B A S S IS T S
NIGEL HARRISON
I
money to make a purchase." According to Harrison, the
advertisement guaranteed delivery in three to six weeks.
After three months of nail-biting, it finally arrived. But
when he opened the box, something was amiss. “It was
a bass," he says. “I knew about bass guitars, but it wasn't
something I'd shown any interest in." Sure enough,
Harrison was the owner of a Vox Clubman bass. “I
eventually met up with my friends and said, 'Look what
I got'. I remember one of them saying, 'What's that?' And
I said, 'It's a bass. And he said, 'What did you get one of
those for?' And I said, 'Because I'm a bass player'."
Admittedly, Harrison didn't really know what bass
players did, but he quickly got an education at a local club.
“On any given night I could see the Pretty Things, the
Yardbirds.
.. all the greatest bands in the world at the time,"
he recalls. “I totally fell in love with the Small Faces. The
place was small enough that I could literally stand in front
of [singer] Steve Marriott." He remembers the first time he
saw the band, saying: “They opened with 'Whatcha Gonna
Do About It' and they were so pumped up. That's when the
power of the bass hit me."
Harrison could get so close to the stage that he could
watch their fingers and memorise their movements. “I
would go home afterwards and mimic the hand positions
in songs like the Spencer Davis Group's 'Gimme Some
Lovin',' he says. “Before I knew it, I was playing the riff,
not totally accurately, but I based it on watching people's
fingers."
To this day, Harrison admits that, if someone is
showing him a riff, he relies on his eyes. “I have to watch
their fingers," he confesses. “I have no musical ear. I also
don't count in bars either. For me there's the first part,
the second part and the twiddly bit, the riff. Luckily it
hasn't stopped me from making music." He adds that the
older he gets, the more he realises that this 'handicap' has
helped him in terms of developing his own, unique style.
“I certainly listened, but I never attempted to learn a John
Paul Jones bass-line. Obviously I love all of that, whether
it be Jack Bruce or James Jamerson or Carol Kaye, but
I never tried to copy any of it. I don't think I've ever
even attempted to learn a Paul McCartney bass-line. If
anything I was influenced by their attitude and approach,
not the actual notes: it's their sound, not necessarily what
they're playing."
Though Silverhead didn't sell a million records,
Harrison boasts that they played as if they did. “It was the
best band I've ever been in," he says proudly. “We were
all on the same page." From Silverhead he hooked up with
former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek and recorded
the album
The Whole Thing Started With Rock & Roll, Now
It's Out Of Control
in 1974. Though Harrison remains
uncredited, the result of visa issues at the time, he remains
very proud of the album. “There's a track called 'Whirling
Dervish' on there, which has a crazy riff: no overdubs, no
punching in."
In 1975 Harrison also made another uncredited
appearance, this time on the Runaways' debut album.
“They were a good band," he recalls. “It wasn't like they
were just good for girls: they were really good, full stop."
The album was recorded in in Van Nuys, California under
very strict direction from Kim Fowley, the Runaways'
manager. “Fowley walked into the studio when we were
getting sounds and said, 'What is this crap? I don't want
Deep Purple. It's 1975. I want garage. I want trash. I want
punk'. The term 'punk rock' hadn't really been used yet,
though, and the engineer didn't know what to do."
While playing in Nite City, another Manzarek-led band
that popped out two albums in '77 and '78, Harrison got a
call from the manager of new band called Blondie asking
if he could recommend a bass player. At first, he said he
didn't know of anyone. “I called back 10 minutes later and
said, 'What about me?' I wanted to get back to England and
they were about to embark on a European tour."
Blondie was performing at Hollywood's famed
Whisky A Go Go with guitarist Frank Infante playing
bass. “The night they were playing I went down and
stuck a cassette player under my coat and recorded their
set," admits Harrison. “I went home and learned the
songs. I had no idea what the titles were, and of course
the tape was all muffled, but the next day I went to the
audition and said, 'I saw you last night, why don't you
just play the set and I'll play along with it'. They didn't
know I had recorded it. The first song we played was 'X
Offender'. I played it and Deborah Harry looked over at
me and said, 'You're fucking amazing'."
As for his role as a writer, Harrison says it's all about
spontaneity and capturing the moment. “It's about
getting those first takes and capturing the inspiration,"
he advises. “My iPhone is full of ideas." The music
for 'One Way Or Another' was originally demoed by
Harrison on a machine called the Sony Rhythm 9000,
acquired on tour in Japan in 1975. “It had a built-in
drum machine and you could plug a guitar in as well,"
he recalls. “The song originally had a real kind of surf,
psychedelic vibe to it. At some point I played it for
[keyboardist] Jimmy Destri and he told me to play it for
the rest of the band. I remember Debbie started singing,
'One way or another I'm gonna find ya, I'm gonna get
ya.
..' and it all came together."
As for his gear, Harrison says, “I have three words
for you: Precision, Rotosound and Marshall." He's also
a staunch finger player: no picks for this man. “Lately,
I seem to get more volume and a deeper, richer tone
using my thumb, but not in a slap and pop way," he says.
“There's no way I do any of that kind of stuff. I'm not
even capable. It sounds like someone falling down the
stairs. The role of the bass player is to be supportive. I
don't think the bass should be a lead instrument. If you
want to be flashy, play guitar!"
"I DON'T
THINK
THE B A SS
SHOULD
BE A LEAD
INSTRU M ENT.
IF YOU
W ANT TO BE
FLA SH Y, PLA Y
G U ITA R"
BASS GUITAR MAGAZINE
0 4 5
previous page 44 Bass Guitar 2015 Issue 119 July read online next page 46 Bass Guitar 2015 Issue 119 July read online Home Toggle text on/off