Photos and Story by Steve Burkhalter
This year’s Detroit Bass day was a reunion, of sorts. Reunions are usually great things; a chance to recall the past, and celebrate the future. At family reunions, you catch up with the patriarchs of the family and see how the young ones have grown up. There is nothing like a Detroit Bass Day to catch up with patriarchs like Ralphe Armstrong or Wendell Fuller and get to see the young guys, like Brandon Rose, and Donald Waugh. And there is no doubt that a Detroit Bass Day is a family gathering.
Like most family gatherings, there can also be some bittersweet times. For the family of Detroit Bass Players, it was a year where two tragic losses came close to home. Anthony Tolson – a giant on the bass, who had played with such national artists as Neyo and Jeezy and in several local churches – was carjacked and murdered on Christmas Eve, while on the way to see his kids after playing at his dad’s church. And James Jamerson, Jr. – a great player in his own right, who had played with Bob Dylan, Tania Marie and The Four Tops – lost his struggle with a spinal condition and passed on March 24th. These deaths, along with the loss of Lemmy, Rob Wasserman, and musical icons David Bowie and Prince made this a time of reflection, along with a time of celebration.
For those of you who are new to this story, Detroit has, arguably, the most vibrant bass playing community in the world. With icons like Ron Carter, James Jamerson, Robert Hurst, Paul Chambers and Ralphe Armstrong, the foundation has been laid for a vibrant bass family in the city. The Detroit Bass Players group on Facebook (which has over 1,600 members) helps to make for a big family reunion.
This year’s Detroit Bass Day was organized by Kern Brantley (currently the bass player for Lady Gaga), and it featured not only several great players performing, but also a memorial to those we have lost. Donald Waugh, who resides in nearby Chatham, ON, started the festivities with a stunning display of bass musicianship. Donald dazzled with his multiple looper setup and his chord melodies on his Cunningham 7-string bass and his little Wing Bass.
Then, we had the king-sized jam band, which included several Prince tunes as a tribute and his bass artistry, featuring Will Pope, Larry Lee, Lawrence Bass Man Washington (who held down the low end for Justin Timberlake and India Erie, among others) and Kern Brantley, himself. Then, for a change of pace, we had several local bands which featured top bass players, like Lonnie The One Motley, who has toured with the P Funk All Stars and Kid Rock. The 313, with the bass talents of Bino. An impromptu jam session with Detroit keyboard master Amp Fiddler and Wendell Fuller, who played for The Dramatics for years, was one of the great moments of the night. We also enjoyed the rapper, Kid Vicious, with the bass talents of Emily Rogers.
Among the featured guests were Mrs. James Jamerson, Anthony Tolson’s mom and Kern Brantley’s mom, each of whom were presented with plaques in honor of their gifts to us. And of course, there was more great music. Enema Squad, led by Parliament Funkadelic drummer Gabe Gonzales, laid down some nasty funk with Will Pope. A great two-bass jam with Adam Brode and Eddie Kohen. Collective Peace topped this off with Kamu Inaede playing some inspiring solos on some great original music. Finally, to close out the night, we had the sounds of Dirty Minds with Glemmy on bass. With that, Detroit Bass day 2016 was a wrap.
All in all, like any great reunion, you hate to see it come to an end. But it’s probably the best bass show on earth outside of NAMM, and you don’t have to be an industry insider to get in. To KISS, Detroit was Rock City, and Rolling Stone claimed Detroit was the best rock audience in the world. Well, there’s no Bass Day like a Detroit Bass day!