Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Groove Behind Frankie Beverly's Maze: Part II of Our Interview with Bassist Larry Martin Kimpel

Well, we had a great conversation with bassist Larry Martin Kimpel of Frankie Beverly and Maze. So great that it went on for two hours and we had to divide it into two parts. In part II, he talks a little about the tools of his trade, using music to mentor youth, and oh yeah, what it is he likes specifically about Curtis Mayfield's Superfly, the music that inspired him to pick up a bass in the first place:

BBP: What was your first bass, the first you ever used?
Kimpel: Oh, man, that was a Gibson copy, and the name brand escapes me right now, but it was like a Jack Bruce model, a Gibson that he used to play. Great bass. I look back on that now and say “Man, how did I let that get out of my hands?” Yes, it’s gone. I have no idea where it went (laughs). Or what I did with it, I might have traded it for something back in the day: when you’re younger you don’t think about that stuff. Yeah, my first one was a Gibson SG copy. And from there I moved onto a…what was the next bass from that? I think it was…I think I actually had a Gibson. I think I moved up to a Gibson Grabber with the little pick-up that moves. It was like one pick-up and it slid forward and back, changed tone. It didn’t change it much, but just enough (laughs). It was like Gene Simmons...I have seen him play with it…from Kiss….he had one of those. I said “yeah, let me check that out.” And that also was in my budget at that time.

BBP: You play upright too, right?
Kimpel: Yes, I do.
BBP: Was that harder to learn than playing bass guitar?
Kimpel: Yeah. It’s a different animal. Totally different animal. Different concept. Different fingering. It’s just a’s almost a different instrument,completely other than the fact that it’s E-A-D-G, or B-E-A-D-G if you’re using a five-string. But it’s a different animal completely. A lot more hand strength is required. A lot more stamina. A lot more effort in order to get a good tone out of it, I think. So it’s a different thing. When you pick it up, you have to switch hats, in other words. Conceptually it can be…. you can think of it as the same thing, but it’s really not. It’s definitely a different animal.
BBP: You probably don’t get a chance to use it as much as the other one, right?
Kimpel: No. No I don’t. Every now and then I get a call for a session. I think I used it…the last time I used it on a jazz record…that was probably mid-to-late 90’s. Got a call for it. But I use it on some things that I’m working on, you know, whatever. I got my studio set up so I go in and practice with it. But when I’m out on the road, there’s no time or room.

BBP: Yeah, those things are heavy.
Kimpel: They’re heavy and they’re bulky and you got to buy a seat for it on the plane. For me, I’m an electric player by trade. But I do know…I’ve played upright for a number of years now. Basically I..originally I picked it up just to understand the instrument. I wanted to..I was a fan of people like Ron Carter and Lee Brown and Paul Chambers, people like that, and I just wanted to understand what that instrument entailed. So I picked one up and…it sounds kind of flippant “I just picked one up...” I literally walked into this bass, it was $50. This guy had it stuck in his attic in Chicago, and he wasn’t using it. And I bought it, it was a Kay, an old Kay, a plywood bass. And I picked it up for 50 bucks, and I still have it. That one’s in my garage. I picked up another one that I kind of inherited from a young lady, who unfortunately…a dear friend of hers gave me the bass. Her name is Lois Booker, actually. She called me up and she said “Hey, I’ve got this bass over here, it was a friend of mine who’s passed on. Would you like it?” I said “Of course!” I popped by and I saw the bass and it was a beautiful Kay. And it had belonged to a young lady who played bass and she passed and so her friend Lois got all of this stuff of hers and that was one of the things. I said “I will certainly take good care of it and I’ll honor her memory by using it."
BBP: I saw you talk about practice, the advice you gave. I think you said: play something you’ve never played before to improve. How do you--can you extrapolate on that--is the question I have.
Kimpel: Yeah, that’s an old thing I got from Stanley Clarke quite some time ago. He said “don’t sit and gas yourself playing something you know because you’re not going to grow that way.” Basically you need to challenge yourself in this thing you don’t know, that you need to know how to play. Or those things that you don’t know but you need to know about the instrument, you need to be seeking those things out and putting those into your arsenal. You can review things that you know. Does that make sense?

BBP: I’ve taken up most of your afternoon, so whenever you get tired of being asked questions, let me know. I wanted to ask you, you mentioned “Superfly.” You mentioned that the bass really caught you and struck you. What were the songs on that album that really…that kind of got your attention?
Kimpel: First (the song) “Superfly.” “Superfly” was the (sings the opening bass run to the song “Superfly”) that part. That bass part. And then the other one was “Freddy’s Dead.” (Sings the bass line to “Freddy’s Dead”) That part. So both of those..the whole record is great, but those two songs really stuck out and the bass player was just, he was just so prevalent in those. And that was the late Lucky Scott, by the way, who did that whole record. And he was with Curtis Mayfield for years and years.
BBP: So it was those two songs, “Superfly” and “Freddy’s Dead.” (Hums the bassline to “Freddy’s Dead.”)
Kimpel: Exactly.

BBP: Let me also ask you. You mentioned that you’re a motivational speaker as well?
Kimpel: Yeah. Yeah. For the past few years I’ve taken on, I’ve discovered another passion that I have is mentoring and talking with young people. I’m on the board of directors for an organization in California called Christian Mentors. I guess I’m just basically giving back to the community and to the world at large what was given to me. They didn’t call it mentoring back then, but I was influenced by a lot of good solid men and women that came alongside us and came..and advised. Whether they knew they were doing it or not, just their shear presence became a huge impact on us, on myself definitely. And so basically what that entails, I’ve just discovered I have a passion and an aptitude for speaking to children and to the things that are effecting them, and then also on the music side. I’m also on the board of another organization called the Music Exchange, which is based in Las Vegas. And I speak to them, to those children, on a regular basis. Basically what that organization is, it’s run by a good friend of mine, Pastor Oliver Garner, and what it is is basically at-risk children. It’s an after-school program, you know the government has taken away a lot of those, most if not all of them, so now the kids don’t have anywhere to go, don’t have any outlet, so that they’re failing in school. So what they do in this after-school program is they use music as the catalyst for them to learn reading, math, science, history, all of it, and the kids are flourishing, and they get to learn an instrument on top of it. So I’m going to be doing more speaking on behalf of the Music Exchange in the near future, but I’ve also been asked to speak at a couple of other, for another couple of similar organizations in the last year, similar kind of thing. I just love it; my wife says, “Man, you really have a passion for speaking to the kids." What I do also is I speak on the history of the blues in modern music and the influences, that kids, that young people, they don’t even know what they’re hearing. Because they’ve not been given that history They've not had the chance to know what’s come before them, and that’s really, really hard to understand as to why we’re cutting our nose off to spite our face by not giving these kids the knowledge that they need on any level. But definitely on the music side. You know it’s all about what’s new. It’s always what’s new: it’s not about “well, it’s not new. Jaz-y’s not new, he’s just sampling something that’s been here before, putting his spin on it.” Some of the things he does are original, but a lot of the stuff he does…they take stuff that’s been done. And they sampled it. And that’s been the cornerstone of rap music for years. But most of the kids have no clue whatsoever where that came from. And they’re not given that kind of knowledge. So we try to, when I go to speak, I try to give them those examples of those things, like the blues thing. I do a-what I do is I talk, I give them modern examples of modern stuff, and then I give them examples of what’s come before that. And so they get to really see and hear and experience what it’s really all about. And it’s not just what I’m hearing now. My goodness, what it is is, this came before this. And that’s why I’m able to even hear what I’m hearing is because this came before it. So that’s what we try to do is connect that. And I also bring a real treat for most of the kids. I own a Victrola, an actual Victrola, the old crank record player, and they can’t believe it. And I’m like, “that’s how people used to listen to records. And they hear this little (makes a swishing sound) and it’s real thin and tinny and I tell them “if you had one of these, if you were fortunate enough to be able to afford one of these, you were popular on the block.” I mean everybody didn’t have that, so like when the radio came around, everybody didn’t have one of those, so it’s just important for the kids to know the history, on all levels. But definitely in music, and music is the cornerstone of so much that we took it for granted for so many years in this country. And it’s to our detriment really, because we’ve taken the arts out of schools. And now it’s up to private, non-profit organizations like the ones I’m working with to try and help take up the slack that the government, somehow in their infinite wisdom, chose to take away. And then they see the crime rate go up, see all of this absenteeism and all of this craziness going on. But then they don’t think to-“Well Gosh, what did we do, did we do anything? Well, it did kind of happen when you took the after-school programs out of schools. Kids didn’t really have, inner-city kids especially, didn’t have anywhere to go. They didn’t have any hope. They didn’t have any hope for the future, they didn’t even know that they could do anything, or play an instrument or sing, or draw, or paint, or anything. They don’t know. And you wonder why kids are tripping out here. Because they don’t have the outlets.
BBP: You said you have a Victrola. Do you own the Victrola?
Kimpel: Yeah I bought it some years ago at a store in Orange County, California. I found it, and I said “I’m not leaving the store without this. I’ve got to get it, got to have it. So yeah, the old 78 records, 78 rpm, and you crank her up, and you release the little lock on it, and away it goes, until you need to try that again. Yes, so I bought it for a couple of hundred bucks. It’s a remake, it’s not an actual model, but it’s a rebuilt, reissue of the RCA Victrola. But it works just like the old ones. I think some of the components are from the old actual models. But it’s amazing. It’s an amazing piece of history.

BBP: I know that your faith is very strong and I mean I heard that you wear a cross on your arm?
Kimpel: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I was wearing for a lot of years, a cross on my arm that basically was to show people that my faith was strong and that there is a faith, there is one faith, one Lord, one Baptism. And I never try to hit people over the head with anything, but it was just a subtle reminder when I’m playing, I hope that my countenance, that my attitude, how I relate to people shows that without having to hit people over the head with it.
BBP: I was wondering, when you do secular music and some of it is not really the type of thing …for someone who has a spiritual background the message might not go with your beliefs. Do you ever have that conflict when you’re playing?
Kimpel: You know I actually have not had a whole lot of experiences where the music did not coincide with my beliefs or faith. I’ve been real fortunate with that. As far as if I did have a problem with it, how I would handle that is probably I’d have to bow out of the situation. I think that’s only fair. Because I wouldn’t be able to give my full 120 percent to whatever the project is. You know I’m certainly not a perfect person. No one is. But I try not to go and just be blatant with crazy vulgarities and disrespect to women and all of that craziness.
BBP: And your involvement in Christian music, stylistically does some of what you take from that kind of find it’s way to the secular playing or performances that you do?
Kimpel: Sure. Yeah it does. Yeah I definitely allow whatever music I’m doing, I allow it to flow through. I don’t hide my emotions well. So if it’s an emotional piece, it could be a secular piece, but it could certainly still instill a certain amount could still get me excited or get my spiritual side going when I hear it. I’m always open to allow that experience to happen. I’m always there with that. So I’d say the answer would be “Yes, I do.”

BBP: Because sometimes I hear that bass, particularly the vocals, and it has sort of a gospel edge to it. I did see a video of you, I think you were doing like a, it was either a warm-up session or a rehearsal or something like that, and you were doing a solo of (Frankie Beverly’s) “Back in Stride Again.” It was you, the drummer..there was a keyboard player who kind of came in a little bit later. He was kind of shadowing you a little bit. The more you did it, the more you seemed to get into it and the more it seemed like you were oblivious to anything visual. Just sound. I mean, that’s how I saw it.
Kimpel: Hmmm. Yeah. I hear you. I hear you. Yeah I know what you’re talking about. Yeah that’s when you just kind of, you just allow yourself to be taken away, if you will, by the sound. You just let it flow. It’s like what Michael Jordan used to call “being in the zone.” I think Kobe Bryant, different guys on sports teams have talked about it. When you have that momentum, that spot, that intangible place where nothing can stop what’s going on. Nothing can stop that momentum. You know those teams-we always use sports analogies…and that’s definitely something we can relate to, just watching a team rise up, just this intangible rising up and you can feel it, feel it overpower the other team, just almost magically. But it’s that space, that place where you get into a oneness with the spirit, I think. That you can’t touch it, you can’t taste it, you can’t smell it but you can feel it. And that’s where you try to—if you’re a musician, if you’re an artist of any kind—if you’re passionate about what you are doing, then somewhere along the line there has to be a spiritual connection. You don’t have to be church going, but you have to—if you’re going to be a passionate person, if you’re passionate about what you do, there’s a spiritual connection, whether people know it or not. I mean that’s in any field. When you look at a movie and you see someone on screen, male or female actor or actress, and they are just nailing it, nailing it to the wall and you know this is not them, it’s a character they’re playing. But you would swear that they are that person, there’s just nothing like that. And it applies to music too. So getting back to what you were saying...
BBP: Yeah, did you ever see Ving Rhames play Don King?
Kimpel: Yes.
BBP: Yeah that kind of thing. Is there something I haven’t asked you that you want people to know about yourself?
Kimpel: Is there anything that I want people to know? Oh gosh..
BBP: Something you’re doing? Maybe a project you have going? You mentioned something involving your wife. I had the impression you were trying to get a blues band started? You were trying to get promotion for one? Maybe I got that wrong I don’t know.
Kimpel: Yeah, at the time I was looking for a booking agent for the band. I think that position has been filled.

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