August 19 – John The Yin To Freddie’s Yang

Happy birthday to the quiet piece of one of rock’s biggest and most flamboyant bands. John Deacon, the former bassist for Queen turns 71 today.

Deacon grew up in Leicester, England and was in his first band by age 14, playing guitars at first then bass. Unlike some rock stars though, his music never became his sole passion or purpose, and he went to college, getting a degree in electronics by 21. Around that time Freddie Mercury had his band together with Brian May and Roger Taylor, but lacked a regular bassist. Enter John Deacon.

Deacon wasn’t instantly overwhelmed with the idea. He grew up liking soul music and though he’d grown interested in prog rock and even some classical music by the early-’70s, he wasn’t sure Queen was his calling. The other three thought it was though and won him over.

We were so over the top,” Taylor says, “we thought because he was so quiet, he would fit in with us without too much upheaval.” Brian May had another reason to like him too; Deacon built him his own amp with his electronics knowledge.

Although mainly just a bass player in the shadow of the flamboyant singer and flashy guitarist, beginning in 1974, he began writing at least one song on every Queen album, including a couple of their best known ones – “Another One Bites The Dust” and one he wrote for his new wife, Veronica, “You’re my Best Friend.” He also played electric piano on that one; besides bass he could play keyboards and guitars and now and again did so with the band.

Curiously, his low-profile extended even towards the critics it seemed. Rolling Stone was lambasted by fans when they failed to include him in a list of rock’s great bassists. Journalist Troy Smith from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame put him at #16 on his own list, stating “had all John Deacon ever done was ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, he might still have made the list. It’s arguably the most iconic bassline in rock (but) his basslines were the key ingredient on Queen classics.”

Over time he and Freddie became very close so Deacon was especially hard-hit by Freddie’s death. After playing the Tribute concert for Mercury with the band, he said “as far as we are concerned, this is it. There is no point carrying on (the band.) It is impossible to replace Freddie.”

After a few years, Brian and Roger disagreed that Queen had to bite the dust and reformed the group (initially with Paul Rodgers) but Deacon retired. It’s not entirely clear what his opinion of Queen with Adam Lambert is, but Brian May says “John Deacon is still John Deacon. We don’t undertake anything financial without talking to him,” while Roger Taylor says less diplomatically “John’s a sociopath…he’s given us his blessing to do whatever Brian and I might do with the brand. And we’ve done rather a lot.” Tellingly, Deacon didn’t join Taylor and May when Queen got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Sociopath or just a musician who felt his band had done all it could do, Deacon lives a fairly quiet life with Veronica and some of his six kids in southern England these days. Brian May recently said he would like to see Deacon in a social setting but had no hope for ever working with him again.

June 24 – Smith’s Day Something To ‘Shout’ About

Recently it’s seemed like rather a “Mad World”, so let’s wish a happy birthday to the man who sang that nearly four decades back. Curt Smith is 61 today, and is the more vocal half of Tears for Fears.

Smith grew up in middle-class Bath, England being a fan of various forms of pop and rock, and as a teen taught himself to play bass. Later, he’d learn keyboards. He met and became friends with Roland Orzabel in school, and by 1980, they’d formed a band called Graduate that leaned towards ska, as was the trend in the UK then. After a little-noticed indie release that included the single “Elvis Should Play Ska”, they split and joined Neon, a band featuring Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher. After a year or two, Neon turned off its “open” sign, with Byrne and Fisher becoming Naked Eyes, and Smith heading off with Orzabel to start Tears for Fears.

With a keen interest in the new wave of the era – Orchestral Manouevres, Depeche Mode etc – as well as in the artsy styles of Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads, plus a slice of classic rock, ala Led Zeppelin, thrown in they had a good chance of sounding unusual and memorable. Even if they’d sung about dancing or girls like most acts. But they delved deeper into their psyche, went to counseling (including the primal scream type that John Lennon once championed) and wrote songs far deeper than the typical 20 year olds…something Smith said was a little arrogant perhaps (fans would disagree) and won them some harsh criticism. “We came from an era when young men should be seen and not heard,” he told the Guardian recently, saying people would sneer “Who are you to be talking about these subjects?”

Speaking to a generation, one might think. Their 1983 debut The Hurting was one of the biggest debuts of the decade in Britain, going to #1, but that was only a mere hint of the success the next one, Songs from the Big Chair would have. It topped North American charts as well, sold in the range of ten million copies, won critical praise far and wide and launched four hit singles, including the bombastic “Shout”, the stellar love song “Head Over Heels” and the one they’d forever be synonymous with, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.”

The latter was one Curt sang lead on; although he and Roland both sang, Smith was the lead vocalist on the majority of their better-known songs including “Mad World,” “Pale Shelter” and “Advice for the Young At Heart.” Curiously he didn’t sing lead on “Head Over Heels”, which was one of the few songs he got co-writing credit for. Generally, writing was Orzabel’s task, Smith sang and played bass and added keyboards when needed (which in the early days was infrequent as even though normally considered a duo, and photographed that way, keyboardist Ian Stanley was a member through the ’80s.)

A combination of diminished sales for the third album, The Seeds of Love, differing opinions as to the group’s direction and personality conflicts led them to part ways in 1990 (generally being referred to as “breaking up” although Orzabel technically retained the band name and suggested Smith quit) . They’d briefly reunite around the decade’s end, put out a new record in 2004 and tour sporadically for a number of years after, but Smith says they avoided “80s All Over Again” style tours with other artists of the same “genre” because “we don’t consider ourselves from a (specific) decade.” He added “I can’t put my heart into it…unless we have something fresh to say, do or play.”

So, along the way he married for a second time (his first marriage during the band’s heyday didn’t last long) , moved to the States, had two daughters and became primarily a “stay at home dad.” He said he recalled hearing a teacher asked students what their parents did and his daughter replied “mommy goes to work in an office and daddy goes to the gym.” So low-profile was he in fact, that he once went to a karaoke bar in Vancouver, while filming a show, and sang “Everybody Wants To Rule the World”… “and no one paid a blind bit of attention! They didn’t realize it was me.” Not that he did nothing; he has put out four solo albums, tried his hand at a little acting (having a semi-regular role in the cable show Pscyh) and in 2010, being a bit ahead of his time, started a series of online shows from his home, where he’d invite artists who’d play “unplugged” style acoustic versions of their songs and answer questions in between, all while being streamed in real time.

Of course, now Smith has something fresh to say. He and Orzabel patched things up recently (Orzabel says his own second wife has shown him how to be “polite and kind and not hostile all the time”) and they put out a new album, The Tipping Point, this spring. They’ll be celebrating his day tonight with a concert at the PNC Bank Center in New Jersey and a show in Wantagh, NY tomorrow before heading over to tour the UK in July.

May 28 – Leland, 60 Years Of Beards And Bass

Too busy playing bass to shave? Happy birthday to that old guy who you see everywhere on live concert videos, Leland Sklar. “The Beard” turns 75 today. With credits on over 2000 albums and about five decades of touring with stars, his phone might be busy today!

Sklar was born in Milwaukee, but luckily for him it would seem, his family moved to southern California just in time for him to start school. He liked Liberace as a child, and learned piano young, but got bored with it quickly. In a school orchestra, there was a need for a bassist, so the leader taught him a few basics on a standup bass, and he was off and away.

He got some session work in the ’60s in L.A., largely playing his 1962 Fender Jazz bass (which was his mainstay for decades though now he often uses a namesake Warwick Star one which he endorses), but things really took off when he met James Taylor. They became friends and when Taylor got an offer to play the famous Troubadour club, he called Leland to play bass behind him. “Biggest moment in my career,” Sklar told For Bass Players Only in 2010, “we thought it would be a show, then ‘see ya,’ but it turned into 20 years” (now longer than that). That in turn got him a gig playing bass on Taylor’s first album…and 13 more in total for Sweet Baby James. And it got him so much attention he soon became part of the unofficial house band with Asylum Records, along with drummer Russ Kunkel, guitarist Danny Kortchmar and early on, Carole King on piano…until her own career took off, often with Leland on the bass.

Through the ’70s, he was one of the busiest session players anywhere. A look at the discography he’s contributed to is a long read and includes artists like America, Hoyt Axton, Jackson Browne (including his great Running on Empty), David Cassidy, Thomas Dolby, the Doors (their final Full Circle album), Andrew Gold, Don Henley (his first solo album, I Can’t Stand Still), Lisa Loeb, Reba McEntyre, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton (including her pop breakthrough “9 to 5”), TV-theme guy Mike Post, Bonnie Raitt, Leo Sayer, Neil Sedaka, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Webb, Andy Williams, Deniece Williams, Robbie Williams… you get the idea. He fit into recordings of almost any genre. His association with Mike Post helped him work on TV themes for shows like Hill Street Blues, the Rockford Files and Golden Girls.

And let’s not forget Phil Collins and Toto. He worked on Collins’ ’85 No Jacket Required and subsequently toured with Phil for it, and on four more world tours since. Which perhaps gave him the travel bug, with him spending more time on the road and less in studio in the late-’80s through 2000s, for two years being a part of Toto. He says of them, “I was proud to do it. They are one of the best bands one could ever want to play with and hang out with.” But nowhere does he seem as at home as on stage with James Taylor and Carole King, with whom he toured again in 2010.

Why’s he keep so busy? “I get a buzz every time the phone rings and I get a work call,” he says. “a new adventure awaits!”

On the rare occasions he’s not playing bass, he likes working on hot rods and gardening, and if online photos are accurate, spending time with his wife and their hound dogs. But not shaving. “I’m an old hippie, sort of. Never got high, drank, smoked, or anything but just looked freaky,” he says when asked about his famous beard, adding that while he has trimmed it infrequently, he hasn’t shaved really since high school. Over fifty years working on a beard…that’s dedication. Over 2000 record albums worked on, that too is dedication.

April 24 – Debbie Stopped Making Plans For Nigel

Blondie were perhaps the ultimate New York band of the late-’70s, but their sound seemed to draw as much from the happening London scene of the time – Elvis Costello, early Joe Jackson etc. – as it did from the American East Coast sounds. Perhaps the reason for that is Nigel Harrison, the only British member of the band. We wish him a happy 71st birthday today.

Harrison grew up near Manchester and like many young men at the time, was drawn to rock because he loved the Beatles. Or else, loved the way they were swarmed by cute girls! He joined a local band, playing bass because none of his friends had one, so it was an instant invitation to join. To this day, he still can’t read music. But it hasn’t stopped him from becoming a highly-talented and respected four-stringer For Bass Players Only laud for “nimbly intuitive playing” incorporating “elements of funk, country, disco, metal and reggae” (which sounds somewhat like a description of Blondie at the height of their popularity.) He learned to play by ear, copying greats like Jack Bruce, Carol Kaye and “early Motown” – presumably James Jamerson.

His first big break came in 1971, when just out of his teens, he joined a British band called Silverhead. Deep Purple signed them to their label and got them to open a number of shows, but their record never took off. Nonetheless, there he made a bit of a reputation for himself, and met singer Michael Des Barres, whom he’s worked with off and on again to the present day. After Silverhead came an anonymous run with The Runaways. He played bass on their first album when the rest of the band decided that their “real” bassist, Jackie Fox, couldn’t play well enough.

From there came a low-profile band called Nite City. They didn’t do much…except catch the ear of Blondie, who in 1978 were looking for a new bassist after their first two albums. They recruited Harrison just in time for the work on their massive hit Parallel Lines to begin. Harrison played bass and co-wrote the album’s second hit, “One Way or Another”. He’d later co-write “Union City Blue” and a few other songs of theirs. However, the band were at each other’s throats in the studio and Harrison in particular didn’t like producer Mike Chapman, even though he now credits Chapman with producing well. Harrison played more or less ad lib, and Chapman wanted structure, asking for re-takes which Harrison seemingly refused to play the same way twice.

He stayed with them through their brief but very hot career peak, working on Eat to The Beat and Autoamerican (with hits like “Dreaming” and “Rapture”) and continuing on into 1982, with The Hunter. However, that album didn’t come close to matching the success of the past three and their tour ended up playing in venues far too big for the low demand for tickets. That coupled with Harry getting sick, and unspecified drug problems within the group, caused them to quit by year’s end.

Harrison and drummer Clem Burke teamed up with a couple of other musicians including ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones and Des Barres again to form Chequered Past. They put out one album allmusic gave a “meh” to, calling it “flawed fun”. “’A World Gone Wild’ rocks out nicely”, it said, but soon the songs all came to “sound a bit the same-ish.”

Harrison kept somewhat busy after that short-lived band, doing some record producing and getting into the business end of music. He’s worked as an A&R man for Capitol Records, then Interscope where he rose to the executive level.

As for Blondie… well, they got together again in 1997. They called Nigel who played on some demos for a comeback album, but they quickly fired him. This started a round of lawsuits, which continued for some time. When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted them in 2006, they listed Nigel Harrison as one of the members, logically enough and he and guitarist Frank Infante “were definitely ready to go” but Debbie Harry wouldn’t allow them to join them on stage “and it just got ugly really quickly.” The pair sued the rest of the band again, unsuccessfully. Harrison calls it “kind of sad” and adds “”the strange thing is we’re all in business together. We still have a corporation together.”

Complicated history with that band, but simple way of making his sound. Harrison says he goes for “a Fender bass and Marshall amp. That’s it. That’s the sound of the ’70s. It’s the sound of Motown.” And as it turned out, it was the sound of the once ground-breaking Blondie.

February 21 – Bassman Burnel Britpunk’s Last Man Standing

Happy birthday to the much under-rated bassist J.J. Burnel of The Stranglers. Burnel is 70 today…but you might not want to point that out to the now white-haired karate enthusiast who’s posting a pretty strong case to be considered the last man standing from Britain’s original punk heyday.

Other punk acts have racked up more critical acclaim than “The Men In Black” but few have sold as many records (to date, they’ve notched 11 top 20 albums and 22 top 40 singles in their homeland, spanning a range of genres from the snarling “Something Better Change” to the sillky-smooth “European Female” ) and none have outlived Burnel’s band. Along with guitarist Hugh Cornwell and keyboardist Dave Greenfield, J.J. started The Stranglers (with drummer Jet Black, the owner of a bar they played at in the earliest days, added in soon) way back in 1974 and they’re still going to this day, although only Burnel now remains after Greenfield’s death from Covid two years back. Burnel’s inventive and thundering basslines have always been distinctive (check out their early hit “Peaches” for example) and set the band apart from most of their contemporaries; since Cornwell’s departure in 1990 J.J.’ also become the “face” of the group and frequent lead vocalist.

Burnel was born in London and studied history at university there, but his parents were from France (hence the name Jean-Jacques) so he’s proficient in French and one of his two solo albums was in that language, as was the languid Stranglers single “La Folie” that he penned. Burnel was influenced by John Entwistle (“’My Generation’ – that bassline! I thought that was bloody cool!” he recalls) and Jack Bruce of Cream as a young bassist. In turn, his style and sound – in part created by rips in the cones of his Marshall speakers that creates a bit of distortion- have influenced a number of post-punk acts and artists like Peter Hook of New Order. While he’s not had the accolades of Entwistle, or the more widely-known Sting or Paul McCartney, his talent is undeniable and Music Radar said he can “only be rivalled by The Jam’s Bruce Foxton as the new wave bass hero.” Burnel notes “we’re starting to get (credit) when we’re in the autumn of our careers.” He calls the band a “bunch of old farts” who are “not selling anything, just a good time I hope.” Fans obviously agree. Their 2014 Giants tour was the most successful of any British tour that year and their most recent album, last fall’s Dark Matters entered the UK charts in the top 10.

Burnel had the reputation of being a rather hot-headed, mean character when he was young but now comes across as rather easy-going and humorous. Which is a good thing, because you can also refer to him as “Kyoshi”- an honorary term for advanced Black Belt students of karate. He’s the head of Shidokan UK and considered one of Europe’s top practicioners of the discipline, but of late has resided in the south of France, keeping himself busy enjoying local wine and taking his dog for walks in the hills. The Stranglers are once again on tour in Britain this winter, with Burnel scheduled to celebrate his 70th with fans in Bristol tonight.

February 13 – Bassist Butler Put Little Scotland On Map In Big Way

It’s a big day for a Big Country guy ! Happy 65th birthday to Tony Butler, the longtime bassist for that Scottish band. Curiously, although the band was based in Scotland and were as Scottish-sounding as pretty much any ’80s band, none of the four members on their first record were actually born in the land of bagpipes and kilts.

Butler’s music career seems to have begun around the end of the ’70s when he played bass for a band called On The Air. They didn’t do much, career-wise, but did open for the Skids on tour. There Tony (and drummer Mark Brzezicki) met Stuart Adamson, so when he started his own band – Big Country – they both were in. Butler’s reputation might have also been helped out by another famous music family – the Townshends. On The Air also included Simon Townshend, brother of The Who’s Pete. When Pete decided to do some solo work, Tony was the go-to guy for playing the bass. Butler appeared on Pete’s solo records Empty Glass and All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. And when Pete Farndon died, Chrissie Hynde asked Tony to join The Pretenders. He didn’t, on a full-time basis, but did do a few shows with them and appeared on (as well as co-wrote) their singles “My City Was Gone” and “Back on the Chain Gang.”

Butler kept on as an integral part of Big Country through 2012, although the band went on hiatus for some time after the suicide of singer Adamson. Briefly he took over the reins as lead singer, but the band brought in Mike Peters of the Alarm to do so when they decided to make another record, which turned into The Journey. At that point, Butler quit after co-writing one song for it, “Home of the Brave.” He said that “losing Stuart was a seismic ordeal that I don’t think any of us knew how to deal with.” And that their new album, to his ears wasn’t going to live up to the band’s past standards. “”I didn’t want to be involved in something that…was not creative, or forward-thinking,” he told Loudersound. He then put out his third solo album; although the Big Country record got good reviews, neither it nor Butler’s sold in significant numbers.

Butler perhaps is now helping others be musically creative and forward-thinking; at last report he was teaching music in England.

January 29 – James, Basically Best Bassist No One Knew

Remembering the best bassist you’ve never heard of today. Or, even if you have heard of James Jamerson, probably the best bassist – at least according to Bass Player magazine and Rolling Stone. Jamerson was born this day in 1936. Although he was a session player, he managed to play on at least 23 #1 singles and, according to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, bring the bass “out of the shadows and to the forefront of music.”

Jamerson was born in rural South Carolina, with a musical family. His grandmother was a talented pianist and one aunt a singer. So, not surprisingly, he learned to play piano quite young, and was good at it. He even played a little trombone, perhaps not so well. But when they moved to Detroit in the early-’50s, he found the standup bass and took to it quickly. Soon he was playing in R&B and jazz combos in the clubs there, then touring with Jackie Wilson. About that time, he’d switched to a Fender electric bass. That helped him get his foot in the door at Motown, where by 1960, he was getting regular work as the go-to session bassist. Through the ’60s, he played on the majority of Motown records, often with friends who dubbed themselves the “Funk Brothers.” “Bernadette” by the Four Tops? “You Can’t Hurry Love” by the Supremes? “I Heard It through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye? All Jamerson on bass, as were countless others. “When they gave me that chord sheet,” he explained, “I’d look at it but I’d just start doing what I felt and what I thought would work.” Jamerson treated it like a day job, working through the day in the Hitsville Studio and often playing in jazz outfits in bars at night. Which he must have enjoyed, since by the late-’60s he was being paid $1000 a week by Motown, or about $8000 today. What he wasn’t getting though was public attention, since Motown would not list session musicians back in that era.

That only changed in 1971, and it started with Marvin. Gaye so wanted Jamerson to play on his “What’s Going On?” single that when he wasn’t in the studio, he sent crew out to look for him. They located James, very drunk, in a bar, and brought him back to Gaye. Unable to stand up, he played the track lying down! Gaye on that album was the first Motown act to list his backing players, putting Jamerson as “the incomparable James Jamerson.”

Things began to change when Motown moved west. Although he followed Berry Gordy & Co. to L.A., their sound was changing and he was less in demand. He quit the label in 1973, but kept quite busy through the decade working on albums by the likes of Tavares, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, and even Robert Palmer. The workload lessened more in the ’80s as his drinking escalated and he refused to alter his playing style to suit the times. Sadly he died in 1983 from a combination of cirrhosis and pneumonia. His son James Jamerson Jr. followed in dad’s footsteps, also being a well-received professional bassist, playing on records by the likes of Janet Jackson, Phillip Bailey and Aretha Franklin) and also died quite young, in 2016.

Although not well-known to the listening public by name, other musicians took note, including Paul McCartney who cited James as a major influence on his bass-playing. In 2000, the Rock Hall inducted him, saying Jamerson “bestowed the funkiest, grooviest basslines in the Motown catalogue.” Since then, both Rolling Stone and Bass Player have listed him as the greatest bassist ever. The latter said he “wrote the bible on bassline construction and development.” Not bad for an anonymous player!

January 15 – Dee Murray, Elton’s First Bass-man

Creating musical masterpieces is rarely the work of just one artist, even most of those on which only one name appears. Thus it is with Elton John. As talented a singer, piano player and composer as he is, there was more to his success than just that or even the frequent addition of Bernie Taupin’s great lyrics. When he was at his best, he was backed by a very solid band to bring his creations to fruition and today we remember one of them, Dee Murray. Murray passed away on this day in 1992 at a young 45.

Murray was the bassist for Elton during his most successful period. He and his friend, drummer Nigel Olsson had been members of the Spencer Davis Group briefly at the tail-end of the ’60s before being recruited by Elton. They both first appeared on Elton’s live 11/17/70 and the Tumbleweed Connection studio albums, doing session piece work basically. However, by 1972, both were regular members of Elton’s band, appearing on all the tracks and being a part of his touring entourage. Dee added backing vocals to several Elton songs, including “Rocketman” and was present on all of Elton’s smashes upto and including Captain Fantastic…

Then, somewhat inexplicably, Elton fired Dee and most of his band, citing a desire to go in a different musical direction (which he did with Rock of the Westies right afterward, although few thought the new sound was an improvement.) Perhaps because of diminishing sales, or perhaps because he listened to his favorite producer Gus Dudgeon (who said he “hadn’t heard a bassist quite as good as” Dee), Elton brought Murray back by 1980 for the 21 at 33 album and the massive Central Park concert and the pair worked together regularly through most of the ’80s. In the interim, Murray kept busy doing session work for the likes of Shaun Cassidy and Yvonne Elliman and touring with Procol Harum and Alice Cooper.

By the late-’80s, Murray was doing less with Elton but had relocated to Nashville and was in demand as a country music session worker. Sadly he’d had skin cancer before and died there as a result of the cancer and as well as a stroke he suffered in ’92. According to the New York Times, he was survived by a wife and three kids, and Elton helped out by playing two benefit concerts at the Grand Ole Opry to raise funds for them.

Although he tended to get lost behind the glitz of the “Rocketman”, Murray was a solid bassist other musicians recognized. Bass Player magazine ranked him as the 74th best bass player of all-time and No Treble complimented him at length. “Accompanying a master like Elton John is no small task,” they wrote, “and Murray shines… he implements a classical approach to soprano-bass counterpart, playing a specific bass note to compliment the vocal melody.” It added “his fills are remarkably fearless.” It’s a shame the sun came on him all too soon.

December 17 – Bass And Baseball Get Mills Going

Happy 63rd birthday to one of the most versatile and talented people in the alternative rock world. Mike Mills was born on this day in 1958 in California.

Luckily for the music world, as was the case with bandmate Peter Buck, his parents moved the family to Georgia when Mike was young and he met drummer Bill Berry in Macon, formed a group and then met Michael Stipe and Peter Buck when they went to Athens for university. The rest, as they say, is history. Mills was likely the most-talented musician in R.E.M. He was the regular bassist and did a lot of the composing…but through the years you could have found him playing acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, organ, synthesizer and even vibraphone for them on various records. And if you ask, he is capable of handling drums too! And of course he added the distinctive counter-melodies to Michael Stipe on a number of their hits like “Fall on Me”, he also sang lead on a few of their memorable tunes, including covers of “Love Is All Around” and “Yellow River” and two great ones from Out of Time: “Texarkana” and “Near Wild Heaven.” As to their success, he told the Guardian a few years back that “it’s a balancing act. You want to be grateful and graceful (but) not let it go to your heads. That was one of the reasons we never moved to New York City. Staying in Athens helped us keep our feet on the ground.”

Never one to let dust settle under his feet, when not with R.E.M. (and since then) he’s worked with artists like Warren Zevon, Robbie Robertson and the Indigo Girls and collaborated with Buck in The Baseball Project, a band which specializes in… yep, songs about baseball. In recent years has been touring with a violinist, Robert McDuffie and a classical ensemble, plus members of the Drive-by Truckers in a mix of classical and rock. Noteworthy enough is it that the Wall Street Journal reviewed it, calling it “strong on melody but weak on classical fluency.”

When not making music, Mike’s likely watching sports – he is a fantasy football star and has written articles about his beloved Atlanta Braves for publications including Rolling Stone.

August 24 – Not Madness For Bedders To Keep Busy

It’d be “madness” not to wish a happy birthday to Mark Bedford today! “Bedders”, the bassist for legendary British ska band Madness turns 60.

He joined the band when they were called Morris and the Minors in 1979; soon after they changed names and quickly made a name for themselves. While over here remembered primarily for the single “Our House”, in their homeland they scored an impressive array of hits before breaking up (temporarily) in 1986. In fact, they tied UB40 – another ska act- for the most cumulative weeks on the British singles’ chart in the 1980s.No surprise since they lodged 19-straight singles into the Brit top 20 between 1979 and ’85, including classics (to a European at least) like “Michael Caine” and “One Step Beyond”. They varied considerably but were consistently fun, and consistently danceable. Bedford wrote a handful of their tunes but mostly was responsible for the pumping, rocksteady beat that characterizes their material.

His playing is probably much enhanced by his age and upbringing. He told Thom Hickey (who dubs Bedders an “RGB -right good bloke!”) Dark Side of the Moon was the first record he “couldn’t stop playing.” “Given my age,” he elaborated, “I straddled punk. I listened to Steely Dan, Neil Young, and Little Feat (but) was a massive Clash fan, and listened to a lot more reggae” after being exposed to them Throw in a bit of Motown – he lists Motown session man James Jamerson as his favorite bass influence – and you get a guy who’s drawn from a lot of musical wells. He still performs with Madness at times, including the closing ceremony of the London Olympics, and the official concert for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. Outside of the band, in a brief hiatus in the late-’80s, he worked with Morrissey and Voice of the Beehive on the side. Music Radar recently called him “criminally-underrated” on a list of “30 Amazing, Unsung Bassists.” Some would consider him an under-rated graphic artist as well.

In between Madness albums he went to college as a mature student to study design and he told journalist Rhoda Dakar he considers graphic art to be a “parallel “ and equal love of his to music. Among his work, designing an entire line of housewares for a British retailer. It must be “madness” to Mark to sit and do nothing!