Originally hailing from St. Petersburg, FL, Johnny Lee Middleton comes to us by way of world-renowned bassist and entrepreneur, Beaver Felton, CEO of Florida’s Bass Central. Beaver, being an ultra-talented, professional player, knew that Johnny would be a great fit for Team Bergantino. We had a chance to sit down with Johnny to chat about all things bass and his journey through the bass universe.
– Johnny, you’ve known Beaver Felton for over 40 years. How did you two come to meet?
When I first started playing, I would sneak into clubs to see bands play, and Beaver was in one of the best bands in the Tampa Bay area at the time. He was the best bass player around, so I was a fan of his band called Hoochie. When I started gigging out, we would run into each other and he was always nice to me, which was cool because he was the baddest guy in town. We have stayed in touch over the years, and he is my go-to guy if I have any questions about gear.
– Tell us how you started on your bass journey?
I started on trumpet, and in the ninth grade, I joined the jazz band and they set the bass rig behind me. After the first class, I asked the teacher if I could try the bass, and he said yes. He gave me a printout of the notes on the neck of the bass guitar and let me take the jazz bass home. The bass player was a trumpet player as well, so we would switch during the performances. I formed a band called Mariah with the drummer and guitar player from the jazz band and have been in a band in some shape or form since 1978.
– Who are your biggest musical influences?
When I was starting to play, my sister’s boyfriend left some Black Sabbath records at my house, and when I played them, it was life-changing as I had grown up on country music and pop radio. Geezer was my first as well as Phil Lynott and Geddy Lee. I grew up on 70’s music, so all the music of that era influenced my life as a musician.
– Tell us about your band, Savatage, and how it came to be?
I joined Savatage in 1985 when I was 22 years old. They were already signed to Atlantic, so I replaced the original bassist. I rehearsed with the guys for four weeks, and we were off to London to record my first record with the band. It was quite an experience as we were in Trident Studios in the heart of London hanging with the guys from Iron Maiden, Lemmy, and the crew at the St. Moritz, which was a hangout across from the studio.
– How did Trans-Siberian Orchestra emerge?
In 1995, Savatage released an album entitled Dead Winter Dead, which is a rock opera about the war in Bosnia. On that record, we recorded a song called “12/24 Sarajevo,” which is an instrumental track consisting of our version of “Carol Of The Bells,” which our producer Paul O’Neill wanted on the recording but the band did not. After some heated debate, Paul won and a DJ in Tampa Bay picked it up and started playing the song, and it just exploded from there. We really couldn’t do a holiday recording under the name Savatage so Paul started TSO and the rest is history.
– How does the music writing process work in TSO, and will you tour this year?
I am not involved in the writing process when it comes to TSO. Paul O’neill and Jon Oliva, Bob Kinkle, and Al Pitrelli are the guys that are behind the writing process with TSO. We have two TSO touring groups, so when it comes to recording, everybody pitches in so there is not a bass player or a guitar player; it is a combination of players with Al Pitrelli being the MD when it comes to guitar/bass parts.
– Tell us about some of your favorite basses.
As far as basses go, my all-time favorite, and the bass that has recorded every Savatage and TSO note, is my Brooklyn Spector Serial # 511. It is on its third set of frets, third bridge, and second set of machine heads. The pickups have grooves in them from wear and tear, and the mojo is off the chain. Paul O’neill loved it so much he actually located the guy who made the bass and had a replica made. It took some time, but Paul actually had the guitar replicated. Since it is a studio-only bass, I tour with a few Fender Jazz and P Basses and a new Spector X bass I recently received from Spector. It looks like I may be bringing a Spector or two out this year with TSO, so I am excited about that. I also have a Lakland, which was owned by Duck Dunn as it was the prototype for his Lakland model. It had super dead Labella flats on it and smelled like a pipe when I opened the case for the first time. It plays and records like a dream. That would be at the top of the list as well.
– What tone do you strive for in live performances, and how does it fit in the mix?
With TSO, I use the D’Addario flat wound chromes on all my Jazz and P basses as the tone sits better in the mix and flats seem to almost act as a compressor in arenas by tightening up the low end boom I was getting with round wounds, not to mention the fret wear I was getting on my vintage guitars. When you have two keyboard players, you need to stay out of the way or it turns into a mudfest, so flats work great for that gig. When it comes to Savatage, it is a completely opposite set up with round wounds and active pickups for more of a punchy tone with the majority of the songs recorded with a pick on the Spector. I learned how to play as a finger player and never played guitar before playing the bass, so I hate playing with a pick. I had two acrylic finger nails put on my picking hand to get the attack of the pick with the punch of the finger to avoid playing with a pick, and it worked really well on the last two Savatage recordings.
– What are you working on now?
Right now, I am working with Whiskey Stills and Mash out of Hiawasse, Georgia, when I am not touring with TSO. We are a power trio that is a regional band playing originals and covers in the North Atlanta /North Georgia area. We released a CD last year that did well, and we are working on another one now. I really love this band because it is back to where you started and everything is raw. With TSO, everything is perfect, and when you dig it out in the clubs and opening slots for national acts, nothing is perfect. The guys in the band are great players, and we really have a great time. Our new CD will be out around Nov. 1st.
– Tell us about your experience with Bergantino.
I was looking for a rig that I could use in my studio as well as to gig with that is easy to transport and loud enough to use in a live setting. I called my guys at Bass Central, and Bergantino was first on the list so I started my research. After hours of browsing the internet, I chose Bergantino, and I’m glad I did as this rig has everything I need. It works great as a studio rig and can handle volumes needed for live gigs.
– What settings do you use with the Bergantino Forté HP, and how do they benefit your tone?
My settings on my Forte’ HP vary depending on the guitar and the tone needed to fit the song/project I am playing. I am a big fan of the VRC compression and hi and low pass filters as well as the overdrive. I love the Bluetooth pedal option, and the stock firmware works great for me for what I am doing at this time. It sounds great in a live situation at a louder volumeas there is clarity and thump with no break up at volume, which is what I was looking for. I like the grit of the overdrive and the ease of using a Bluetooth connection from the pedal board to amp.
– You are also using the NXT112 and NXT 210, which we commonly refer to as the “322.” How does that setup compliment what you’re trying to project on stage?
I think the 322 is a very versatile rig as it gives you the option of running a small rig to a full-on rock and roll rig that is easy to transport. I have the option of running a 12″ speaker or two 10″ speakers or both! What more could a working bass player want? It works really well in a live rock band setting as every note seems to be audible and nothing is lost in the mix. I have had quite a few house engineers ask me about the rig as they were impressed with the tone out of the DI but not familiar with Bergantino. I have just scratched the surface with this gear and can’t wait to add different firmware and see where it goes.
Please share with us what you do with your off time.
As far as my time off the road goes, I am a fulltime beekeeper and own an apiary in the Smoky Mountains. I raise honey bees from my locally bred stock, and I catch wild honeybee swarms as well as sell honey, queen bees, etc., online and locally. I run about thirty hives, so it keeps me busy when I am not on tour, and I really love working honeybees as it is complicated and physically demanding, which is a lot like being a pro musician. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to be successful, and that is what life is all about.
https://bergantino.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/bergantino-logo-green-white-RGB-300x80.png00Bergantino Audiohttps://bergantino.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/bergantino-logo-green-white-RGB-300x80.pngBergantino Audio2022-06-14 08:31:042022-06-14 08:32:35Bergantino is proud to welcome Johnny Lee Middleton to our family of artists
Bergantino Audio Systems is excited to welcome the extremely talented George Baldwin. Composer, multi-instrumentalist and all-around great person, George hails from Brighton, England and we couldn’t be happier with his addition to our artist roster.
First, please tell us what you have been up to currently, musically or otherwise?
I am in the middle of finishing some recordings that will go towards a solo album. When the release date is confirmed, it will be available on all major streaming platforms. I am also currently busy creating loops for various sample libraries as well as starting to gig live again finally. My website will be updated with gig slots soon, so keep an eye out.
What is your family background? Where you were born and raised?
I was born and raised in London and East Sussex. Everyone in my family is either artistic or musical in some form. My mum is a talented artist, pianist and drama teacher and actor who has performed in the West End, and my dad has had a career as a session guitar player who has played with many artists including Tina Turner, Phil Collins and Marvin Gaye. My brother is also a music producer currently living and working in Berlin. It was never a quiet household, to say the least!
What makes the bass so special to you particularly and how did you gravitate to it?
I originally gravitated towards the bass guitar because all the cool kids at school were in bands, and everyone seemed to be gravitating towards singing, drumming or playing guitar as the school had equipment readily available for those activities. However, this proved to be a bit of an opportunity to be in loads of bands at school, as by choosing the bass, I got to play more! My wonderful parents bought me a Fender jazz bass when I was 10 years old. I played trumpet and piano before that (and still play piano when composing).
How did you learn to play?
My dad is a professional musician, so mostly through him and having great teachers in college and throughout the years. I always make sure I’m learning and have someone teaching me new things.
Are there any other instruments you play?
Chapman Stick and a bit of guitar and piano. I also sing when I have to!
How has your playing evolved over the years, and have you made changes from your start until now? Can you describe the changes?
I used to be very much into prog rock at the beginning and started off learning a lot of Rush and TOTO bass lines. I progressively got more into jazz fusion, learning lines from my heroes Jimmy Johnson and Anthony Jackson to expand my knowledge of the fretboard and how to support a tune in the most tasteful way possible. I look up to them as players in so many ways.
Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass.
I tend use the Matt Garrison technique a lot due to comfort and economy reasons (mixture of thumb and three fingers). I’m progressively getting better at the double-thumbing technique when I get the time to practice it.
Who would you say out of four players that would make the cut as your influencer and why?
Probably Jimmy Johnson. His playing style works in any style of music he applies his playing to, and his sound cuts through without leaving the song behind. He can say so much with what he is playing without overplaying. I cannot get enough of listening to him.
How’d you find Bergantino, and can you share your thoughts on our bass gear?
I was recommended to try a B amp out and was floored by its transparency and flexibility. The built-in compression is a big part of my sound now, in and out of the studio. I cannot wait to gig it more!
How have you been setting the controls on the B|Amp so far, and what changes to those setting might you make as you plug in some of your other individual instruments? Maybe some examples if any?
Mostly flat EQ with the bright switch enabled, and parallel comp set to around 8 or 9. It is so versatile, and the highs are so clean for chords and plucking without being harsh. It’s fantastic with the Chapman Stick too, with the comp set a little higher to around 10. Not much tweaking is needed for a fantastic sound.
Tell us about your favorite bass or basses.
I love Dingwall, Status Graphite and S. Martyn. As luthiers, they are bringing something unique to the bass world and have a distinctive sound. They are all also super nice people and very talented!
What else do you like to do when not doing music?
I love building software and websites, walking my dogs in nature and listening to other artists.
What have you had more time to work on or explore since COVID?
I have been working a lot in software engineering, as well as recording more original material which will be out this year on most popular streaming platforms.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Thank you to Holly and Jim at Bergantino for believing in me and creating some of the best bass gear I’ve ever used. What a pleasure it’s been so far! Long may it continue…
https://bergantino.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/bergantino-logo-green-white-RGB-300x80.png00Bergantino Audiohttps://bergantino.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/bergantino-logo-green-white-RGB-300x80.pngBergantino Audio2022-04-12 09:19:432022-04-13 07:11:54Bergantino welcomes the talented George Baldwin to our family of artists!
In this Bergantino artist spotlight, we welcome our new artist, the amazing Tony Grey, to the Bergantino family! We asked fellow Bergantino artist Mitch Starkman if he would like to fire off some questions to Tony and he enthusiastically agreed!
Tell us what you have been up to currently, musically or otherwise?
Since the lockdown happened, I thought there was an opportunity to finish the educational work I have been doing. I have been writing a blueprint to obtain creative freedom all the way from picking up the bass for the first time to be able to play whatever you are hearing. It’s a huge course and has taken me about five years to fully develop.
During the lockdown, I decided to work on some unfinished album concepts I have always wanted to do. The first is a solo bass project that has some originals mixed in with some jazz standards. The second project is another solo project with a few guests that is more in the electronica vain. Over the last couple of years, I have been experimenting with Ableton, and this project was a great learning experience for me. The third CD is a full band project with all originals. The musicians include Mino Cinelu, Mark Giuliana, Mike Stern, John Shannon, Romain Colin, Obed Calvaire, Naveen Kumar, and Ryan Cavanagh. All these projects have been co-produced and mixed by my first-grade buddy Leon Hughes. I’m currently working on a project with the legendary Bob James too, which is a great honor for me.
Tony, tell us where were you born and raised and how you ended up in the US?
I was born and raised in Newcastle, England, which is the northeast of England. It’s right on the border of Scotland. As a child, I was forced to learn piano from the age of 4 years and until I was about 12 or 13 years old. I didn’t really take it seriously and wasn’t motivated. The piano teacher didn’t look for what inspired me. It felt like a bunch of mundane exercises that I didn’t particularly like, and it seemed like more of a chore that took time away from my friends.
Drum and bass music and raves were very popular in England when I was growing up, and I gravitated towards being a DJ, which was a great musical experience for me. I became obsessed with the music and really wanted to learn how to create it. As I was getting older, the DJ lifestyle was not really looking great for me, and I was starting to think of what my future looked like. My dad talked me into joining the army so I could learn a trade. I was always a very shy person, and the army really helped me have confidence, discipline, and respect for myself. It was on my first break from the army when my life changed dramatically. I was picked up at a train station and got into a bad car accident where I ended up breaking my back. I was immediately medically discharged from the army, which devastated me.
During my recovery, my stepdad randomly brought me home a bass guitar and said, “Hey you should learn how to play music. It’s good for your soul.” He was irritated at me bumming around feeling sorry for myself and thought music may help to give me something else to focus on.
I started practicing and quickly became obsessed as it blocked out whatever emotional trauma I was experiencing. My dad reached out to the great guitarist John McLaughlin, who happened to be my uncle, to see if he could give me some advice with music. From there, John called me and sent a bunch of tapes and books. I went to see him at a concert in Scotland. At that time, I didn’t understand or know what jazz music was at all. I literally had no idea what I was witnessing. John asked me if I wanted to go to America, and things moved fast from there. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “There is time.” Fast forward a year later after practicing every day for hours, I packed my bags and went to live in Boston to study at Berklee.
At that time, I felt very overwhelmed with everything. I went from playing an instrument I didn’t choose to help me heal, to leaving England to study at a school where it was every student’s dream to be there. The level of musicianship seemed impossible for me to achieve, and to be thrown in amongst them was not easy to take psychologically. I was determined not to be the laughingstock of the class, so I became very driven and focused with my studies. I just had to lock myself in the practice room and find my way.
I was speaking to John McLaughin quite a lot, and he would motivate me more philosophically than musically about the mind and what is important in life. It was really inspiring. John really helped me, for whatever reason, to pursue music even though I had no track record of being a musician already.
What do you think it was that attracted you to the electric bass specifically when you first started out playing music or did you start on another instrument?
Piano was my first instrument, but I didn’t stick with it. The bass was purely because of circumstance. I had no specific interest in learning the bass and didn’t understand the function of it or the role of it. Because John McLaughlin was my mentor, I was focusing on him and wanted to sound like him. He is a virtuoso guitarist, and I kind of started learning how to run before I could walk.
Did you have formal music training?
I went to Berklee and my degree was a performance degree. I went there in the summer of 97 and stayed for two years. My first real training on bass came right after that initial 2 years. A record label came to Berklee and held auditions for a bassist and a drummer. I had bonded with a Scottish guy called Alan Brown who is a great drummer and a great friend. He was always super positive and really encouraged me to audition with him, I decided to do it mainly for the experience. It was one of those things where I just showed up and had no expectations. I somehow ended up with the gig and quit school to go on an adventure. I really had no idea what I was getting into, but things moved quickly from there. The band moved to a place just outside of Philadelphia. The band was put together and signed to Terry Elis who is a pop music legend and discovered a lot of stars in the 80s such as Blondie, Pat Benatar, Huey Lewis, Billy Idol, Jethro Tull and many others. He wanted us to be a boy band who played our instruments well. I was still really a beginner and still struggled to fully understand my role in music, but I had a project to really invest in and I had to learn specific songs rather than trying to wrap my head around theory and how to dissect John Coltrane solos. It was the perfect departure and training for my current growth level. I got to really focus on locking in with a drummer, being on the road and living with a band, which isn’t always easy. We ended up filming pop videos for MTV and toured southeast Asia extensively for 2 years, which was an amazing experience. We had 3 top 10 songs and got to play some huge concerts in India, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Bali.
I felt by the end of the tour I had grown so much as a bassist and had learned some valuable lessons along the way that would put me in good shape moving forward. I remember being on the road in a hotel and seeing 2 of my first classmates from Berklee on TV, which were John Mayer and Gavin DeGraw. It reminded me how lucky I was to get the opportunity to meet these amazing young musicians, and I realized how the music world is not just about isolating yourself and studying; it’s also about building a community with other musicians chasing their dreams.
I’ve always heard your playing as having a depth and sophistication both technically and musically. Did you have a particular vision of how you wanted to sound early or did that develop more as you went along?
What initially inspired me about music was melody. Usually when you learn the bass, you’re not really clued into the melodic side of music. My first teacher and mentor was John McLaughlin who is a guitarist so I was drawn to playing more like a soloist. The first sheet music he ever sent me was John Coltrane’s solo over the Jazz Standard Oleo. I had no real reference of what else to learn so I guess my technique developed quite quickly.
Some of the feedback I received was usually commenting on things like; my notes weren’t being articulated clearly. I would slow things down even to 20bpm and really work on hitting the notes accurately with a good posture and form. I try also to visualize and internalize the sound I’m going for as I’m playing. This really helped with feel and touch and helped make the notes more expressive. I also played along with recordings with no volume on my bass and really tried to fall inside the feel and touch of whatever I was listening to.
I think it is such a privilege to do what you love to do, and it takes a lot of determination to follow your dream. In life, I’ve had a lot of knock backs along the way, so I always try take a lot of pride and care in what I do. I wrote a blueprint from A to Z of how to learn creatively as you go and apply everything you learn and into your musicality, and I am happy that you can hear that “depth,” Mitch, as you call it. That’s very flattering.
One artist that comes to mind who inspired my playing is Bert Bacharach. I really love his sense of simplicity and melody. I was and still am a huge Michael Jackson and Prince fan. Every time you saw them on a concert or live performance on a DVD you would see that it was a show from the very first moment to the last moment; it all meant something. They both shine in the perfection of expression in the most profound way. I was also drawn to Miles Davis and his simplicity of how to choose the right notes and express character. Listening to Miles led me to people like Marcus Miller, and when I heard Marcus Miller play fretless bass, I was blown away by his melodic sense and intention. You could really feel what he was trying to convey. From there I found Mike Stern and Pat Metheny, and all these different guys popped out from listening to them.
You’ve played for/with some amazing artists. How did working with musicians like John McLaughlin, and Hiromi, for example, influence or affect your approach to bass playing and music from before you had played with them? Can you explain some of the impact they had on you?
Everyone has had huge impacts on me in different ways. Hiromi believed in us more than we believed in ourselves. I always thought it was impossible to play the music the way she wanted it played because it was so technical and so intricate. She would put us on the firing line sometimes with very little time to prepare the music, and we would have to go and record or film a DVD. Somehow, probably due to her faith and our pride, we would always rise to the occasion and come through for her. She was also so detailed about the feedback she would give us after the show. In the hotel, you would get a little note under the door saying, “Hey listen to this recording from last night’s show. In bar 35 of the 4th tune you were rushing that note or you were playing too loud.”
She was very specific, and it always kept us on our toes, so I was never in the comfort zone. There was always something to work on, and she was very determined to get the music across the way she envisioned. Hiromi always expected great energy as well on stage, and even if you were tired, she would step up and lead by example, which was infectious. She would always remind us that it was our privilege to play for people and that this might be the only opportunity we ever get to play for them, so we had to bring our best no matter how we felt. She had that kind of mentality, which was beautiful.
Obviously, as I mentioned, John McLaughlin has been my biggest influence in my own music. He always encourages bravery in music. He was always talking about finding yourself in his music, so it didn’t come across as academic. He would say, “You need to be more Zen, Tony, you need to be more Zen.” He was always pushing me to find myself but in a pure way.
Someone else who was inspirational for me was David Fiuczynski who is a guitarist from New York. David, or “Fuze” as we call him, is now a professor at Berklee. He was one of the craziest guys I ever met, and he was always pushing me to have more dirt in my playing. He would say, “You sound too pretty, man. I need you to be less polite.” He encouraged me to think outside of the box a little bit and push myself into areas that I wasn’t naturally good at. He introduced me to folk music from all over the world when we were on the tour bus; it opened my ears.
With his music, he incorporates modern grooves or modern harmony over the top of traditional world folk music. This became a massive influence on me.
Do you use the 6-string almost exclusively now or do you change it up? How do you decide and what are the main differences you notice in your approach and playing when you do?
The 6-string was circumstantial. It wasn’t like, oh I would love to play the 6-string bass. I started on a 4-string bass and moved to the 5-string tuned with a high C after seeing the great bassist Matt Garrison, who was in McLaughlin’s band at that time. Hiromi’s music required notes that were out of my range. On tour, I would bring two 5-strings, the low B and high C, and I would just interchange depending on what song we played. I was kind of avoiding playing a 6-string simply because I thought they would be too big for my hands. After visiting Vinnie and Joey at Fodera, they assured me they could build a compact 6-string that would be easy for me to transition to. I was really shocked at how playable it was. My only experience with a 6-string up until then was seeing and feeling Anthony Jackson’s bass, which seemed so big. Fodera has really helped me shape my voice as a bassist, and I’m very happy and honored to be endorsed by them as a signature artist. My current 6-string is literally the size of a guitar and doesn’t lose any tension in the strings.
What is important to you in an amp and cab and what have you learned and look for? How has Bergantino filled that search?
That’s a great question, because I think it is circumstance. Over the years I have played through a lot of amps. Sometimes on a gig, you use what’s there. My Fodera basses are active and quite powerful, and I’ve always had a hard time getting the clarity of tone where I could just express the dynamics with my fingers instead of constantly adjusting the EQ on the amp head and bass to cut through. I want the low end to be big but also the mid and high range to cut through warm and cleanly. When I came across Bergantino, I was amazed that I didn’t have to dig in and adjust my EQ all the time. The notes are ridiculously clear, and I feel like I have total control over my dynamics now. Jim Bergantino told me I’m going to hear all my imperfections, which in turn has improved my technique and touch. It has brought me closer to my instrument, which will inevitably propel me to the next level.
With a new sound comes new choices possibly for matching that gear to your voice and vision. Have you settled on what combination of Bergantino cabs and head you may use?
I love the Forte D. I love and NXT112 for my local smaller gigs. I like the 112 at smaller gigs because it’s light but it surprisingly gives you the punch that you are not expecting with a small rig, so I love that. When I combine it with the NXT210, it becomes a much fuller luscious sound, and that’s my gig right now. In my studio and for larger stages I use the Forte HP along with the 210 and 112 combined, which is an incredible and powerful sound and set up.
How have you been setting the controls on the Forte D so far, and what changes to those setting might you make as you plug in some of your other individual instruments?
Some of my basses are naturally bright sounding and some are very heavy in the low end.
I always try to stay as flat as possible with the Forte D. My new 6-string Fodera has a beautiful bright tone, so on the amp I bump the bass a tiny bit and also bump the low mids at one o clock.
I have the treble and high-mids back like at 11:30, which gives me that beautiful balance. If I need extra cut through when I’m soloing, then I can engage the bright button, which is subtle but really makes the difference. I can really feel Jim’s passion with these cabinets and amp heads. He is so meticulous, and you can tell he’s really put so much time into perfecting his vision. For me they really stand out in the bass world, and I couldn’t be happier to be using them.
Can you talk a bit about what you are bringing to the world of bass and music education in a conceptual way and what your vision is to bring to students?
I feel that the experiences I’ve had in life is why I have gone deeply into the educational world. I was so intimidated by everyone at school and felt I needed to almost ignore the lessons I was taking at Berklee because I didn’t understand them.
I sat and wrote a map of what would it take to get from point A to point B in my own comfort zone so I could absorb and learn music, and apply it creatively. I started documenting everything I was practicing and the results it was having on my playing.
Looking back at all my notes, I was paying attention to the breakthrough moments; from there, I would refine all these light bulb moments and create a learning curriculum that I would learn myself. My idea was to unlearn music and relearn with creative application.
My vision, which I am very passionate about, is that I think you should be restricted only by your imagination. I think when people play music, there is a tendency to play from muscle memory or learn licks and learn patterns. I believe it’s important to find your own voice as a musician with the vocabulary we all use to make music. My educational work is based on a creative learning system.
In my career, I was fast-tracked to become a professional musician with hardly any musical experience, and I started playing when I was 19 years old. I just wanted to develop a curriculum that guided the student through the theory along with instant creative application. I always asked a lot of questions to fellow musicians and teachers on my travels and found a path forward that worked for me. Really the concept is to unlearn what you think you know as a musician and relearn it with creative application. For example, if I’m working on a scale, by the end of that study, I want to be able to improvise freely and be able to capture that color with melodies and compositions.
I have several books written now that cover a wide range of concepts. My academy Tony Grey Bass Academy (www.tonygreybassacademy.com) is a 2-year course with about 1000 lessons on different topics from bass playing to soloing to composition to ear training whatever you want to get into.
What else do you like to do when not doing music?
I love to hang out with my family. I have two boys, a fourteen-year-old and a very young baby, and I love to spend time with them and my wife Holly. I love soccer, so I am always watching my home team Newcastle United. I’m also obsessed with and love playing darts. I feel darts is a great game for musicians as it requires focus and really helps you to be mindful of your posture with your body.
Any other plans or things coming up you haven’t mentioned?
Over the last few years, I have been writing and arranging a lot of music.
I have 3 albums’ worth of music I am focusing on releasing this year.
One of those albums is a full band project featuring some fantastic musicians, including Mark Guiliana, the great drummer, and the legendary guitarist Mike Stern. It also features some of my closest friends in music: John Shannon on guitar, the legendary Minu Cinelu from Peter Gabriel and Sting and Miles Davis on percussion, Roman Collin on piano, Gregoire Maret on harmonica, Obed Calvaire on drums, Ryan Cavanaugh on banjo and my dear friend Naveen Kumar on flute and Darshana Ananth on vocals.
I have also completed an album consisting of originals and jazz standards that I love to play, which are all solo bass arrangements. The 3rd album is more electronica-based original music.
I’m also in a deep collaboration with the great pianist Bob James, which will hopefully see the light in 2022.
Thank you to Jim and Holly Bergantino for the opportunity to express myself through your wonderful equipment. Mitch Starkman, thank you for your great questions, and thank you for the initial introduction.
MITCH: It’s been great to talk with you and hear your thoughts. Tony, thanks to you and Holly for including me. Looking forward to hearing more of you on upcoming projects. Cheers!
https://bergantino.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/TonyGreyBergantinophoto-cropped.jpg317400Bergantino Audiohttps://bergantino.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/bergantino-logo-green-white-RGB-300x80.pngBergantino Audio2022-03-15 09:23:102022-03-15 10:17:15Bergantino Audio Systems is proud to welcome Tony Grey to our family of artists.
Bass playing dynamo, Kelly Clifton of the band J.Graves, was nice enough to sit down with Holly and give some insight to her thoughts and approach of the instrument.
Hey Kelly, what have you been up to?
I am finishing up an LP with J. Graves. I have also been recording two EPs with The Cabin Project. When I am not playing music, I work as a luthier.
So, tell us where were you born and raised?
I was born in Miami, Florida, and was raised in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
What makes the bass so special to you particularly and how did you gravitate to it?
When I began playing saxophone in my teenage years, I was primarily trained in performing the middle and bass voicings of musical compositions. Later, in my 20s, when I began playing guitar with what became my first bandmate, Stephanie Strange of Strange and the Familiars, I found myself gravitating more towards the bass notes. I began fleshing out pieces of the songs with bass lines, which led me to purchase my first bass guitar.
Every person experiences music differently, and it can affect them in different ways. For me, part of what makes the bass so special is not just the sonic and cognitive experience, but also the physical resonance in my body. I find the vibration of bass is hypnotic, euphoric, and soothing. I like the subtle power bass has to create or change the entire context of a melody, and using that in collaborative songwriting is my greatest musical strength.
How did you learn to play?
I learned by jamming with other musicians. I started with just a few notes and then learned by emulating what other guitar players were doing on their low E and A strings. I really began to progress with bass when I joined a blues and rock cover band and started learning bass lines and styles ranging from James Jamerson to Dusty Hill. From there, I became involved with many musical groups that helped progress my playing, songwriting ability and understanding of my instrument. I enjoy self-learning and continue to expand my knowledge with online resources such as Scott’s Bass Lessons.
Are there any other instruments you play?
I can play piano, saxophone, traditional flutes, guitar, and baritone ukulele.
How has your playing evolved over the years and have you made changes from your start until now- can you describe the changes?
When I began with bass, I didn’t know the note names on the fretboard, and I played by ear as well as by patterns. Since then, I have familiarized myself with the fretboard and unlocked the ability to play what I think, and it has taken a lot of guesswork out of playing. If I feel the music, I can now very easily figure out how to play what I imagine in a way that is more precise and easily communicated with my fellow bandmates. I am now more adventurous, experimenting with how much sonic space I can fill, finding where chords are too much or just right, where less subtle or more lead lines can be brought forth, instead of timidly riding beneath the guitar lines.
Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass.
I approach playing the bass with reverence and try my best to serve the song. I gravitate towards warmer and darker tones and almost exclusively play fingerstyle with flat or pressure wound strings. I am confident in styles like indie, folk, rock and blues, but I would like to be more proficient with metal, slap, funk and jazz improvisation as it is quite different from my current style.
Where do you see the instrument in 5, 10, or even 20 years from now?
As far as the bass instrument, I see bass manufacturers continuing to explore new sizes and materials. For example, Taylor came out with the GS mini bass in the mid-2010s; it was a bass that was so short-scale they had to develop a brand new bass string to accommodate the new string tension. I think it would be interesting to see more basses designed for different kinds of bodies. In a world moving towards more inclusivity, basses that suit more body types would make the bass more approachable by all. As far as materials for the instrument are concerned, there have been serious concerns around sustainability and supply chains. Forestry management and material sourcing abilities will dictate what is available. We’ll likely see more of a departure from using the coveted and traditional tonewoods, which can lead to innovation and unique workarounds in times of scarcity.
Who would you say out of four players that would make the cut as your influencer and why?
Tal Wilkenfeld, Victor Wooten, Paul Denman, and Flea.
When I first began listening to Tal Wilkenfeld, I was impressed with how she held her own with the likes of Jeff Beck and the Allman Brothers, but her solo album is uniquely and genuinely her.
I have appreciated Victor Wooten for some time because he never lost his musicality in the flashiness of his technique. He continually expands what I think is humanly possible on the bass.
Paul Denman may be my all-time favorite bassist. He is not flashy; he creates a mood with sparseness and rhythm. He is like the person who says very few words to you, but makes a bigger impact on your life than an entire book. Even though his technique impresses me, it’s his tone that grabs me the most.
What I like about Flea is while he can play a simple bass line, he can also create memorable counter-melodies. His ability to play hard rock and funk, as well as gorgeous chordal and melodic music, is impressive and inspiring.
Let us know what you are currently working on (studio, tour, side projects, etc.).
I work primarily with two bands. One is called J.Graves, who just finished up an LP titled Fortress of Fun. It was mixed by Sylvia Massy, and mastered by Amy Dragon, who are incredibly talented people we were stoked to work with. We also recently finished shooting six music videos, all with a related storyline, with a choose-your-own-adventure theme. They will be released sometime in 2022.
The other band I am working with is called The Cabin Project, and we are working on a double EP currently being recorded at the Map Room in Portland, Oregon. This EP features some of my most ambitious bass parts.
I work a day job at a violin shop. My career as a luthier began as an apprenticeship, and I have continued to work with masters of the trade who are currently teaching me more advanced violin repair techniques. I am also halfway through my first bass guitar build. The bass is a neck-through, 33” scale, maple neck and walnut body, Hipshot drop D tuning machine for the E string. Pickups/electronics are yet undecided.
How did you find Bergantino, and can you share your thoughts on our bass gear?
One night back in 2018, I went to a jam at a local blues club in Portland. It was hosted by Saxophonist Fenix Sanders and his band. I’d played with Fenix many times in my blues and rock cover band, but this was my first time meeting his bassist, Calen. When I hopped up on stage to play a song, Calen plugged me into his B|Amp and a Bergantino 410 Cab. I still remember playing the first few notes of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love.” That day was the start of my appreciation for Bergantino. In the eleven basses I have played, nothing made as much of a difference as playing through that amp.
The first thing I noticed with the Bergantino gear was the incredibly clear, effortless articulation. It felt like I got ten years better at the bass the moment I plugged in and played. Calen was a great bass player, but at that moment, I felt like I had discovered one of his secrets. In the times when I played with Fenix before, he’d often lean over to me in between songs and ask me to turn my mids up. Little did I know he was completely spoiled by the power and sound of the Berg amp he was used to hearing. At one point, I told him not to worry, that I’d get a Bergantino someday.
Tell us about your favorite basses.
I have owned eleven basses since I started playing in 2012, and both perform and record almost exclusively with my Fender Jazz bass. I find the neck profile of this bass more comfortable for my style. I also appreciate the tonal variety of this bass, I can make it sound beautiful, warm, and soft, and I can also make it growl. It works for all the styles I play.
My second favorite bass is my Aria Pro II Thor Sound bass. It is a 32” scale bass, and its string spacing is very tight, which allows me to more comfortably explore bass chords and stretches that are hard to reach on the jazz bass.
What else do you like to do besides playing bass?
I am a hobbyist knifemaker. I love hiking, particularly in the Columbia River Gorge, or anywhere in the mountains. I really enjoy practicing traditional archery. I also have a not-so-minor ongoing obsession with the show “Xena: Warrior Princess”.
What have you had more time to work on or explore since COVID?
At first I had a lot more downtime, which has helped me realize the importance of physical upkeep as a musician. I now better understand the necessity of balance in juggling my art, profession, and personal life in the less active time of COVID. I also have spent more time on my own with songwriting, which has been a good exploration in relying solely on myself for material.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I am quite curious about electronics and why Bergantino amps and cabs work so well. I am friends with Howard Gee, the head designer of KittyCaster FX Pedals (formerly of Catalinbread), and have had the pleasure of picking his mind about how they designed some of their top-selling pedals. I enjoy learning more from engineers in the musical world, and would like the opportunity to glean more in-depth knowledge about Bergantino products. Knowing more about this would help me connect with other musicians who want to know more about how Bergantino could benefit their sound. I have a mind for the technical details as well as the art of music and would like to share my love for Bergantino in a knowledgeable way.
Jeff Matz interview with Bergantino’s Lee Presgrave
Jeff Matz is proof there is still a place for nice guys in rock and roll. Don’t let his easy-going demeanor fool you, inside his body is a steady-state of simmering riffs and grooves just dying to get out. Jeff has been in the music industry for quite some time and we were lucky enough to virtually sit down with him, ask a few questions and hear what he and the band have been up to lately. Please enjoy!
Thanks for sitting down with us, Jeff. What have you been up to lately?
I just returned home from playing some East Coast shows with High On Fire. We played New York and Boston. It was so great to return to those cities. With HOF, we have been focusing our efforts on writing a new album with our new drummer Coady Willis; it is coming along nicely. As far as upcoming HOF shows, we are about to play 3 nights in Chicago, then we have a short West Coast run around New Year’s Eve and a European tour planned for June-July 2022.
In addition to High On Fire, I have also joined Mutoid Man, which I’m very excited about! They have been one of my favorite bands for years, so it’s a blast to perform those songs live with them and writing new music with Steve and Ben has been amazing. I’m also working on another exciting project, which I can’t talk about just yet, as well as preparing an album of solo material–lots of irons in the fire at the moment!
Can you explain how you guys write those incredible High On Fire riffs? Most know Matt is also in the doom metal band Sleep, and both bands are very different. Do you have to record a song or an album with a particular mindset?
It’s not difficult at all. Sleep and High On Fire are such different animals and they operate completely independent of one another. When High On Fire does slow, heavy material, it naturally ends up sounding much different from Sleep. Most of the time we don’t have a preconception of what our new material should sound like. It typically comes about and evolves pretty organically.
“King of Days” has such a great bass melody in the intro and outro. How was that song born?
That song grew out of a bass loop I came up with late one night in 2010. I came up with the main melody spontaneously while I was playing around with my looper. Then I came up with the main chord progression underneath it and then the harmonies. That’s how the basis of the song came to be. We kicked it around at practice and Matt came up with the B part/chorus and the lyrics/vocal melody. Also, a lot of people think that it’s guitar playing the harmonized lines at the end of the song, but it’s actually bass.
How are you and your band dealing with this last year, and what does your future look like?
We’ve all had to figure out new ways to get by since we weren’t able to tour. I started teaching private bass students via Skype and Zoom, which I still continue to do. It’s been a really great experience. I’ve met so many cool people through teaching, and it’s pushed me to expand my knowledge of music and continue to improve as a player. During the whole lockdown, we continued to work on music for a new HOF album. Now we’re finally back to playing shows again. It felt strange at first, getting on stage again after so much time off. But now it feels somewhat “normal” again. I’m so grateful to be performing live again. I missed it so much.
You have a monstrous bass tone. What led you to incorporate large amounts of drive in your tone?
I’ve always loved overdriven and distorted bass sounds. Some of my big influences sound-wise are Lemmy, Geezer Butler, Jack Bruce, Andrew Weiss with Rollins Band, Greg Lake with ELP and King Crimson and John Wetton with King Crimson as well, Martin Turner from Wishbone Ash, and of course Cliff Burton.
I’ve spent a lot of time playing bass in three-piece bands, and the desire to fill up sonic space is what led me to incorporate distortion pedals, and later adding guitar stacks to my bass rig.
What other instruments do you play?
I’m a bassist first and foremost, but I also play a lot of guitar. I write a lot of High On Fire’s riffs on guitar. The last few years I’ve also been studying Turkish folk music on the traditional Turkish lute, the bağlama or saz. İt’s an amazing sounding instrument and Turkish folk music is so rich. The melodies and rhythms are beautiful and at the same time very heavy sounding to my ears. I think it blends very well with heavy music. I also play the tanbour, another type of lute from Iran, which I played on a couple tracks on Death Is This Communion, the first album I recorded with High On Fire. I’m also working on becoming a better keyboard player, and I have also been singing a lot more these days.
Tell us about your signature bass with Dunable and how that came to be.
I’ve known Sacha Dunable for quite a few years. His band Intronaut toured with High On Fire back in 2007. I saw Intronaut play at the Road to Burn festival in Holland in 2013 and was admiring the other guitarist David’s unique looking guitar. I asked him about it, and he told me that Sacha built it for him. He encouraged me to talk to Sacha about having him build me a bass. Sacha and I discussed it, which eventually led to him building the first Dunable bass for me in 2014. We have been working together ever since. He approached me about doing a signature series around 2017. We collaborated on the body shape and specs, and this current signature bass is the fourth iteration of the JM series. We refined the body shape a bit more, and it’s also the first Dunable custom shop instrument to feature a gloss finish. It has a precision style pickup in the classic p bass spot and a relatively hot single coil in the bridge position. I’m really happy with how this run of basses turned out. I just finished doing some recording with it, and it sounds amazing.
What led you to check out Bergantino gear?
I was attracted to Bergantino cabinets after seeing/hearing my friend Aaron Rieseberg from the band Yob play through a Bergantino 215 and a 610. It sounded so clear and punchy, but organic. I was very impressed by the sound and the volume of air being moved. That’s what led me to reach out to the company. Now, owning some of the gear, I can say that the NXT212’s are some of the best sounding cabinets I’ve tried, and Forte HP is great sounding head with an insane amount of power on tap. All the Bergantino gear is meticulously engineered–top quality stuff!
About Bergantino Audio Systems: Bergantino Audio Systems has been dedicated to developing and building the highest quality audio products and bass guitar amplification systems since 2001. Founder Jim Bergantino has worked in a number of fields in his career – from hi-tech electrical engineering to high-end hi-fi and the professional audio world. After designing custom bass cabinets for many other leading brands, he went out on his own to start Bergantino Audio Systems. We have received numerous accolades within the musical instrument industry and continue to look forward with our designs and our unique approach to developing products. https://bergantino.com/
https://bergantino.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/bergantino-logo-green-white-RGB-300x80.png00Bergantino Audiohttps://bergantino.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/bergantino-logo-green-white-RGB-300x80.pngBergantino Audio2021-11-09 12:56:332021-11-09 13:00:29Bergantino Audio Systems is proud to welcome Jeff Matz to our family of artists.
https://bergantino.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/bergantino-logo-green-white-RGB-300x80.png00Bergantino Audiohttps://bergantino.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/bergantino-logo-green-white-RGB-300x80.pngBergantino Audio2021-09-02 10:30:252021-09-02 10:30:25A clip of bass player extraordinaire, Mr. Frank Itt from “Bass the World” demoing the Forté D and the NXT210. Head over to Bass the World’s YouTube channel to see the full review.
Bergantino Audio Mission
Bergantino Audio Systems has been dedicated to developing and building the highest quality audio products and bass guitar amplification systems since 2001. We have received numerous accolades within the musical instrument industry and continue to look forward with our designs and our unique approach to developing products.
Bergantino Audio Systems
1 Main Street, Building 4
Whitinsville, MA 01588