Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas
Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas is one of the most well-respected and well-liked bass players in the business. He’s worked extensively with Neil Young, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joe Walsh, Johnny Rivers and many others. When he's not on the road or in the studio, on Mondays you can find him at the “Joint” nightclub in Hollywood, California, where he appears with a band of veteran players led by the legendary guitarist Waddy Wachtel.
His latest accomplishments include playing on Neil Young's Prairie Wind and Living With War CDs. Rick also appears in the acclaimed Heart of Gold Live DVD and appeared with Neil Young at Willie Nelson's Farm Aid '06. He also provided the low-end support for the Jerry Lee Lewis tribute concert in NYC, part of an all-star back up band that included Jim Keltner, Ivan Neville, Ron Wood, Nils Lofgren, Jimmy Rip and Kenny Lovelace, which provided an expert backdrop for the music of Buddy Guy, Kris Kristofferson, John Fogerty, Don Henley, Chris Isaak, Soloman Burke, Nora Jones, Tom Jones, Willie Nelson, Kid Rock and others.
And if that weren’t enough, Rick is also the owner of Los Angeles’ Smartso Digital Studio, a prime recording location for many artists. We hooked up with him when he was last in Chicago with CSN&Y.
Rick, how – and why – did you start to play bass?
I actually started on guitar first, when I was 12 or 13 years old. I thought it was fun to be in a band. Back then, there weren’t many bass players, so if you played bass, you were guaranteed to be in a band. We played a lot of surf music, R&B, Beatles music. Later I was in horn bands that played a lot of Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett.
What were your main bass Influences?
Now I can say Paul McCartney, Motown James Jamerson, Duck Dunn, and early John Entwistle (late 1960’s). Wilton Felder from the Jazz Crusaders was also a big influence. He started to play bass on their sessions in the 1970s and went on to play with other artists. But when I was coming up, nobody really knew who the bass players were. They were identified by their sound – Memphis sound, Detroit sound. The actual bass players didn’t get much credit!
I also didn’t realize what a big influence Joe Osborn was until later; I just knew I loved the sound of the bass on Ricky Nelson’s tracks. My parents bought me a jazz bass in 1964 – brand new – and I remember it was a big deal because it had two pickups. I played a Fender jazz bass until I met Dan. I fell in love with Joe Osborn signature bass, because it has a jazz-style neck with precision sound; the slim neck has really worked for me.
Did you have any formal training on the bass?
My first teacher was Jimmy Espinoza of “Thee Midniters.” I also took lessons from a big band bass player who taught me to read and in the late 70s I went to the Grove School of Music in Los Angeles for a while. Learning to read was great until I found I had no use for it. I wish there had been sessions that called for reading, but none ever came up.
When not out touring or recording, how do you keep “in shape.”
I have a regular Monday night gig at the Joint in L.A. with Waddy Wachtel. It’s a three-hour show so it keeps me limber as far as playing.
Do you have some favorite bass lines?
I like (The Who’s) John Entwistle’s bass line on “My Generation” and Paul McCartney’s bass lines on “Dear Prudence” and “Rain” a lot.
Pick or fingers?
I played with a pick for a long time. When playing (as a kid) I loved the sound of a pick, especially on “Glass Onion” off the (Beatles) “White Album.” And on certain songs, like Rockin’ in the Free World, I have to use a pick.
What kind of pick do you use?
I use a Gold Herco nylon pick but I play with the side of it because it’s stiffer.
Any other techniques?
I also play with my thumb, up on the frets, which came with playing the Lakland bass.
What’s your definition of groove?
A feeling. Groove’s very important. If you don’t play too many notes, the groove comes. Less is more. Playing fewer notes make things sound bigger. Having a good drummer also helps. (Nashville drummer) Chad Cromwell (Mark Knopfler, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood) is fantastic. A drummer like that sets a groove and it’s there. It makes my job a lot easier.
Tell us about your most memorable gigs.
Playing with Neil is great; he puts everything into the show. And he has a great sense of humor. Making the movie “Heart of Gold”, which was directed by Jonathan Denning, was great.
Joe Walsh and I used to fill in for different dee-jays like Steve Dahl and Howard Stern. So one time, I think we were filling in for Stern, the producers of KROC decided to have a contest where the prize would be Joe and me going to the person’s house and playing some songs. They received all kinds of cards and letters – and one was from Rahway State Prison. They figured, “How bad can it be, it’s just a little prison in New Jersey?”
So it was just me and Joe Walsh in this small cafeteria with rows and rows of inmates. We started playing “Life’s Been Good,” and it wasn’t going over too well. Then we played “Life in the Fast Lane” and that made things even worse. One guy stood up and yelled, “You better play something good or I’ll kick your ass.” So, I leaned over to Joe and said “Don’t you know any R&B?” but he said he didn’t. I said “How about People Get Ready?” That one, he knew. So we sang that and it seemed to mellow everyone out a bit. Then we did “Rocky Mountain Way” and Joe’s slide guitar solo won them back, but when it was done we got out of there! I was so pissed at Joe I didn’t talk to him for a couple of days, but we do laugh at it now.
About The Lakland Experience
I have three Lakland basses. Number one is a sunburst Bob Glaub body with a Joe Osborn jazz-style neck. Number two is a Joe Osborn model I mainly use in the studio. The third is another Bob Glaub body/Joe Osborn neck combination, but is a little lighter weight-wise. I used that one primarily on the summer ’06 CSN&Y tour. And Lakland is making me another one as we speak, so I hope to get it sometime soon.
Who introduced you to Lakland?
Howie Epstein (Tom Petty) turned me onto Lakland. From the first time I played one, I fell in love. I find the bass amazing.
It has great tone quality – warmer and deeper. I also like the clarity of it, it’s very clean.
I also like the way it’s built. It’s like driving a Mercedes after having driven Chevy. The bass has a unique sound and feel, and a certain warmth to it. You know the minute you plug it in you’re in the land of luxury.
What type of rig are you playing through these days?
I am using a new Ampeg SVT that just came out; they went back to the early 70s specs. Darryl Jones and Pino Palladino are using them at this time as well.
For the CSN&Y tour, Neil’s guitar tech Larry Cragg had a special rig built for me. It started out as a Fender Vibrosonic Reverb, which is like an 8hz Twin Reverb; it produces 235 watts instead of the normal 85 watts. The speaker cabinet is a single Fender Showman with a “tone ring.” It has a 15” JBL D140 with a special double baffle. The speaker is connected to the front baffle with what looks like a pie-plate, and the sound comes around the edges of the rear baffle and around the 15” speaker. Since it takes a circuitous route, it really amplifies this super-saturated low end. I loved 10’s for a long time, but have grown to like the 15 a lot.
I don’t use any effects, no.
Tell us about recording with Neil Young.
We recorded Living With War in March 2006 at Neil’s ranch and we did it all in about five days. We came in with two songs ready, and then each day Neil would write a new song. We ended up with nine songs. The CD was in the stores within about 6 weeks after we finished.
Prairie Wind, his country album took a little over three months. How that happened was Neil called me in December and said wanted to work with me again. (Rick had recorded This Notes For You inn 1988 and Freedom in 1989 with Neil Young.) Then he called me about once a month after that to express his intention to hire me. I wasn’t sure what to think, but one of my friends who had worked with him before said “Neil will call you back, he always does. Just hang in there.” And then a few months later he did, and I was on a plane to Nashville the next day.
What advice do you have for players who want to have a career like yours?
Play as much as possible and try to get a steady gig. And be versatile enough. You’ll get – and keep – more gigs that way.
For more information about Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas, visit his website www.rickrosas.com.