Jack Casady's basses
FlyGuitars You are famous for your use of Fender, Guild, Alembic and Epiphone bass guitars. But what other basses would you have had in your arsenal when you've gone in to the studio over the years?
Jack Casady I had a Yamaha 5 string bass that was really nice, a TR5. I enjoyed that. I saw it in a store and my lovely wife brought it for me, a birthday present. I've had a number of other instruments, as I'm up here in my house where I look down the end where I've got some of them stored. The reality is you can't play a lot of instruments all the time much less keep them up. They're like anything you've got to keep them up and in shape and pay attention to them regularly.
You pick 'em up but they're kind of cold and the notes just really don't jump off; but you get one where it just fits your style, but the tone is really what makes you want to play I think. If you get a great tone out of an instrument you know why keep changing?
FlyGuitars I agree, I've got several basses myself that I use but I still come back to one bass that I really like.
Jack Casady Yeah there's one that I'll pick up and I'll play and it makes you wanna play. Others, it's almost frustrating. I've got a couple of P basses, they're beautiful basses. I've got a '63 P bass. I've got a '51 P bass that's fantastic, you know that looks like a Telecaster. They have that certain sound but you know I don't play Rockabilly in the late '50's anymore.
FlyGuitars No (laughs)
Jack Casady That bass was a great bass for certain kinds of things and if somebody wants to get an authentic sound I've got the bass. The thing is I'm not a studio session man so I don't get a call where I come in with eight or nine basses and then if somebody says ok let's do a Rockabilly sound here or let's do a Motown sound over here or do James Brown funk over here. I don't travel in that kind of world but I'm a bass player who loves basses you know. I have a few basses but as I get older I find that I want to collect less; and of course my late cohort John Entwistle loved to collect basses.
FlyGuitars You don't class yourself as a collector as such?
Jack Casady Not at all, collectors are serious business.
FlyGuitars Are there basses that you have liked over the years, and hung on to?
Jack Casady I would say that my most favourite instrument to pick up and hit one open A note off is a bass balalaika that I have. Rick Turner transformed it in to a four string bass from a three string bass. There's a contrabass and a bass, I have the bass balalaika and I got it in Paulo Alto in 1967, from a gentleman named Dante Perfumo. He was an Italian musician who just collected all kinds of instruments. I went down and visited him and I remember he had almost like a chicken coup garage out the back and he had all these woodwind instruments from the 1800's that were tuned before they went standard 444.
The bass is a big triangle and at the bottom is probably 40 some inches. It looks like you're playing a giant flat iron.
FlyGuitars Did you ever use it in the studio?
Jack Casady I recorded a number of songs with it with The Jefferson Airplane. I recorded 3rd week at the Chelsea on it and I even did a whole album with Canadian guys called The Good Brothers and it just has one of the most beautiful acoustic sounds. It was EAD and then I had Rick Turner narrow the nut a little bit and add on a different metal bridge so that I could convert it. It's still gorgeous to this day. I could walk over and hit that instrument, and the neck is like a tree trunk (laughs). The thickest part of the neck I think is about two inches deep.
FlyGuitars Oh really?
Jack Casady It's just monstrous and it is just a find of a lifetime. That instrument to me is more precious than anything manufactured. I've got other things, I've got a 1911 mando bass and I've got an oddity made in China in 1906; a copy of a Vega banjo but it's a bass banjo. It's got a 44 inch scale on it and a 36 inch cow hide drum head weighing 88 pounds (laughs)
FlyGuitars (laughs), Crikey!
Jack Casady Crikey indeed, and of course it sounds like a big banjo. I think of myself as a very closet standard bass player but I have 1938 Gibson Double bass. I talked to Walter Carter about this and Epiphone was the big one that started making ply wood basses in the 40's but Gibson made some before the war and in '38 they made a number of basses that they sold up to the war. It's labelled a 1940 but Walter Carter says from the label on the inside of the bass he thinks that probably the wood was brought around '38 and maybe the bass was assembled before '40 and sold as a 1940 instrument, and they're very rare and it sounds beautiful. It's tiny, it's a very small ¾.
FlyGuitars Does that see a lot of use?
Jack Casady I'll thump around on it but you know it is a big violin and the intonation is of the essence, I just don't have the power in my hand. I'm good for a few minutes at a time but that's about it.
FlyGuitars Did I read somewhere that you and Allen Woody were working with a company to make basses at one point?
Jack Casady There was a gentleman named Lane Poor and this was in the early 90's. He made this bass that kinda looked liked an ironing board. A bit uncomfortable to play as a bass but you know how they had experimented with the way basses look in the late 80's and 90's. He worked also with a fretboard sculpted so it had no frets. Part of the neck itself was sculpted. It would just go up and back down again like a mogul or skateboard ramp. He made this instrument and we worked on a design together but before he could keep his company together, again like so many, so tough and a lot more expensive than he thought then his company went down. He made a very interesting bass and a very good sounding bass. Kind of a brutal sound, wasn't a sweet sound on the instrument but it certainly got a good, almost an electronic sound but it really recorded well.
FlyGuitars Oh right.
Jack Casady Allen was working on a design too so he was going to do one with Allen and do one with me and we met at his shop in Massachusetts and talked it up for a while and things got as far as a couple of wood mock ups but it didn't really get it up and running. He got fine line drawing and blueprints.
FlyGuitars So there was never an actual bass finished?
Jack Casady There's no actual instrument.
FlyGuitars Talking of Allen, obviously he had an Epiphone signature bass. Did you and he talk about the basses you were working on with Epiphone at all?
Jack Casady Yeah we did. Gov't Mule and Hot Tuna did a tour together and our paths crossed from time to time and we got a chance to talk with him about bass stuff and all of that. He was a very sweet gentleman, an extremely sweet guy and I certainly enjoyed his company. Warren and I did that project you know the tribute.
FlyGuitars The Deep End?
Jack Casady Yes and then our paths have crossed in a number of shows together. Warren is a consummate professional and has such a huge knowledge of music in general. That's how I met and used Matt Abts on my album Dream Factor, through doing some work with Warren.
Fly Guitars would like to thank Jack Casady and Graham Fieldhouse for making this interview possible. Additional thanks go to the following photographers: Sam Holloway, Jim Mead, John P. Rossignol and David Sidle. Also to Rob van den Broek and John Lessick. Jacks new album with Hot Tuna is out in Spring 2011 on Red House Records - check it out!