Directions and Influences - chapter 9
Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder and The Staple Singers

One thing that happened on my sojourn to Japan, apart from discovering sushi, was that I discovered The Staple Singers. Mavis Staples has got to be one of the greatest soul/gospel singers on the planet. I wanted to crack the nut on becoming a better bass player and I was impressed by David Hood’s playing on the 'Respect Yourself and Bealtitudes' album (Staple Singers on Stax) So while staying at Osamu Kitajima's house in Chigasaki south of Tokyo, I used to lock myself away for hours while I studied David's playing on that album. I would play along with him and try to understand his pauses and particularly his note length. People often say when praising a bass player 'It's not what he plays it's what he doesn't play that counts. Well this is certainly true of David Hood. He is such a deep groove, feel player and I would try to match his feel for hours on end until I could play faultlessly along with him. It was amazing how much I was able to learn from him in this way. I actually owe him a great deal. David Hood and Roger Hawkins were a rhythm section to reckon with, they played on all those great Stax recordings and much more. To me David's bass lines state that the bass part rules, it dictates the groove, it is the fundamental anchor of the song, but it never interferes with the vocal or draws unnecessary attention to itself.

I also discovered Ry Cooder. I think 'Boomer's Story' was the first album I heard. I loved how he took all those old blues adages, digested them and made them his own. I could immediately relate to his music after listening to so much early blues myself. Ry put a new meaning into slide guitar and I loved his use of gospel singing with Bobby King and Terry Evens.

Taj Mahal is like a musical delicatessen. If someone would only ever listen to Taj they would be versed in every aspect of Black American music. This man has done it all and not as some vague dilettante, but as a true purveyor of roots music. I love this man's albums. 'Nach'l Blues' and 'Mo Roots' are probably my favourites and I still play them regularly. I got to meet Taj once after a Gospel Jubilee gig in Melbourne with Venetta Fields; they had known each other for a long time. I was just sitting there having a quiet beer after the gig and this big black man with a Panama hat on walks in and sits down with us and it was Taj. I was too gob smacked to tell him what an influence he had been on me. I think a barely mumbled a self conscious "Please to meet you Taj".

Next: Chapter 10 - Roots, Rock, Reggae