Wednesday, January 13, 2010

SONG #69: I'm The Man


Every once in a while after a show, someone wants to talk to the bass player, which is a lovely change of pace from being asked where our free beer is.  A lot of the time, the conversation leads to other bass players, and I'm asked who I admire and/or am influenced by in my playing.  Clearly, there are some predictable, necessary answers, but when I'm talking to someone who obviously loves music, I start with Graham Maby.  When I get back "Joe Jackson's bass player!  Yes!  I love him!," then I've got a new friend.

Graham Maby is one of my all time favorites, and perhaps the guy I steal from more often than anyone else.  I've loved his playing since the first time I heard Joe Jackson's early albums in 7th grade.  When I first bought a bass in 1983, I learned how to play it by playing along to the first Violent Femmes record and the first Joe Jackson record, Look Sharp!  I can still play all those songs.

Maby's playing is as important to the success of Jackson's early albums as the songs themselves; he has the same impact that Mitch Mitchell does on the early Jimi Hendrix recordings, adding crucial and distinctive color and energy.  Without Maby's playing, these are fine, well-written pop/rock albums, but with it, they generate similar excitement as Elvis Costello's early albums.  Jackson seems to be aware of how important Maby's sound is to Jackson's success; Maby is the only consistent member of every iteration of the Joe Jackson Band.

Maby's lines are way up in the mix on these early albums, so you quickly can gain a sense of what a propulsive, lively player he is.  I love the undoctored tone he employs, and how much he's playing a part.  Unlike so many bass players who either only groove or only randomly solo when they get bored, Maby's playing is always so intellectual without losing vitality.  I'm a huge admirer.  Check out how he dictates the development of the jam in the middle of the song from 1:55 to 2:30.  Wow!  Maby's a master of being melodic, driving and tasteful all at the same time.  If you ever listen to Jackson's Live 1980/86 album, Maby's versatile playing through the whole thing is the highlight.

It's easy to like Maby so much when he's playing such fun music.  Jackson's early albums are a great combination of new wave energy, songcraft, and sarcasm.  Jackson comes off as an angry, sexually frustrated pharmacist who took over the band on karaoke night and never left.  "I'm The Man" is a tribute to selling fads to the public (like punk rock, for example), but it's never sloganeering or self-important ("skateboards... i've almost made them respectable").  It's a funny song that transcends being just funny.  It's the kind of song Brits do so much better than Americans.  An American song about marketing would either decry it as evil or be an example of marketing itself.  The Brits have always had a lighter, more successful touch when it comes to pop culture social commentary.

I first owned this album in a totally weird format-- they released it as five 7" singles in a little box set.  It was totally cool, but also a completely annoying and impractical way to listen to a record.  When I finally bought a normal used vinyl copy years later, I realized how much more I liked the album than I thought I did when I didn't have to get up every three minutes to hear the next song.

I'll talk in more detail about Joe at some point when he pops up again-- this blog's for Graham.  The floor's now open for nominations for the obscure bass player Hall of Fame (Note: Paul McCartney (Wings only) is not obscure enough.)


LIVE LINK:  (if you want to check out Joe in action)


  1. Pete Farndon, not so obscure, but short-lived -- I've always loved his playing on the first Pretenders albums.

  2. i can't find a good video but Gabe Nelson from Cake is pretty darn good
    and Interpol's Carlos D isn't that fast but is pretty unique

  3. This might be construed as sucking up to the blogger here, but...hands down, my favorite bass player (and regrettably obscure) is Jeff Symonds.

    Check out his playing on From Nothing (from the record we made together for Geffen, Miles From Anywhere), and his playing on All These Roads (title track of the album we made after we had been dropped).

  4. Billy Sheehan, heavy metal super bassist from the 80s.