Imagine for a second that you’re an artist, poet, musician, or martial artist. Imagine being able to sit down with your idols. Maybe Jimmy Hendrix, Elvis, Bruce Lee, Shakespeare, you name it. What would you say? How would you act? I had to ask myself those exact questions before I met legendary bassist Chuck Rainey, a man whose sonic footprints have marked decades of popular music.
“I spent hours with my bass, to where it’s just a love affair. So now when I finally stared getting hired, apart from learning what somebody else wanted me to do, I had something to offer.” – Chuck Rainey
I was sure that Chuck could help with the questions and concerns that weighed so heavily on my heart. I wanted to know more than just technique but advice for surviving and thriving in music. I was interested in learning the trick to making difficult decisions, and finding some strategies for dealing with the less glamorous side of the music business. I started breaking down my questions to Chuck as my eyes filled up and my voice started cracking.
Chuck: Are you from here? (Kingston)
Joe: I’m from Toronto.
Chuck: Toronto, that’s a big city. In Toronto, It’s like living in New York almost, or LA. It’s a big city.
Joe: There are tons of fantastic musicians out there too.
Chuck: Well you wanna become one of ‘em?
Joe: I absolutely do.
Chuck: Okay then, if you wanna do that you gotta put time in. You gotta put time on the instrument.
His voice couldn’t have been any more soothing even if it were the voice of Morgan Freeman in any movie where he played God. Hahaha. Chuck reassured me that the pursuit of one’s passion is its own reward. He encouraged me to spend more time with my instrument, and even went on to show me a few great exercises that would help me with just that. I was learning so much from his technical ability; it was truly amazing. I was also gaining valuable insight into the attitude needed to face adversity that would otherwise discourage me and ultimately affect my sound.
“My brotha don’t be so hard on yourself.” (I could almost see my family nodding in agreement as they’ve told me this countless times.)
Here are two more of the questions Chuck addresses as the private lesson went on.
Are there any artists that you would recommend listening to that would help me understand and improve my playing, particularly walking bass lines and chords?
Diana Krall is a good artist to listen to and play along with. Earth, Wind & Fire, and Paul Simon are great places to look into as well.
What advice would you recommend for learning the fretboard?
There really is no shortcut around this. You have to spend time; you have to practice until you want to throw up. The surprising thing is that you will eventually begin to like it and see the progress that you’re making. Be creative and develop your own exercises, and make use of patterns. You don’t even have to have the bass plugged in all the time, muscle memory is very important and your can develop that just by having the bass in your hand and playing through those exercises even when sitting in front of the TV.
It’s amazing how he was able to see through some of my insecurities when it came to music or certain techniques that I haven’t yet mastered.
“You know it, but you feel like you don’t know it as well as other people know it.”
At the end of the lesson I thanked Chuck, and we talked about a few bass players that we really enjoy listening to, and he was gracious enough to let me have a picture with him. You can see the stupid grin on my face. Braces out and everything.
Later that evening Chuck taught a master class downtown Kingston, where a room filled with bass players of all ages came out to hear what he had to share. He shared amazing stories of Hollywood artists being completely humbled by the horn section of the band “It’s always the trumpet players” *crowd laughter. Chuck stressed the importance of keeping one’s ego in check, as it tends to inhibit discipline, which is one of the key factors needed to grow as a musician.
He touched on the importance of not being fearful, and learning how to work through one’s fear. Chuck Rainey picked up his bass, and played a few tunes, one of which was a song by Santana, and before we new it, two hours had gone by.
Remaining true to his reputation as a class act, Mr. Rainey thanked the crowd and everyone involved, as the master class came to an end with a roaring standing ovation. This experience was unlike any other that I’ve had in my pursuit of music thus far. I’m truly blessed beyond measure to be able to have met one of the most influential bassists on earth, and learn from him both privately and at this master class. Hopefully you took something from this post, and I took the liberty of attaching a few one-liners from The Legendary Chuck Rainey himself.
“It’s always good to be nice to people who are new, cause people grow.”
“Fear is okay, but you gotta work through it.”
“You can get anywhere with a Kia that you can with a Lexus.”
And my sister’s personal favourite:
“Never take anything negative personally…even if it is.”
Thanks for reading, and thanks to Chuck Rainey for being such an amazing individual.