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Paul Ill

Paul Ill – Bass


I was 12 when I played my first professional gig. It was in front of my seventh grade classmates at the Munich American Junior high School, and I will be the first to cop to the fact that, although this world is a very different place now, as far as I’m concerned, not much has changed since then! I still play bass. I still manipulate tape recorders (only difference in that department is they’re my own and not my Dad’s…) And instead of filling my sister’s piano with little balls of tin foil to make it sound weird, I own a few synthesizers.

I love playing with Bill Ward; I absolutely love it. The music we create is deeply rooted in the heavy rock of Bill’s previous band (I often ask him, “So Bill, what’s it like to have been one of the two or three bands that invented an entire idiom?), and as the bassist and electronic musician / synthesist, I get to play in a way that’s not only perfectly suited to my playing style, but my philosophical bent as well.

Let’s talk about the playing first – as a bassist, I believe first and foremost in the groove and nothing but the groove, so help me groove. Whether it’s Donald “Duck” Dunn with Booker T. And the MG’s or Jerry Jemmott on all those amazing Atlantic sides {(check out King Curtis Live at Fillmore West) p.s. – Jerry … RIP and God Bless…}, the bass groove will just floor you. And what about Berry Oakley (another RIP and God Bless…), with the Allman Brothers Band. John Paul Jones laying it down serious like on The Lemon Song or the refrain in the Immigrant Song. Sir Paul McCartney circa Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s, or the great James Jamerson’s (RIP and God Bless again…), bass concertos that drive all those Motown classics? As far as the bass goes, it’s the groove and nothing but the groove, so help me groove!

Let’s not forget the contemporary masters – Tony Levin is my favorite right up there with Doug Wimbush, Manny Yanes, Neil Stubenhaus and Will Lee. Levin’s a phenomenon in his own right in that he’s got such a distinctive musical voice on a variety of instruments and his groove is just so deep in it. Wimbush reminds me of Hendrix: Neil and Will are masterfully musical and Manny is an unsung hero. He’s a monster grooveologist and very aggressive as well. And I owe great debts to Billy Sheehan, Chris Squire, Jack Bruce, Jack Casady, Bootsy Collins, Jaco Pastorious, Doug Pinnick, Stanley Clarke, Miroslav Vitous, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Paul Jackson, and Alphonso Johnson for lots of grooves, licks and riffs copped along the way. And just as important to my bass playing as anything or anyone else is John Wetton for his playing in King Crimson from 1972 through `74. I owe a huge debt to Wetton for the approach, feel, sound, and musical language he developed during that phase of his career.

Now there’s a term for you – musical language. My musical language is determined by my musical philosophies which in turn challenge me to develop in all areas of my life. So for me it’s about body, mind and spirit – their mutual and cohesive health and development. I believe that musicians, like all people, are conduits for love, and love is the will to nurture one’s own or another’s growth. So for me to groove like “Duck” Dunn, improvise like Tony Levin and exhibit original funkification like Doug Wimbush I’ve got to do what’s best for myself and the world around me in all areas of my life. Looking at things this way, I try to honor the aspirations of Bob Marley (“… judge not…) John Coltrane, Miles Davis (“… sound comes first … never finish a phrase…), Jimi Hendrix, Oliver Messian, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Kristoph Penderescki, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. It’s through these masters, who I believe to be divinely inspired, that I aspire to develop my own musical language. I have been deeply influenced by many of the lesser known artists I’ve worked with along the way. Just about everybody I’ve been in a band with has somehow left their mark on me – most particularly the late, great, Kevin Gilbert. R.I.P. and God Bless – he was one of the greatest musical talents of his (or any other for that matter) generation.

I had the great fortune of growing up in a very nurturing household under the tutelage of my older sister, Paula, (RIP and God Bless, I miss you so much and I know your light shines down upon me…), and the empowering love of my Mom and Dad. Paula was a prenatal pianist. She was born knowing how to play and I grew up listening to her practice her ass off. My Mom and Dad bought me a Marshall half stack when I was fourteen so I could sound like Jack Bruce. They let my bands practice in the basement and my Dad would requisition military vehicles to get our gear to gigs! My Dad let me mess (and I mean mess!), with his tape recorders and my Mom was always there to help with lyrics and provide inspiration. So, I am a product of all these experiences. At the age of eight, my folks sent me (along with my sister), to Baltimore’s Peabody Prepatory Conservatory where, since I was too hyper-kinetic to play an instrument, I studied ear training, music theory and conducting. That sure was a fun way for a third grader to spend his Saturdays! Eventually I ended up at the Berklee College of Music where I somehow earned a Bachelor of Music Composition and fell deeply under the influence of the great contemporary composer, Michael Gibbs. I also studied electric and upright bass with John Repucci, Rich Appleman and Neil Stubenhaus. But it was Michael Gibbs who really blasted my skull open to realms of musical possibilities. He really freed up my head via my ears, for which I am forever indebted.

It was during this time that I also developed my sort of “punk rock” approach to synthesis and tape looping. In this respect, I am influenced by the avant garde tradition (Xannakis, Stockhausen, Messian, Zappa, Varese, etc…), as the rock tradition, and fortunately, Bill Ward lets me have free reign in this idiom and transpose my electronic and musique concrete compositions into our songs. If you ever attend one of our shows, listen carefully as the lights go down – that’s one of my musique concrete tape experiments made from Bill’s interview excerpts and other found or created sounds you’ll hear opening the show.

In addition to Bill Ward, I’ve worked with other bands and artists including Mick Taylor (x Rolling Stones), Wayne Kramer (x MC5), Earl Slick (x David Bowie), and Julian Lennon. I guess for one reason or another these guys from cool, older bands really like me! But it’s Bill Ward that really takes the cake. What a drummer! Mega cool songwriter and a quintessential English rock vocalist. I’m honored to work with him. Bill lets me do all sorts of stuff – he calls my area of the stage or studio “the science lab”, but in all actuality, my approach is pretty intuitive, and therefore unscientific. I recently got my first sampler, the fantastic E-Mu E4 to be exact, so rest assured, pretty soon all hell’s gonna break loose!

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