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Stewart McKinsey - May 2003


Stewart McKinsey
Biography: Although I started playing violin when I was in my single digits, it never took. Music seemed to be an increasingly big part of my life until high school, which is when I picked up a bass for the first time. My first gig was playing a talent show about two weeks after I got a bass, a short scale Squire Bullet. I studied with a private instructor for six months and then just scoured magazines for articles and playing tips until I left for college. In college I was able to jam almost constantly while studying theory, harmony, and counterpoint. Some of the other students even asked me for lessons in basic technique and elementary theory. I left school when I was accepted to the Musicians Institute.

Moving to Los Angeles at age 21 was just a revelation. I could sit down and learn from cats like Jeff Berlin, Steve Bailey, Gary Willis, and Alexis Sklarevski. The artists who came to perform and do seminars were amazing. The three standouts were Michael Manring (doing one of his first full solo sets), Jimmy Johnson, and Louis Johnson.

After my year of study, I opted to stay in the City of Angels for another four years or so. I picked up all manner of gig, whatever was challenging or fun. Some of these never made it out of the rehearsal stage, but there was not one that didn't teach me something. Those years essentially shaped the course of my career. I've always gone for the gigs that were the most fun or challenged me the most.

Currently I'm based in New Orleans, Louisiana, which has to be one of the great rhythm section towns in the world. I've lived all over and groove has never been so big a part of the culture anywhere else in my experience. I would absolutely recommend that any bass player who can, come to this town and jam. If not, seek out recordings by New Orleans players! Between the elegant simplicity of George Porter, Jr. and the low end bombast of Papa Grows Funk, there's something for everyone to learn! Next year we're relocating to Northern California.

Gigs: The gig which most people associate with me is a three piece funk outfit called Slick Willy. We perform a lot of old school material such as Bill Withers, Kool & The Gang, Stevie Wonder, The Meters, etc. but give it a simultaneously laid back and aggressive edge. It's hard to describe if you haven't heard the band, but we try to make it ROCK and GROOVE at the same time. We've also never played anything the same way twice. We play bars and clubs two to five times a month and the occasional benefit.

Less well known, but equally important to me, is an instrumental fusion trio, Low End, where I'm the primary melodic/solo voice. The instrumentation of drums and two basses lends itself to this as the "root/groove" bassist plays a standard 4-string while my extended range on the 8 allows me to create some really interesting textures. Most of what we play are songs I've written, but we do a few covers including Herbie Hancock, Jimi Hendrix, and a mutated Police tune, which are either opportunities to groove hard or stretch melodically. Low End takes a stage once a month or every other month.

Finally is the gig I do least frequently but have the most fun doing. Gregory Bruce Campbell and I have an informal band called Depth that just cranks! For the most part, he handles the solo end of things while I lock down the pocket. Since his 9-string and my 8-string are tonally very different and our styles are complementary, it's a pretty great time. We played for and during the Bozeman Bass Bash last year, and we did a straight duet at NAMM this past January. The material we tackle is a balance of covers, originals, and improvised jams. The geography between me and Greg makes this the least active performing band (Greg lives in Montana), but we're hoping to record and tour this outfit. We play when we can, but we send each other material pretty regularly.

Recordings: I've had a pretty sporadic recording career. While I've been recording my own material since I first had the opportunity, I haven't worked too much with others. In college I appeared on one track of the album No Shock by Darien Brahms. During my stint in L.A., I played for a few demos which I doubt ever saw the light of day. Since then, my only real available work is with the Tallahassee rock band Urban Legend. I'm the bassist on the album One Day. (I think there are still copies available through the ubiquitous MP3.com.) I also have some of my solo stuff on the Conklin Basses CD-Rom. I've recorded enough material for several CDs, but I haven't put together a real album yet. Of course, there are Slick Willy EP's for sale.

Gear: My basses are made by, as you would guess, Bill Conklin. My primary bass is a fretted neck-through 8-string with passive electronics and no volume or tone controls. It's tuned F#-B-E-A-D-G-C-F. I also have a fretted Conklin Groove Tools 7-string tuned in fourths from F# to C as a backup. I have five or six more designs I'd like Bill and Mike to build for me, but I'm incredibly happy with the instruments I have now. I also got to play an INCREDIBLE fretless Bee Bass at NAMM, and I'm working with Fred Bolton on a fretless 8 design which will have the same simplicity as my Conklin.

My amp rig has a Demeter VTBP-201 running into a Stewart World 2.1 power amp. Each channel of the digital monster powers a separate AccuGroove cabinet. Most of what a crowd hears comes from the devastating and wondrous El Whappo, but most of what the audience FEELS is delivered by the Whappo Grande. The pair working in conjunction are just unbelievable.

Contact Information: You can find me on the web at my web site, SubContraBassist.com.