Exclusive Interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
November 19, 2012
Born in Detroit to a musical family, Brad Russell was exposed to a wide variety of music, virtually from the beginning. At the tender age of 7, “little Brad” was singing with his older brothers’ band in the Detroit club circuit, describing himself “the Motor City version of Donnie Osmond.”
At age 12, Brad traded the microphone for an upright bass and began studying classical technique with Detroit Symphony Orchestra bassist Maxim Janowsky and, later, bass virtuoso Gary Karr. Upon a recommendation from American Idol’s Randy Jackson, Russell received a scholarship to the highly acclaimed University of Miami School of Music.
Brad Russell has played bass with Neal Schon, Narada Michael Walden, Pat Travers, Rick Derringer, Gregg Allman, Steve Smith, Jack DeJohnette, Lonnie Smith and countless others. He also has toured with Bruce Springsteen saxman Clarence Clemons. His new CD, Let’s Hear It, features guest appearances by Joe Satriani and Gregg Bissonette.
FBPO: When we did your first interview back in March, your solo CD, Let’s Hear It, had just come out. Now that the world has had some time to digest it – I mean, it’s a lot of notes! – can you dig a little deeper and tell us more about it?
BR: Yes, a lot of notes! Well, I’ve been wanting to record my own CD for some time now. Actually, a few years ago, I was sending Joe Satriani some demo tracks to see if he’d like to collaborate. He liked my ideas and suggested I do my own solo record and I took his advice! Originally, I was all over the place, stylistically. Then I decided to focus on a harder rock sound. I mainly focused on using a standard 4-string bass in a lead guitar fashion. Outside of two solos, one by Satriani and one by my brother Kevin, all guitar sounds were created on bass guitar!
FBPO: At times, it almost seems like there’s a guitar player in you wanting to come out.
BR: Well, I go through this all the time with other bass players. It’s funny. Many bass players will say, “Why don’t you just play guitar?” or, “That sounds like a guitar!” The simple fact is, the electric bass is a guitar! I view the electric bass as the lowest tuned instrument of the guitar family just the same as I view the upright bass as the lowest tuned instrument of the violin family. There’s no reason not to use the same techniques and effects that a guitarist uses. I always listened to as many guitarists as I did bassists and I try to use many phrasing, lyrical and melodic ideas of lead rock guitar players.
FBPO: What was it like working with Joe Satriani? Tell me about those recording sessions.
BR: Actually, I emailed the finished tracks to Joe and he simply recorded his solo over top of my rhythm tracks. It’s amazing what we can do today with all the technology! I’m in New York and Joe is in San Francisco, yet we were able to make music together. Also, I wrote the song “Zattack” especially with Joe Satriani in mind. His solo fit perfectly with this track! Honestly, I had already recorded a solo before Joe laid his solo down, but after hearing how great his track was, I had to go back and redo my solo! Players on Satriani’s level make you step up your game.
FBPO: And how about Gregg Bissonette, another Detroit-bred homeboy?!
BR: Yeah, Gregg is a Detroiter also. I originally met Gregg in L.A when I auditioned for David Lee Roth some years ago. Although I didn’t get the gig, Gregg really liked my playing and we kept in contact over the years. When it came time to ask drummers, I made a list of the top five drummers I would like to record with and Gregg was at the top of that list. Another drummer friend of mine, Rob Chismar, also a Detroiter, was taking private lessons from Gregg and reconnected us. Fortunately, Gregg was available and he recorded his drum tracks in L.A and sent them back to me in New York.
FBPO: How are you promoting the record? Are you doing any touring?
BR: My publicist has been getting some nice press in various music mags here and in Europe. Most all the bass mags have done interviews and/or reviews of my CD and all have been favorable so far! As far as performing, I’ve mostly been playing in the local New York area with my “Bass In Yo Face” project, which is just me and a drummer. I use a loop pedal to lay down the rhythm tracks and then I solo on top of that with a variety of effects: wah pedal, distortion, octaver, tremolo bar, etc. I play material from my CD and some cool covers.
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FBPO: Time for the Jekyll & Hyde question: Now that you’ve aptly demonstrated your never-ending “lead bass,” rock-oriented chops, how about something with upright bass, either to showcase your hard-swinging, straight-ahead jazz talents, or maybe something else? During our last interview, you hinted at an Americana type of recording, with pedal steel and acoustic guitar.
BR: Yes, I would like to do an acoustic thing. Right now, though, I’m committed to focusing on this electric “lead bass” sound. I feel this is my true sound and I really have just begun to scratch the surface on what I can do. Rock bass could use some more spotlight players. It seems as if jazz and fusion have been featuring the bass as a solo “lead” instrument for some time, however, the bass in rock is still a bit in the shadows. Perhaps this is why I mostly listened to guitar players for solo ideas in the rock style. The only rock bass player that really influenced me to play lead lines, tap, use distortion, etc. was and still is Billy Sheehan!
FBPO: What else is new?
BR: I just played a show with rock guitarist Gary Hoey up in the Boston area and it went great! I will be on tour this winter with Gary and hopefully be on his upcoming CD.
FBPO: Now that you’ve become pretty well established in New York, can I assume you’re going to stay put for a while, or do you find yourself occasionally itching to get back to California – or Detroit?
BR: New York is definitely a great city. There’s nowhere else like it, but there are times I think about living in a more relaxed environment. The pace in NYC is relentless! Detroit will always be home to me. I’m proud to be from the D. You tell just about any musician you’re from the Motor City and you get instant respect. However, they also expect that you can play and you’d better be able to deliver.
Brad’s new CD, Let’s Hear It is available here.
See our previous interview with Brad, as well as our exclusive
interview with Billy Sheehan, who is also mentioned in this interview:
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