Interview: Leland Sklar

I think everybody (for sure every bass player) knows who Leland Sklar is, list of albums and signles he recorded is almost endless, performing and recording with names like Phil Collins, Leonard Cohen, Ray Charles is a great thing, so we present you: Mr. Leland Sklar.

bassylumTV: Hello Leland, it really is an honor to have you here. There are only few bass players with expirience and feel like yours.

Leland: Hi Boris. Thank you for the kind words. It has been quite an adventure to say the least over all these years. I am happy to be here with you.

bassylumTV: Can you please introduce yourself to the bassylumTV readers. This question is for 0.5% of people who don’t know about you :).

Leland: I am a bassist in Los Angeles. I started playing bass when I was 12 years old. I have been playing both in the studio and on the road for over 45 years now. Artists from James Taylor to Phil Collins to Billy Cobham to Toto! A diverse and exciting time. Have recorded over 2,500 albums. And many movies, commercials and television shows. A working musician….

bassylumTV: You recorded loads of albums, list is really impressive. Which album do you think is the one that describes you best as bass player?

Leland: That would be like saying which of your children you like the best! There have been so many wonderful experiences over the years. I loved playing with James Taylor and Jackson Browne. Vince Gill, what a gift. Barbara Streisand. Phil Collins, the best tours. Billy Cobham and Spectrum set my place in fusion history. Kind of mind blowing to me. But, also played on “It’s Raining Men” and the like. Lot’s of fun. I guess the best thing to do would be to Google Leland Sklar and pick what you like. Something for everyone!

bassylumTV: Do you have any favorite gear that you use all the time? What is your favorite bass gear? We saw you like multiscale bass guitars, could you tell us a difference in feeling between normal and multiscale bass?

Leland: I have been using Euphonic Audio amps and speakers for a number of years. Both in the studio and live. Either a 4X10 bottom or a 1×12 and 2X10 combination. Their Iamp800 is the head of choice. I think when you speak of the multiscale bass it is my Dingwall with the Novax Fanned Fret neck. Live, I have been using my Dingwall Signature 5-string bass with the Fanned Fretting for years now. I love that bass. In the studio I have a number of basses I bring, for I never know what will be needed from session to session. I have a bass I call Frankenstein, for it was made in 1974 out of pieces of basses. I have used it on most of what I have recorded since then. I also bring a Hofner, a Warwick Starbass II, both fretted and fretless. I have not noticed a great change in what I have to do to accomodate the fanned frets. I just think it has the best sounding ‘B’ string because of its length. Pure and rich. So much of what I do is replacing synth bass pre programming and this bass works so well in the area where most guys program. They just love those LOW NOTES! I have been using GHS Super Steels round wounds for a very long time. Medium Lights .40, .60, .80, 1.02 …………..The hardest thing to describe is Frankenstein Bass, but here I go since it is such a big part of my life. It was built by John Carruthers at Westwood Music, in LA. The body was a blank Charvel P-Bass body made of Alder. I tried a number of them just holding them on a piece of wire and this one just had a beautiful sound. I had a 1962 P-bass neck and we used that but first we changed the shape to a 1962 Jazz neck, which is my favorite. While doing this we had to strip the frets to reshape the neck. I was walking around John’s shop and saw some fret wire hanging on the wall. I asked him what it was and he said Mandolin wire. It is the thinnest fret wire. I said lets use that. He did not want to but I said PLEASE so he did. I loved it and have used Mando wire on all my basses since that day. It hold up very well. I have used this bass on most everything I have played on since the mid-70’s and am on only my third re-fret. Then we used a Baddass Bridge. A (proto-type of Daves) Hip-Shot D-tuner on the E string. For electronics I used EMG’s This was when Rob was starting EMG and what we did was use two sets of P-bass pickups in a reversed position where the Jazz pickups would have gone. So the E&A string part is closest to the neck and the D&G string is closest to the bridge. It really evened out the tone and I love this bass more than any bass I have ever played. I kept the finish raw on it and then in 1981, The Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team won the World Series and we went into the studio an cut Queens “We Are The Champions”….they were signing baseballs and I asked them to sign my bass. Then I got crazy and I have hundreds of autographs on it now. From Clapton to Jeff Porcaro to George Lucas to Sting. You name it! Really a trip down memory lane for me.

bassylumTV: I suppose you practice every day more or less, do you have special routine or are you preparing for recording sessions, live concerts and that is your practice? Do you have one or two particular excersises you could share with us?

Leland: I really do not practice daily. I work enough to keep fresh, and when home I love to work on cars and garden. The only time I really spend a lot of time at home playing is in preparation for a tour and have to learn a lot of material. I had to learn Toto’s show in 5 days and just had to live it. I do not do charts for then it is very hard to not use them so I work on songs over and over until I have it memorized. Hard work but best in the long run.

bassylumTV: Phil Collins’s concert in Paris at 2004 is IMHO concert with best played bass. Can you tell us more about collaboration with Phil? How that began?

Leland: I think the first time I met Phil, I already knew of him through Genesis, was on a Lee Rittenour album. I think it was like 1979 or so! We hit it off great and he asked if I could do his upcoming tour. I checked and was already booked with James Taylor so I had to pass but said maybe next time. He then called my in 1984 to do the ‘No Jacket Required’ album and tour and it worked out. One of the best times of my life was beginning. Was with him through ‘But Seriously’ and then we parted ways for several years and then he called and asked me to come back in 2000. I was thrilled to be back and we worked on Tarzan, Brother Bear and then ‘The First Final Farewell Tour’.

bassylumTV: Are you planning to record solo album? On which projects/albums/bands are you working at the time?

Leland: I have never felt like doing a solo album. I have always been a band guy and love working with others on their music. It has been a fun and busy year so far. Just finished an album with Judith Owen, who is amazing. A singer/songwriter named Josh Doyle. Did the Academy Awards and getting ready to go to Las Vegas to do the Latin Grammys., been working on the great Diane Warrens album, toured with Lyle Lovett and went to Moscow with Eric Levi doing ERA project of which I have done 4 albums with him. Many other things too! Always try to keep busy.

bassylumTV: You played that famous “Stratus” bass line, it’s probably the most famous bass line ever (along with few others of course), and that whole album is a masterpiece. Can you tell us more about recording sessions for that album?

Leland: I was in a band called ‘The Section’ which was myself, Russ Kunkel, Danny Kortchmar, and Craig Doerge. We were the back up band for JT and Jackson Browne and many others both on the road and in the studio. One tour was opening for Mahavishnu Orchestra for 8 weeks. I became great friends with all of them but when it ended Billy asked if I could go to New York and do his solo record. I said I would love to. When I got to Electric Ladyland Studio the first person I saw was Tommy Bolin. I was in a band called Wolfgang in the late 60’s and he was in a band called Zephyr. We were managed by the same guy and saw each other all the time, so it was great to see him there. So it was Tommy, myself, Jan Hammer and Billy with Ken Scott engineering. We did most of the album in 2 days. Very few takes. Robert Moog was there showing Billy his electric drums which you heard on the sequence drum stuff. It was all energy and excitement. ALL LIVE. No fixes or overdubs. Still one of my favorite moments in my career. Miss Tommy very much. Wish he was still with us.

bassylumTV: Living a life of musician is a blessing, what do you like the most?

Leland: My favorite thing is the community of creative, interesting and fun people. There is no one else like musicians. Brilliant, crazy, insane, goofy…you name it! But a most special breed of people. It still blows my mind that I know so many wonderful musicians for all over the world. I have loved the travel and adventure and I love being on stage and doing something that makes people excited and happy. Few careers have that reward. I pinch my self everyday thinking how lucky I am.

bassylumTV: You know, Croatia weeps for a chance to hear a bass player of your status. Do you plan maybe to visit us? We would be honored to witness the magic :).

Leland: I wish I could come there right now. I love that part of the world and my family roots are Russian/Polish so I have a place in my heart for the East! We got into that part of the world on the last Phil Collins tour but would really love to came back and experience more of it. Beautiful people, beautiful Country…….magical history!

bassylumTV: Thank you very much Leland, best wishes :-).

Leland: I send you all my very best wishes too! All my best wishes to all the people who will listen to or read this.

That’s it Lee, good luck with everything :). Hope to see/hear from you soon.