great. Now, as you say, the business of selling your music and making money, and having a career and getting famous -- to me, the only thing that I can say coming from all the things that I have seen in the last 45 years is that all the artists I see who get popular have one thing in common: They have, for lack of a better word, a little army behind them. They have an infrastructure and an army.
And you know, the days of someone – maybe a great singer – going up to some record company and saying, “Help me,” it’s kinda like a person should say “Save me!” Like one of your kids saying “Help, save me!” Forget “Help!”
“Save me,” because to continue as one person in this world, the way it is right now, is actually almost insane. I read a lot of books. It’s a two terminal universe, meaning no one can really operate alone. You gotta speak with someone. You gotta communicate something. Somebody has to duplicate something that comes out of your mouth, or you’d just go crazy.
It’s the same way with art. If one of your kids – the only suggestion I would give is that they have to, like, create an army. Now the beautiful thing about that is that there’s always… it’s usually the people who are around you the closest, who make your best manager. They make your best tour manager. They make your best everything.
I remember when we started out, when everyone was saying “Go get a manager,” we had friends. We all had about, between the four of us, we had like maybe 10-12 close friends, and they were -- that was our infrastructure. They were the guys who helped push us. And the radio hated us at first because we were jazz musicians with big amplifiers playing as loud as we could possibly play, and fast. And we looked good, and we were smiling, so we didn’t look like the typical jazz musicians who were strung out, with their back turned to the audience, you know, downtrodden and all that kind of stuff that the jazz critics loved to write about back then.
And so we just pushed our way through because we had people that believed in us. And I am still that type of idealist that believes that, when you have people who believe in you, it makes you greater. It makes you better and you just keep going. Now that’s what I would tell my kids.
See I helped a lot of my kids, my son, my oldest son I think he helped me score five movies out of the 16 movies I’ve done. So he has money that comes in from different little movies when they play it on TV. And he wrote for another five movies. So you know, I helped him.
I would actually encourage you to help your kids, turn them on to what you do -- writing books or anything that you do. I really think that’s such a great thing that you can do for your kids. The days of letting your kids just go out on their own, man, that’s dangerous. There’s just too much out there, man. It’s like sending them into the jungle somewhere, with a whole lot of lions and everything. It’s just nasty out there. But, at the same time, there’s a lot of stuff out there. Social media has completely -- are you utilizing that for yourself?
Guitar.com: Yes, I am.
Clarke: And you make records yourself?
Guitar.com: I haven’t yet..
Clarke: I mean, do you think you play good enough to make a record?
Guitar.com: Yeah, I just fell into -- along with parenthood -- I kinda went more into a cover band, working band lifestyle.
Clarke: Shit, record that. You know what? It’s funny: Somebody said that to Chick Corea one time. Chick is a funny guy man, he is hilarious, ’cause his shit is just like, whatever. And the guy said “Well, I’m in a cover band,” and Chick says “Record that.” “Yeah but we're doing Lionel Richie tunes.” “So what? I like Lionel, record it.”
You know, just make a record of it, just do it, you know. It doesn't cost much to get the software. Just do it. Try to get it to happen and link it up with your other stuff. Maybe if you write books, put the record in there, you know? Get your kids -- they just gotta get going. They just gotta get an understanding at a young age if they wanna do it.
I tell you, I wouldn't push the kids into it. That I don’t do. I don’t want to believe too much in that. But if you have, what, 2 or 3 kids, they’ll let you know. At that age when they’re 15, 16, they’re kinda…you know, they’ve got a lot of things they’re thinking about. A lot of things. And their bodies are changing, and then eventually… shit man, you don't know, but you gotta be ready.
As a parent, that’s what I found. I learned I was good with my first son, not bad with my daughter, I was the toughest and she is the most talented one. So we fought a lot ’cause I didn’t really know whether she was really that serious. And man, she turns out to be the most serious one of all of them. And I didn’t spend a lot of time with her.
Guitar.com: Well, actually, I just moved, and I’m upgrading my home studio. And a part of that is for myself to kind of get into doing some recording of some original music that is completely different -- and maybe jazz fusion-like -- compared to the cover tunes I play.
Clarke: Great, and you know what, you might get a gig somewhere doing it. You know, you never know man. You never know what’s out there and what people will take. I think you know that they’re not gonna take everything, and it’s just congested out there. That’s the only word I can come up with: It’s just heavily congested. And it’s people like us, you know, there’s a little space in there. You just gotta find it.
Guitar.com: Well, in part also, I’m doing it because I want to be able to have a more serious professional home recording studio for my kids, and to help them develop their songwriting and all that. And so as far as kids, and education – I know you’re a big supporter of music education. Do you still have the music scholarship program?
Clarke: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I still do that. This is our 12th year, and we’re really excited about it. We’ve sent, quietly, way over 50 kids over the 12 years to higher education and just helped them with their costs. Some things we do, we just give awards, like cash awards. As I remember, when I was going to college music conservatory, one of my biggest problems was just having money to eat.
I didn’t come from a wealthy family or anything. In those days, like I said, they would just say “You got it.” You’re out there. You left home, and that was it. “Come by and say hello,” and that was it. And so, you know, there’s a lot of kids out there who are in that spot right now. So sometimes we just give out cash awards -- a thousand bucks. We encourage that they don’t go spending it on crack cocaine or hookers, but, you know, we do the best we can. And for the most part they’re good kids and it’s a lot of fun.
I really, really believe that a lot of our problems in this world stem from some sort of un-education, you know? Something that someone didn’t get, something that if they got or had an understanding of it, they would just, you know…it may not fix everything. I mean, there are bad people out there who are actually very well educated, and that’s what makes it so bad. But I do know that the good guys out there, you know, it’s a much better offense in the long run to be educated. So, I’m really big on that.
Guitar.com: And actually, on this new album Up, you actually have a couple of teenagers playing on it, don’t you?
Clarke: Yeah, yeah. I have a guy, one guy, on the song, what is it.. “Brazilian Love Affair,” I think he was 16 when we recorded it, Beka Gochiashvili from (former Soviet satellite nation) Georgia. He’s a very interesting guy, he was actually saved by a person -- I don’t particularly, I’m not really in agreement with a lot of her politics -- but anyway, the woman, Condoleezza Rice, found him in a restaurant in Georgia. And he was playing the piano, like playing, working, you know. He was like 11 or 12.
It was around the time that the Russians had bombed or were getting ready to bombGeorgia. They were trying to take overGeorgia, kinda like what they’re doing to theUkraine right now. And she was there trying to cut some kind of deal, and obviously she didn’t think it was going to work out. So she saw him, and she is a pianist, -- she’s a classical pianist. And so she said “Look, let me get him out of here.”
So she got him out of there and he’s been inNew York ever since. And this guy is just a beast on the piano. It’s the only way to describe it: He’s a beast. And he stayed straight. He’s great.
And then the drummer -- they’ll be in Chicago with me when we pass through there. The drummer, his name is Mike Mitchell, and he is just another beast. I just feel really lucky right now to have guys at that age -- like 17, 18, 19 – playing. It’s a great age when you see guys that you know are gonna be considered, you know, legends, years from now.
Like [jazz drum great] Tony Williams. When he played with Miles Davis, he was 16. And people looked at that like “Wow… He really plays!” And it’s very similar with these guys. You just look at them and you go “God, how did this guy get that much information in such a short time?” And, you know, sometimes you just run across people, people like that. I’m very fortunate to have two guys like that with me in the band.
Guitar.com: Is Beka fairly outgoing?
Clarke: Outgoing? Yeah, well, now he is. He’s been hanging. We’ve been playing for a little over a year. He is definitely one of those kind of kids that, when he plays music, his eyes just look like he has a big knot in the middle of his two eyes, like the intensity… you almost feel sorry for a guy that young. He’s so intense.
I said “Beka, man, relax.” And so now he’s got a girlfriend, and he’s doing all the things that a normal young kid should do. He hangs out. He came out here to L.A. and his background comes fromGeorgia. It’s a beautiful country. He has such a love for his country, but there’s a lot of fear back there ’cause they have the Soviet Union always looking at them or Russia looking at ’em, so he’s got that thing in his personality.
People don’t realize sometimes the way other people live around the world, especially, in his country. I don’t understand it, a lot of people that really suffer in a different way. It’s not just about poverty. It’s kinda like a psychological thing that’s happening. Anyway, Beka’s loosening up.
And then Michael, the drummer, he’s completely the opposite. He’s from Dallas, he’s just a wild, wild, wild, wild, extremely wild kid. And somehow they listen to me. I don’t know why, but maybe I look like their grandfather or something. They do call me Louis Armstrong sometimes, you know. I never thought that anybody would ever say that to me because I was them -- I was those guys when I was 17, 18, 19. I was playing with Stan Getz, and I was playing with a lot of different musicians. And I was the new guy in town, and I was like those guys, just crazy and -- I wasn’t as serious as Beka.
I hear these guys say, “Man, you’re ancient history, man,” you know. But when they get on the bandstand, they play their asses off, and they’re very grateful. They appreciate the opportunity, and they really love entertaining the audience. I mean, man, they’re just gonna blow people’s minds when they hear these guys play. They really, really can play. So that’s nice. I'm very happy with that.
Guitar.com: So he’s definitely with you, Beka’s with you, on tour?
Clarke: Yeah, yeah. Beka. And we have another keyboard player named Cameron Graves, who’s in his thirties. He’s the old guy in the band, and, I’m like ancient history or something. And Cameron is the guy that’s like kind of a, how would I describe him? He’s like a multi keyboardist, and supplements it. Beka mainly plays acoustic piano, and a little bit of keyboards. But this guy is mainly a keyboardist. So, you know, it’s very good. It’s gonna be very nice, it’s gonna be really nice.
Guitar.com: My son is a 14 year old piano player, he’s a freshmen in high school he just landed a spot, essentially, on the varsity jazz band. I’m sure he would be very inspired seeing another teen playing piano with you.
Clarke: Bring him to the gig if you can, or sound check, or whatever, and I will definitely make sure that this kid meets Beka. They’re not too far apart in age. And it’ll blow your son’s mind to see that it’s very possible for anything to happen, you know? There’s no more, you gotta be 21 or 30 to do something.
All that stuff is blown out, you know. With these kids now, there are some young kids now... You know, that’s another thing I really love about the internet: I would have never found this drummer. I just went online as a joke and said “greatest young drummer under 21” and five guys came up, and Mike was one of them. That’s how I found him, like a pure joke, you know? I was just getting ready to do something else, and so me and my engineer, we were sitting backstage somewhere, and just as a joke, we did it, and we found Mike. He came out to the house, he played, and that’s that, you know.
Guitar.com: Wow, wow. Very cool. So social media does work.
Clarke: Yeah, yeah. You know the one thing in the music world that they haven’t completely destroyed yet is live performances. They haven’t figured out how to do that. I mean, actually, I’m treated better by promoters now than I ever was. Because people, you know, when they go on YouTube, I think they realize you can only -- I mean you’re looking at it. You’re looking at some guy, but then if you really like it, the next thought that’s gonna be in your head -- if the guy you’re looking at is not dead -- your gonna say, “God, I’d love to see that guy live!”
And I tell you, a large part of my audience, man, especially in Europe, young guys that come back and they say, “Yeah, I saw you on YouTube!” So it’s been a great marketing tool, not marketing, but just promotional thing for a lot of artists, YouTube. When I first started out, very few musicians were actually even on TV. Very few guys even knew what Miles Davis really looked like, you know? There was just nothing. Now there’s no shame. You see what color underwear Snoop Dogg’s wearing. You may not want to know but you’re going to see it.
Guitar.com: So I know my readers are probably gonna be mad at me if I don’t ask you a little bit of gear stuff. What is this beautiful bass you’re holding on the cover of the Up album, and on the homepage of your website?
Clarke: That is the last Alembic bass that was given to me. I’ve been with Alembic pretty much all my career, and you know, my sound has a large part to do with that company. They make basses for me because I really like the basses that they make. Every couple of years they make a bass for me. A bass I got before that was, I think, a 30 year anniversary bass, and it cost some ridiculous amount of money to get a bass like that. And this bass is similar. I forget the name of the wood, some African wood, some really hard wood. The bass’ sound is really, really good, and alive. That’s what it is, you know, that’s an Alembic bass.
Guitar.com: It’s beautiful too. I almost looks like a piece of granite or marble.
Clarke: Yeah, it’s wood. Can you believe that? It actually looks like I’m holding a marble bass.
Guitar.com: Right, right. That would have an interesting tone.
Clarke: Yeah. You know when you see the bass in person, they put such a high gloss on that thing that it brings out whatever in the wood, and it looks marble as well. It’s really something.
Guitar.com: So what are you bringing out on tour with you?
Clarke: Well, I’m going to bring out a couple of basses, Alembic basses. I’ll bring out my stand-up bass that I have. This one now is about 5 or 6 years old. I had this bass built for the road, new. And probably long after I’m gone -- a hundred years after that -- it’ll really sound good. It sounds pretty good right now.
And then my gear: I use Ampeg speakers. I use Alembic preamps. And then I use pedals. I mainly use EBS pedals. I like the EBS pedals because they’re sturdy. It’s interesting because, to some degree, your decision to use that gear, especially when they’re pedals -- stuff that you’re gonna be stepping on… I’ll have to consider: “If I step on this thing…” you know? I’m like 6 foot 4. Am I gonna break this pedal?
So the EBS stuff that they make for bass is really strong, and it sounds good. I have a tc electronics reverb, that I like. But when I take that out on the road, after five or six gigs, it just gets banged up, and something gets off. I’m fortunate enough to have an engineer that’s a tech as well, and so we’ll be able to fix it. But you only find this out, usually, at sound check. But in my case, with my luck in gear, it’s always on the 2nd or 3rd song.
I also have a pedal -- I can’t pronounce the guy’s name, but there’s a guy in Germany… I think Victor Wooten might know his name [Editor’s note: Stanley is talking about Rodenberg pedals]. Anyway, that guy made a pedal for me, Victor, and Marcus Miller when we had our Three Bass tour. He just came up to the edge of the stage and put one at each of our feet, and it’s the greatest pedal that I ever -- it’s like a boost pedal for the bass and it’s like a 15db boost, but clean, like, really clean.
It’s just, whatever sound you’re hearing at the moment, it’s just louder. I don’t know how he did it, and that’s probably the best pedal that I have. He sent me four other pedals that I’m looking at right now. Hopefully I can get through all of them before I come on the road, but they’re really sturdy, like solid steel. It must be really expensive for him to make them like that. So that’s all I use. I use round wound strings, DR strings, and that’s it.
Guitar.com: Do you run the stand-up bass through amplification?
Clarke: Oh yeah. I run the stand-up bass through -- oh yeah, there’s this one thing, it’s the best, in my opinion, direct box for any bass. EBS makes it. It’s called MicroBass. What I like about it, it has a really -- I mean all those kind of things: preamps, direct boxes, pedals -- they all change your tone. To get one that doesn’t almost defeats the purpose of having one.
But this one has a tone. It has a sound, but when you plug an electric bass and especially an acoustic bass in, it really enhances the sound. And the cool thing about it is, it has a bunch of different points for unbalanced and all the other formats for outputs, for an engineer. And then it has a really smooth loop for effects. It kind of has an A/B channel, so I can just switch. And a mute switch, so you can mute it all, mute whatever’s going through it all. And then you have A/B, two separate completely different EQ’s that really sound good on the bass.
See the thing I really like about EBS is that they spent their whole career researching stuff specifically for the bass. Like EQs and curves that enhance the bass, like it’s specific for the bass. And that’s kind of a cool thing for me, especially coming from like the late ’60s, and there was a lot out there for the guitar but there was really nothing for the bass. Now bass players have kinda come up a bit, and they have their own EQ’s, their own pedals, and all that stuff.
As a matter of fact, acoustic guitar players and some guys who play jazz guitars that have that kind of Wes Montgomery sound, they buy those, they get that MicroBass, ’cause if you put an acoustic guitar through it, man, it’s just unbelievable! It gives it a warmth and a bigness that’s really something. So I highly recommend it. That’s my favorite piece of gear out of all the stuff that I have, the MicroBass. I call it a “love box.” It just makes an instrument sound beautiful, but not in a weird, thin way. Just big, warm…just beautiful, beautiful sound.
Guitar.com: So what kind of pickup arrangement do you have on the acoustic bass?
Clarke: On the acoustic bass I use a pickup that’s kind of -- it’s not considered the best pickup, but I’ll tell you the reason why I use it. It’s a pickup called the Underwood pickup for acoustic bass. And the reason why I use it is because I play with very loud drummers, and so I need a pickup that can pick up the bass but not be so microphonic that it picks up everything around.
It’s a really interesting thing. And even the bass that I use, that I had made for playing live – it’s not a bass that I would play sonatas on, or play classical music on with the bow. It’s a little more dead, and the reason is because I can play in a club sometimes with 400 or 500 people, but then I can be in front of 5,000 people, and so when you have that much sound swirling around a venue a lot of that sound’s gonna go right back through the bass. And if that bass is a big ringer, it just creates this hum, and a loop and feedback. So, that’s why I use the Underwood ’cause it fits right in the slots on the bridge on the acoustic bass, and for some reason I can control the acoustic bass sound better.
Guitar.com: So who’s playing guitar on your tour?
Clarke: Well, you know, on this first part, we’re not gonna have guitar. We’re not gonna have a guitar player. And so, to all the guitar players: Sorry. But what I’m gonna do is, like, when I’m in New York I'm gonna have some friends of mine sitting in. Another thing I’m gonna do on this tour, which I did on the last tours, I have lots of friends all around the globe that come, and then… I wish I knew a great guitar player in Chicago. I don’t know too many musicians in Chicago, to be honest.
Guitar.com: Maybe I could send a few YouTube videos your way.
Clarke: That would be nice, that would be nice. If a guy can surely come down and play, that would be fun.
Guitar.com: So how did you come up with bringing Jimmy Herring on for your remake of “School Days”?
Clarke: Jimmy is just one of my all time favorites. To me he’s in the tradition of the great Southern Rock guitar players. He has that sound. He’s the guy that likes dirt trucks, you know? He just has that tradition there. He’s just a sweet guy who knows how to do that thing, man.
People are asking me, “Why do you want to redo a classic?” And I said, “Well, I don’t look at it that way,” you know? At heart I'm a bass player, but there’s a part of me that’s the type of jazz musician who will record something a couple of times. Miles Davis recorded many of his songs 2, 3, 4 times.
So “School Days,” I have a lot of guitar players that sometimes come up to me, famous ones, -- I mean extremely famous ones -- that go, “Man, you gotta record that tune again so I can get a piece of it, man. I gotta get on that tune, man. I gotta get me some.”
And Jimmy, that’s where he was coming from. So, I said “All right, great.” In many ways we just kinda played the song. It was kind of a presentation of the song. The original, no one, including me, will ever beat that. That had, you know, angst, abuse. We went in there like it was a one-take. We had one take, that we had to stop for some technical reason, about 2 minutes into the piece. And so then we started again and that was what you heard on the record. And it was just like, you know, straight out, balls-to-the-wall, and that was it. That will never happen again.
Guitar.com: Well, I like the new version just as well. It’s very cool.
Clarke: Yes. It’s a good feel first, ’cause Gerry Brown [drummer on the 1976 School Daysalbum] was the only original member. And when both of us started out, it sounds like the original record. I said, “Gerry, my God, Man, should we change it?” And he said, “No, man, this is what it is, man. This is ‘School Days’ OK?” And I said, “All right.”
Guitar.com: Very cool. All right. Well heyStanley, I appreciate your time, you spent so much time with me today. Thank you so much.
Clarke: Yeah, it was great. I like this. It was more of a conversation. I like this kind of interview, you know, where you tell me about your life. So, hook up with Diane, bring your kid down to the show. I’m looking forward to meeting you and your kid. OK?
Guitar.com: Thank you so much, Stanley.
Clarke: All right, take care, see ya. Bye.
[Editor's Note: I did take my son to see Clarke and his band, and they were absolutely smokin' hot musicians. The music was far more aggressive, jamming, tearin'-it-up than we expected, and Clarke graciously spent a good 10 or 15 minutes very engaged in conversation with my 14-year-old son. You've got to see Stanley Clarke and his "kids" in concert if you can. They're on a worldwide tour through November, 2014. Click the link below to go to Stanley's website to find a tour date near you!]