Next: Part 2: 1987 – 1994
I consider my entry into my chosen field was when I was 11 years old and chose the bass guitar as my new hobby. It wasn’t long until I experienced G.A.S. or “Gear Acquisition Syndrome.” I began electric bass lessons at The Sound Post (now defunct). My first bass was a rental, the brand was Nashville. It was a copy of a Gibson EBO. A pretty crappy instrument. After a few months I upgraded to an Ibanez, a knock off of a Fender Jazz Bass. In 7th grade I formed my first band – Starfire! John Pirruccello, David Traut, Glenn Silvers, and I. Glen got the job because he was a popular kid. He was cool! I don’t remember how well he could sing. It wasn’t important.
Also around this time, as I began to explore music, I began a life long thirst for classic basses. Eventually that led to me making what I considered (and others) to be some of the best production bass guitars the world has ever seen!
I quickly began to notice what bass guitars were being used on TV. Fender, of course was king and still is. Rickenbacker was also very hot in 1975-1976 with Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, and Getty Lee using the 4001. Rickenbacker actually made more bass guitars than traditional six-strings. A new brand was also very hot – Musicman. I soon possessed the knowledge that Leo Fender, after a 10-year non-compete was re-entering the market with this new brand. The bass looked simple but had many upgrades to the current state of the art. Born in 1976, The Stringray was the first production instrument to feature active electronics. Active electronics offered the user more control over tone and other electronic features, including the option of hearing the bass plugged directly into headphones. Very quickly I began seeing these instruments all over TV. This was as much to do with the fact that Fender was producing crap under the CBS management team. Accountants were basically designing the instruments.
Fenders at this time were so bad that they opened the door to direct knock offs by companies such as Ibanez and Univox. These knock offs were all better than what Fender was putting out and at a fraction of the cost. I had an Ibanez Jazz Bass. I paid $150 from the Music Gallery in Highwood Illinois.
Back to my quest… Paul McCartney was my favorite. I wanted A Rickenbacker. He also used the Hofner violin bass but that design never interested me. In later years I would finally try a Hofner and then hated it even more. It was a very delicate instrument that was to me hard to play.
In 1977 one of my brothers friend was a guy name Doug Minsentoni. A decent bass player who had a Rickenbacker in Mapleglo (Natural) for sale – the price $350. I sold my Ibanez to my 2nd teacher (who came to my house, smelling of a certain herb that I would know all to well within 2 years….
In 1978 I entered New Trier High School in Northfield Illinois. Besides being one of the best all around schools, New Trier had(and has) a very good music program. The recording Jazz Ensemble was the peak group for a high school musician. In order to play in the Jazz band one must also play in ether the symphonic band or symphony orchestra. This meant I needed to learn the upright bass as well as the electric. My first year I took lessons form a family friend and New Trier bassist – Mark Jiaras. He was a great player and I enjoyed working with him – more on this later.
In addition to lessons he also took me to a few (at least one) concerts. The Joni Mitchell band of 1978’s shadow of Lights tour featured the manic (documented) but brilliant bassist – Jaco Pastorius.
At this time, I began a true love affair with music. My listening was concentrated with my newest music love – the Grateful Dead and the whole genre of Jazz. Looking back I think I spent too much time with the Dead, but it was a blast. They would come into town and play the Uptown Theater for 3 nights in a row. A new friend, Jimmy Smith was always in the first 3 rows. It wasn’t until 3 years later that I was trusted enough to know the secret. The day tickets went on sale via Ticketron, Jimmy and crew would be waiting at a Milwaukee Ticketron ready to scoop up as many tickets as could be had. As much joy as the Dead gave me, I was missing out on much greater music because of my listening habits were so closed. It was Ghost in the Machine by the Police that finally unhinged my Dead-only habit. The Police, a band fronted by a bass player! Bass lines that sounded great and were relatively easy to play. I dove in and got all the Police records! I was then open to great music by other artists. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dire Straights, the Band, etc.
I was in the New Trier program as well as some newly thrown together rock bands with my friends. This would occasionally put me at odds with the band director – Roger Mills. One day he caught me playing rock music (which he detested) in a practice room at the school. The next day he made a point to stop the band and ask me – “Dan, how much rock do you do a day?” – by rock he meant music not crack. I nervously said, “I don’t know maybe 1 hour.” And he replied with, “Every hour of rock puts your jazz chops back 2 hours!” I promised to cut down on the rock.
Another plus of being in the recording jazz ensemble (and lower lab series ensembles) was that I could never show up loaded on anything to the 8th period Jazz band. No weed or alcohol. Many of my friends were into this, but it kept me sober – at least during the school day!
One of the biggest nights at our high school was the “Battle of the Bands”. It was held in New Trier East’s cafeteria each spring. The first one I competed in was in 1980. My band with Lawrence Yolles, Dean Boznos, and Jordan Berliant was called Sea Stones. Named after an obscure Phil Lesh (bassist from the Grateful Dead) album. We played all Dead except for one Allman Brothers tune. We won! We did not win the next two battles in 1981 and 1982. 1982 was especially difficult. We had a band called Juice & the Original Rough Riders. We were the favorite. We thought it was a done deal until one of our competitors – A Fine Mess performed A Day in the Life and blow us off the stage. They were great and we were humiliated!
Lawrence Yolles – the drummer for Sea Stones – and I didn’t speak much between 1981 and 2005. We had just drifted apart. No real reason, it just happens. He is the best drummer I ever played with (to this day). He likes my description of him as a cross between Jim Gordon and Jim Keltner. We reconnected in 2005 and have played together ever since. His brother Joe is just as amazing as Lawrence but on guitar rather then drums. They are a potent combination and I am lucky to occasionally share the stage with them.
Our longest running band was called The Cymbals. Put together in our senior year at the newly consolidated New Trier. Our senior year saw east and west campuses combined. Many students were unhappy with this configuration, I loved it and met what would become some of my best friends for years to come. My best friend from this combination was a trombonist and sometimes singer named Erik Knuti. We hung together during some very tough times (he flunked out of college and found himself with me floundering around the North Shore). Thank god we had each other! We put the band together. I guess you could consider us co-leaders. We played together for 3 to 4 years, then we took a long break and came back around 2001 with another co-led band we called Mid-Life Crisis.
In high school, we were issued Fender Jazz basses and upright basses from the music program. I still had my Rickenbacker which I kept until I had to have a fretless to sound like Jaco! My choice turned out to be an ultra rare Musicman Stingray with maple neck and fretless fingerboard. The problem with Stingray was that the fingerboard was unlined (as most production fretless basses were). Even the great Jaco had lines on his bass and was once a fretted model. I had gotten good enough without the lines to play outside of my bedroom. In my senior year of high school I purchase a beautiful Schecter, all rosewood, with a Fender jazz bass replacement neck. After a botched installation (my tech forgot that Musicman necks were 21 fret while Fender were 20) this bass, gap and all, became my #1. It wasn’t # 1 for long. In 1983, I played A Hammer Cruise bass at The Music Gallery where I had bought every instrument up until then. I had to have the Hammer. Besides being a great playing bass, it was lighter weight and was catching on with the pros. Even Sting had used one for a while. That was all the push I needed. I traded in my Stingray (with both necks) and was now a Hammer Guy.
New Trier had numerous amps so it wasn’t critical to own a great amp. Just after high school I bought a Sun Beta bass. It was heavy as hell, but sounded pretty good. I needed something lighter-weight so I bought a cream colored Musicman rig – head and cabinets. The tan color was way cool. In 1983 my car was broken into at DePaul and I lost all my gear – amp and bass.
Also in 1983, I started working for a sound company – Sun Sound – no connection to the Sunn Amp company. Sun Sound rented out P.A. systems for use at clubs, events, etc. We also started selling new equipment, although I may have been the only customer. I bought a lot! Tommy, the owner of Sun Sound pushed me into a great rig. A great rig if I were on stadium sized stages!
It really was a great system, but overkill. Ridiculous overkill. Somehow, I fit this into the families Pontiac J2000. I think I had to make two trips to every gig. Not a big deal since we hardly ever had gigs! I traded the whole rig at an incredible loss for an AMP head (light weight – maybe 20lb’s) and kept the Musicman 1-15. This rig took me all the way through the SIU years and into the Lakland Years.
After the break in of my car, I ordered a replacement Cruise bass, custom with ice pearl (metallic white) finish and EMG pickups. This seemed to take forever. I even visited the Hammer Factory to find out where my bass was. I saw it being painted. A few weeks later I had it. It was a disappointment. The EMG’s really didn’t sound great and the knobs they used didn’t fit properly on the pot shafts. It was amateur hour, but I had spec’ed it that way so I guess it was my fault.
After a few months with the white Hammer Cruise bass I fell in love with a G&L product called and EL Toro. I loved the trans red finish it was offered in. So as usual I ordered the bass from The Music Gallery and started the waiting game. After a month or so, I began calling the Music Gallery every day to see if it arrived. About 2 months later – it did! It was worth the wait. I loved this bass. So many great tones on one bass! It was an inspiration (of what was to come).
When the El Toro arrived I had decided to give fretless another shot. This time I had the Hammer de-fretted, which left the lines so I knew where to put my fingers! It had some problems. It was too lightweight and experienced large dead spots on the neck. It did work on the few tunes I chose to play fretless. Fretless in the 80’s was a very hip sound. I still like it – fretless that is.
After fumbling around for a few years and three colleges – Purdue, Oakton Community, and DePaul, I finally found a home (and a lot more) at SIU in 1985. I decided to go there to be in a band with my junior high friend and neighbor John Pirruccello.
I had a wonderful 2 to 3 years there. Playing golf during the day and playing music at night, it was paradise. I was in a few different bands, but my favorite was Synthetic Breakfast. We played an interesting mix of classic & current rock tunes. From the Byrd’s to King Crimson. We had a good following and usually drew somewhat of a full house. It was the only band that I have been in that played some original material. We even made a pretty good video!
Other SIU highlights – rooming and playing with Dan Shingle. He was and still is a great guy. We played together in the poorly named band Boom Scene. Boom Scene also featured Synthetic breakfast guitarist and funny man – John Reilly. We were not that good but we had a great time!