Exclusive Interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
FBPO: Tell me about your longtime association with "The Section," comprised of drummer Russ Kunkel, guitarist Danny Kortchmar and keyboardist Craig Doerge.
LS: When we first started with JT, the band was me, Russ Kunkel, who I had met years earlier when he was in a band called Things to Come, Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar and Carole King. Soon after starting, Carole recorded Tapestry, one of the biggest-selling albums in history, so she had to leave the group to pursue her solo career. I was doing an album with Tom Jans and Mimi Farina. Craig Doerge was the keyboard player. I recommended him to James and he joined forces with the rest of us. We toured as a set band and one day they recorded our sound check and a band was born! We have worked together on many, many projects and still play to this day, both individually and collectively. One of the baddest bands in town!
FBPO: What kind of basses and other equipment do you typically use in studio?
LS: In the studio I have my old “Frankenstein” bass, which is a mixture of many parts and was never a real bass in that sense. It has been my workhorse since the early ‘70s. I use my Dingwall 5-string, a Yamaha TRB5 fretless, a Hofner, when needed, and a Washburn AB45 fretless acoustic. I use my Euphonic Audio Iamp800 combo and a Tube Works DI. I bring a few stomp boxes but the most used is my BossOC2 octave divider. A Petersen tuner…that is about it. I try to keep it simple and to the point. No racks or anything like that.
FBPO: How about strings?
LS: I use GHS Super Steels: .40, .58, .80, 1.00 and 1.30 They are my favorite strings. Very consistent and good right out of the bag. I use the nylon tape on the Washburn.
FBPO: What was it like playing with Toto?
It was wonderful! I have known the guys since they first formed the band and have done tons of studio work with many of the cats. The tour was a joy everyday. I was only sad that I was there to help out Mike Porcaro in a difficult time for him. Still, I was proud to do it. They are one of the best bands one could ever want to play and hang with.
Jon Liebman, Leland Sklar
FBPO: How predictable is your career these days? Can you pretty much count on doing a certain number of record dates, movies, TV shows, commercials, etc., or do still get a lot of surprises, too?
LS: Nothing in this business is predictable. I take nothing for granted. I get a buzz every time the phone rings and I get a work call. A new adventure awaits. I am still busy, so I cannot complain.
FBPO: What's the difference being a professional studio bass player today compared to, say, the '70s, or even the '80s?
LS: Today, a great deal of my time is spent at guys’ houses overdubbing bass on existing tracks they are doing on their ProTools rig. Not a lot of interplay with other guys and that I miss! That is where so much of the magic comes from. It’s a very singular existence now. When we do sessions with four or five players, we all just freak out and say this is how it use to be!
FBPO: You've been firmly established as an in-demand bass player for many years. Is there anything else you'd like to do with your career that you haven't done yet?
LS: Not really. There are people who I would like to play with, but haven't had the chance. Maybe one day it will happen. I feel very blessed to have had the career that I have and never say no to a call.
FBPO: What do you like to do that's not necessarily musically oriented?
LS: I love to garden and work on hot rods -- anything that can cause me great injury to my hands! They know me at the emergency room very well.
FBPO: I've got to ask - How about that beard? Is there a story behind it?
LS: Sorry to say, no story! I am an old hippie, sort of! Never got high, drank, smoked or anything, but just looked freaky. I stopped shaving when they handed me my high school diploma in 1965 and that was that. I trim it all the time, but it is here to stay, much to some people’s dismay!