June 5, 2019

Talking With Legendary Gerald Johnson Bass Player

Gerald Johnson’s professional career commenced with The Sweet Inspirations as an opening act for Elvis on The Strip in Las Vegas. A left-handed player who utilizes a righty Fender P inverted, Gerald’s soulful pocket playing, warm resonant tone, and engaging stage presence earned him a position at the top of his profession as an in-demand session player, concert performance sideman, and vocalist. Akin to such bass icons as Sir Paul, James Jamerson, and Willie Weeks – Gerald Johnson is that rare player who renders bass lines that also serve as hooks to whatever song he’s playing. As a soloist, Gerald never surrenders the groove as evidenced on his killer breaks found on Dave Mason’s Certified Live (1976) rendition of “Gimmie Some Lovin’ or on Miller’s“Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma” and the title track to Steve’s aforementioned classic LP from 1973.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Gerald discusses the unique inverted right-handed bass that he plays with his left hand, and he describes how it was made for him by Fender in 1981
  • Gerald performs a piece of his own original music for Bryan and the audience
  • How Gerald came to discover the bass and chose it as his instrument of choice, and he discusses attending a Catholic boarding school while his mom worked at the Pentagon
  • How a random encounter with a stranger gave Gerald permission to play upside down rather than trying to learn to play traditionally
  • How being dyslexic caused school to be uncomfortable for Gerald, and how playing bass guitar was important to help him feel more comfortable with himself
  • What it was like encountering musical legends like Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells while performing in the 60s
  • How Gerald came to open on stage for Elvis Presley, and how he came to become the bass player for the Steve Miller Band
  • Why Gerald believes his struggle with dyslexia led him to learn to play the bass in his unorthodox upside-down style
  • How Gerald was found by producer Richard Perry to play bass on the Pointer Sisters hit Fire, written and originally performed by Bruce Springsteen
  • How Gerald met and played with Stephen Stills and Crosby, Stills and Nash, and later with Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys
  • How Gerald became sober in the 1990s after he was offered a job with the stipulation that he not drink
  • What advice Gerald would offer to young musicians, and how Gerald immersed himself in the life of a musician his entire life
  • Which artists were the biggest musical influences on Gerald, and how Gerald spends his time musically today

Additional resources:

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