|Darryl Jones: Like A Rolling Stone
By Chris Jisi
Darryl Jones has had a career that Forrest Gump would envy. Rising from relative obscurity ten years ago to join Miles Davis's band, "The Munch" has gone on to provide the punch for Sting, Peter Gabriel, Madonna, and now the Rolling Stones. In the process he has forged a resume that reads like a Hollywood script (and, in fact, includes appearances in such films as Sting's Bring On the Night and Madonna's Truth or Dare). Most impressively, he has accomplished all of this with a musical concept so basic even the simple Southerner of big-screen fame would appreciate it. "People ask, 'How have you had to change your style to play with the Rolling Stones?'" says Darryl. "My answer is, I haven't had to. With the Stones, I'm doing what I've done with everyone else. My approach to all music is: break it down, cut away the excess, and get back to the fundamentals."
One of Jones's regular Windy City rhythm-section mates was drummer Vince Wilburn Jr., a nephew of Miles Davis. Wilburn told Miles about Darryl during a Japanese tour in 1983; upon returning, Miles placed a call to Chicago. "He wanted to hear me play over the phone," Jones remembers. "I ran around looking for my bass, and when I came back, he asked me if I could be in New York the next day. I said yes, and then I asked if he still wanted to hear me over the phone. He said, 'Well, you can play, can't you?' I said, 'Yes,' and he said, 'Good, because if you can't, I'm going to kill Vince.'" Darryl auditioned in person and a week later found himself onstage in St. Louis with Davis, guitarist Mike Stern, guitarist John Scofield, saxophonist Bill Evans, percussionist Mino Cinelu, and drummer Al Foster.
Concluding a two-year run that was documented on Decoy and You're Under Arrest, Jones--with Miles's blessing--moved on to join Sting at the recommendation of saxophonist Branford Marsalis. The ex-Police man and his "jazz band"--Jones, Marsalis, drummer Omar Hakim, and keyboardist Kenny Kirkland--proceeded to turn the pop world on its ear with The Dream of the Blue Turtles and subsequent tours. When the project ended, Jones settled in New York and spent two years at the core of the Big Apple's contemporary jazz scene, working with Stern, Scofield, guitarist Hiram Bullock, the Gil Evans Big Band, and Steps Ahead. Growing weary of his gig-to-gig cycle in Gotham, Darryl returned to Chicago in 1989, determined to focus on writing and performing his own music. Demand for his rock-solid feel, however, kept him busy as a sideman on tours with Herbie Hancock & the Headhunters, Peter Gabriel, and Madonna, and on recordings with everyone from Eric Clapton to Spike Lee.
Last year, Jones relocated to Los Angeles. He was attempting to put down roots, so to speak, while hanging out and playing with members of the Tonight Show Band, when the Stones came a-calling. His new home is stage-left on the Voodoo Lounge tour; his neighbors are vocalists Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, hornmen Bobby Keyes, Andy Snitzer, Kent Smith, and Mike Davis--and, of course, Woody, Charlie, Keith, and Mick.
How did you land the gig with the Stones?
I got to meet Mick Jagger in 1985 while I was working on the film Bring On the Night with Sting, and I met Keith Richards in 1987 through Charley Drayton and Steve Jordan, who were working on his Talk Is Cheap record [Virgin]. When I found out Bill Wyman was leaving the Stones, I called Mick Jagger's management and left a message saying I was interested in auditioning. I also tried to send messages to the Stones through friends. I don't know which method worked, but I got on the list.
Why did the gig appeal to you?
When I saw Keith with the X-Pensive Winos, I began to think it might be interesting to play rock & roll. My first thought was that if Keith's gig became available, I'd be into trying out. It didn't, but when Bill Wyman left, I thought, Well, why not the Rolling Stones?
What was the audition process?
I was asked to come to New York in June 1993. We played through a bunch of hits: "Brown Sugar," "Miss You," "Tumbling Dice," "Start Me Up." Everything felt good and I thought, No matter what happens, I've had a lot of fun--and maybe I'll hear from them. They called again in October; this time they wanted to play through material they'd written for Voodoo Lounge. After that, they asked me to come work on the record in Dublin. When we finished, there were rumors of a tour, but nothing official was said.
Last March, I went to hang out with Mick and Keith at a mixing session. Keith told me I had just missed Charlie, and he related a conversation they'd had that day:
Charlie: "We're going to use Darryl on the tour, right?"
Keith: "Yeah. He played on the record, and we dug it, so, yes-- he's doing it."
Charlie: "Well, don't you think we should tell him?"
Keith: "I guess you're right."
Then Keith said, "So, I'm telling you." [Laughs.] I didn't tell anyone, though, until the band formally announced it.
Did you feel a bit intimidated about working with them?
Not at all. There's mutual respect, and this is a situation that's about everybody having fun making music. The Stones have opened their arms and tried to make a place for me, so it's been really cool.
Having a mutual jazz background with Charlie Watts must have been a factor in your hiring.
I'm sure it didn't hurt, but I think it was more that he felt comfortable playing with me--I know I felt comfortable with him.
How did you research for the audition?
I didn't research much. Basically, I got a few of their "best of" records and listened and played along. Instead of learning Bill Wyman's parts verbatim and then trying to sound like him, I learned the form of the songs and the general shape of the bass lines, and then I added my own interpretations. I felt it was important to play in my own style so they would be hiring me for me. On certain songs, however, I play the lines note-for- note because they're essential parts--like in "Start Me Up" and "Satisfaction."
There are a few Wyman-esque lines on Voodoo Lounge--like the opening riff of "I Go Wild" and the octave climbs in the bridge and fade-out of "Suck on the Jugular."
I can't think of any sections where I tried to cop his exact style. I actually borrowed the octaves on "Jugular" from Jaco Pastorius's line on "River People" [from Weather Report's Mr. Gone, Columbia]. It's my little tribute to Jaco.
What's your assessment of Wyman's playing?
Even though he usually isn't in the forefront when people talk about the Stones sound, Bill Wyman is, in my estimation, a good musician and an underrated bassist. I've been listening to his lines, the different approaches he took to songs. He obviously knew a lot about this music after playing it for so long.
Did your preparation include listening to the early blues that influenced the Stones?
I've listened to some Muddy Waters records, but I didn't really go back that far until after the fact. I'd hang out in Keith's room late at night listening to old blues records, and he'd point out passages that had inspired his writing or playing. My whole approach--even from before the audition--has been to try to conceptualize what I would have sounded like and what instrument I would have used if I were playing rock & roll with the Stones in the '60s and '70s.
Did you feel obligated to use a vintage bass?
That was my first inclination, and I did use a Fender for the audition to make that point. But at the same time, Roger Sadowsky's basses are built so much in the Fender style, and he uses the active electronics to enhance, rather than change, the sound--so those instruments function better in this style of music than you might expect. That became especially clear when we recorded. I used Fenders on certain songs, but there was something about the warm, fat, round tone of my Sadowsky. I'd say I played it on 45% of the album. In fact, [producer] Don Was--a fellow bassist--called Roger and said, "Send me a bass just like Darryl's." [Ed. Note: Was related this story in his interview in Sept/Oct '94.]
Is that a fretless acoustic bass guitar on "Mean Disposition"?
Yes--Ronny's Zemaitis fretless. I muted the strings with my left hand and plucked them with my thumb to get a Willie Dixon- type sound. That tune has one of those old R&B feels, with Charlie swinging the ride cymbal but rockin' the rest of the kit.
You apparently don't feel the need to slap, tap, or use any 5- or 6-string basses with the Stones.
No, those things don't seem appropriate. In fact, I use a pick when we play "Satisfaction" live--I think it really calls for that sound.
How were the basses recorded?
In various ways. We used my rack and my Meyer Sound speakers, an Ampeg SVT head, and an Ampeg B-15; there was also a direct signal from an active direct box. [Engineer] Don Smith used a number of old limiters and compressors to get some great bass sounds.
How did you come up with your parts for the album?
For the most part we all played live; we'd learn the tunes and then record different versions over a few days, which was similar to the way Miles recorded. In some cases, I'd just pick up the bass and play whatever I felt was needed for the song, and that worked well. On other songs, Mick might ask me to drive a section harder or move from straight eighth-notes to a figure--or he'd sing a line and I'd work it in. He would always say that if I wasn't comfortable with something he suggested, I didn't have to play it--so I was given a lot of freedom. Mostly, I just used my intuition.
The steady eighth-note pattern seems to be the staple of rock bass playing.
That's often the case, and I've certainly gained a better understanding of the intricacies involved. There are a thousand ways to play eighth-notes with respect to left-hand articulation, right-hand attack, note choices, note duration, use of space, phrasing, and overall feel. Then again, sometimes I'll start playing an eighth-note line with two right-hand fingers, only to find out that using anything more than one finger is overkill.
After playing with so many world-class drummers in different styles, what was your approach to working with Charlie Watts?
The only thing I did--and I do this with all drummers--is listen. My first order of business is to listen and lock in, to build the foundation of the house; everything else comes after that. My attitude is: Let's nail the song to the floor so it can go out as far as it needs to go.
Charlie has been great to work with. One of the fascinating characteristics of his style, which I've come to appreciate, is that he sometimes plays his fills slightly ahead of the beat. I've heard other drummers do this, and I wouldn't be surprised if they got it from Charlie. That little edge he puts on the fill creates an interesting tension in the music.
You get around quite a bit onstage. Were you given any stage direction?
Nothing was said. But I don't use just my fingers and ears to play bass--I use my whole body. I also use my eyes to connect with what everyone is doing around me. That all goes back to Miles; I used to watch him take tiny steps backwards across the entire stage, and I'd see people's eyes glued on him. Everyone has a certain stage manner; Sting has his hopping move, and I'm developing my own.
You're also singing background vocals. Were you drafted?
No--I wanted to. In fact, I'd like to be singing even more. The crew had set up a mike near me at the rehearsals, before the background singers were brought in; one day, while we were playing some material from Voodoo Lounge, I heard some missing vocal parts, so I instinctively went over and sang them.
The thing I'm learning is that it's all music. Drummers should play bass, and vice versa; people who don't sing should try, and so on. These things all allow you to make another connection to the music. I have nothing against people who just play bass, but at this point I feel the need to be involved on more levels.
It seems that playing with Miles exposed you to much of what you would later encounter with pop and rock acts.
That's true. Miles played the blues, and he played pop songs, like [Cyndi Lauper's] "Time After Time." He performed in front of huge audiences, and there was a vast amount of media attention. When I joined Sting's band, people would ask about the difference between playing behind a trumpet and playing behind a voice, and I'd say, "Man, Miles is a voice."
Did you and Sting ever have any bass-intensive conversations?
Not really, but he wrote some great bass lines, and my ear was open to that. What impressed me most about Sting, besides his obvious gifts as a composer and lyricist, was that he combines idioms so well--and that allows him to create his own music and his own market. He's not trying to "do" anyone else.
Your stint with Peter Gabriel, where you filled in for Tony Levin, bears similarities to your current situation with the Stones. What are your reflections on that period?
In addition to being a great artist and vocalist, Peter has the ability to sort of become the thing he's singing about onstage. When I played with Peter, I was aware of Tony's work--but as with the Stones, sometimes I'd play parts exactly like his while other times I'd play something completely different.
What was your musical approach with Madonna?
Because of the nature of the music, a lot of the bass lines needed to be played pretty much verbatim. The most interesting aspect of that tour, though, was watching her use all of the available resources to make her vision a reality.
Is there anyone else you'd like to play with?
I'd love to do some gigs with James Brown, and maybe with a great blues player like John Lee Hooker. Those two immediately come to mind, but there are more. As I've said before, I have a fascination for musicians who have been doing what they do for a long, long time. There's so much to learn from playing with that kind of artist.
Some people still have a problem with seeing an African- American musician in a rock & roll band. Have you encountered any trouble in that regard?
Not so far. There's no denying where some people are on that issue, so I won't comment. On the positive side, though, I will say I hope I'm living proof that if there's something you want to do, you should just go out and do it. It might be difficult, but nothing is impossible.
What bassists have impressed you recently?
Victor Wooten plays his ass off, and Me'Shell Ndege'Ocello is very funky and inventive. I love Pino Palladino's fretless work. I just saw Hutch Hutchinson play with Bonnie Raitt, and I was very impressed. And there's a talented young woman in Los Angeles, Share Pederson, who used to play bass with Vixen.
I wouldn't be surprised if the next wave of heavy bassists comes from Africa--players like Armand Sabal-Lecco and Habib Faye, who's with Youssou N'Dour. Those cats are so bad! They don't seem to perceive it as just a bass guitar; to them, it's a musical instrument, so they can play anything they want on it.
Who were the key bassists in your own development?
Angus Thomas, of course, who was my first teacher. I used to bring my bass over to his place, and we would play through a wide range of tunes--everything from the Staple Singers, Sly Stone, and Earth, Wind & Fire to Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and the Allman Brothers. Beyond Angus, I would say Larry Graham, Stanley Clarke, and Jaco were the key players. Larry opened my ears to what the instrument could do, both sonically and technically, through slapping and popping and his use of effects like the fuzztone. Stanley broadened that concept, in terms of my thinking about soloing and developing the facility to play challenging music. Thosn Carter, James Jamerson, Bootsy Collins, and Anthony Jackson as important influences.
What does the future hold concerning your often- sidetracked solo career?
Currently, I'm signed on for the duration of this tour; what happens beyond that is anyone's guess. Regardless, I'm thrilled to have become a part of the history of the Rolling Stones. When I was a kid I didn't say, "I want to be Michael Jackson"-- I'd say, "I want to play bass for Michael Jackson." Fortunately, my career has been the realization of many of those dreams. But after you come to a certain point you start to look over the hill for some new dreams. For me, that's writing and performing my own music, and right now, based on what I've learned in the past few years, I'm once again looking to get back to the basics. I know my altered jazz chords; I want to re- examine three- and four-note chords and the way they function in a simple, profound song. At some point I'll break out my upright and play straightahead jazz, I'll pursue composing music for film--things like that. But for the moment, there's something about writing a song that you can just sit down and play on an acoustic guitar and still get your point across.
In other words, it's only rock & roll but you like it.
Darryl Jones has been rotating basses as the Voodoo Lounge tour progresses. At press time, his main instrument was a white '66 Jazz Bass; other axes along for the ride include a "custom black" '65 Jazz, a sunburst '58 Precision, an Ernie Ball Music Man Sterling, an Albey Balgochian fretless, and two Sadowsky 4-strings, in black and blue (appropriately). Both Sadowskys are fitted with Hipshot XTenders. The P-Bass sports flatwounds, while the rest of the basses are strung with DR Lo- Rider MH-45 nickel roundwounds (.045, .065, .085, .105). Darryl's picks are standard-size Ernie Balls, in heavy and extra- heavy gauges. He uses Monster Cables.
According to bass and guitar tech Dave Rouze, Darryl's road rig is powered by two Crown Macro-Tech 2400 amps and two Micro-Tech 1200s. They drive four Meyer Sound USW-1 2x15 cabinets, as well as four Meyer Sound wedges--UPA-1 12s with horns. Rack gear includes two Ashly preamps, a Demeter preamp, and a Tech 21 SansAmp preamp, each used with different basses. There are no effects. Everything is run in mono and sits stage-left, behind Jones. After checking out numerous wireless systems for the best low-end response, Darryl chose a new prototype made by Beyer.
With the Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge, Virgin. With Miles Davis: (both on Columbia) You're Under Arrest; Decoy. With Sting: (both on A&M) Bring On the Night; The Dream of the Blue Turtles. With Madonna: Truth or Dare, soundtrack, Sire. With Eric Clapton: Journeyman, Epic. With John Scofield: Still Warm, Gramavision. With Spike Lee & Branford Marsalis: Mo' Better Blues, soundtrack, Columbia. With Adam Holtzman: In a Loud Way, Manhattan. With Carmen Bradford: Finally Yours, Amazing. With Pee Wee Ellis: Blues Mission, Gramavision. Darryl also played on an upcoming album by Joan Armatrading.