Bass Management: Tracking With Jackson

Paul Jackson is a legend—a force of nature that, during his solo work and tenure with the Headhunters, shaped how musicians view jazz, funk, and fusion bass. Recently, Jackson entered San Francisco’s Potrero Post to track the funky Detour to Oakland by the EastBay Messengers with engineer/producer Jerry Stucker.
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What was the main signal path for the EastBay Messengers sessions?
Stucker: Paul splits his signal between a direct line going into Pro Tools via a Countryman direct box and a Roland V-Bass synthesizer. This gives him the ability to transform his sound into whatever he pleases down the line, while still maintaining some level of clean, unadorned tone direct from his bass. Typically, there is no compression or limiting, as Paul likes to be in control of his own dynamics, and he isn’t comfortable having to change the way he plays in order to work with dynamics processing.
Jackson: I go for a very balanced hand-to-hand technique that documents the fine details of my sound, so I want few effects and things compromising what I’m playing.
Stucker: Actually, one of the most critical aspects of the “signal path” and recording process was getting a perfect monitor mix in the control room, because Paul hates wearing headphones. We struggled for hours to get it just right. Paul wanted the drums louder than the rest of the band and his bass, so that he had to work harder to get the tone he wanted. It’s very much akin to what he likes to do onstage.

Can you detail your bass?
Jackson: This is the ESP Paul Jackson D bass + C Part 2. Its name is Mishiko. My first one was named Geraldine, after the Flip Wilson character. Although it has five strings, it’s actually played as if it was a 4-string bass. I just like using the extra string to play drones. The Roland V-Bass interface is built right into the bass, as it is a piezo system, but I made sure they used some good wood, too. As far as I’m concerned, the nature of the bass is to produce a good sound without any electronics.

Many sessions these days lay down a direct track, an amp track, and an effect track for the bass. Why didn’t you use an amp?
Jackson: I’m not against amps— my favorites are from EBS. They have a beautiful sound. But, in the studio, I want a flat sound—no amp coloration. This philosophy came from my early days of playing acoustic upright bass, and it has kept with me.

How did you construct the bass tracks?
Stucker: A favorite technique of Paul’s is to record his bass lines in sections, and then create a whole track out of the parts. We would record the verses with all the ideas and playing styles he had in mind, and then mix and match them across the song. Typically, he would use his direct bass tone for these parts. When we got the chorus, he’d often go for a completely different feel, and he’d bring in the V-Bass, as well. We would combine the synth’s vintage analog models and weird delays to get a unique—and sometimes very odd—sound that we would put behind the original clean bass parts. The blend is absolutely gone.

How can a bassist prepare to deliver his or her best performances in the studio?
Jackson: The main thing is to love what you do, but, after that, there’s no replacement for practice. I still practice after all these years because I always want to know what I can get from the instrument—and that means using my hands, and no effects. You can make a bass sound like anything in the studio, but great bassists deliver everything a track needs with just their heads, hearts, and hands. This is also why it’s still important for bassists to listen to the players who came before them. The challenge of being fresh is to hear something solid from the past in a new way.