I paid little attention to music as I grew up. My Dad had an eclectic mix of records that we played on the hi fi. This was a console with a 12” woofer and some tweeters. It was a tube based unit and had a turntable mounted in the cabinet. It was a beautiful piece of furniture, and the sound was exquisite. So, on the rare occasions that we listened to music, it was Barbra Streisand, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Henry Mancini, the Ventures or Tchaikovsky. I told you it was an eclectic mix. As my brother Mike got older, he got bit by the Rock & Roll bug, and started to listen to Chicago, Ted Nugent, the Stones, Who, J. Geils, Bob Seger, the Allman Brothers, Johnny Winter, and all those other iconic bands of the 1970’s. It wasn’t until Kiss released their Kiss Alive! album in 1975 (I was 14) that I showed any interest. Who doesn’t like Rock and Roll All Night? It was the first album that I bought, and I brought it home from Grinnel’s where I had picked up the double album set for the special low price of $4.99. It was then that my life was changed. As I looked through the bonus 8 page full color glossy booklet that came with the Alive album, I noticed that Gene Simmon’s guitar only had 4 strings. So I said, “Hey Mike, that guy’s guitar only has 4 strings. What gives?” His reply would forever change me: “That’s because it’s a bass, stupid!” He then proceeded to point out the bass riff in Rock and Roll All Night, and from that moment until this, I listen for the bass part in any music that I listen to. I was hooked. I was completely infatuated by the bass. It was by far the coolest instrument in the band. Partly because Gene Simmons played it, but it was a lot more than that. Way more. This thing was deep. It was low. It was authoritative. It had the coolest parts, no matter what song it was. “Why didn’t bass players get more credit?” I wondered. No matter. It made no difference if they were largely ignored. They were clearly the coolest guys in the band.
I had toyed with the idea of playing drums. They seemed easy to learn and pretty cool as well. My mom informed me that we couldn’t afford drums. I dinked around on a pretty awful 6 string guitar we had at home, but it was too difficult to play. The action was terrible and the strings were about 8 years old. I decided to build a bass. I had read that John Entwistle of the Who had built himself a bass, and I thought it couldn’t be that hard.
It was. My building stopped at a cardboard and wood faux Gibson EB-3 bass that I would wield as a Kiss Mime with my friend Mark Czajka (a friend from St. Bede’s). It is too embarrassing to relate how we would stand in front of some big moving boxes which served as amps. We even scrawled Marshall on them. I was Gene Simmons, Mark was Paul Stanley, and his little brother Matt (Pockets) was Peter Criss. It was all so innocent, but really, really lame. No matter. Rock and Roll fantasies were not to be dictated by logic or propriety. We spent hours on our show. It later occurred to me that if I were to spend my time actually learning to play bass I would be further ahead. This brilliant bit of rare coherent thinking was to serve me well. I decided to buy a bass.
I started looking for a cheap used bass. I didn’t look for long. Rick Bogoni was a classmate at Groves High School, and he was selling a Jazz bass copy with a cheesy little amp. I bought them both for $40 in May of 1977. I was 15. Since I really didn’t have much of a social life, I began to spend a lot of time with my bass. I played it by the hour. I listened to music, and played along with records. I bought a Mel Bay book. “Mel Bay’s Electric Bass Method” by Roger Filiberto. It had a picture of Roger, who was a middle aged guy in a coat and tie playing this really cool Fender Jazz Bass. Talk about your contradictions. Anyway, the very basics of reading music were all there. I learned to read music and where the notes were located on my bass by reading that book. The book had very clear photographs of where Roger put his fingers to play certain notes. I never had a bass lesson in my life. I learned from Roger Filiberto and playing along with records.
Much has been said about Helen Keller’s miracle at the water pump. This is where Annie Sullivan spelled out the word water into Helen’s hand while pumping water. Suddenly, Helen understood from her infancy as a sighted child what water was, and that Annie was spelling out the word in her hand. That day changed Helen’s closed, lonely world forever. Without meaning any sacrilege, I can recount my own miracle at the water pump. I was playing my bass, with mild success. I was working through the book, and then it happened. I came to the “Boogie in C” exercise. It was a straightforward 12 bar blues tune in C. It used open strings everywhere it could. I worked on that riff for hours. It started to make some sense, and then it all came together. I was able to play the riff smoothly with no mistakes. I understood how 12 bar blues worked, as I had heard it many times before. I could even ad lib a little bit on the riff. I was now a bass player. I could play along with others if I ever got the chance. I started to get really serious, and I would play as much as 10 hours in a day during that summer. It is all I would do. This continued through the school year. As soon as I came home, I would go to my room and play my bass. It became an incredible outlet for me, and an escape from the oppressive environment of school. My identification as a bass player was cemented. No matter what else I would become, I would always be a bassman.