“Please dear God, don’t let me be an ingrate; please don’t let me forget who invited me to this party… ”
This was the prayer softly uttered by a replacement bassist just minutes before he went on to do his first set. He was replacing the resident bass player at the club where I used to work. His sincerity touched me. I walked up to him, shook his hand and offered, “I think you’ll be fine, sir”.
He was indeed a breath of fresh air. And he went on to become a permanent member of the band.
Prior to this – when their original bass player left to pursue a lucrative contract elsewhere – the resident band had to put up with a slew of less than savoury replacement bass players. Guitar players were easy enough to find – but good bass players were (and still are) a rare commodity. The band became desperate. And as is the norm, desperate people made mistakes.
The first mistake they made was thinking that a good bassist was one who showed exceptional mastery of his instrument. This was utter folly. Playing well did not necessarily mean that he would be able (or even willing) to do the job. Usually the more fireworks the replacement bass player had, the more the band fell flat. There was even one prima donna bassist who tried to upstage the lead guitar player at every turn, and in the process ruined the show by abandoning his rhythm-section role. When the errant bassist almost came to blows with the band leader, it was up to me (as bouncer) to physically eject him from the premises. This, I might add, was a task I undertook with more pleasure than I should have.
Then the band went on to the bigger mistake of inviting friends (with little or no bass playing experience) to fill the void. According to them, it would be easier to manage a friend than it would be to manage a stranger. Guess what? They were wrong again. In one instance, their bassist friend made a habit of going home after only the second set – leaving someone else (usually me) holding the baby. With my limited ability, all I could do was to hit the root notes in as rhythmic a fashion as possible till closing time.
Needless to say, I didn’t break any musical ground – but I think I got the job done. At least, the band leader didn’t try to break his guitar over my head. But perhaps this was simply because I was a lot bigger than he was.
In another instance, a ‘bassist friend’ even had the audacity to blame his own poor performance on the leader. According to the underperforming bassist, it was the band leader’s duty to bring him up to speed. This made sense – until I talked to the band leader about it. On many occasions the band leader had asked his friend to come over so they could cover the material together. His friend never complied with the request – not even once. So, whose fault was it? Was the teacher duty-bound to go to the student? I should think not! Those who seek knowledge should have the humility to come to the teacher, shouldn’t they?
Now some 17 years after the fact, I think I understand what happened. There was nothing wrong with the band in thinking that an accomplished player would be the answer to their problems. Or in them believing that they ought to be able to rely on a friend. These are reasonable propositions. However, what was wrong lay with the (failed) replacement bassists: they had all forgotten who it was who invited them to the party.
Now, whenever I get a training gig anywhere, I always try to remember to say this prayer: “Please dear God, don’t let me be an ingrate; please don’t let me forget who invited me to this party”.