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Deeper Grooves: Great Bass Playing You May Have Missed - EPISODE 3

Deeper Grooves: Great Bass Playing You May Have Missed - EPISODE 3

Rod Stewart - Vagabond Heart (1991)

Bassists: Bernard Edwards, Carmine Rojas, Jimmy Johnson, Neil Stubenhaus

Vagabond Heart was Rod Stewart’s 16th album and it made the #2 spot on the album chart here in the UK in the spring of 1991 - mere weeks before I was born! It’s a real artefact of its time - a predominantly rock album with elements of blues and country sprinkled throughout. It features some tasty playing from all involved - all stalwarts of the 90s session scene. For us bassists, names like Jimmy Johnson, Neil Stubenhaus and the indefatigable Bernard Edwards who also produced a significant portion of the album including the smash hit single ‘It Takes Two’ - a duet with Tina Turner. This album was played a lot in my house while I was growing up and listening back now, it surprises me how well the lyrics and basslines have stuck through the years; especially as I heard it long before I even knew what a bass was. Osmosis right? Anyway, stick your headphones on and dive into some nostalgic 90s MOR, gated reverby cheese-rock played by the best in the business…

Rhythm of My Heart

The album opens on a #3 hit single with Stubenhaus’ line high in the mix. It’s a simple line accentuating elements of the shuffle for the verses but beautifully behind the beat with lots of space. He treats us to several simple but effective licks in the chorus that jump out in just the right places.

Rebel Heart

Now here’s a real highlight of the record. Carmine Rojas is in the hot seat this time with what sounds like a Stingray - also possibly played with a pick! Most of this heavy rock shuffle is just pumping away on the root notes with a few moments of simple connecting material but listen for the monster unison lick in the breakdown just before Dan Huff’s virtuosic guitar solo. Class!

Broken Arrow

Jimmy Johnson gives us restraint on the first ballad of the album but the tone isn't standard Jaco/Pino fare - it’s full of bottom end and little in the way of effects. When the full groove kicks in, the line is played with more attitude to keep up with the dynamic playing of Jim Keltner.

It Takes Two

Not only are Tina and Rod on full form here but Chic’s Bernard Edwards provides a honky rock line that is beautifully delivered and mixed nice and high. There’s some subtle tube drive added and the occasional lick makes for real a head-bobbing groove. It’s all quite restrained but feels so, so good.

When a Man’s In Love

Both Edwards and Rojas are credited as playing on this galloping track but regardless, it motors along like it was Steve Harris. There’s some fretless on the breakdown (that is probably a Rojas overdub) that plays some obscure phrases that are more textural and timbral than tonal.

You Are Everything

The second ballad features Edwards playing functional root notes but with growl and honk for the verses and a much more subdued tone for the chorus. His choices of note length vary greatly but always suit the phrase and arrangement.

The Motown Song

I remember watching the video for this tune before I was able to walk (or talk!). Strangely, it’s the one of the few tracks on the album with no bass guitar - the synth bass was played by Khris Kellow. It’s funky and full of fun using full use of the 12/8 feel and traditional downtown blues lines.

Go Out Dancing

Edwards treats us to more driving rock over this Quo-like chord sequence. The tone is heavy but clean and the line is functional but never perfunctory.

No Holding Back

Rojas provides some tasty fretless on this rock ballad. Lots of glissandi and scale-based licks to connect the sparse line together that is mainly in unison with the programmed kick drum.

Have I Told You Lately

This excellent cover features Edwards on bass for the final time on the album. Again his line is functional but full of meaty rock tone - something he’s not known for, but clearly brilliant at. It’s definitely his Stingray bass here - it’s unmistakeable.

Moment of Glory

This track swaggers like a Stones cut. Rojas’ line may sound simple, but it is full of chord tones and licks to connect each root. He occasionally breaks away from his established line for a melodic opportunity - most audible in the solo sections. It is delivered behind the beat for extra groove.

Downtown Train

The original backing track for this hit single was recorded too low for Stewart’s voice and so producer Trevor Horn had to digitally transpose it adding an other-worldly shimmer to the finished product. The bassist is frustratingly uncredited but it’s likely to be Horn himself playing the functional line with some tasty syncopation added for good measure.

If Only

The closing ballad is almost entirely played on synths - and the bass is no exception. It was played in by Kevin Savigar and has a fretless quality and adds significant weight to the bottom end. There are several moments in the solo section where the line becomes more adventurous with Savigar playing licks quite typical of the bass guitar which shows a high level of understanding and a desire to emulate the real thing.

I love this album - I really do. It’s dated quite well in comparison to some of Rod’s other records and whether you like the man or not, you can’t deny the production value and quality of musicians involved. Buy it here.

Is there an album you think I should cover next? Let me know!


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