Interview with Erik “Eski” Scott – Soulful Original
“A musician is often asked "who has been your greatest influences as a musician/player?" Well, the biggest influence on me is always who I am playing with at that particular moment. What are they playing? And how are they playing it? Is there a particular style we are trying to deliver the song in? Or is the style wide open?” – Erik Scott "Eski"
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Erik Scott's musical experience is as deep as he is tall (6'3”). Though this veteran bassist is best known for his work with Alice Cooper, Sonia Dada and Flo & Eddie, he's also recorded with dozens of other artists, including Carl Palmer, Kim Carnes, and Pops and Mavis Staples. In addition to being a provider of soulful low notes, Erik (aka “Eski”) is also a songwriter and composer who has written songs covered by Ted Nugent, Triumph, and Alice Cooper and has written and recorded music for hit TV shows Starsky & Hutch, Charlie's Angels, Vegas and Loveboat. He's also played and co-wrote music for “Nothing to Lose” with Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence, “Waterproof”, written by Barry Berman of “Benny and Joon,” and the National Lampoon “Vacation” movies with Chevy Chase.
With Sonia Dada on extended hiatus, Erik turned his focus to recording soulfully spacey instrumentals. His debut solo album, “Other Planets” will be released in January of 2009. We caught up with Erik recently to discuss the recording and his four decades worth of experience as a professional musician, producer and composer.
Congratulations on your first solo recording. What were you hoping to accomplish with it?
The idea for this album came from a piece I wrote in 2004 for Sonia Dada's album Test Pattern, where the bass was the main melodic voice in a rather spacey environment. When SD took a break, I found myself alone in the studio with an active imagination, some basses, and a keyboard. With no band, no singers, and no pre-dispositions, I could pretty much wander wherever the musical muse took me. So when I was haunted by this suggestively Spanish-sounding trumpet melody, I played it, in the upper registers of the bass. And when I heard a banjo type rhythmic chordal picking in my head, I played it – on the bass. And it worked well. So when I thought a great piano part would work in verse two.........I went and got a great piano player to play it....what do you think I am, nuts?
I just wanted to make some cool music, and besides using the bass as a main melodic voice, I used it to generate sound effects in a way I haven't heard much. Combining certain key pads with melodic bass and steel guitar I found to be sonically seductive, and John Pirruccello played some very cool steel. I got a few other buddies to contribute other instrumentation, such as Hank Guaglianone on drums,and Chris Cameron on piano.
There are no words here, except for a conversation with my dog Maui. No lyrical signposts to influence the direction of feeling. Just the music and the listener.
Hiding out in the Northwoods while doing the bulk of recording, burrowing under winter snow, it was easy to go to another world – or maybe another planet.
Select tracks can be heard on Erik's MySpace page, and his website. Tracks can be heard and downloaded at these sites, and whole CDs can be ordered on www.CDBaby.com.
Bass: Pino Palladino, James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey, Beatles-era Paul McCartney, and you gotta love Tony Levin. Not to mention Lee Sklar, Duck Dunn, or the innovative Chris Squire. And then you have the true soloists like Michael Manring, whose abilities are, quite frankly, beyond me. Production: George Martin, Bob Ezrin, Chuck Plotkin to name a few. I am always influenced at the time by the people I am working with and there have been many who have influenced me to the good – in life and in music, here, and abroad.
Hey, Pino Palladino is also a Lakland artist. What led you to start playing Lakland?
After I moved to Illinois from Los Angeles , I was introduced to Dan Lakin by Sonia Dada's FOH mixer, Steve Kocour (one of the best, by the way, maybe the best in a small to medium sized room). The Lakland necks are especially accurate and easy to play. A light touch on a Lakland can make a cool, subtle growl, especially on low notes in an open musical landscape. And the Joe Osborne model with which I was recording last night, well, the reason I used it was because of the remarkably warm and round tone. It has the PJ configuration pickups made by Lakland. I also must say that the folks at Lakland have started making a new fretless model bass that I just love. It has a unique upper-end sound that has a great growling resonance that can be adjusted to sound more like a cello, or you can turn the rhythm pickup up a bit, adjusting the low end, and bring it more into the range of the violin basses, as well as a warm fretless.
First professional gig?
While still in Chicago (1969), I recorded with the band Food for an album on Capitol records. Food morphed into Otis Plum, a guitar-bass-drums trio known for its raging instrumentals. Then in 1973 Otis Plum recorded as Jambalaya on A&M records. Besides me, these early groups had drummers Barry Mraz and Charlie Ray, guitarist Billy Steele and keyboard player Peter McIan. It was shades of things to come, as all had great recording sense: Mraz went on to engineer and produce the Ohio Players and Styx; Steele wrote and recorded for Steve Perry, Alice Cooper and Pat Benatar; and keyboard player Peter McIan went on to produce Men at Work.
How did you get hooked up with Flo & Eddie?
In 1974 most of the guys moved to L.A. to pursue their careers. I stayed behind for a few months to record an album with Mo McGuire, then followed. I started doing sessions at Cherokee Studios where Flo & Eddie (former Turtles and Frank Zappa associates Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan) had done some recording. When they were ready to tour in late 1974, they called the studio, which recommended me. We toured constantly for over three years, opening for some of the biggest acts of the era, Jefferson Starship, The Doobie Brothers, Stephen Stills, and Fleetwood Mac. During that time we also recorded two albums, "Illegal, Immoral and Fattening" and "Moving Targets.” For this kid from the sticks it was a cool thing – got to meet and hang with some very interesting folks during that time: Lou Reed, Grace Slick, Keith Moon and Alice, to name a few.
Where did the nickname “Eski” come from?
The Flo & Eddie tour started in Denver and the band had flown in a day early. We were hanging in somebody's hotel room, goofing off...we might have had a drink or two...it's possible. On the TV was an old movie, "Ride the Wild Surf" with Tab Hunter, Fabian, Shelley Fabares, and Peter Brown. College kids cavorting around the beaches of Hawaii on spring break, with names like Chase Colton and Steamer Lane . This was not "Gone With The Wind." They entered a surfing contest against the defending champion Eskimo Dobbs (James Mitchum). Mark and Howard decided that a member of their new band should carry on the legend of Eskimo – and I, probably because I was the new
rube from somewhere in the Midwest , was chosen. The nickname stuck with all the neo-Turtles, and was shortened to "Eski' for convenience.
You toured with Flo & Eddie until 1978. What came next?
I pretty much dove into the L.A. recording scene, playing bass and producing.
– Ed. And how. Credits include bass and co-producer of a Peter McIan album, producer of Japanese rock group Carmen Maki & Oz. Erik also recorded two albums for Butterfly Records and played on albums by Frannie Golde, Tonio K, Cheryl Dilcher and others. He also played some shows with Del Shannon, Jackie Green and Wolfman Jack. During this time he also wrote and recorded music for the hit TV shows Starsky and Hutch, Charlie's Angels ,Loveboat, and Vegas.
How did you end up working with Carl Palmer?
I got a call from his management summer of 1979. A couple of the guys in Foreigner who saw me play with Tonio K in NYC recommended me. At the early rehearsals, I wasn't so sure about the material, but I used to play air-drums to Carl on ELP's "Lucky Man" and I was seduced. We recorded in Munich and prepared for a tour in London . Unfortunately, sometimes the chemistry of the players doesn't always jibe with the material and sometimes the talents of the people just don't quite mesh into what was hoped for. Shortly after the release of 1PM (the album) a tour was considered, cancelled and the project dissolved.
Tell us about working with the legendary Alice Cooper.
I toured and recorded with Alice from 1980 – 1983. I missed recording the album, but joined the band for the 1980 “Flush the Fashion” tour, recorded and toured on “Special Forces” and recorded and co-produced “Zipper Catches Skin.” There's a detailed write up about that period on SickthingsUK, an Alice Cooper fan site in Britain.
Recording with Alice was working for a guy who liked to lead, not follow, when it came to fashioning rock records. He strove always to be innovative, and if the sounds of the day were turning right, he turned left.
– Ed. After the recording of “Zipper Catches Skin,” Alice decided to take a break and the band went its separate ways. Erik headed back to LA, where he played on albums by Kim Carnes and others. During this period he also got together with writer Mark Baker and singer Mark 'Marcie' Free, and created Signal, whose one album became something of a melodic rock cult classic overseas.
Tell us more about Signal.
Signal was something I put together in between the tours of Alice Cooper and Sonia Dada. I teamed with writer Mark Baker, and demo'd some songs with Mark Free singing. Early on, we used a different guitar player each tune, and Baker and myself programmed the drums and keys. Then we made demos with guitarist Mike Slamer and drummer Jan Uvena, pre-produced everything and made what the global melodic rock community has seemed to embrace as a bit of a cult classic, with Danny Jacob replacing Mike Slamer on guitar. It took two years to make, counting writing and pre-production... and once done, it took two months for the band to decide to part ways.
How did you connect with Sonia Dada founder and writer-guitarist Dan Pritzker?
In 1986 Dan came L.A. to record with his first band, Idle Tears. He hired a bass fellow, (me) and a couple drummers, Craig Krampf, Steve Ferrone, Ralph Humphries. I played on all the tracks except one (the other was done by Randy Jackson). Later on Dan asked me to co-produce the record with Chuck Plotkin, Ed Cherney and himself. Then asked if I would join the troupe, and as I really admired his writing, I did. This started our relationship.
– Ed. In 1990 Dan Pritzker formed the multi-genre, multi-racial blend of a band Sonia Dada, which debuted with triple platinum success in Australia and achieved serious regional success in the U.S. For the next 15 years Erik contributed low notes, production and some composing for five critically acclaimed studio albums and a live one.
Tell us about Sonia Dada.
When we started in 1990, the music press loved phrases like "multi-racial genre bending" and "Little Feat meets the Temptations." We remain a rather experimental band, with an element of soul. The band has some veteran musicians who enjoy playing different styles, plus we can't help it – three black singers, and you know there is going to be some gospel-type harmonies around, and we have guys with an appreciation of rock, R&B, jazz, folk, psychedelia. And we love playing all of it.
When Sonia Dada records we just try to find the approach that makes the song work best, limited only by our imaginations. The songwriting really is the key. For me, Dan and Alice have that one thing in common – they are both stylistic writers who are capable of writing great songs – and have.
Though fully occupied with Sonia Dada at the time, Erik also squeezed in a recording with Pops Staples and can be heard on “Father, Father,” the title song to Staples' Grammy winning CD. He then recorded with Mavis Staples, and the song, “Have a Little Faith” was honored as Blues Gospel song of the year in 2004 by the W.C. Handy Foundation.
So, Eski – what's next for you?
Well, besides releasing the solo instrumental record in January 2009, I'm starting to work with Dan again, of Sonia Dada. The hopeful goal is to release a new record, which has some altered versions of some of our favorite songs from the SD catalogue, a couple of cover versions of songs we really like, and some new songs.
Basically I continue to do what I do, write and record new music – hopefully progressing as a player and music-maker in the process.