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Here’s the first installment in a exploration into the bass lines of one of my favorite artists, Prince, from my new blog, The-Groove-Academy.com .
Anybody who knows me knows all too well how much Prince and his music influenced my musical journey. I vividly remember spending every chance I could, underneath headphones, spinning records backwards until they where scratched all to hell trying to learn his bass parts. To be completely honest coping Prince lines is how I initially learned how to play the electric bass guitar. Ah, the good old days. It is for this reason that I would like to take this little trip down memory lane. Not only to prove that The Minneapolis sound is definitely about the bottom but, quite honestly, to see if I’ve really been playing some of this stuff the “right” way.
Now, a lot of people will say that Prince’s music doesn’t really feature the bass or doesn’t have prominent bass parts. I disagree…well, I agree and disagree. Prince’s bass lines are quite purposeful and nearly every one of them that I can think of serves functions in a very specific way even if it’s just becoming one with the drum kit, the thumps following the kick with upstrokes and other embellishments accenting other parts of the kit. The bass takes on a more percussive role and is so subtle on some tracks that you just feel it more than you hear it. I think that a lot of listeners their conclusions from hearing mega-hits like “When Doves Cry” and “Kiss, neither of which has a bass part. (Every live incarnation of each of these songs did but more on that later ). Prince’s music is ripe with killer bass playing and killer bass players, His Royal Badness included. I grew up in the Andre Cymone / Brownmark era but it is no secret that Prince himself played all the bass parts on wax back in those days.
His 1978 debut, “For You”, was very commercial sounding for the time and, during that time, bass was hot. Let’s take a look at two of my personal favorites from this record, shall we?
Why not start at the beginning – the commercial beginning at least; 1978′s “For You”
“Soft and Wet” was the first single and has a very disco feel and not anything like the guitar-heavy, greasy tracks that we’d hear from Prince on consequent records.
The “box” on the fingerboard is a Minor Pentatonic shape, one of the key ingredients of funk music. Rhythmically speaking, we can look at this as a 2 bar groove with a first and second ending. You could think of the foundation of this groove is in the first Measure and a half.
The first bar is pretty straight forward, following the kick pattern with crisp attacks on beat one, the + of 2 and beat three with a rest on beat four. The first and second endings have some signature funk characteristics the first of which is the dotted eight, sixteenth note figure on beat one followed by an eighth note rest, eight note figure on beat two.
Although the last two beats are a part of the groove one could also liken them to “fills” the lead back to the down-beat of the main groove. The first fill has an upward motion and the second has a downward line. Check it out :
Here’s the line in it’s entirety: (click on the image to see it in full view)
This is a meat and potatoes kind of groove. The synths follow this line pretty closely and I’m sure that this type of soli line was inspired by people like George Clinton who would often have all of the parts playing identical lines. There is, of course a B -section but, for now, I’m just covering the A section.
“Soft & Wet” Bass Groove.
Prince – killin on bass -