Bergantino artist Fred Koogler shares his bass journey on how he got started and where he is today.
At one point Fred thought he would never be able to play the bass again after suffering a heart attack. Fred shares his experiences from the past and present: “It’s a mentoring thing for me. We can all become a resource and channel to keep live music going in a really tough music environment. Live performance opportunities are tough everywhere these days. I’m at the legacy stage in life and I want to be remembered as that good guy who helped provide opportunities for people—especially in music.”
How did you get started playing the bass, and how old were you?
I started playing guitar in 1963. I was 14 years old at the time and for me, it was the thing I had wanted to do since about age 12, but my family was of very ordinary means. There wasn’t money for instruments and lessons. But that was common to what was happening in a lot of families in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
I got a job washing dishes for 50 cents an hour and saved up enough money to buy a guitar by the end of the summer. My dad was a career military man. We were in Germany at the time and I was hearing a lot of music coming out of Britain and that’s what really did it for me. What was happening with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones motivated me to learn how to play guitar, and I got really interested in bass very shortly after listening to them.
I had been working on music with some guys who were older than me. They were young American enlisted airmen on an Air Force base. I would sneak out in the evening with that guitar, go down and sit in the barracks and watch these guys play … and they had a really good band. I got to be friends with them and interestingly enough they were playing R&B and soul music.
A couple of the guys were African-American and had a real feel for this type of music. They took an interest in me. When they played shows, they would let me bring my guitar up on stage and play along with them, but not plug in. Pretty soon I got good enough that they were calling me occasionally to sub for the guitar player when he was on duty. And that led to me subbing for them on bass as well. That is how it kind of all started for me.
I played with them in festivals and clubs around the country side and after about six months, I helped start a band with people my own age. This was in 1964. The band was called The Sadder Four and then later was re-named The Shadracks. During that time—it was the end of my junior year in high school—I ended up playing in two bands simultaneously over the summer and into 1965 and 1966. We traveled all over Germany, Luxembourg, and parts of France playing music on American and German military installations, summer and fall festivals and clubs, and in regular bars where German nationals and military people hung out.
Then it came time to graduate from high school. I returned to the United States in the summer of 1966 to go to college at age 17 and I had a band waiting for me. The second day I was back in the USA, I auditioned with that band and had a job before the end of the night. This is the first band that I played with that was later inducted into the Iowa Rock ’n’ Roll Music Association’s Hall of Fame. The band was called the Yetti, later called the Yetti Blues Band. We had a lot of blues influence in the band, which was uncommon at that time. There used to be a ballroom circuit in the state of Iowa. We played in all of the ballrooms, as well as many other locations, and were usually on stage two to three times a week for full shows.
The second semester of my freshman year in college, I showed up to enroll for classes and then went on the road with the band until final exams. I did very poorly, but managed not to flunk out of school. I was on the road for about 16 weeks. It was a very busy, good, and popular group. I played both guitar and bass in that band.
Who were your influencers?
“I didn’t really know a lot of the particulars about R&B, blues, and soul music, or noted players at that time. I just knew that I wanted to play those styles of music. I was also very tuned in to what was going on in Britain.
- Paul McCartney early on was my first influence on bass.
- Over the years
- Bill Wyman
- Johnny B. Gayden is a name a lot of people are not familiar with for blues. He was the bass player for Albert Collins. Just a tremendous bass player!
- James Jamerson and Bob Babbitt. They were the guys playing bass in the Funk Brothers back in Detroit and later in Los Angeles. Of course, when Jamerson died, Babbitt took his spot.Donald Duck Dunn
Why the blues?
For me it’s where everything comes from and I remember being very moved by blues music or soul music when I was really quite young.
The first time I became aware of being tied very closely to music, I was probably 5 or 6 years old. I remember being in a church and hearing the organ and choir sing and I was crying. I have felt that way many times with music as I have heard things that have been particularly touching or moving to me.
With my dad being in the military, we were in the South quite a bit in the late 1950s and early 1960s. We were transferred back to Europe in 1963. I remember listening to radio stations during the time in the South. Blues, R&B, and soul music was called race music during those days. I was very moved by that style and feel, but couldn’t imagine that I would ever have a musical instrument at that time, so had no way to express myself through music.
“Much of Rock ‘n’ Roll is blues-based; country is also blues-based. A lot of the music coming out of Europe in the 1960s was blues-based, particularly what the Rolling Stones were doing … early on, the Stones were thought they were a blues band [because they were so influenced by Muddy Waters and other first-generation blues artists in America]. A lot of the African-American blues players were flocking to Europe in the early 1960s to live and play because they were so subjected to the horrible Jim Crow laws in this country. They were not getting the respect they deserved and needed. Much of the time, they were playing to audiences that were segregated, sometimes by even physical barriers, and the players, themselves, were not treated well.
When these artists began to relocate to Europe, they became a big influence on British music, and other music that was coming out of Europe in the 1960s and 1970s.
What is your playing style?
“Nothing fancy. I’m a pretty steady groove player. I sometimes characterize my style, particularly in blues, R&B, and soul as “greasy.” I think the blues, R&B, and soul influences make me this way. I play slides, slips, and bends. I play with my fingers and I don’t use a pick. In fact, I seem to get confused on bass with a pick and I think I can be a lot more expressive with my fingers to get the sound and feel I want.
I prefer the “playing less is more” theory with bass. I try to key on specific phrases and find ways to be as expressive as I can within those phrases without being busy. I want people in the audience who are tuned in to me to not be overwhelmed by the number of notes I play, but to be sitting on the edge of their chair waiting for what is next in the piece we are playing. I like to keep them anticipating.
I am also foundational. My purpose is to click with the drummer, and together we create the groove for the singer and other players to dance on. I absolutely have no need to be a soloist.
How did you learn to play bass?
I am primarily self-taught. I have a good friend who is a great bass player and a retired music educator who helps me with “lessons” when I get stumped, hit a plateau, need someone to bounce things off of, or want to know more about theory. I always improve exponentially when I spend time with him. Lately we have been showing each other new things, but I am always better for having spent time with him.
Do you play any other instruments?
- Have dabbled in electric autoharp, bouzouki, and mandola, but play none of them well.
What styles of music are your favorite to play?
- Blues and old style R&B
- British Invasion music
- Early 1970s super group rock.
What was the first bass you owned?
“The first bass I played was an early 1960s Fender Jazz bass.
“The first bass I owned was a 1964 Hofner 500/1. It was a light sunburst. I actually bought two on the same day. I had a buddy who wanted to learn how to play bass. He didn’t have a job and I did, so I bought one for him and I bought one for myself, and then I taught him how to play it. He gradually paid me back from money we made playing shows in Germany. We are still friends and he still has that bass!
The first bass I used to record was a 1962 Fender Jazz bass in candy apple red.
How many basses do you own?
I currently own 13 basses, and I like them all. A couple of them are collectors, and I’m holding on to them as investments.
I had a heart attack in August of 2010. I actually died twice that evening and had to be resuscitated. In my recovery, I discovered that the basses I was playing were too heavy for me. I thought my bass playing career was going to be over as I lost 60% of my heart muscle in the attack. I did not get to the urgent care facility as quickly as I needed to, as I was on stage when it happened. There was a lot of confusion.
As I was rehabilitating, I was really concerned that my music life was going to be over. A friend knew a young luthier named Andrew Drake. My friend told me that Andrew was new at building basses but, that he builds basses that are really light. So, I called him.
We got together and he said he could help me. I bought a couple of basses from him that day and we became friends. He’s a supremely talented woodworker and master luthier. Everything he builds is just beautiful. I own seven custom basses by Andrew Drake and I love them all. Of the seven, Andrew and I designed four of them together. The necks on all four are hand-carved to my specifications, and are my favorites.
The rehabilitation from my heart attack went really well. I worked very hard. I still work out regularly and am really careful about diet and bad habits. I go to my cardiologist and electrophysiologist each once a year to have checkups and they now cannot detect that I had any heart damage at all. That is something that is not supposed to be medically possible, so I guess it is a miracle, and I’m alive for some purpose. Andrew saved my musical life. Literally! http://www.drakecustombass.com/
How many bass amps and cabs do you own?
I own four amps right now and I own a bunch of cabs. When I decided to go away from Ampeg to lighter weight rigs, the only thing that was on the market in my area was Mark Bass. It’s a great rig. I have a Mark rig for shows and a smaller one for my practice room at home.
About two years ago I decided to explore the possibility of using other light weight rigs and became very interested in Aguilar. I like their Tone Hammer 500 and SL 410x. It is quite lightweight and together this amp and cab have a great sound. The TH 500 can also be very vintage sounding. I then tried Aguilar’s AG 700, but didn’t like it as well as the TH 500, so I sold it. I also tried the Quilter Bass Block 800. I liked it, but not as much as the Tone Hammer.
I had heard quite a bit about Bergantino, so I got on the web site, saw the HG 310 cabinet, and really became interested in it, particularly with one of the speakers facing backward … which Jim developed to create a three-dimensional sound field. This thought about design made a lot of sense to me. I talked to Rick at Bass Club Chicago (both Rick and Mark are great guys) and asked if they had the cab and could ship me one. Rick told me that he did and could, but then told me he had played the HG 410 at NAMM and it was awesome. He said if I could wait a couple of weeks, he could get one for me. Being a 410 guy, I waited.
When the HG 410 arrived I played the Quilter BB 800 through it. I played the Aguilar TH 500 through it. I really liked the TH 500 better. But then I thought, man if you really like this so much, you need to buy the amp that is voiced for this cabinet. So, I went back to Bass Club, bought the Forté, and sold the Quilter. My preference is The Bergantino HG 410 with the Forté. I just love that combination. I’ve played it out several times now. There are always bass players in the audience, and they all compliment me on that amp. The guys in the band just love the Berg rig. They don’t want me to play anything else, so the Aggie has become my backup rig and the Mark is retired after about 700 shows.
Our band hosts a jam session every Sunday night. We provide all of the backline. We play a set, and then as musicians of various levels of skill start to filter in, we give them the stage. Des Moines has a very active music scene. People come in and support what we are doing. Invariably there are three to seven bass players there. They all play my rig and they just can’t get over how good they sound. Many of these players are sounding like they never sounded before with both the Bergantino and the Aguilar.
But in the past several weeks, I have gotten more compliments on the Berg and how it sounds from people who really know music. I am talking about bass players who have 35 years of experience and just love it. The Berg has become my go to rig.
The first few notes I played through the HG 410, I was just like wow … I’ve never heard anything like this and I was sold. I’m a tone nut. I’ve always chased tone and I have never had anything that is as clear, as articulate, and that hits as hard as the Berg does. Both the Forté and the HG410 are focused and big. They fill a room and, when properly set up, sit in the mix in just the right place. I know that’s what Jim intended when he engineered this equipment.
- Mark Bass CMD 102 P with 102 HF extension cab….over 600 shows
- Mark Bass CMD 121 P with New York 112 extension cab….studio and recording
- Aguilar TH 500
- Aguilar SL 410x
- Pair of Aguilar SL 112s….for sale
- Bergantino Forté
- Bergantino HG 410
Right now I prefer the Bergantino.
The one song you love to play the most?
No particular one … anything with a strong groove, where the band says, “Turn that bass up!”
I do like to play Moon Dance as it’s got such a great walking bass line that you can mess around with and change up. The bass is absolutely the foundation of that song. There is also an old Rolling Stones song called Miss You that has this huge bass line that drives the song. Those lines, even though they’re relatively simple walking lines, if you play them with the right amount of air, they just groove so hard that you can’t beat it.
So, anything that grooves hard, that moves along, and the bass just keeps the song going and is absolutely essential.
The one you hate the most?
I do not enjoy country music. I’ve had several offers to play in country bands, a couple just recently. I say no every time, because that style of music is just not fun for me.
Why is this question here? I like to eat badly but I can’t anymore. I am a chocoholic! But, I eat salads, fruit, vegetables, and white meat when I can. See Food- Eat Food, that’s me, I like everything, but to keep my health good, I have to be careful.
“Be careful what you wish for.”
This has been a mantra of mine over the years. I try to be humble and this is a reminder for me about where I came from. I had a very successful business career for 47 years. It was good to me, because that career (I’m retired now, but my profession is musician) is what allows me the freedom to buy quality instruments and play music today. I understand what it’s like to not have much of anything, and to do without, and then work hard to move to the success I had in business. I think it’s good to have reminders about where you came from and this, “Be careful what you wish for” quote is an important reminder for me.
- Two-time inductee to the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association’s Hall of Fame:
- 2007 with the Yetti Blues Band for work on guitar and bass in 1966 and 1967
- 2015 with The Inner Lite for work on bass in reforming the band for performance 2014 – 2017
- Recognized as an Iowa Master Musician.
Live Music Band: Fred plays with “The Bluesdawgs” on Sundays
This is an informal band, just three of us, a power trio and other people sit in with us as they are available. We really don’t play many shows anymore. We host a jam session in a small club (actually one of the Top 10 dive bars in the Universe) every Sunday night. Occasionally, we get requests to play at a beer joint or festival somewhere, but we are selective.
The biggest reason I continue to do this is that it helps keep the local live music scene alive, and gives musicians an opportunity to get on stage, play, and interact with other players. We have players come who have played with each other before, but much of the time players have to really be on their toes. You just never know who will show up and what they might want to play.
In the state of Iowa under age people can be in a drinking establishment until 9 p.m. We have a couple of 17-year-old kids showing up and jamming with us on Sunday nights. We get them to the stage at the end of our set to play two or three songs each time they show up. They feel great about it and get to go back to their high school buddies and share … probably gives them an edge with girls too.
Getting to play live music is tough everywhere right now. We get to mentor younger players….how cool is that? We manage our jam session an organized way and give all players, young, old, or in between exposure. I am more committed to this than being out in a band playing 100 plus gigs a year. I’ve done that scene, and, for me, providing the opportunity for other players now has priority. It’s part of that give back that I feel we all need to do.
I was a banker early in my business career. I started a financial planning and investment business, ran it for 20 years, and made positive differences in the lives of many people. My company got big enough that I lost the personal touch with clients because of the necessity to work with management and administrative things, which took all of the fun out of it for me, so I got out of it.
Now, I am retired and this gives me so much more time with music and helping others find themselves in music. There is also much more time with my wife and my dogs, which actually come before the music!
Can you share the links your social links with us for this post?
Jam Band, The Bluesdawgs
Never know who will show up to play:
Andrew Drake is a wonderful luthier and human being.
Basses I designed / helped design: