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Figuring Out The Frequencies With Living Colour Bassist Doug Wimbish

By David Carr, Contributor
Monday, August 2, 2010 @ 7:49 PM

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Doug Wimbish has been one of the hardest working bass players/musicians in the music industry. He seems to have jammed with just about everyone including Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Annie Lennox, Joe Satriani, Seal, George Clinton and Goth princess Tarja Turunen. In 1992 Doug went from sought after hired gun to full fledged band member when he joined the New York rock group Living Colour. The band released Stain with Wimbish on bass but then broke up in ’95. The band has re-grouped, released two studio discs (including last year’s stunning concept record “The Chair In The Doorway”) and is on tour this summer on the east coast and Europe. It has been a long, bumpy road with regards to Living Colour getting back to square one with a fickle American musical landscape. Wimbish exclaims, “You need to be in the ballpark in order to get a hit. You can’t just be in the dugout talking about how you can’t get a hit! You need to be in the game. The industry is cyclical. I mean damn, if you buy a shirt and keep it in your closet for 20 years, at some point it will come back into style! HA! We have been slowly nudging our way back. I mean there are people still finding out that we are back and that we have recorded a new disc. We are trying to delete the old program and create a new one. We are aligning ourselves with friends of ours who may be in a position to help the band. We are looking into some things like doing the Cypress Hill Smoekout in San Bernardino, California. The key is to stay in the ballpark and to not become dormant or stray from what we are doing. We need to keep focused on what we do and keep putting out quality shit!”

Staying focused seems to be one of the key roles Wimbish has played in the past. Doug is not only part of a cohesive rhythm section with drummer Will Calhoun (guitarist Vernon Reid and vocalist Corey Glover round out the band), but he has also served as executive producer on the bands last two discs. When asked to explain how he got this title, Doug simply states, “Well I think gravity pulled me into that position. I took the initiative to get things moving. Things are very different now within the band. Families and other projects have made time a bit more complex. I started to be the one to initiate rehearsals, log time, set up rehearsal space. We found ourselves in a situation where we wanted to be a band again but we didn’t have a major record label running the plays. We had to run the plays ourselves. Everybody has a position or role to play. My position organically became “director of ambiance”. I was in the position to ensure that certain things were going to happen.” While the band’s latest disc “The Chair In The Doorway” is possibly the most cohesive record they have done since 1988’s Vivid, the production credits list a wide arrange of individuals from hip-hop/alternative producer Count, to (old friend) Ron St. Germain. When asked how the “ambiance director” was able to deal with so many people in the studio, Doug relates, “It’s tough enough getting one person to walk in a straight line much less four people! Timing was everything with the making of the last record. We did a tour in 2008 that brought us to the Czech Republic. I had done some work at Sono Studios in Prague and I thought it would be perfect for us. I showed Will the studio first and he loved it. We showed it to the rest of the band and they liked it. I thought it would be great for us to be there and record without any distractions. It all worked in stages. We brought in some friends of ours; Mark Stewart, Andre Betts, Milan. It was great! Count came in and really pushed us. It took us a moment to adjust to him. He forced us to make some hard decisions! Ron St. Germain came in and gave us the clarity and patience we needed. For me, my role was to make sure all of the pieces fit together.”

As “ambiance director” (I have to say that title is growing on me) Doug was able to direct traffic well, in the studio but this is to be expected. Wimbish has logged serious studio time with many heavy weights in rock and he was part of the Sugarhill rhythm section on the Sugarhill Gang/Grandmaster Flash records. When asked to comment on his feelings about contemporary hip-hop, Doug laughs and replies,” I think I am the wrong person to ask about that, HA! I mean, some of the frequencies I hear in hip-hop on the radio are ok…The sonics are interesting but the lyrical content leaves me to believe that the genre has just run out of ideas! I mean how many times can you tell me how great you are? I can’t believe that. When I listen to a Bob Marley record I can believe him. I am just not feeling it.” Wimbish pauses for a second and then adds, “I do like the stuff I have heard by Janelle Monae and I have always dug stuff by Common, The Roots and Talib Kweli. It’s like everything else in music. It’s cyclical. It’s gonna get better…it’s got to!” Doug is more animated when asked to explain who has inspired him the most in the studio. Wimbish exclaims, “I think it would have to be my brothers in Tackhead. When I first met Arthur Baker, he was instrumental in me meeting Mick Jagger and the Stones and Bruce Springsteen, but Tackhead was the jumping off point to all of the experiments and adventures I have been a part of. Tackhead in my opinion are the unsung heroes. I mean there were layers upon layers of music we created and they have gone on to do so many things from working with the Stones to Eminem to the remix/studio work they have done with Living Colour. The Tackhead/Living Colour family has been a true adventure for me."

Family is a big part of what Doug Wimbish is all about. He is a father and grandfather and his having an extended musical family has led to an annual event known as “Wim-bash” at Sully’s Pub in Connecticut. “All it was supposed to be was a party in order to get together with good friends and family” Doug relates, “Whenever I traveled to Germany, the hotel would always miss-spell my name. They would put down “Wim-bash””. I always thought that if I ever did throw a party I would call it that! I just got to the point where I was seeing all of these great people on the road but I never had time to really re-connect with them so the idea was to throw a party. When people heard about it they wanted to play! It’s up to about eight or nine bands deep now! It’s great!” With so many projects and musicians who want Wimbish on their recordings and tours, one has to ask the question, what keeps the experimental bass player coming back to Living Colour? The good natured bassist sighs and states, “I honestly think this band has a lot more music to write and we have our best material ahead of us! We are really great friends now. We have experienced the highest of highs; we have dealt with the rougher spots and tired to avoid the lowest of lows. We have battled each other and dealt with our egos and through it all we have remained good friends. We are honest with each other and I am comfortable here! Truly, it’s the best band I have been in. That’s why I am here. It’s about communication and keeping the conversations going. It’s about creating a story and keeping people “buzzing”…it’s the frequencies.”

Doug Wimbish’s positive attitude is infectious. He may be onto something with regards to his “ambiance director” title! He has seen it all and done it all and he and his bandmates still have much music to give to the rock world. Living Colour may still be dealing with the chair in the music industry doorway but for now, if you are on the east coast this summer or in Europe, be sure to catch the band live and be prepared to marvel at how they adjust the frequencies, every night on stage.

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