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Keith Horne - January 2003

From country to fusion to bluegrass and jazz, Keith Horne has already revealed that he is truly a musical chameleon with a stratospheric level of diversity. Horne possesses a rare talent as an amazingly gifted multi-instrumentalist. Playing bass and providing vocals behind Trisha Yearwood, Keith has already been heard by millions of people on "The Late Show with David Letterman", "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno", "Austin City Limits", and a number of other special television shows. A long-time and highly revered session veteran of the Nashville studio scene, Horne has recorded and toured all across the country with some of country music's biggest stars including Tanya Tucker and Trisha Yearwood. Like his fellow Virginian bass playing contemporaries, Victor Wooten and Oteil Burbridge, Horne utilizes his own unique approach to the bass, playing left-handed with the instrument strung upside down. At the 2003 Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California, Keith was all the buzz. Besides demonstrating his explosive over-the-top bass chops on his signature 6-string bass while performing as an endorsing artist and clinician in the Warrior Instruments and SWR Sound Corporation booths, Keith was one of the featured performers at the Anaheim Bass Bash where he left the crowd silenced in awe as he simply tore through a blistering set of solo bass arrangements. As a sideman to the stars, Horne has been one of the most in-demand bassists in Nashville for the past decade. Now, becoming more recognized for his own projects, Keith Horne takes center stage.

In the interview that follow, Keith discusses a number of subjects with us including his early days in Virginia, his highly anticipated project as a leader and new video, playing with Trisha Yearwood and the Nashville studio scene, his unique approach to bass playing, and much more!

Keith Horne For those bassists that may not yet be familiar with you, could you provide us with a brief outline of your background?

I started playing country music with my dad at age 6, who is a guitarist himself. I played in his band until age 14, then started playing with a top-40 5-piece horn section band for a couple of years and then played with a few other funk and rock bands around Richmond, Virginia. After graduating high school in 1982, I started playing on the road in rock clubs up and down the east coast until 1985, then I had met a fusion band that had just started playing in Richmond. They had asked me to come and sit in with their band, and by that time I was listening to Weather Report and tons of other fusion music. After sitting in with them and seeing how much those kind of audiences enjoyed improvising and soloing, I didn't want to play top-40 anymore and joined that band. The band was called "Secrets." The drummer in that band was Carter Beauford from the Dave Matthews Band. We played together for almost seven years in that band. In 1992 I moved to Nashville and still live there.

Was electric bass your first instrument?

I started on guitar at age 6 and played drums from age 8 until I picked up the bass at age 12. I have also been playing steel guitar for almost 12 years.

Were you formally schooled or were you primarily self-taught? What types of instructional materials did you focus on early in your development?

I'm self taught and have no formal musical training. At that time in my life they didn't have videos. My lessons and ear training totally came from listening to records and just playing gigs. I have to say that while playing with "Secrets" I got a chance to play straight-ahead jazz and latin and other styles I never would have gotten the chance to play in a top-40 club band.

As a bassist, describe your earliest influences. Which bassists have had the biggest impact on your own style?

My main influence on bass is Stanley Clarke. I heard "School Days" and "Lopsy Lu", and it totally changed my outlook of bass guitar! As far as groove bass playing, my influences are Verdine White (Earth, Wind, and Fire) and Alan Gorrie (Average White Band). I listen to Anthony Jackson, Mark King, Marcus Miller, and of course Jaco! Two other unsung heros I listened to heavily were Chuck Rainey (Steely Dan) and Bernard Edwards (Chic).

What projects are you currently working on? Are you scheduled to appear on any upcoming tours as a sideman? Have you thought about taking a group of your own out on the road?

In 2002 I joined a band called "Sons of the Desert" on MCA Records. It was a chance for me to be up front and singing which is another part of me. I had gotten tired of just being a sideman to an artist. It's a great living and can be very prestigious, but I've been wanting to get into more of the writing and recording end of it. I am working on taking my own funk-fusion band on the road and doing clinics for Warrior Basses and SWR Sound Corporation.

Could you tell us about your forthcoming debut recording as a leader? What will we be hearing?

There is going to be a solo cd in the very near future. It will probably be everything from fusion to straight funk to scatting to solos too! In the last two years I've been getting into scatting some of my solos while I play them. I think it's a very good ear training thing to do, and it makes you really learn the neck of your bass. A good friend of mine from Virginia, Oteil Burbridge, is an amazing bass player and awesome at scatting to his solos. He influenced me to do it too!

As an in-demand sideman having backed some of the biggest names in the music business including Trisha Yearwood and Tanya Tucker to name just a couple. What do you believe has contributed the most to your success?

I've had the great privilege to work with and for some of the biggest names in music including Tanya Tucker, Waylon Jennings, Ramsey Lewis, Peter Frampton, Trisha Yearwood, and Tom Browne! As you can see this is a big variety in music and artists. That has been the most pleasurable thing to me because I love so many different styles of music. The thing that has kept me working is I've been able to play these gigs like they're supposed to be played. If it's a country gig, play it like a country bass player. If it's a rock gig, then play it like a rock bass player. If it's a funk-fusion gig, play it like a funk-fusion player! Singing has helped me get a lot of these gigs too. That's one thing I try to express to young bass players. If you want to work and be needed for more than just bass, learn to sing! I don't know if I would call it success, but my experience to have worked as much as I have has been due to getting out and playing as many types of music as possible and being seen playing in clubs and anywhere they allow music.

What advice would you give to someone interested in breaking into the Nashville studio scene?

Breaking into the Nashville studio or any other studio scene is pretty difficult. I've been in Nashville for almost 13 years. I've gotten to play on a few records or cds, but it's always been that thing that either you're a road player or a session player. It's changed some in the last few years. A lot of the artists are getting, or demanding, to use their touring musicans on their recordings. It's all about time and money, and these producers have their set of guys they use for all the artists they produce. They know they can count on these guys to come in and knock it out. Most producers won't take chances on a road guy coming in and doing the job because they're either not experienced in the studio or just not given the chance. I got the chance to play on some of these artists cd's but only because they requested that I be on it, or the artist pretty much produced the cd themselves. I've played on tons of demos and jingles, and you can make a pretty good living just doing that if you get enough of them!

Now we definitely have to discuss your mind-boggling technique. You certainly have a very unorthodox and truly unique approach to playing the bass. How exactly did that come about?

I am a totally right-handed person but play bass, guitar, and steel guitar left-handed! It's pretty much been a mystery all my life. I started trying to play guitar right-handed when I was 6 but couldn't get the hang of it so my dad switched the strings around on a right-handed guitar to see if I could play it that way. Well, in two weeks I was playing tunes! I played drums right-handed, but when our bass player started leaving his bass at our house for rehearsals, I got interested in bass. I couldn't restring his bass because it wasn't mine so I learned to play it upside down with the E-string on the bottom. I kept playing like that and never switched to playing totally left-handed. It's a very different sounding way of playing for sure. You tend to play lines almost opposite of what a right-handed player would because of your high strings being on the top instead of the bottom. Most people are so curious about how I slap and pluck playing that way. I still slap with my thumb and pluck with my index finger, it's kind of a swooping motion! I used to slap years ago with my hand and pluck with my thumb, but it didn't have the right sound to me.

Keith Horne and Trisha Yearwood When you cut loose during a solo spot, you demonstrate some jaw-dropping slapping, chordal, and fingerstyle solo chops. How did you develop those techniques to such an advanced level?

I get asked a lot about how I got the speed I have with playing with just two fingers. I've never really worked on that sort of thing. I've been gigging since I was in grade school, and in high school I was playing six nights a week. I feel like I built my stamina and speed from just that! I love chordal playing which is something I have been working on for the last couple of years. Once you learn chords, it helps you learn to play over the chords and play chord melodies, like in my version of "Star Spangled Banner."

With regard to your lyrical solo phrasing, how do you approach improvisation? Do you have a particular concept in mind or are you thinking in terms of scales, patterns, or what?

As far as my approach to soloing and improvisation, I definitely don't think of scales or modes. Like I said before, I didn't get a chance to go to music school and wish I could have, but I'm not a theory guy at all. When I'm soloing I try to think of someone singing a song or telling a story to someone. I don't have a set solo I do on these tunes. I just play what I feel at the time and what comes to mind. I always try to play my solos from a different approach everytime I play the same tunes, either starting it off with harmonics and chordal work and throwing some lines in between. I do have some patterns that I play off of, especially when I'm slapping. One of the hardest things for me to do is to slap solos in a bunch of different keys. The main key for slapping has always been E because it's open and a lot of 70's and 80's funk tunes were in E!

Have you ever considered releasing a video showcasing your style?

I'm going to have a video out on the market within the next month. It is more of a performance video than an instruction video. This record company here in Nashville wanted to get something out there to the public to show everything I'm about, from the solo stuff to playing with a commercial band and singing and just playing the role of a bass player. In the future hopefully we will have a series of tapes out, from country bass to funk showing my thoughts and approaches on feel for country and funk playing and soloing!

If you have a daily practice routine, could you tell us about it? What essential aspects of bass technique or music do you focus on the most?

Well, I don't have a regular practice routine. When I get a chance to practice I try to work on ear training and playing over different chords. One thing that helped me in soloing is that I listened to a lot of piano players and horn players too. I don't play piano but wish I had learned. It's such a great writing tool and ear training tool too. Listening to horn players gave me ideas on phrasing. Listen to guys like Charlie Parker and Michael Brecker and trumpeters Miles Davis and Dizzy!

When you aren't on the road or in the studio, do you teach privately? If so, what aspects of bass playing or music do you place the most emphasis on with your students?

I have on occasions given a lesson. Mostly everybody wanted to learn my techniques and feel for different styles of playing. I and anyone will say, you can't teach feel. You can give tips on some things, but you just have to get out there and dive into it! When I have given a lesson I've tried to help the person with hearing the groove and what to play and not to play in that groove. One thing I learned at a young age is to not over play when the song is being played, but if you have a solo, then give it all you got! I also try to teach about playing with different drummers and how to approach someone's drumming as far as grooving with them.

What gear are you currently using both live and in the studio?

I have a 6-string signature bass with Warrior Basses which is my main bass. I do have a lot of other basses I use for different gigs and studio work. I use four different Lakland basses in the studio, 4 and 5-strings and fretless too. Warrior is building me a 5-string right now. I'll be using it too in the studio. On commercial tunes and jingles I don't care for playing 6-string in the studio because there is no need for it. I've got quite a few old Music Man basses I use for playing some studio and gigs around town. I play a 70's funk gig sometimes on wednesday nights. I like to play the Music Man for that kind of gig and get that old funk sound, especially for slapping. I endorse and love SWR bass rigs. I have a lot of different set-ups I use. My main rig is a Goliath Senior and a 750 head. I don't usually have a rig in the studio. I play through a Demeter Tube Preamp and Tube Direct Box. I have done clinics for Warrior Basses and Lakland Basses. Warrior and SWR are working on a clinic tour for this year with me and a great bassist named Adam Nitti. I have some ads out for my signature bass and SWR wants to have me do an ad too!

Where do you see the art of bass playing going in the near future? It seems like more and more bassists are playing 6, 7, and 9-stringed instruments. Do you think that trend will continue?

Well, my thought on basses over 6 is that it's getting out of the area of bass playing, of course that is just my personal opinion! I have a 7-string, but it sits in the corner for art work. I've had it for years but just can't get into it. I don't like hearing anything above that high C. To me it gets to be too thin, but I know chords become much clearer. There's only a couple of guys I know that can really play 7 or 9 well. If that's what you're into, take it as far as you can! When I was at the NAMM show I heard some amazing young bass players. They could mimic so many different legend players, but the question I asked some guys was... these guys have some serious chops and can solo, but can they just lay down a groove and play with a band? I just hope that bass playing in the future doesn't forget where it came from. I hope it doesn't forget why you are the back bone of the music.

Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of playing music?

Yes, what I like to do when I'm not playing gigs, I drag race! I have a 92 Mustang Coupe that I've put a lot of my money, ok all my money into! The car has 965 horses in it and runs nine seconds in the quarter mile at 155 mph. That's my rush! I've always wanted to drag race ever since I was a kid. When I got into playing with national artists, I started making more money than I ever had my whole life. Well of course I had to pick a very expensive hobby!

What advice could you give to an aspiring bassist and the viewers of the IIB who are trying to take their playing to the next level?

My advice to up-and-coming players is to get out there and play as many musical styles as you can get into. It will come in handy one time or another! Like I said before, don't forget that you are the bass player and you hold down the foundation of a song, but when it's time to shine, then let 'em have it! Work on singing while playing. It will only get you more work and sometimes paid more for doing two things! Listen to as many different players as you can, then get a little bit from each person and come up with your own thing. Don't forget there has already been a Jaco and Stanley!

Do you have any closing thoughts or anything else you would like to mention that I may have overlooked?

One thing I want to say too, is to always try and have a good attitude and don't be offended to take criticism. It's usually for the good! I hope everything I've talked about will help you in one way or another!

Selected Discography

With Trisha Yearwood
Real Live Woman

With Secrets
Secrets Live
Nine Sharp

With Ricky Van Shelton
Making Plans

Keith Horne: Bass Techniques