The Bass That Got Away


This is the story of the bass that got away. That’s bass as in “ace” not “ass.” This is not a fishing story, although the story does start on a river somewhere in the wilds of Indiana.

During the late eighties, I was working somewhere between 150 to 200 dates a year, most of them fly dates. We would go in and come out before anyone got hurt. At the time, I was playing my 1964 Fender Jazz bass and every trip my thoughts went to the unmentionable consequences of possibly losing or damaging the venerable old girl. Well, the unmentionable almost happened one day.

We landed at the Purdue, Indiana regional airport . My bass, along with some luggage belonging to the other passengers had not fit into the small plane, but I was assured that the missing pieces would arrive from Chicago and be brought to the venue in time. The car that was to take us to the gig was late so, to entertain myself, I hid the keyboard player’s bag and had him paged to recover it at gate five. Then I had a pleasant hour watching him walk back and forth in the tiny terminal, searching for gate five. There were no gate numbers as there was only the one gate and designating it by number seemed pretentious. This has nothing to do with my bass, but the story serves to illustrate the sophisticated nature of our surroundings.

When we arrived at the gig for soundcheck, I had a foreboding feeling. The “venue” turned out to be a barge fitted out as an old-fashioned showboat. The soundcheck and show would both take place with the barge…and us, being towed up and down the river behind some sort of stinky popeye looking scow. Even If the bass was delivered to the hotel, it would not make it onto the barge/showboat in time.

I panicked. We decided to forego soundcheck and repaired to the bar when the bass player in the opening band stepped in and saved the day. He asked me what kind of bass I play and when I told him, he told me that he also played a Fender Jazz and that I was welcome to use his. He apologized for the fact that it wasn’t a “vintage” instrument but I was relieved that the show could go on and thanked him for his kindness. Then it was drinks all around til showtime and a good time was had by all…until I watched the opening band and discovered that the bass player was LEFT-HANDED!

That was probably the longest show of my life! I played his bass allright, right-handed with the strings upside down. Talk about keeping it simple. I immediately decided that I needed a bass to take on the road that I didn’t worry would get lost or stolen.

When I got back home, I went about the business of building a bass that would fill the bill. I wanted a Fender style body but decided on neck-through construction as this would probably be more stable with the bump and grind of traveling. I found a blank “second” at Performance Guitars for very little dough. I already had a great set of pick-ups that Seymour Duncan had been kind enough to let me try and had enough hardware around the house from other projects to finish the job. Instead of shooting the guitar with lacquer, I spent evenings rubbing boiled linseed oil into the wood with steel wool while watching Twilight Zone re-runs.

Well, when I got the bass together, I instantly fell in love. It felt, played and sounded very much like an old well-worn bass but with one exception. I had decided to build a five-string but with a right hand string spacing much like that of my old Fender. Turned out to be a sweetheart.

I put some real miles on that bass and was happy that the old Jazz was now safe at home while I was out gallivanting. One night at the Miami airport we were told that our flight would be delayed due to bad weather in Dallas where we were to connect to our LA flight. I was able to get the band on a direct flight home but our luggage had already been loaded. The agent assured me that our luggage would be in LA by morning and would be brought directly to our homes.

Upon landing in LA, I registered a “lost luggage” claim as instructed by the agent as this would facilitate the pieces being delivered. The next day, as promised, the airline called to say that four pieces were on their way to my house. When the delivery came, the driver put two clothes bags on my doorstep and asked me to sign an invoice for four pieces. When asked, he claimed that this is what was put on the truck and that was all he was to deliver. The worst had happened, and I knew that I would never see that bass again.

After complaining, screaming, begging and charming a path through every poor bastard with a phone that worked for Northwest Airlines, I ended up settling for a sum of money that would allow me to build a replacement which turned out to be the “Man’s Bass” described in an earlier blog entry. But what started as a cheap bass for the road turned out to be a friend I lost forever.

I wish I could say that I hope whoever is playing her now is treating her well and making beautiful music…but I can’t…I’m not built that way. I hope that the fuckhead who stole her tripped on the curb as he ran across the street and the anvil case caught him full in the nuts causing him to fall out of the line of sight of the septic tank clean-out truck that barely shuddered as it rolled over his skull, forcing his brains through his nostrils.

And that is the bass in the picture above…the one that got away.