Shaping the History of Rock Bass
By Paul Hanson
Tim Bogert is a true bass legend, as skilled at shredding as he is holding down the bottom end. His pioneering work with the late‘60s band Vanilla Fudge introduced a new level of passion and virtuosity to the rock bass lexicon, providing inspiration for countless progressive rock and heavy metal bass masters to come. For many years, he teamed with drummer Carmine Appice to form one of rock’s all-time great rhythm sections, and he’s worked with a who’s who of rock guitar icons, including Jeff Beck, Leslie West, Michael Schenker, and many more.
Tim and I taught at Musician’s Institute together, and I also had the good fortune to play guitar along with him on one of the Vanilla Fudge reunion tours. Recently, I called Tim to talk music and get some reflections on his storied career. You can listen to a podcast of the full conversation at BOSSUS.com/podcasts.
Here are some highlights from that conversation.
At what age did you start playing the bass?
My mid-teens, I guess. I was a saxophone player in a high school band, and one of the guitar players also played sax. When there were no sax parts in the tune, he would be playing guitar and I would be standing on the side looking at the pretty girls. [Laughs.] I wanted to play, so I learned bass as a [secondary instrument]. It became [my main instrument] somewhere in my early twenties, and that’s when Vanilla Fudge began to hit.
When did you meet Carmine Appice?
I had been playing at the Choo-Choo Club, which is where The Rascals had gotten their act together before they became famous. It was this happening little Jersey place in the middle of nowhere. Our band The Pigeons, had been playing there for ten weeks or something like that, and then Carmine’s band followed us [after our run]. We went to the club one night for something to do, and we saw Carmine. We were losing our drummer, and we asked Carmine if he would like to join the band, and eventually he did. About six to eight months later, the record hit.
That was Vanilla Fudge?
That’s what became Vanilla Fudge, yeah. We were The Pigeons, and that’s what the name would have been except that The Pigeons was already taken—there was already a band with that name so we couldn’t use it! [Laughs.]
Was [singer and keyboardist] Mark Stein in the band when you met Carmine?
Yeah. Mark and I had met in Rick Martin and the Showman, which was a show band. Back in the ‘60s, they had show bands in lounges and casinos and that sort of thing, and I met Mark in that group. I joined because, four or five years earlier, I had known their guitar player in high school. He called me up and [asked], “We need a bass player. Are you available?” I was, so I went on the road and met Mark; he was the keyboard player and one of the singers in the band.
Was “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” your first big hit?
That was the first hit, yeah.
When I played with you on a Vanilla Fudge reunion tour, I really learned a lot from you guys. Every night, at the end of your bass solo, you would bow and the crowd would always applaud and go nuts. So, I learned to do that myself. I think audiences must be wired so they can’t help but clap if I take a bow afterwards, even if I didn’t do the solo very well. [Laughs.]
There are some things one can do that’s sort of a “Pavlov’s dog” thing. You know, we’ve been going to shows and playing shows all our lives, and we kind of get used to certain shtick.
Of course, I learned a lot of musical things from you guys, too. When you were young, did you practice a lot?
Yeah, all the time. I didn’t have much of a social life except for my girlfriend, so I would sit and practice a whole bunch, because I really enjoyed playing.
Your playing technique is so even and your timing is really good. I always ask this question of good players: Do you think you have a lot of natural ability, or is it practice that makes you so good? Or, is it a combination of both?
I think it’s a lot of natural ability, and then if you practice a lot it’s like polishing something—it just gets brighter and shinier. Hopefully, you’re blessed with enough brightness to shine. [Laughs.]
Let’s go back to Vanilla Fudge. You guys were on top of the world—you had hits and you were selling out shows. Wasn’t Led Zeppelin one of your warm-up bands on a tour?
Yeah, actually two tours. On their first two American tours, they were our opening act. That was all the politics of Stevens H. Weiss, who was the manager of the whole thing. He was their manager, he was our manager…he was also Jimi Hendrix’s manager, which is why we opened for Jimi for years. It was quite a stable: Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, us, Herman’s Hermits, The Rascals, and Dusty Springfield. At the time, that was big stuff.
Were you living in England at that time?
No. We lived in the Long Island/New Jersey area, and we’d gone to England to “break” our first [album], because Stevens thought that that would be a good idea. Hendrix had done that and it worked. We went over, and then came back to a Number Three record, so it did work. That and a lot of payola! [Laughs.]
That’s probably very true.
Oh, it still is.
What was Jimi Hendrix like?
He was a nice fella and a playing fool. He was a nice guy—I enjoyed his presence, and I liked his company.
Did you ever jam with him?
Oh yeah. We would do sound checks together sometimes, because the fellas didn’t like doing sound checks. Back then I would jam at the drop of a hat.
That sound-check band must have been an amazing band.
It was wonderful. It was cool, just rippin’ it up. [Laughs.] It was a lot of fun. My twenties was an unbelievable time, it was just amazing.
Did you and Carmine form the band with Jeff Beck right after Vanilla Fudge?
We tried, but Jeff had had a very bad car wreck and was laid up for a period of time. In the interim, Carmine and I had a contractual obligation to do an album, so we put [the band] Cactus together. Just after we had finished the Cactus album and were ready to go on tour, Jeff calls up and says, “Okay, let’s go.” [But we were already committed], and we ran Cactus for about three years. Then we went with Jeff and that ran for maybe two years.
Was Jim McCarty the guitar player in Cactus?
Yes. He’s a fine guitar player. We were known for fast boogies. Carmine and I would just beat the heck out of it and Jim would wail.
What did Jeff Beck do during this period?
He put the [second] Jeff Beck group together, the version with Bob Tench and Max Middleton, and toured during that same period of time. At the end of the Cactus run, we formed the Beck, Bogert & Appice band and did that for a couple of years.
I remember hearing a story about an outdoor festival you did, and Carmine’s drums were on a flatbed truck…
That was Cactus. [Laughs.] It was actually Rusty’s doing. [Editor’s note: Rusty Day, the vocalist for Cactus.] I just went along for the laugh.
I understand that you released the parking break while he was playing.
Yes, we did, in the middle of Carmine’s solo. As [the truck] rolled down the hill, he disappeared from sight. [Laughs.] Oh, he was [angry]. All the mics went “sproing” and pulled his drums all apart!
This was in front of thousands of people at an outdoor festival?
Yeah. They had two flatbed trucks on either side [with] this stake truck in the middle as a drum riser. The rest of the band was on the two flatbeds in front of it, and [the stake truck] was on a little bit of a hill. I think this was in Memphis, if I remember right.
Right in the middle of the drum solo, Rusty just got this look in his eye. [Laughs.] Whenever he got that look, I’d follow him because I knew something wonderful was about to happen. [Laughs.] Oh man, it was funny. It stopped the show…I mean that was the end of the show, because they had to drive the truck back.
I guess Carmine didn’t think it was funny.
No. [Laughs.] He didn’t think it was funny at all.
Over the years, you and Carmine have been one of the best rhythm section teams.
And, of course, you’ve played with some great guitar players.
I’ve been lucky. You were one of them.
Whoa, thank you! When we played together, you had a BOSS pedalboard filled with BOSS pedals. [Editor’s note: Paul is referring to the BCB-6, the BOSS pedalboard available in the 1980s. The current BOSS pedalboard is the BCB-60.] Do you still use BOSS pedals?
From time to time. I always used the fuzz tone when I was working with the Fudge all those years. I was known for using the fuzz tone.
Was it an overdrive or distortion designed for bass?
No, it was just your regular guitar overdrive. Back when I started using them, they didn’t have the bass [version]. BOSS only had [a few] pedals available when I started using them.
Was it the yellow OD-1?
It was orange, not yellow.
That’d be the DS-1 Distortion. I remember you also had some other BOSS pedals, and you showed me a trick that Eddie Van Halen showed you.
Oh, the digital delay thing: you set it up to a triplet, then you play four over it and it comes out to arpeggiate a chord.
Eddie used it on the song “Cathedral,” where he swelled the sound with his guitar’s volume control. But you would use it while slapping on your bass and other insane stuff.
You try and make things your own. Your own style dictates what you can do with [something]. That’s what I could do with it, so I did.
For that effect, you used a BOSS Digital Delay. Did you also have a BOSS Chorus?
Yeah. It made nice chordal noises when I did solos, it would smooth things out a bit.
Let’s talk about recording. Do you have any tips for getting a good sound in the studio?
What I do now is use a direct input (DI) combined with a small amp with one 10-inch speaker that I overdrive as the tune requires. I use the DI for the bottom and the amp sound for the body of the noise.
So, you get the amp to distort?
Sometimes. It depends on what the tune calls for. If it’s a hard rock thing, a little bit of distortion helps.
When you were teaching at Musician’s Institute, did you see any particular thing that bass players exhibited that made them not as good as they could be? And is there some basic advice you can give out to bass players?
Wow. [Laughs.] The mind boggles. Okay, the serious answer: you need to practice a lot, because whatever God-given talent you have, you need to polish that to a shine.
The funny answer: A. You can polish all you want but you can’t polish a turd. B. There are 18,000 people trying to get your job. This is insane! C. All the above. Pick one. [Laughs.]