Camp Chronicles (7): A Man Needs a Mantra

Editor’s Note:  We are back to our regular programing.  These chronicles started out as “letters” from Sierra Surf Music Camp.  But the story was bigger than a letter.  We hope that they convey how much fun we were having!

Didn’t the Ramones sing, “Second verse, same as the first”?  Sunday’s schedule was the same as Saturday’s except Ferenc’ noon class was on songwriting and the evening concert featured the Sierra Surf Music Camp bands and Surf Music Laureate Paul Johnson.

My day potentially was out of kilter by 6:30 a.m.  By then, I had used the last match in the cabin in my failed attempts at starting a fire in the stove.  I had used the last measure of Starbucks Three Region roast.  Matchless today.  Coffeeless tomorrow.  At 6:30 in the morning!  Never was much of a Boy Scout.

But a sunny morning, the brisk, clean Sierra air, and an upcoming day of surf music took the sting out of how the day had started.

Now that I was the bassist for the Surf Miners, a lesson from The Brett Cole would come in handy.  On Saturday morning, my powder blue, cheap Made-in-China No-Name bass was chattering to the point of distraction.  Adjust the bridge.  Saturday afternoon during band practice, less chattering but still some noise.  Brett observed, “You sure play aggressive.”  Huh?  I was sure the problem was technique and not some form of sure-fingered aggression. 

Adjust the bridge again.  The result was no chatter but a buzz on a single note: C on the E string.  Brett listened, looked at the neck from three angles, and said, “I have no idea how to fix this.  You need to take it to a tech.  You can use one of my basses.” 

He then reminded me that Fender had been making basses for more than 50 years.  I joked, “The Chinese have been copying basses for at least five.”

As a bassist, I realized that measures and not just chords suddenly seemed important.  As in, "How many measures is that?"  After 30 minutes and recognizing my limited skill level, Brett offered his advice for the upcoming Sunday night concert, “Keep it simple.  Play the root.”  That would be my bass-playing mantra for the next 12 hours.

So for the hour and a half leading up to Songwriting Class, I kept repeating the mantra and playing the root as I worked on “Surf Party” and “Secret Agent Man.”  Oh, yeah, almost every time I started the chorus of “Surf Party,” I cursed the buzzing C.  Play the root.  Get the fingering.  Get the feeling.  Forget about the buzzing.  Don’t listen to the buzzing.  Damn that buzzing!

At 2:00, Bruce was playing through John Blair’s amp and reverb unit upstairs.  Joe, a member of the No Name IV, was sitting and listening.  When Bruce and I decided to practice “Secret Agent Man” and “Surf Party,” Joe volunteered his short-scale Mosrite bass. 

We arranged “Secret Agent Man.”  A James Bondish intro followed by the “Secret Agent Man” intro and then, “There’s a man who lives a life of danger. . . .”  Two verses and outro.  Bruce likes two minute songs.

“Surf Party” required no arranging.  Two-measure drum intro.  Verse.  Chorus.  Glissandos.  Two measures of drums.  Repeat twice.  G.

For two hours, Bruce and I worked on timing and playing together.  We apparently were not all that inspiring as Joe napped on and off.  But we had the songs nailed down to take back to the Surf Miners.  As we played, my bass-playing mantra repeated over and over.

Play the root.  Play the root.

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