Bergantino Artist Mike Gordon

                                    

Bergantino Welcomes Mike Gordon to Their Family of Artists

The Phish bass phenom discusses his path on bass and how his love of technology has enhanced his career and led him to Bergantino amps

 

Whitinsville, MA (October 17th, 2023) – For forty years Mike Gordon has served as the sonic foundation of the biggest jam band in the world. In that span, Phish has gone from a small college outfit in Vermont to having millions of fans all over the world and one of the biggest devoted followings in music history. By melding rock, jam, reggae, funk, and blues into a sound all their own, their studio recording span a wide range of sonic territory, which is all anchored by the steady propulsion of Gordon’s playing. And when it comes to live performances, Phish outpaces any contemporaries. Known for playing extended, multiple sets each night, Gordon juggles complex riffs, sings counter-harmonies, and navigates a serious pedalboard, all while holding down his impeccable groove.

As a solo artist, Gordon has released 13 albums, with the most recent being the infinitely funky and danceable Flying Games [2023]. Much like his musical voice, Gordon’s rig is always evolving, which includes the many effects on his pedalboard, his arsenal of basses, and of course, his amp. On his recent solo tours, Gordon began using Bergantino Forté HP heads, which have now become his go-to for those shows. Bergantino Audio Systems is honored and excited to welcome accomplished bassist Mike Gordon as a featured artist. Our Marc Stranger-Najjar had an opportunity to meet Mike at a recent show and ask him a few questions.

 

When did you start playing bass and what drew you to it?

I started playing in high school. My family went to the Bahamas when I was 12 and I saw a calypso band perform called The Mustangs. They played this song “Ya Mar,” which Phish covers, and I was listening to it in the pool when I decided I loved the vibration of the bass. I could feel it in the water. I knew that that was the instrument I wanted to play.

 

What was the first bass you had?

 

It was a KENT and I bought it for $99 from my babysitter Kenny Getz. It came with a tube stereo amp and speaker that he had built from scratch.

 

You’ve mentioned in interviews that you’ve been influenced by Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead. What drew you to his approach on bass?

 

It was the way Phil seemed so uninhibited melodically, able to playfully vary the melody and the rhythm of his phrases. He simultaneously provides the oomph that creates a powerful propulsion. Also, the sweetness of his tone.

 

You’re known for your use of effects. What was your first effects pedal?

 

Oh, I’m trying to remember … ahmm… (still thinking). Well, the oldest one I can remember was The Funky Filter, a kitschy little envelope filter I used with Phish back in the day.

What led you to Bergantino?

Ed Grasmeyer, bass tech extraordinaire for my solo band, had some experience with Bergantino, and he encouraged me to try out your amps. I happily drank the Kool Aid.

 

 

What do you think of the Forté HP2?

 

There is a clarity and immediacy that I feel with the Forte HP amp, and on top of that there is a lot of punch. It’s almost a cliche, but that’s what we bassists seek a lot of the time – punch – and the Forté HP amp has it! Moreover, there is a lot of control – I feel like I can really dial in the sound with the drive, VRC and punch controls. Every knob I turn up makes it sound even better. Win win!

 

You have a background in electrical engineering. Does this influence the evolution of your rig? If so, how?

 

To be honest, I really fizzled out of my EE major pretty early on. I was 2.5 years in before changing majors, but I didn’t get much out of it that applies. I’ve been building gadgets since I was 5, so there was always the inclination to tinker. I suppose when I discovered that ported cabinets can be modeled as electrical circuits (speaker resonance, cubic volume, and port size relating to capacitance, inductance, and resistance), I was able to draw on my EE knowledge.

 

One of our favorite things about you is how inventive you are. For instance, the custom lanyard you created for your daughter to communicate with her during your shows. Care to tell us more about that and how it works?

 

It was other people who designed and built it, but I call it The Tessa Box, and it sits on my pedal board. My daughter Tessa has a fob, and when she’s out in the audience at a show, she can remotely signal me with a bright light on the box that lets me know she’s watching the show (other times she’s backstage).  And then indicate with a dimmer light whether she’s stage left, front of house, or stage right. Then I can give a signal to acknowledge her. It’s a nice feeling and it can lead to better playing!

 

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 high-tech electrical engineering to the high-end professional audio world. After designing custom bass cabinets for many other leading brands, he started his own Bergantino Audio Systems. BAS has received numerous accolades within the musical instrument industry and continues to look forward via their designs and unique approach to developing products. https://bergantino.com

 

Follow Mike Gordon:

Instagram: @mike_gordon

Twitter @mike_gordon

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mikehyphengordon

Bassist Ryan Stasik using the Bergantino Forté HP2 on tour with Umphrey McGee!

Bassist Ryan Stasik using the Bergantino Forté HP2 on tour with Umphrey McGee!

Bergantino was very excited to have Bassist Ryan Stasik using the Bergantino Forté HP2 on tour with Umphrey McGee!

Equal parts trained pianist and self-taught rocker, Ryan Stasik the bassist is a confluence of musical forces. As a student at the University of Notre Dame, he co-founded Umphrey’s McGee, known as much for their irreverent stage presence as their complex musicality. Ryan is truly a musician knowing no boundaries.

Ryan shares: “I was fortunate enough to take a Bergantino forté HP2 out on tour. This amp is awesome. Truly allows you to carve out a myriad of tones from vintage to modern.  Jim went above and beyond in his attention to detail to make this beast a true tone monster.

Bergantino Artist Bassist Aaron Rieseberg

Bergantino Artist Bassist Aaron Rieseberg is in the Artist Spotlight

Bergantino Welcomes Bassist Aaron Rieseberg to our Family of Artists 

Photo credit to “James Rexroad”

In this Bergantino artist spotlight we are excited to introduce our new artist, the amazing Aaron Rieseberg. As the bass player for Eugene, Oregon doom metal band YOB, Aaron is a talented addition to the Bergantino family. We wanted to get to know Aaron a little better, so we asked him some questions and he enthusiastically answered them for us.

Tell us how you started on your bass journey.

It all began when my dad took me and my older brother to see AC/DC. I think I was 12. The show was so powerful, loud, and entertaining, and we were utterly floored. On the way home we talked to dad about how badly we wanted instruments, but my brother wanted me to play bass because he was gonna play guitar. That Christmas dad got me a cheap Ibanez starter pack and I was off.

You’re currently on tour with your doom metal band YOB. Can you share more about the band?

YOB is a trio where the music is crushingly heavy and pays equal attention to both song craft and enormous riffs. A lot of attention is paid to the minutiae in the way the songs unfold with a lot of small twists and turns. We don’t consider ourselves a progressive band, but on occasion it gets heady and a tad bit ADD [laughs]. It’s not uncommon for lengths of songs to reach past the 10-minute mark, sometimes well beyond. Dynamics also play a big role, and we play with space a lot. There is a deep well of influence ranging from the many forms of metal, rock, singer/songwriter, punk, alternative, folk, and country. Funnel all this through A-standard tuning and heavy distortion and you have an idea what YOB sounds like.

What does YOB stand for?

Mike came upon the name YOB while watching a Chuck Jones cartoon called Rocket-Bye Baby. There was an alien called Yob. He liked that it didn’t sound like anything or paint the band in any sort of corner. 

People hate this question, but If you were constructing your personal Bass Mt. Rushmore, who are the four players that would make the cut and why?

John Entwistle – I picked up The Who’s live at Leeds early on in my teens and really was knocked out by his playing as well as his sound – a big gnarly P-Bass cranked through all those Hi-Watts. It’s so fun listening to a bass player who can play so busy and it still serves a song so well. John had dynamics for days, I love the calm delicate passages before the storm of fury and distortion rolls back in.

James Jamerson – who is probably on most people’s Rushmore. Absolutely mind-boggling player. He just completely changed the game as far as what the bass could do melodically and rhythmically in a pop song. James had impeccable taste for when to lean in and when to lay back.

Dave Edwardson (Neurosis) – total hero of mine. In the world of heavy music there is a different set of physics and obstacles. Dave is wildly creative and a master within this realm. When Neurosis plays live he embellishes/improvises in ways that inspire me. And great use of effects too. He gets truly monolithic tones that sound awesome beneath a dense wall of guitars.

Geezer Butler – I can’t think of a more crucial contributor to my own personal development as a player. He is the complete package: songwriter, lyricist, and true pioneer of the bass. When I was cutting my teeth, I learned as many Black Sabbath lines as I could get my hands on.

Tell us about some of your favorite basses. 

With YOB lately I’ve been playing my old 1988 Gibson Thunderbird. I swapped the stock bridge to a Hipshot super tone and I put in a set of Thunderbucker Ranch ’63 pickups. It sounds stout in the bottom and has a certain wood-like midrange crunch that fills out a 3-piece very well. For recording I have used a Rickenbacker many times, though they don’t work quite as well live for me for some reason. I have a couple old Fender-style basses that get a LOT of mileage at home. A ’74 P-bass, a ’68 jazz and a Moollon P-Classic. I played the P on the YOB record, Atma. The sound, the feel, everything about that bass is great.

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass. 

I play primarily with my fingers unless the song is demanding a pick. My instinct is to try and make the rhythm sound as big as possible. I have a tendency is to play way behind the beat which heavily plays into that. I believe that my ability to play slowly with a tight pocket is one of my biggest strengths. There is a lot of power in patience. I’m very fortunate to play with such monster players in Mike and Dave. I like playing with variations on where space is left open, where to let the daylight in and where to block it out. I learned by ear for the most part. I’d like to make improvements with my music theory. It would be mega helpful and fun to be able to analyze and communicate better at that level.

You have a monstrous bass tone. What lead you to incorporate large amounts of drive in your sound? 

I think it came from listening to music and being drawn to that type of sound. The bands I’ve played in have always been in a heavy genre and to a certain extent it comes with the territory. A lot of times distortion and monstrous sounds is what helps make the music speak. I’m a little obsessive about how the bottom end comes through and about the way it helps to balance out the sound of the whole band.

Tell us about your experience with Bergantino and the forte D amp as well as the NV610. What settings do you use on the amp?

The Forte D is a new addition for me and I’m blown away by this thing. I’ve always been way into tube amps, and I was looking for something that could cop that sound very convincingly without having to shell out the money on maintenance. The amp is simple so it’s easy to dial in. I like running the drive about 1/2 way up so it sounds like tubes getting pushed, then I use pedals for when I need extra grind.

The NV610 is the best combination of tone, volume, and portability. It’s got punch for days, warm present mids, and a pleasing treble range (zero ice pick). I love deep and full bottom without flub. This cab has been on countless tours at this point and hasn’t let me down once.

What else do you like to do besides playing bass?

I love playing basketball. I get outside a lot and soak up the nature. It’s the best part about the Portland area other than all the good food. I love to eat.

Follow Aaron:

@bleachlightning (personal)

@quantumyob (Yob)

@living_gate (living gate)

 

Tony Grey

Bergantino Artist Tony Grey is in the Artist Spotlight!

Tony Grey

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!

www.tonygreybassacademy.com

Instagram @tonygreybass

YouTube @tonygreybassacademy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bergantino Artist Jacob Smith has become very well-known in the music scene with his bass playing skills and lessons on Instagram but he is far more than just a social media sensation.

Jacob Smith has become very well-known in the music scene with his bass playing skills and lessons on Instagram but he is far more than just a social media sensation. Jacob is a smooth operator who is composed well beyond his years. Born, raised and currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Jacob Smith is a bass player, composer, producer, instructor and session player. We had a chance to sit down with the modest master of musicianship to get a glimpse into his upbringing and why he loves the instrument so much. 

What makes the bass so special to you and how did you gravitate to it?

The bass is something that feels like it has always been there with me, and it just about has. I’ve been playing since I was nine years old and from around age of fourteen, I knew I wanted to play bass for the rest of my life.I originally wanted to play drums and like so many other musicians, so did the rest of the students in my class. I gravitated to an instrument on the sign-up page with no names beside it: The electric bass. I came home the next day and my dad had a Squier bass waiting for me and I instantly fell in love. 

Who were your influencers and how did you even decide to get involved with music? 

My family has an intense passion for music. My dad played guitar and sang at church and at home a lot. He always had a guitar in his hands it was a part of everyday life when I was younger and my sister played some guitar and clarinet as well. This was a big part of why I gravitated towards playing an instrument. The first day I had a bass in my hands I played for a few hours and couldn’t put it down.

What genres of music do you like? 

I love just about all styles, especially when done well. The music I perform the most would be Gospel, R&B, Funk, Soul, Rock and Pop. My own personal music ends up falling more Into the Jazz Fusion category.

Describe your style of playing, tone, strengths and weaknesses, that can be improved on the bass. 

I would definitely say I have some strengths in the JacoPastorius style of playing.  That is what I am best known for on Instagram. What I am not as well known for is that I love just playing traditional bass like James Jamerson on the P-bass with flat wounds.  Playing strictly the groove and the bass line has helped me get some of my various gigs. I definitely would like to continue to improve gospel music. I look up to and admire the bass players in this genre who are so talented and I try to woodshed that a lot. I always also want to work on my flat-style bass playing as well.

Who were your influencers in terms of other musicians earlier on or now that have made a difference to you?  Who have learned from or inspired you early on?

When I was in the fifth grade at Saint Paul’s, I was thrust into the top bands in the school program as the bass player. They had an outside band program called Learning Music Band. The Saxophone Director, Bruce Bohnstengel, would sit next to me and play the EWI which is like an electronic saxophone. I am thankful for his knowledge he had of the bass players roll and how solid you have to be, as well as how you have to know where you are in a song and cannot rely on other people when you are playing. I actually still work for him a lot which is very cool. 

In addition to my high school mentors, another large influence was JacoPastorious. I managed to get my hands on a copy of his first CD from a drummer when I was eleven and thought that was pretty cool. Charles Mingus – Big Band, is the best of both worlds with the upright was a big influence. Marcus Miller and also Victor Wooten are huge influences on me, also.  I went to Victors Bass Nature Camp when I was 17 years old. I’m from the city so it was good for me to get out of my element. Victor during an exercise on having good tempo said, “Your time feel is very good.” That seemingly small comment from him meant so much to me.

We see you studied at the University of North Texas.  Can you tell us what influence your studies had on your career? 

I went to UNT for Jazz Studies from 2007-2011 and it was great because of the relationships I made.  I also played in the prestigious One O’Clock Lab Band from 2011-2013 and as a result was able to able to travel the world. Those relationships help me in my career on a daily basis. They also helped me learn to adapt and stay ready to play whatever a gig throws my way. I was playing majority upright bass during those years.

What are you working on during this lockdown period? 

I am very fortunate to be a part of a church group that has a TV broadcast set up and has the info-structure for daily broadcasts.  In addition, I also have Zoom Lessons, producing tracks and creating play-along tracks for churches as well.

I have also had the great opportunity to work with Daric Bennett, who I met at NAMM this year. We are working on Instagram, with 15 minute lessons and techniques and teaching moments, together. We meet fairly often and Daric recently posted an interview with me on his website. Lessons can be found on his site where you will find some great insights on my playing. It has been really great working with him! We hope to do some in-person stuff in the future.

Currently, I’m working on a YouTube channel that will showcase lessons, gear, gigs and playing. I’m going to start with “Ask me a Question”.

What advice would you give to others during this lockdown to stay positive? 

Press into your instrument. Try things you have wanted to do but just haven’t had the time. Turn toward music and try to get into new elements of it; Try to practice more than you have had time to before, try new ways to play that you haven’t before.  When I am working on my craft as a musician, it does bring my mental well-being to a better place. A book that I like a lot is called The Dip, by Seth Godin.  It talks about the moment before you really start to take off and see improvement in something is where it’s going to be extremely difficult or feel that way for most people. You have to know if you should keep going or know when to quit as well. Eat healthy and workout, as it can help fight off the lower points a little better! Being a chocoholic, this isn’t always easy to do. I feel people’s pain out there, just try and take care of yourself and your family as best you can. 

You have quite a presence on Instagram (@jacobsmithbass). Can you share how this all came to be? 

I started an Instagram channel as a way to get my music to a large audience. I had released an album and I was really thankful for the people that checked it out. That said, I realized I needed a platform for a release that would have a larger amount of people to see it after all the hard work and effort I had put in. It was a better way to market my craft.  The first year I was hoping to maybe hit 30,000 followers.  I never thought it would blow up the way it has and I’m very thankful for where I am at now.

This inspired me to give my music and Instagram more interest, so I started to post every day for 6 months, and to see what would come of it. It’s been very cool to meet some of my bass heroes, thanks to the IG platform.  The effort I put in led me to try other things and see what would work for me and my process because it involves sitting down, getting the camera going, and trying to be as professional as I can. I wanted to bring my style in and get my voice out there and I did this every day. Sticking to it is what really helped me out.

What advice would you give to others for the social media success you have had with Instagram? 

What I love about Instagram is that it is uniquely me and my own voice. What I say to others is, ‘be yourself and have your own voice to bring out on Instagram’. Your content should be uniquely yours. If you try to do something that you are really not about, you will pigeonhole yourself and not be happy creating your content. I genuinely love what I am doing and enjoy creating the content. Figure out how often you should post and when you should post.  For strategy, look at other channels that you like. I find in most parts of life, if you put your full attention and effort into something you will get better at it and you will reap the benefits.  There is no secret to music, there is no shortcut, the real part of it is putting the work in.

Also look to other channels for inspiration. I looked at pages like Scotts Bass Lessons, Daric Bennet, The Real Free (Darrell Freeman) and Bubby Lewis, just to name a few. You’ll inevitably put your own spin on things and find a way that suits you best. 

You just released a book of online lessons, “Ghost Notes”. Can you share a little more about this and how you came up with this name? 

Ghost Notes is a book of exercises and grooves with detailed tutorial videos for each chapter. I want it to be a book that people of any skill level will read and then walk away feeling inspired to practice more. 

Ghost notes, in bass context, is a muted note.  When you pluck the string but your left hand is just laying across the string so it makes a percussive-type tone and Jaco used them a ton!  It is a technique that is used and is frequently called “dead notes” or “muted notes”. In trying to appeal to everyone, I didn’t want to use “dead” in the title. Some people can get superstitious about things. The drumming term is ghost notes. It’s to help you implement those types of techniques into your playing and it’s something I had not found any practice method on.  A student asked me during a lesson, “How do I get better at playing ghost notes?”  I came up with this idea in a lesson. It’s a great book for beginners as well as advanced players.

There is far more going on with you outside of Instagram. Can you share more with us about your session work? 

I’ve been working at Modern Electric Studios in Dallas a lot more, recently. My friend, Jason Burt, is a seriously talented producer who’s helped get me on some exciting projects there and beyond. One in particular is an album by David Ramirez. That, along with a few live performance videos, is something I’m very proud of.

Over the past five months, I have started working with Leon Bridges. I’ve done a few gigs with him and spent time with him in the studio. I hope to do a lot more when COVID-19 is over. Leon is from Texas, which is very cool and he’s a Grammy Award winner.  It’s inspiring working with him. He is an incredible writer and singer. We recently did a live stream video to raise money for part of Fort Worth.  We raised 70,000 dollars in an hour. It was great to give back to an area of Texas I love so much. 

Can you share more with us regarding your teaching? 

Currently because of COVID-19 and the quarantine, I teach online lessons. The younger students are very talented individuals who come in prepared and with a ton of questions. They inspire me and remind me why I love the bass. I am now giving lessons via Zoom online, as well.

Please share any of your accomplishments and achievements.

I’m proud to have toured with the late Bob Belden and his fusion group, Animation.  Also, performing with Leon Bridges, Jimi Tunnell and George Colligan. 

Can you provide us feedback on your Bergantino gear. 

I first found Bergantino about 8 years ago. I was in the market for a new cabinet and looking for the best. After reading countless reviews and information, I decided on a CN212, which resulted in some of the best tone I’ve been able to get from a rig. Then, just last year after rediscovering my love for the 212 cabinet, I started talking with Holly and Jim. They were kind enough to add me to their artist roster. I love the clarity the products bring, especially at high volumes. It packs a huge punch without sacrificing tone, which I love. Then, add to that the EQ tools needed to successfully adapt a less than friendly room acoustically and you can’t go wrong!

What do you like about the B|Amp and how are you currently using it? 

I use the B|Amp in the studio a lot as a preamp, direct to the board.  Also, I use it in my rehearsal space and with the church band.  What I love about it is how valuable it is to my craft and how you can get downright surgicalbut it is really easy and intuitive to use. You can get in there and tweak frequencies, which I love, because sometimes you get into a weird room and you really need that flexibility. I love the variable high and low pass filter. That is just amazing and been so useful!

What do you like about the forté HP and how are you currently using it? 

I’m crazy about the forté HP. First and foremost, I just love the 1200 watts of headroom.  The EQ is very useful and you turn it and it does what you are looking for it to do. You have endless headroom and well-made circuitry…you can get it to do anything you want. I even played an upright bass with it and the HG410, it sounded amazing!  I was in this giant glass room and I’m able to lower high and low pass filters to clear up the mess of the room.  The sound tech still gets the full signal which is just genius on Jim’s part.

Tell us your thoughts on the HG 410 cab. 

I use this cab all of the time. I have the 212 as well and bring it out if I am concerned about a weird room or if I need two cabinets. The back firing driver works out very well. The cabinet packs a serious low end punch and it looks amazing, too.

Which basses are you currently using? 

Right now, my main two basses I’m playing are my MTD 535 and a Fender AVRI 63 P bass. I also have Moog Sub 37 I use for synth bass. I recently got a new Fender Ultra that I am loving. 

What would your followers find surprising to know about you that they have not read about yet?  

I’ve been working on producing Pop and Trap music when I’m not playing bass.

I love playing basketball. I’m not an amazing player but I am a good shooter and like to play with my son outside in the driveway with a hoop we have. Riding bikes is another passion I have. Mountain and BMX bikes…I am getting my son into this, as well.  I adore spending time with my family, my wife Lisa and my five year old son, Haden.

Follow Jacob on:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jacob_smith_bass/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNtphpdS4Ip5H5jQTemkljw

Website: JacobSmithBass.com

Music: JacobSmithBass.Bandcamp.com

 

 

Bergantino is proud to welcome Johnny Lee Middleton to our family of artists

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.

Follow Johnny Lee Middleton:

https://www.facebook.com/johnnylee.middleton

https://www.facebook.com/TSO

https://www.facebook.com/savatage

Bass Central: https://basscentral.com/