A Musical History
I began playing bass at the age of nine as a member of my parents Hawaiian band “Echoes of the South Pacific”. I played upright bass and sometimes the bottom four strings of an electric guitar, before finally buying one of the first Fender electric basses, a brand I have stuck with ever since. My father played electric steel guitar and my mom played electric rhythm guitar. Both of my parents sang. My two sisters also danced authentic Hawaiian hulas and occasionally joined in on ukelele.
As far as I know, there was only one other electric bass player in all of Marin County when I started playing rock and roll in the mid to late fifties. How times have changed! Now there seems to be a bass player on every block!
I began playing rock and roll with local rock guitarist, Ron Story, and drummer, Bob Burgan in a band called “The Invaders”. I was also studying string bass in the Tamalpais High School orchestra, where I had the good fortune of meeting up with keyboardist, George Duke. Duke was already playing Miles Davis tunes while I was just learning how to play “Walk Don’t Run”! Duke made me aware of jazz bassist Scott La Faro who played with the Bill Evans Trio. It is interesting that many years later, I had the pleasure of actually meeting Miles Davis, who commented that I played a lot like Scott La Faro... a compliment that I will never forget! George Duke later went on to become a very successful L.A. record producer and also released many solo albums in the funk/jazz vein. It was an honor to have known him.
Not long after ”The Invaders” split up, I met up with a local neighborhood kid, John Cipollina, and we formed the “Swingin’ Deacons” blues band. We played mostly cover songs by artists such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and other blues masters. We performed at local teen dances at Mill Valley’s Outdoor Art Club, The American Legion, and Brown’s Hall. John later went on to form the well-known San Francisco rock band “Quicksilver Messenger Service” and grace the covers of “Guitar Player Magazine” and other industry publications.
In 1962, after a short stint with the “Chord Lords”, a band covering Ventures and Mickey Baker type material, I joined my high school buddies, Bill Champlin and Don Irving, to form “The Opposite Six”. This band was fortunate enough to back up various touring acts as they passed through Marin County. Among them were the Righteous Brothers, the Dovells, Dick and DeeDee, and the Coasters.
It all ended in 1965 when my draft number loomed. I opted to join the U.S. Navy and spent the next couple of years aboard the U.S.S. R.K. Huntington, a destroyer based out of Mayport, Florida. I had a good friend aboard ship, a man named Larry Perry, who actually had a cheap bass and let me play in exchange for a few lessons! I also picked up harmonica and began singing blues and soul tunes in various black clubs that Larry had turned me on to in the Jacksonville area.
When I got out of the Navy, I joined up with a woman who I had seen perform before entering the service and had vowed to work with ... Lydia Pense, a four foot ten blonde dynamo who sang the entire James Brown at the Apollo Theatre album note for note. Her band “The New Generation” had just broken up and out of it San Francisco R&B band “Cold Blood” was formed. Unfortunately, my many years of partying was catching up with me, and after three years with “Cold Blood”, I was replaced by bassist, Rod Ellicott and, so, I never appeared on any “Cold Blood” recordings. I did, however, have the good fortune of getting my song “Bittersweet Soul Music” recorded by fellow soul mates “Tower of Power” for their album entitled “We Came to Play”. (Thank you Peter Sultzbach, and R.I.P!)
In the early seventies I moved to L.A. to work with an old “Opposite Six” buddy, Rich Rogers, in their band “Pure Love and Pleasure”. I had also become good friends with female rockers “Fanny”, “Birtha”, and former “Cold Blood” drummer, Jacqueline Furman. Jacque was playing with feminist singer, Holly Near, and I soon joined in on bass. Jacque later left to play with Glen Yarborough and the Limelighters, but I stayed on with Holly and co-produced two of her albums “Live” and “You Can Know All I Am”. I wanted to record an album for Holly called “Near Hits”, but that idea never quite caught on! I must say, though, that this was one of the most rewarding periods of my life as I explored my connection to the womens movement and later to my own inner search. I am nearing completion of my album “Set the Wild Man Free” based on my experiences with “men’s work” here in the Seattle area. This album never would have happened without the influence of Holly Near, Jacque Furman, June and Jeannie Millington, Cris Williamson, Margie Adam, Tret Fure, and all the other fabulous women I met during that period of my life. I send my greatest thanks and love to all of those women. They gave me more than they will ever know.
In the mid seventies, after sending my song “For Imagination’s Sake” to my old buddy, Dave Schallock, bassist for “Sons of Champlin”, Dave called to say he was leaving the “Sons” and asked if I would I like to take over his spot for a while. The Sons had recorded my song on their album “A Circle Filled with Love”, and I was enlisted at the end of that project to play on two cuts, “Slippery When Wet” and “Follow Your Heart”. I spent the next three years back with my old buddies, the Sons. They recorded my songs “Doin’ It For You” and “Love Can Take Me Now” for their album “Loving Is Why” at Colorado’s Caribou Ranch before the band finally disbanded. They have recently reformed with new members. Also, most of the old “Sons” albums have now been re-issued on CD.
One day in 1977, while I was still residing in Los Angeles, I just happened to be sitting in the office of, then booking agent, Glenn Ballard, when a call came in from Davey Johnstone of the Elton John band. He was looking for a bass player to do a tour with Kiki Dee. Glenn said “I just happen to have a great bass player sitting right here in front of me.” Davey said “Send him over”, and just like that I spent the next year touring the U.S. with the Kiki Dee Band. It could have been any of a thousand bass players that got that gig. Funny how things happen when you least expect them, and what an honor to play with Kiki and the great guitarist Davey Johnstone!
In the early ‘80’s I moved to Seattle, Washington where I joined up with a little R&B band called “Annie Rose and the Thrillers”. That band linked me to all the great Seattle musicians and singers, and I began to concentrate more on my writing and recording skills. I learned recording engineering from my old friend Rich Rogers at Woodmont Beach Studios, and with the advent of digital recording, I was finally able to put together my own home studio Holy Crow Studios.
I produced several albums for Northwest childrens artist, Tim Noah, including the sound track for his Emmy award winning video production “In Seartch of the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo!” Thank you, Tim.
I currently have several of my own CDs available (See CDs page) and I am working on several more. Next up: “Set the Wild Man Free”, and album of music coming from “the male experience”, and “Faith Bass”, songs of religious satire set to the bass!
I am currently performing in the Seattle area with blues/rock band “Snake Oil” featuring two great guitarists, Rod Cook and Mark Riley. I also perform locally with The Mark Riley Trio, Steve Raible and the Newscasters, Blues to Burn with Annette Taborn and Curley Cooke, the Mixx with Steve Curtis, and the File Gumbo Zydeco Band.
Look for my new funk/rock duo “House of Reprehensibles, a working class act” with drummer Marty Vadalabene... coming soon to a venue near you.
Love to you all!
Rob at age 9 playing string bass with