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Into the Bass: An Interview with Stuart Hamm, International Recording and Performing Musician

By: Paul Voran

Only a handful of bass players have been able to achieve a career as varied and successful as Stuart Hamm. He’s toured the world as a solo and supporting artist and recorded with some of the world's top musicians, yet he continues to educate himself and others about music and bass theory. Stu talks about where this career has brought him and what lies ahead.

You’re partway into your “Greatest Rock Hits” tour, how have the performances been going?

The band is sounding great, man, really sounding good. It’s better than I ever imagined when originally putting this lineup together and we’re excited to get to North Carolina. Every time I have a band playing, we’re not trying to recreate what I did with other musicians on the record. What we’re trying to do is take that as a template, and come up with something new that works for us.

What type of show can one expect having never experienced your music?

I’m certainly best known for my instrumental music with Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and my own solo recordings. The show will have vocal aspects via storytelling as a retrospective of my career, but you won’t hear me singing any Brittney Spears covers. The setlist will consist of various collaborative records from my career as well as my more popular solo material.

What does your live setup consist of?

I’ve got my prototype Warwick bass, I’ve worked with them for three years now on a signature series and this is the third version. It’s a little more ergonomic and balanced than some of the other Warwicks. I change the strings every night with a fresh set of GHS Boomers. I plug straight into my Harkte amp with a 5500 head and use no effects whatsoever.

Is there a specific live performance in your career that still stands out to you as a favorite?

I do these solo bass performances from time to time. It’s very hard to convince people that a solo bass performance will be interesting and entertaining for an hour and a half. This is especially true if audience members are Joe Satriani or Steve Vai fans because they come expecting screaming guitars and loud drums. During a tour of Europe I ended up playing a show at a small opera house in Estonia. People bought tickets to a weeklong series which meant one night it was a Celtic Harpist, one night Tasmanian Nose Flutists, and one night it was me, etc. About 450 people showed up not to see me, but to hear good music with no preconceptions. There was no pressure to appease the rock fans. I got to do my solo bass set in this beautiful venue where using space and silence only enhanced the performance. I played great, the people loved it, and it was a validated that “damn it, I know what I’m doing.”

You’re obviously a master of rock, you have chops in classical and jazz, is there a certain area or genre you are currently working on?

As a musician, there is a always a learning curve. If I didn’t think I was getting better and had things to aim for, I would probably go do something else. I’ve been playing upright bass again for about a year for the first time in about 40 years. The next big thing for me to attend to will be having a lesson with the principle bassist with the L.A. Philhamonic to really get my bowing going again. I’m always trying to approach the instrument in a new way while taking opportunities to expand my musical knowledge.

What does your schedule look like beyond the tour?

I have so much lined up, I”ll be in L.A. for two days to council at a “Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp” to preparing a bunch of weekend warriors to perform with Judas Preist. Then I’m off to Taiwan to headline the Taipei Jazz Festival. It’ll be an interesting switch from Judas Preist to grooving with Dean Brown. After that I’ll be going to South Africa to play bass with Bill Champlin, Deniece Williams, and Brenda Russell at a peace, love and soul festival. Finally I’m off to Europe with my band featuring Greg Howe on Guitar which will be a more fusion-oriented version of the Stu Hamm band. Then I’m going home and taking a nap.

Any last words about the tour?

If you’re a fan of good music or a fan of that Vai and Satriani stuff then you need to come check out the guitar player I have with me. These shows are simply a good time, we have plenty of audience participation and I hope to see as many people out at The Pour House in Raleigh.

Stu’s trio features Kim Sehwang on guitar and Jeff Bowders on Drums. Any fans of technical playing, unique styles, and downright good musicianship should head out The Pour House on July 2nd at 9:00 PM. Tickets are available online and at the door.

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