Music is My Life: Bassist Nathan East | Episode 4 | Podcast
Take note. You. Are. Listening, to Berkeley. On lines music, is my life podcast. Where. We tag along for the musical journey of our interviewee. Who. In, this episode, happens, to be Nathan. East. Now. If you haven't heard of Nathan. East you. Have most, definitely, heard. Nathan, East you, just didn't know it. He's. Credited with playing based, on more than 1300, albums, but. That's just according to the allmusic.com, website. The. Real numbers likely closer to 2000. Maybe, even 3000, he. Estimates he's probably played on more, than 10,000. Songs, anyway. You do the map he has played on lots. And lots of songs that you know really. Well, he. Played bass on Michael Jackson's, bad album, on, most of Whitney Houston's, albums, beginning with her debut on most, of Lionel Richie's biggest hits, he's, the bassist on daft punk's get lucky, yeah. He's. Played with Beyonce, Aretha, Franklin, Stevie Wonder George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Barbra, Streisand the. List goes on. Since. 1991. He's also played in the band for play a bandy, co-founded, with Bob James Lee, written our and Harvey, Mason. Nathan. East also regularly, plays with Phil Collins and Eric Clapton both. Of whom appear on his brand new solo, album reverence. Out. On January 20th, on the Yamaha, Music Group, label. But. Nathan East first, picked, up the bass forty-seven. Years ago. We'll. Let him set the scene for you, yeah, I was 14, I picked it up, actually. In a church and. You. Know there, was a feeling, of, just. Kind of not gonna use the word power but there was just this. This. Feeling, of like wow I know this you know is it's. Kind of a it's kind of a spiritual, thing too you know we're you, get this instrument. In your hand and all of a sudden there's this liberating, feeling and. That. You you. Can kind of make a difference, in, in music harmonically, some kind of way so it was it. Was it was quite a revelation talk, to me about what, your awareness of the bass guitar, was, before. You ever picked, up the bass guitar, right well I had, a couple couple. Of influences, when, I was in. When. I was in high school I, would, go by and my brother David was playing with the with, the Big Ben and Gunnar. Biggs the bass player in there he I remember he had a Fender Jazz Bass and I. Used to stand outside the door and you could just hear the bass you know and supporting, all those horns and it was like heaven to me you know just to hear the. The register. Of the bass and and and they'd. Be playing Don Ellis tunes and and all these cool tunes anyway but. My ear would just go focus. On the bass and how how. Cool it wasn't and I'll never forget he he. Actually gave me a bass and. He. Sort of mentored. Me early on you. Know that's where that's where I kind of got, a big desire for big band music and just playing in an ensemble my, mom actually, took me to the pawn shop and we bought this little. $49. Short. Scale Japanese, bass and I'll. Never forget that either cuz it was like the big time and then then, when she went and took me to Manny's music. In New York City on 48th, Street and then we went and got a Fender Jazz Bass and I remember it had the plate over the bridge and the. Smell, of the case and it was just very intoxicating. You know do, you still have all those instruments you, know the very first one the the little short one I I don't have I had, been looking for that for a while but. I do have my first bass, mom bought me the Fender Jazz Bass and to. This day you know that's. Great and before that you were playing cello, is right I played, cello for three years in the junior, high school band you know that that was sort of my. You. Know the the the upright was a little too big I was a little, skinny guy and the violin and viola threw, a little too small so I picked cello just as, a nice and it's it is it's a great instrument that I love as well you know really. Good. Fine. Tuning ear training and so, but I remember making the switch, you know from tuning, it in fifths. To, tune. It right I actually used to use the cello like an upright I tuned it in fourths and and go play, little gigs at rehearsals with it as using it as a base.
That's. Great, and. Then then you joined a band right. Yeah. That at that point in in, high school I joined as, many, kind. Of school bands, as possible, and then I also was in a top, 40 band called power with. My brother and a few, of the other musicians. From school and, we. Were playing around town and that's how, we got the gig with Barry White because a year he hired our band for him a, local, thing that they did in San Diego and he. Enjoyed. The whole band so much he just hired all, of us to go tour you know so next, thing you know I'm 16. Years old, I'm playing the Apollo Theater, and Wow Madison. Square Garden, and Kennedy. Center with with with Barry White who was at that point you know his his career was pretty much on fire that, doesn't happen to most bass players two years after they start, playing. I'm. Learning, the notes on the thing. So. Describe describe, how that all came about it you know and and how you, know that must have been mind-blowing, well yeah when you're especially. You. Know when it's all new like then we're talking, about you know early 70s, so it, was all so new and fresh and so. And, when I say music is my life pretty, much you, know cuz right right, from then on it's just kind of been going and, that. Was kind of a. Introduction. To what it's like to play in a big arena and and. You. Know put, your tuxedo, on and play with love and limited orchestra and, so. It just ends up being, you. Almost, like grooming, you for what's what's about to come right. What. Was that first tour like as far as I mean was. It easy to pick up on on the stuff I mean that's that's some pretty musically, complicated, stuff he was doing there pretty much yeah it was it. Was one of those gigs where you, know there was there was music involved, in so we. All read music and, basically. It, was all those hits that he used to do so you, kind of know those anyway from playing them in bands, mm-hmm. So that that gig ends and then you. Knew that. This was your life at that point or talk to me about after, the tour what. Happens in your mind and, in your family and the. People you're playing with right, well pretty much you. Know you. Get, bitten. By the bug at that point and obviously. I'm. Still a youngster and and I had my, college years ahead of me so I decided, that you, know I may as well get every tool in. That I can put in my toolbox, so. That if I moved. To LA or New York or, wherever I'll, be, ready to go so that's when I decided to go to UCSD, and major in music and, that's. Where I got my bachelor, of arts degree in music yeah. Tell, me about that decision, to you know a lot, of people, in your, place I'd imagine when to say okay I'm a professional, musician now but. Was. It your own decision, to go to school to pursue, further. Musical, education or we're parents influential. In that oh yeah. I mean well you. Know from the parent's standpoint the, education, is always so important, and so, that was that was, something that just, needed to happen but at the same time I'm thinking to myself if I want to go. Be a session cat or or. Or. Anything serious, I don't, want it to you know one. Gig is just one gig you know so that's what. I think happens, to a lot of musicians were you, know you get on a good gig and then once, that's over it's, like okay, now what George. Harrison used to crack me up he used to say yeah, I do this I do this music thing in between my, gigs, as a waiter, at the restaurant. That's. Good, what. Was what was your what was your fallback if. It. Didn't work out what were you gonna do well at that early age. You. Know school is always, when. You're in school you're in the comfort zone of of the, institution, of of. A university, what have you so you don't have to and, actually. I've moved out pretty early on but my brother and I had an apartment together so, the. Rent wasn't too exorbitant, and we were living you, know living, within our means and, I. Thought, if I was able to get an education you, can teach and.
And Also he, got his pilot's license, so I got my pilot's license, I always thought, to myself that's another thing, that you can do with it it's like music it doesn't really seem like work you know flying planes around right and, so. But but I always you, know I remember. You know working at a men's clothing store and. When. I first got into college just kinda to pay the bills and combine. That with some gigs and you start you. Know one thing leads to another and, then I moved. To LA. Once. I got my bachelor's. Started. A master's program in bert bert-- turetsky one. Day said man I think you should move to LA and just start start. Getting on the earning you know start making money right. Right. About, end. Of, 1979. Early 1980, on. I moved. And started them started. Recording career right, looking at your credits is Dolly. Parton, is one of the first albums you play on yeah dolly part XE I was, very fortunate to get. Introduced, to gene page. Fantastic. Arranger, and he was doing. Everything he did all the Barry White records, but. He was doing you know Elton John and Dionne. Warwick, and so. A Dolly Parton was one of the gigs too that he was doing and, they, used to say if if he likes you you're gonna work you. Know you're, gonna work so yeah. We we got off to a great relationship and, and it, really was a blessing. To know a guy like gene because he he, just started calling me for everything, right right so he's, the one he's the one who he's, the one who made it happen yeah well I mean obviously your your playing and your demeanor, but, I. Mean. You look at your credits is it really, like. 2000. More. Than 2000, recordings, that you've played on you know I I. Find. It difficult to keep up now because when. You're going on 40 years when. You start doing the math and and, there, was a time when when, I was doing like you know 28, almost. 30 sessions a week you. Know like. It's like for, a day you know you just hear almost living in the studio right. You. Know back in the day when you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a studio you know in LA he entered, the studio and and hundreds, of projects going on at all times so. It. Really, was a fluid. Time for the music business and and, you. Know for those of, us that were fortunate enough to be in that circle, we. Were getting called I mean I was driving, just. You, know driving up and down Sunset, Boulevard you, know jump. In the recording, session, with Lionel Richie in the morning, and then be with Clapton and Bill, Collins at night you know it was crazy that is amazing, so now, when. You're doing that like 30 sessions a week do. You. I. Guess. Do you have the wherewithal to realize. Which sessions, are really special well, for, me every session was special whether it was a Hertz. Rent-a-car jingle, or I remember. Some of these jingle sessions you know you do, you'd, have an hour and you, do ten dozen. Songs and do they just peel them out you know he's you, had to just have your sight-reading chops way, up so. You. Know for me it, was just always exciting, to get a call you know I get, to play and do what I love doing the most so. Whether it's Dali, pardon, or or. Rent. A car commercial, or whatever I'm, just smiling because I'm you. Know I'm doing, what I love doing the most from. This time on you know from the early eighties when you're playing on all these sessions how. Much, of you are you bringing to it and and how much are you just you know trying to please. The artist and, it's. It's such an interesting thing, with, the base because it's it. Can be treated as so many different ways right I mean, the. And and with, all those experiences, every everybody, has a different way of looking at I can remember before. I moved to LA up coming, up to audition with. The Crusaders so the jazz Crusaders, and I and I was a big fan of those guys too. Larry, Carlton played guitar in the, band for a while but. The, primary group was sick super Joe. Sample and Wilton Felder and. They. Were auditioning bass players and I. Went up and and did, the audition and they. Sent me back home with my tail between, my legs if, I. Failed. Miserably and I couldn't figure out why cuz I mean I knew these tunes up, one side and down the other but they had this very specific, concept. About what they wanted from a bass player and they sat, me down and explained, the, Houston, funk and and, what they look forward how the bass should walk up to this and down to that and long, story short they, called, me to record for one of their albums and I, wasn't. Available and they waited till I got back into town so I thought oh man. That's that's kind of a happy. Ending to the story that I was. Auditioning. For them that, would have been around 1979.
So, As before, your big grand entrance. Yeah. It. Was kind of like a sort. Of an unknown, guy and I mean. I did I didn't, change the way I played any but but. To get back to your question earlier and. You. Always, keep. The most important, thing is. The, song you know that's that's. The most important, thing I think for the bass and you listen to the singer you listen to the melody, like. Jack I used to say learn the melody and then that lets you know what to play underneath it you know so even instead. Of trying to inject my own voice, and. Personality. What what I was really focusing, on is just what is right for this song and what. Can i play that when I walk out of this studio. There's. A really good chance that I'll, get a callback to come back that, kind of was my process, so. Now when. You get to like the early 80s and you're like playing with Lionel. And the pointer sisters and, and. You. Start to hear. The, songs you've played. On on, the radio, did. You ever you. Know were you playing so much that you ever didn't. Know that one of your bass lines was you, know something you didn't know you played on or anything, well. You know it happens a lot I mean obviously. You. Know first few years it's. Just you you're riding around and then once you once you hear something like all my friends used to say hey here's. Something they played on you know yeah, they, used to bass to tease me because later on. They'd. Say hey, here's something they didn't play on. Giving. Me a hard time at. The head. But. But yeah to, this day it's it's always exciting I mean I heard my song lifecycle, on the radio the other day from, my new album and it. Does I got all choked up because it, was like. You. Know this thing you created, and it. Just it just kind of still you. Know makes my heart go pitter-patter, when when I hear it right and that's an. Especially, different thing because that's not just your base that you're hearing of that one you're hearing your voice which is, a. Whole. Different story a whole different story and so I feel. Really excited that at this stage in my career after. You. Know after so many years three three and a half going on for decades that. There's still something that, really. Is fresh and exciting and. Makes me even you, know it's kind of still, new and it's, really again, you know when, we talk about it being music. Is my life it really has been is there ever anything that comes up that somebody says hey. You know, you played on this yeah, there there, was there was one thing I think it was them one. Of my friends, called, me the other day and he from, this film, this, animated, film sing the. End song. I think was don't you worry about a thing by Stevie Wonder and the guy was raving, about the production and everything. Really, you know and then he sent me their youtube. Link and I. Played. On that and sure enough every. Member played on that but we recorded, it over a year ago so you, know when I'm in the car with the kids and something, comes on that I played you know they're. You. Know and it's it's always exciting it's and and. Again it's it's a it's a big fun part of life you know didn't you celebrate, something that you you do from the heart and that's. What I appreciate about the, Grammys were you can't really compare you, know okay the best, instrumental. R&B song, is you know I mean everybody's. Just pouring their hearts out but I do appreciate the fact that they acknowledge, the. Work that we do and. There's. Something that celebrates. What, we go in and do every day you, know for a living we.
Love It you, know we we. Would do it then, and most of us I think would do it until til we can't anymore you, mentioned your family and your kids and his, music, always in your house yes. Music cuz I always in in a house my wife and, I have. Been married for coming, up on 22 years and. We met at UCSD, very. Connected through music she she went on and became a physician. But. Loves music, you know so when, and when I bring the tracks home from an album that I'm working on and we, put it you, know I can always tell if it's good or not if she's dancing, around the room and it puts, a big smile on her face it's, you. Know I can check that one off that it got, the. Person's, approval, that I think the most highly of you know and what, song did you guys dance to at your wedding what was your first. Dance but, we actually. It. Was, another. Kind, of blessing to. Have some. Friends my in my friend Lionel Richie was at the wedding and and Richard Marx actually played now and forever I will be your man you know so that was that. Was a that, was a very special wedding song for us and we, got married right in our house in. In. Tarzana so, it. Was beautiful and greg, phillinganes he, came in and played some some. Pianos. There. Very, special day okay now, tell me a little bit about playing with your son that must be something, else yeah it's um, it's for. Me it's like it's. Right up in there the, category, the the miracle, category, in the first year changing, this guy's diapers, and loading. Them into a car. Seat, and. And and, the next thing you know you're playing these sophisticated, harmonies. With a minute and it's it. Goes by so quickly and he, played on my first, CD, we covered. Yesterday yeah and then we we did over the rainbow for the second CD and every. Time he came in and nailed it play it was was prepared, and. Not. Only am. I proud that he's my son but he's just so musical, yes great. Ears it's perfect, pitch and most. Importantly, he just has so much heart when he plays so. That's. The you. Know as a father you just couldn't be more proud and it's, just for, it for me yet it's just another blessing that I'm so grateful for and, did you teach him he, studies at a school called piano play music, systems here, in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles and, the. The, cool, thing is these were arrangements, that they had him working on anyway so oh wow, it's like anybody what, are you working on any and came up with these hip arrangements, and I'm going yeah. Yeah. Very. Very, grateful. For what they've, been able to accomplish, in and. They. Keep pretty busy over there too great, and now as you've said you've played, music. For four decades and you've. Played with a lot of legendary. Musicians. From previous, eras, and, now. You're playing with younger musicians as, well so, what, is your outlook on what's in store for the future well, I think we're at. We're. At one of the most exciting, places and music I think we've ever been, and. My. Son actually, no I he. Had me put up that snarky. Puppy video on YouTube the other day and his, dad check this out he, played it for me blew. My socks, off you know and Cory, Henry took a solo that like I'm still recovering from and. So. For. Me you know, and. Then there's Jacob Collier, and of. Course Esperanza. Sees. She's. Amazing. You know and, so. You see these these. Shooting. Stars you know coming. Out and and I'm just so excited about the. Fact that people. Still get it people, still love music. Young. Musicians. Are coming up and and they're pushing that envelope I mean you, know some of these guys I would never jump, in the ring with some. Of those guys with some. Of these guys I would, never I would never step in the ring with in some of these guys. Absolutely. Kidding. I mean, man, there's some monsters, out there. I. Mean. I try, to I try to play a good song you know they try they come, up with a good, part for a song but I mean there's dirty. Loops and all, these guys I mean these these kids are not playing you know they're they're, really taking. It to another level which which makes me really happy and really proud well. Let's talk for a minute about some of the musical, legends who have gotten the ring with over, the past four decades. Beyonce. Aretha George. Benson, Eric. Clapton, who, you've played, extensively, with. Phil. Collins and there's, obviously the, song that you wrote with Phil Collins and Philip Bailey easy, lover. And. A. Lot of people who aren't with us anymore, Barry. White who, we spoke of earlier Michael. Jackson, Whitney Houston, Donna. Summer yeah. It's. Funny you should mention Donna, Summer because I just, recently. Thought about you know how great a boy she had and I was I was trying to figure out who could sing a song that we're doing and she, was one, of the names that popped into my head and, I thought to myself it's, just the same that I can't just pick up the phone and call her and Maurice.
White Is, another, one and those guys that this D was like a brother and a mentor to a lot of us, and the. The news of his death just, you know kind of took the wind out of my sails but yet so many people the. 2016. Was really, a tragic. Year for loss in this business you know with Glenn. Frey and Prince and and all these young peopie i was remember. The street I was driving when I got the call about Michael, Jackson and so. That's. One of the reasons. I wanted to pay reverence to some these guys I did two or three in fire songs on the new album and for, me even though they're gone they. Still, kind. Of I just like their spirit, is right, here so it's. Just it's, just sad not to be able to pick up the phone and call and check in and say hey I'm, very blessed, to have said that I that, I played on an Earth Wind & Fire album there's an album called touch the world maurice, called me and i. Was. First. Of all i was i was horrified because. Verdine, white is, he's. You know one of my heroes and i can. Remember seeing those guys when i was when, i was a kid and there he was he had his shirt off he had a white face you know I I just wanted to copy everything he did you know so he, became. He. Became like, a role model for me so when, you get a call to play on Earth Wind & Fire album. You think, wait wait wait, what, am I gonna do that he can't do but. It was a it was a fantastic. Experience and I'm sure it was just again, Maurice White was in that mode I love, the way he was always experimenting, and his mind was like stayed. Open so. The architecture, of the group changed, in many, ways throughout, their existence that's, great and. So but then who, you, know you have played with so many people is there anybody left that you have. Always wanted to play with. You. Know and. Prince was on that list so so. I, missed, that opportunity actually, Miles Davis, was on that list a while back okay. When. I look at you two I think oh man how cool would it be to play with those guys one. Time. And. Also. I'm a huge Pat Metheny fan, and we. Although we've we've kind of jammed together, informally. Played but we haven't done anything formal. As. James. Taylor as well we always joke about you, know doing something together but he has a great bad, Jimmy Johnson of course plays bass and musical, director and but. James, said it would be another. Guy, would love to play with ya. And, how. Did you get. To a point when, you're writing with Philip Bailey, and Phil Collins and you're writing with babyface, how, did. You, get, to that point in your. Playing where you're introducing. Songs or songs are happening through a jam or explain. That a little bit yeah with many, times I'm in the studio for instance with Philip Bailey's record we were in England we. Had recorded, for two weeks probably had you. Know a dozen songs maybe recorded, and on. The very last day or the day before the last day he still.
Looking For that kind of undeniable single, you know where where, the record labels just said we'll pick this you know so that was an invitation pretty, much to. Kind of go over the piano and start just, working out chords and then it literally was like one of these what, about this you know they're playing these chord, changes and then next, thing you know 20 minutes later we had this kind of skeleton. Of a tune at least enough, to make a track and so, but you know every, single way. Is different sometimes you're with a person and you know you think oh wouldn't it be fun to write together would, you like to write so there. Used to be a lot of that going on for, sessions and you know you're in this creative, environment, so it's, it's fun to be able to participate. On that level as well as just plain yeah. It's. Funny everybody, I talked to like I'm talking to Nathan East oh yeah what did he play on and I'd name a few songs and I say, oh he played on get lucky and every time I got to that one they'd say oh that's a really good baseline. What. Is the baseline that is is that the baseline that most people know you buy or is, there one that you wish they knew you buy well. It's funny because any and and get lucky was. Another, day in the life you, know obsession. For me they said another day I've you, know okay what can I come up with trying really hard to do. Something that serves the song and something that's interesting, and. And it. Got so much coverage, so much attention that, obviously. They're grateful for and proud of but. There's there's there's, some songs you know let's, he changed, the world they were clapped and that was when I was really proud of love. Will follow by. Kenny, Loggins way back in the 80s easy. Lover I like that bassline you. Know 101, eastbound from, foreplay you know these are kind of parts, that I'm really happy you know all the Anita Baker records, that I did which, you know from from the very first one with her, have. Have, parts that I'm very proud of, and. With, all these people that you have played with and, you know playing on your own and having. Old friends come in to, record. On reverence and and previous, albums what, do you look, for in, somebody. That you're playing with this is it you know the musicianship, the personality. Both well music. Is such a dialogue and, that's what we enjoy for. Instance when we're when. I play with for play you know we've been together for 25 years, now with Bob James and Harvey Mason. Now. Chuck lobe formerly. Larry. Carlton and Lee written our we're. Talking like. Some, of the top, finest, musicians ever, period. In the world and so the thing is is it's, always a dialogue, it's a it's a conversation that, we, have when, we all pick up our instruments, and and you start responding to what we're hearing and, that's. One of the things I always emphasize on, the young players because you can sit in your room and you can practice you your licks, and come. Out and be ripping, and ruin but it. Means so much more in the, context, of a, dialogue with some other musicians, and and so, and I've, been very fortunate to play, with great musicians throughout, my career, mmm. And which which. Every time helps you learn and you, know, to this day you pick up you, pick up little things as. You go working. With Michael Jackson as compared to working with Bob Dylan as, compared to working with Lionel, is there a through line in the, way that they work and in the, they would have with the musicians, and the songs yeah. I think, everybody. You know the regardless, of genre. Or. Instrument. It's. Kind of like they're bringing a piece of their heart with. Them you know so when you're sitting in the room with Eric.
Clapton And BB King you know. Which, by the way two of the guys with the biggest hearts I've ever played with you know it, just comes through in their music you know and then it doesn't have to be flashy OneNote, you know will will. Move you and then move you into another. Direction, and and it kind, of determines, what you what you play o most. And most. Important. Advice. That I that, can give to young musicians in it and I got the same advices, is to listen you know because if you listen to what's going on around you it's almost you, know the blueprint of what you should be doing and especially. In in an environment, and like in the studio where you're making a record and I mean, you really, really got to listen to what's going on when you go in and. You know it's you know a pop recording. Do. You approach that differently, than something that's very complicated, yet, when, I when I go into record I, literally. Use. Each. Session. As an opportunity, to to. Create what the best part is for whatever song I'm working on so I kind of it's, just it's. Just a series of songs that there's, probably, been, well. Over 10,000, songs since. I started, or. Recordings. Where you just okay here's one piece of music you okay you listen to it and, the. Only, thing I'm thinking. About when I listen to this song is what is the absolute best way, to support this what's the best pace part what's the best thing I can play for this song and, you. Know I keep I keep, carving, ideas, out until like until I get something that I feel is a it's perfect for the song so that's that's. Kind of what I've spent my life doing for, almost. The last 40 years is a song, by song. Session. By session just, just. Trying to make. Sure you leave some good notes behind Nathan. East, leaving. Some good notes behind. Well, leaving, a lot of good notes behind actually. Thank. You for listening to the music is my life podcast. I'm Pat Healy. Visit. Us online at. Berkeley.edu. Slash, take note. Talk. To you soon.