Category Archives: Side Bar

Slow Train – A Bob Dylan song

Slow Train – A Bob Dylan song performed by Johnny Cox

It’s now been over a year since musicians in the UK were last able to play together with other musicians. So, I’ve recently decided to do something that I’ve never done before, record and mix an entire track on my own including vocals. It feels like a big step to put this out on my channel. I’m not a singer and I don’t ever practice singing. I’ve been using Bob Dylan’s back catalogue as a source of material. His lyrics are unbelievably good and I also have a fighting chance of being able to sing them. I’ve recorded four of his songs so far. You can find the other three on my other YouTube channel called Johnny Cox Guitar & Bass School.

Bob Dylan

I’ve featured many of my musical influences on this channel, but I’ve never played anything by Bob Dylan until now. I guess that’s mostly because I’m not a singer. And without anyone to sing the lyrics, there didn’t seem any possibility of featuring one of his songs. However, recently during lockdown I’ve decided to work on music production and editing vocals. Without any other musicians to work with I’ve been singing Bob Dylan songs myself.

I’ve been listening to Dylan for my entire life (literally, his albums were playing at home since I was too young to remember). So, by now I know a lot of the lyrics off by heart, and singing them is so much fun because he is a truly brilliant lyricist.

I can remember this song, Slow Train, and the album of the same name as being something of a soundtrack to my childhood. My mother was and still is a Bob Dylan fan. Slow Train was released four years before I was born and for some reason, as a small child, I took a particular shine to it. It seems odd to me that I still listen now to an album that I used to like when I was four years old, but I guess it shows consistency in my character if nothing else.

Slow Train Coming

The song and the album were both released in 1979. This was the first of his so-called “gospel” albums following his conversion to Christianity in the late 70’s. But this song is a classic Dylan protest song that could draw parallels with some of his early work from the 60’s. The song was partly written prior to his religious conversion and partly after. So, the lyrics are not overtly Christian but they do contain references. Like “fools trying to manipulate Satan”. But really it’s a song about the state of America at the time he was writing. And as with a lot of great art, much of the content still seems relevant over 40 years later.

The symbolism of the train is never explained or made clear in the lyrics. I think it’s intentionally left ambiguous for the listener to make their own interpretation. Is the train a religious metaphor, bring with it salvation and riding to some kind of promised land? Or is the train bringing something altogether more sinister. Such questions were probably lost on me as a child. At that point I think I just liked it because it had a funky bass line and some brilliant guitar playing from Mark Knopfler. But as the years have passed I’ve come to appreciate it as a brilliant example of Dylan’s lyric writing as well.

Practicing Jazz on My Overwater Hollowbody – Up Jumped Spring – Bass Practice Diary 151

Practicing Jazz on My Overwater Hollowbody – Up Jumped Spring – Bass Practice Diary – 23 March 2021

In this video, I’m improvising over the chord changes of the jazz standard Up Jumped Spring after recoding the chords into a looper. If you were wondering why you haven’t seen this beautiful bass on my channel for a few months. It’s because she’s been back with Chris May and the team at Overwater having a new bridge installed. However, she was returned to me this week and I’m so happy to have her back.

Overwater Hollowbody

She’s my custom made Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass. The first fretted version to be made and the first with a 34″ scale length. The bass features a wooden acoustic style bridge, but with adjustable saddles, like an electric bass bridge. The first bridge was made from ebony, and I was finding that the wood was slightly too soft to hold some of the saddles in place and the intonation was slipping. Chris very kindly fashioned this new bridge from a very hard wood from South Africa. So far it seems to be holding the intonation perfectly.

Practicing with a looper

In the video I’m demonstrating something that I’ve done regularly in my practice for well over a decade. I bought my first looper pedal about 15 years ago, and I’ve found loopers to be an amazing practice tool. One of my favourite techniques for practicing using a looper is to record the chord changes to a jazz standard into the looper and then improvise over the looped changes. In this video I’m using the chord changes of Freddie Hubbard’s jazz waltz Up Jumped Spring.

I’ve often been asked “what is a good looper to buy?” And it’s a question I always feel uncomfortable answering. Because I’ve used various loopers from cheap ones with just a single button to expensive ones laden with features. Which one you choose depends on what you’re planning to use it for. If you just want one for the kind of practice that I’m doing in this video, then buy a very cheap one. It will do the job. However if you want something to perform with, then it’s impossible to advise you. Because you will have to choose a looper that has features that correspond to how you’re planning to use it in performance.

I recently purchased a Headrush Looperboard, which is like a recording device/audio interface/live looper all rolled into one. So far I’m impressed by it, but I haven’t yet had the chance to use it in a live performance as the UK has been in COVID lockdown continuously since I first bought it.

However, if you’re interested in trying looping for the first time, I would suggest buying something very cheap to try it out at home. And then you can upgrade later on if and when you start to feel like you need to.

Freedom Jazz Dance – Jazz Melody on 6-string Bass – Bass Practice Diary 149

Freedom Jazz Dance – Melody on 6-String Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 9th March 2021

Miles Smiles has been one of my favourite Miles Davis albums for a long time. The most famous composition on the album is probably Footprints by Wayne Shorter. Which is a minor blues that has become a staple of jazz jam sessions. Today, I’m looking at another track on that album Freedom Jazz Dance.

The Second Great Miles Davis Quintet

The Miles Davis band at that time (1966) contained four young musicians who would go on to become some of the most important figures in modern jazz. Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams are all great composers as well as improvisors and band leaders. So, it was a little bit unusual for them to record a tune that was written by someone who wasn’t in the band.

Freedom Jazz Dance was written by a tenor saxophonist called Eddie Harris. He had recorded the tune himself a year earlier. When you listen to the Eddie Harris version of Freedom Jazz Dance, you quickly realise that the Miles Davis band has completely reconceptualised and recomposed the tune. Harris’ version is built on a funky groove between the bass and piano on a Bb7 chord. The melody is played in one continuous sequence with three phrases.

In Miles Davis’ version of the tune, the melody is broken down into the three phrases. They are separated by space to improvise for the rhythm section. Initially only by bass and drums. When the melody is repeated, Herbie Hancock begins to interject chord voicings. The Bb7 harmony from the original is retained, but the funky groove is gone and replaced by an altered dominant sound, and a much freer and more improvised approach to the groove.

Ron Carter

I think Ron Carter is one of the most important bass players in the history of jazz. He started his career as a classically trained cellist, who struggled to get work in touring orchestras at the time due to racist segregation laws in the Deep South. So, he made the switch to jazz double bass and became one of the most prolific musicians of the second half of the twentieth century. According to his wikipedia page, he has appeared on over 2,200 recording sessions, making him one of the most recorded musicians in history.

He still plays today at age 83 and I’ve been fortunate enough to see him perform live on a couple of occasions. The first time in 2003, when I was still a teenager, he was leading a quintet of much younger musicians. He had adopted the Miles Davis role as senior member mentoring the young talent. It was a truly memorable gig. I can still vividly remember the rendition of Flamenco Sketches that they played that night. It sent shivers down my spine. After that I saw him play one more time in a drummer-less jazz trio featuring guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Mulgrew Miller. It was musicianship of the highest caliber.

When I listen back to Miles Smiles, which I have been doing this week. It reminds me what an incredible musician he is. I think the partnership he shared with drummer Tony Williams was one of the most brilliant and innovative rhythm sections in jazz history. There are good reasons behind why the members of that band went on to become some of the biggest stars in modern jazz.

Why Learn a Jazz Tune on Bass?

I know some bass players might not agree, but I think it’s important to learn to play melodies. I think bass players are often guilty of only looking at the chords and not thinking much about the melody. This tune is a great demonstration of why that approach won’t always work. There is only one chord here, Bb7. If you only look at that, it doesn’t tell you anything about the composition. Only once you look at the melody will you understand the composition.

From a purely technical perspective, learning jazz melodies will also help to build your technique on bass. And it will also help you learn about jazz phrasing and vocabulary. I would suggest that anyone wanting to learn how to improvise in a jazz style, needs to learn as many jazz tunes as possible. Here is how I play the Freedom Jazz Dance melody on 6-string bass.

Freedom Jazz Dance on 6-String Bass
Freedom Jazz Dance on 6-String Bass

Chord Progression on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 144

Chord Progression on 6-String Bass with Chord Diagrams – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd February 2021

This week I’ve been coming up with chord progressions on my new Sandberg Superlight 6-string bass. I thought this chord progression was quite nice, so I made a video of it. It uses mostly simple chord voicings, triads and the occasional 7th chord. Simple chord voicings tend to work well on bass. Too many notes in the lower register can sound like a mess.

I started out trying to play something in C major, and as you can hear, I ended up in Bb major. I wasn’t necessarily planning that when I came up with this. But that was where my instinct took me, and when I listened back, I liked it. I did think about including bass tablature in the video. But in the end I decided that chord diagrams worked better.

However, if you’re looking for a note for note transcription, here it is with tablature for 6-string bass.

Chord Progression on 6-String Bass
Chord Progression on 6-String Bass

If you’d like to learn more chord progressions on 6-string bass then check out my YouTube channel, Johnny Cox Music. It features a playlist of 6-string bass videos including several videos on the subject of chords and chord progressions.

What are the Best P Bass Strings? Flats or Used Nickel Rounds – Bass Practice Diary 143

Flatwound vs Used Nickel Roundwound Strings on a P Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 26th January 2021

Recently I did a video comparing the sound of flatwound bass strings with used nickel roundwounds on a fretless bass. While I was doing that comparison, I took the opportunity to do the same comparison, with the same sets of strings on my P Bass. Or I should more accurately say, my “P style bass”. As many of you know, this bass isn’t a genuine Fender Precision. However, it does have a Fender custom shop P bass pickup installed on it. And in my opinion, this bass sounds more like a vintage P Bass than my genuine Fender Precision which has the more modern sounding Yosemite pickups on it.

The Results

As I listen back to this video, the thing that strikes me most is how similar used nickel roundwound strings sound to the flatwounds. Once the nickel rounds get old, they lose their initial brightness and take on a very similar characteristic to the flats. I don’t think there is a huge difference in the tone.

Both sets of strings are made by D’addario. I tested the strings four different ways. First with tone and volume up played fingerstyle. Then with the tone fully off. Then I added some sponge under the strings by the bridge for a slightly muted tone. This was a trick that the legendary Motown bass player James Jamerson used to do. Finally I tested the strings while playing with a pick (the tone was still off and the sponge under the strings).

You can hear a difference in the video, but it’s not massive. I would say that the choice of flats or used rounds on a P Bass comes down to what you prefer the feel of. I know that a lot of P Bass purists won’t agree. The prevailing opinion amongst P Bass specialists (of which I’m not one) is that you need flats to get an authentic vintage P Bass tone. Personally I’ve always preferred the feel of roundwound strings.

The bass line in the video comes from a transcription of James Jamerson’s bass line on the Jackson 5’s Darling Dear. I was reading it from the book Standing in the Shadows of Motown and the transcription was done by another great bass player, Gerald Veasley.

Fretless Bass Strings: Flatwound or Roundwound? – Bass Practice Diary 141

Fretless Bass Strings: Flatwound or Roundwound? – Bass Practice Diary – 5th January 2020

Which make the best fretless bass strings? Flatwound or roundwound. It seems like every time I release a fretless bass video, I get asked at least one question about strings. I’ve even been asked questions like, “which flatwound bass strings do you use?” to which I then have to answer, “err… I don’t normally use flatwounds on fretless”. There seems to be this idea in the bass community that you’re going to somehow damage a fretless bass fingerboard by using roundwound bass strings. I’ve been using roundwounds since I first played a fretless bass as a teenager 20 years ago, and I’m yet to see any damage.

What’s the difference?

Flatwound strings are smooth to the touch while you can feel the coils on roundwound strings. So, if we assume that either set of strings is safe for a fretless bass neck, then the question becomes one of sound and feel. Roundwound strings have a brighter tone, especially when they are brand new, but they lose their brightness as they age. Flatwound strings are not as bright when they are new, but they do not lose their brightness so much as they age. I intentionally didn’t compare brand new strings in this video, because, I’m interested in hearing how flats compare with used roundwound strings. Do rounds really start to sound like flats as they get old?

In many ways it makes perfect sense to put flats on a fretless bass, because the lack of friction makes sliding between notes very smooth. Smooth in both sound and feel under the fingers. But the sound of flats is very much associated with a vintage bass tone. It was far more common for bass players to use flats in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s than it is now. There’s nothing wrong with a vintage sound, it’s a great sound. But if you want something more modern, then roundwound strings are the better option.

My verdict

I didn’t give a verdict in the video. Mainly because I hadn’t yet listened back to the recordings to hear the strings side by side. Now that I’ve done it, my verdict might surprise you. On this particular bass, I prefer the flats. I’ve always used flats on this Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage bass. The clue is in the name. It’s a modern bass designed to be like a vintage fretless bass (a fretless Fender Jazz Bass to be specific). And to me, it just sounds right to hear this bass played with flats. However, it’s not a sound that I feel would suit my fretless Warwick Thumb SC, which is an modern fretless electric.

So, it’s not much of a conclusion I’m afraid. Before doing this experiment I was using flats on this bass and rounds on my other fretless basses. And that’s what I’ll continue to do, having heard the results side by side. I guess it’s just nice to know that my initial instincts were right. Or maybe it’s just that I’m used to hearing my basses like that so hearing roundwounds on this bass sounds odd to me.

The recording setup

For those of you who are interested, I was using an Electrovoice RE20 microphone on the speaker cabinet and I was mixing that together with a DI signal from the back of the Warwick Hellborg preamp. They were going into a Focusrite interface and then Logic Pro X. I added some light compression in Logic after recording. Other than that there are no effects used.

Both sets of strings are manufactured by D’addario. I thought it made the most sense to use the same brand for both. I have no particular loyalty or affiliation to D’addario. It was just that they were the only brand that I had both flats and rounds in my possession at the time of recording.

As I mentioned in the video, neither set of strings were new. The flats have been on the bass since I bought it. I generally don’t feel that flats need to be changed until they become visibly damaged or break. The roundwound set came off one of my fretted basses. I did clean them a bit before putting them back on the fretless.

6-String Fretless Bass Modal Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary 140

6-String Fretless Bass Modal Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary – 29th December 2020

This is a modal improvisation on my Warwick Thumb SC 6-string fretless bass. What do I practice in the week between Christmas and New Year? Inevitably I’ve practiced less at Christmas than I usually would. Normally I would have been visiting various family members. But all my plans were cancelled at the last minute due to a COVID lockdown announced by the UK government on December 19th. However, despite that, I still have a wife and son at home, so my usual practice time got devoted to trying to make Christmas special for them despite the restrictions.

So, what should you practice at a time when you haven’t done much practice? For me, the answer is, just play! Play for fun, improvise, play for the love of playing music. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not. Just get the feeling of the strings back under your fingers. So, with that in mind, here’s a video of me improvising on a short modal chord sequence that I’ve been playing around with this week.

The Chords

I’ve called this a modal improvisation. But how can it be called modal if I’m improvising over a chord sequence? The reason I’m calling it modal is because the chords are not connected by diatonic harmony. So I’m thinking of each chord as being a different scale or mode to improvise on. There is no key that connects the chords. They are simply connected by a bass note, each chord is played over an E bass note.

The chord progression in the video is very simple. It starts on an Eb major chord over an E natural bass note. That chord resolves upwards onto an Emaj7 chord. Then I raise the 5th and make that chord an Emaj7#5 before dropping back onto the Emaj7. These might sound like really small changes, and they are. But each chord change creates the sound of a new mode.

I think it’s an interesting way to think about chord progressions. Rather than thinking about chord changes. Think about changing just one note in a chord and see how that one note changes the overall sound.

Christmas Bass Practice Diary 2020 – We Three Kings – Bass Practice Diary 139

Christmas Bass Practice Diary 2020 – We Three Kings – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd December 2020

Happy Christmas 2020! This is the fourth time that I’ve given a Christmas song the “Bass Practice Diary” treatment. You can find them all on my YouTube channel and JohnnyCoxMusic.com. This year I’ve decided to take on a Christmas carol for the first time. I’ve arranged We Three Kings for double bass and 6-string bass guitar.

The inspiration for this came because I was arranging Christmas carols for online church carol services. As most church services this year are taking place exclusively online due to the pandemic. I’ve been preparing performances of carols (mostly on guitar) to be streamed as part of online Christmas services. It was in the process of doing that, that I started to have some fun with We Three Kings. This arrangement is much to dark and uncomfortable sounding to use for a church service. But I was having fun with it, so I arranged it on bass, and here it is.

The Arrangement

As I’ve already alluded to, this arrangement started life as a solo guitar arrangement. I originally came up with the chord melody arrangement for the verse part on guitar, while pedalling the open E string underneath. For the bass arrangement, I put the E bass note on my double bass and played the chord melody on my 6-string bass. The bass is actually in an altered tuning for this.

I very rarely play bass in altered tunings. But in this case, I needed to reach a high D to be able to play the entire melody. The highest fret on my first string in standard tuning is C. So, I tuned up a whole tone to reach the D. Having done that, I tuned the G string up to A and the D string up to F. This enabled me to play the chord voicings using similar fingerings to those I’d worked out on the guitar. The solos on the intro and outro are both played in standard tuning.

The middle section of the piece was arranged entirely on bass. If I’m being honest, I’ve never really liked this section of the song. So, I wanted to give it a complete overhaul and change the harmony entirely. I tried a few things, but nothing really grabbed me until I started playing the “James Bond” style chord progression that you hear in this section. I was obviously channeling something that I did last year, because I realised afterwards that I played something very similar at one point in last years Christmas Bass Video.

Let’s Look Forward to 2021 (It has to be better!)

This is, in some ways, a strange treatment of a Christmas Carol. It doesn’t sound like a celebration. But, on the other hand, this is a very strange Christmas. I am stuck at home in lockdown, unable to see my parents or any of my extended family. We’re all sheltering from the virus and trying to protect others. So it feels to me like this arrangement reflects the times we are living in. Hopefully next year will bring a more cheerful Christmas Bass Video.

Sire Marcus Miller V7 vs Warwick Rockbass Infinity – Bass Practice Diary 136

Sire Marcus Miller V7 vs Warwick Rockbass Infinity – Bass Practice Diary – 1st December 2020

Sire created a sensation in the bass world when they released their Marcus Miller basses a few years ago. They are great sounding basses sold at an amazingly competitive price. However, while they are really good basses, I’ve often thought that Sire were not the first company to come out with high quality instruments for a budget. If you follow my videos, you know that I’ve been playing Warwick basses for many years. So, I’ve long thought of doing a comparison between Warwick’s more budget friendly Rockbass instruments and Sire’s Marcus Miller basses.

Sire vs Warwick

If I’m being completely honest, this video is just a bit of fun. It’s not a particularly scientific comparison. The basses had different strings at the time of recording. The Sire was strung up with some nice new Overwater bass strings whereas the Warwick had a very cheap set of Warwick Red Label strings.

The pickup configuration is obviously different as well. With the Sire, I’m using both pickups in the video, but with the Warwick I’m only using the single coil pickup at the front.

However, I should say that both of these basses were a very similar price point when I bought them. Less than £500 at full price in the UK. The new Warwick Rockbass Infinity basses are being sold for considerably more. They’ve given the model a makeover in 2020 with a flamed maple top, but my one is the more simple looking 2018 model. There are Warwick Rockbass models in 2020 that can still rival the Sire V7 for affordability. You probably need to look at something like a Corvette or a Streamer.

If you want to see a proper comparison of Sire and Warwick Rockbass and what they both offer for the price, then let me know by leaving a comment on the YouTube video. If enough people want a detailed comparison, then I’ll do it.

Fretless Bass Jam/Improv on My Sire M7 5-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 130

Fretless Bass Jam/Improv on My Sire M7 5-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 20th October 2020

I haven’t featured this Sire Marcus Miller M7 5-String fretless bass in a video since I first got it and reviewed it last year. In that review I mentioned that I liked the sound and playability of the bass, but I’d had some issues with it. So, I’ll use this post to update you on how I’ve got along with the bass, one year later.

The Music

Before I talk about the bass, I’ll just quickly tell you about the music in the video. I like to jam with myself at home. Meaning record an improvised bassline and then play over it. Let’s face it, it’ll be a while before I get to jam with any other musicians. Lockdown restrictions have been tightened once again in London and I don’t think it will let up over the winter. So I might as well jam alone.

The bassline was a one take improvised line. I was just improvising bass grooves in 7/8 time signature. I was playing along with the little clave ostinato that you hear at the beginning. The rest of the drums were added after the bass parts.

For the improvised solo parts, I did five complete takes. With each take I got gradually more used to playing along with the bassline I’d improvised. The take in the video is number five. The only composed element is the little harmonised melody section. I added that afterwards as I felt it needed some kind of recognisable melody.

The bass sounds good and it plays well. And you could certainly argue that, that’s all a musical instrument needs to do. I’m inclined to think that way myself, and I do like this bass.

Having said that, as much as I enjoy playing this bass, it has turned out to be the most unreliable instrument that I’ve ever owned in terms of holding it’s setup. I made a video, alongside my review, demonstrating how I initially set the bass up. I needed to do it because the setup was a mess when I first got the bass, which in hindsight was a red flag.

Sire Marcus Miller M7 5-String Fretless, One Year Later!

In the year that’s passed, I’ve needed to set the bass up three times. Setups are susceptible to changes in atmospheric conditions, and changes in seasons often necessitate minor changes to setup and intonation.

The bass arrived in the autumn in the UK having come via Germany. It was built in Indonesia. So it’s fair to say it had experienced a few changes in atmosphere before I ever took it out the box. This partly explains the poor condition of the setup when the bass was new. By the time we arrived at spring this year and the weather started warming up, the action completely changed, and then again recently as we move into autumn again.

Moving from dry and hot to wet and cold seems to really mess this bass up. If you think this is normal, then I’m not explaining the scale of the problem very well. I own a lot of instruments and while some of them experience small changes as the seasons go by, this bass is ten times worse than anything I’ve experienced before.

I’ve been unlucky with this bass, I don’t for a moment think that this is true of all Sire M7 basses. I don’t know what it is about this particular one, maybe there’s a problem or a fault with the truss rod. I own enough Sire instruments to know that the setups are fairly stable on most of their instruments.

I’m used to doing the setups now. I can get the bass back to where I want it in under 20 minutes. However, I feel like I can’t ever sell the bass. Or if I do, I must sell it to someone who really understands what they’re taking on. On the other hand, as much as the setup issue is annoying, I always forgive the bass when I start playing it. Because it plays and sounds really good.