Marshall Lytle - Slap Bass for Bill Haley


One of my biggest early influences for my slap bass playing was Marshall Lytle.  Marshall originally was a guitar player (like me) and also was a songwriter (like me).  He was taught how to play the slap bass by Bill Haley (his band leader) (like my band leader did) and Marshall wrote the 1st Bill Haley and the Comets hit "Crazy Man Crazy".  Marshall strung his bass with the D and G strings gut, and the E and A strings silver wound.  I copied this set-up for my playing in the early 1990's.  I had the pleasure of meeting Marshall at the Denver Rockabilly Weekender in 1995.  He was as good then as he was in 1955, and still did all the antics contained in the video here -   


Willie Dixon - Father of slap bass


Willie Dixon arguably the "Father of Slap Bass" has a recording of his trio from the late 1940's that was very influential to me and many other slap bass players - (including Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats).  Here is a video of Willie Dixon from later in his Career.

At one time Willie lived in the Denver CO area.  I never met him, but I did meet his Son who approached me at a gig and said "My Father used to play like that".  The Son was surprised when I said Willie was one of my main influences.



More Clowning Around with Slap Bass


Here is another example of "Clowning Around" with Slap Bass and the "Clown" Bass Player.  English TV - 1956


Still More History of Slap Bass


Johnny and Dorsey Burnette were Brothers, Professional Boxers and played (practiced) in the same apartment complex with Elvis.  In fact it was said that they kicked Elvis out of the "jam sessions" in the complex because he did not know a B7 chord. Perhaps this challenged Elvis to completely surpass all the other "Rockabillies" in Memphis at the time?

The Dorsey Brothers teamed up with Paul Burlison in 1951, long before Elvis walked into Sun Studios.  They were playing in and around Memphis TN in Honky Tonk bands with a fiddle and and a steel guitar player.  Once Elvis made the limelight however, they jumped on the Rockabilly band wagon and ditched the fiddle and steel guitar.

By 1955, The Rock and Roll Trio were born and they decided to take Rockabilly to New York City where they each got jobs and applied for the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, winning 1st place.  This lead to a record contract with Coral Records and a recording date was set for May 7th 1956.  Arriving at the studio, they were met by a full Symphony to record with.  They decided to send everyone home except the drummer and recorded several song that charted.  With this success, they went back into the studio and cut several more singles in Memphis in July 1956.  This time Paul was replaced with the Great Grady Martin on guitar, but none of these singles were a "hit" however and soon promoters were calling the group Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio for some odd reason.  This lead to bad feelings on Dorsey's part and a fight ensued at a gig and Dorsey quit.  He was replaced by Johnny Black - (Bill Black's brother who was playing with Elvis) Johnny Black is the slap bass player seen in the clips in this video above.  By mid 1957 the Rock and Roll Trio broke up and each member went their separate ways.  The Rockabilly Boogie was actually recorded after the band broke up, but since then has become "the Rockabilly Anthem" for many Rockabilly bands since.

Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio were not in vain.  The Beatles, the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck and even Aerosmith were all influenced by this pioneer rockabilly group.


More History of Slap Bass - Clowning Around


Back to the Bass Player "Clowning Around" - Here is a video of a Gene Autrey "barn dance" complete with a clown for a banjo player who apparently does not like "Dates" that chew gum along ( as he chomps on gum) with a "serious" back -up band complete with a slap bass player and a short slap bass break.



More History of Slap Bass - Bill Black - Part 2 (Final)


Bill Black was 9 years older than Elvis.  Bill was very instrumental in getting Elvis over his initial stage fright and told him to move around to entertain the audience.  At many points in 1954 when they first started, Bill would MC the Elvis shows and "egg on" Elvis to "do more".  

Here is Elvis on board the USS Hancock - April 1956. Bill Black almost got "fired" for stealing the show.  Watch at the 2 minute mark. Bill rides and slaps his Bass with both hands.  By this time Elvis was under the management of Col. Tom Parker, who scolded and almost fired Bill for stealing the show because of this antic.  Elvis intervened and kept Bill on.

By the time Elvis went to the Army 2 years later, Bill Black had started using a Fender Precision Bass and eventually started his own group - The Bill Black Combo.  They mainly did Instrumentals.

The Bass in this video aboard the USS Hancock is now owned by Paul McCartney of the Beatles.  At some point between 1956 and 1966 when Bill Black died, the Bass was painted Gold.  

The best history I can find about Bill Black is here -



More History of Slap Bass - Bill Black - Part 1


Bill Black was Elvis's slap bass player.  He and Scotty Moore (Lead Guitar) were sent by Sam Phillips to audition Elvis on June 27th 1954 at Scotty's home.  After the audition, both Bill and Scotty commented to Sam that "with some work, we might be able to help the boy". On July 5th 1954 they recorded "That's All Right Mama" with Elvis at Sun Studios in Memphis TN.  Here is the original recording of Elvis singing and playing rhythm guitar, Bill Black slapping the Bass, and Scotty Moore playing lead guitar.  There is no drums on this track.  All percussion on the track is either by slap bass or Elvis's rhythm guitar. It was not until a year later and 100's of gigs later that Elvis added a drummer to the group.


More History of Slap Bass


Slap bass as used in New Orleans Jazz, "Hillbilly" and "Country" Music in the late 19th Century seems to have been considered a novelty.  This may be why the Bass Player was considered a "clown" or "comedian" in many bands.  Taking a Bass break was like telling a one-liner joke.  The break was also used by the other members of the band to maybe get a quick drink, tune their instrument, or maybe discuss what the next song might be in the set. Sometimes the solo might start out with a non slap solo and evolve into a slap solo by the end. Many times the solo might end with the Bass Player standing on, or riding, or throwing his Bass in the air before he was done. 

Here is a video of the "Flatt and Scruggs" TV show from the early 1960's that encompasses about everything the "Bass Player" was supposed to be in a Bluegrass Band - Dressed different - "funny", making funny faces, even almost dropping his bass near the end.  This is "Cousin Jake" 

By the time this TV show spot was shown, Flatt & Scruggs had been playing for over 10 years together.  Much had changed in "Country" music during that time.  One of the biggest changes was the new "Rockabilly" music that had invaded the airwaves of "Country".  This invasion by a young truck driver from Memphis Tennessee, along with his "Bluegrass" slap bass player, and Chet Atkins style guitar player, would forever change music and upright slap bass playing.  


History of Slap Bass


I first saw the Stand-up/Acoustic/Doghouse/Up-right/Double Bass/String Bass/ Bass fiddle/Contra Bass/ Bull Fiddle or simply "Bass" slapped at the 1982 Henderson Colorado Bluegrass Festival.  I was there to compete in the Banjo contest.  (Another blog). The band was Country Gazette, and the bass player (I think -  Mike Anderson) sang a funny song and slapped the bass during solo's given to him by the "more professional" players like the mandolin, banjo, and guitar player.  His song was an interlude in the middle of the set to relax from the "more serious" Bluegrass songs during the rest of the set......

Along with its Cousin (the violin) the stand-up bass was first used in Symphony Orchestras in Europe going back to the 15th Century. It is usually tuned to E, A, D, G.  The Bass is played either with a bow (arco) or by plucking the strings (pizzicato).  In orchestral and tango music, both arco and pizzicato are employed.  In jazz, blues, and rockabilly pizzicato is the norm. While classical and sometimes bluegrass music uses just the natural sound produced acoustically by the instrument. in jazz, blues, and related genres, the bass is typically amplified with a bass amplifier.  It is not known for sure when the Bass was first slapped, but the first descriptions come from the 1890's when the Bass was used in New Orleans Jazz bands and also in "Hillbilly" bands from the mountains of Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri.  Typically the Bass player was considered the "Clown" or Comedian of the band and there are numerous pictures of bands from the 1890's to the 1950's of the Bass player wearing a different outfit than the rest of the "professional" musicians.  Slapping the Bass in many music settings is considered "Crass" or Un-professional, and many Symphony and Jazz bassists "will never slap the bass" for fear of damaging the fingerboard.  Possibly this is why in many bands the bass player of that era that does slap the bass is considered the "Clown" - See below. 

Here is a youtube "slap bass" video from the 1930's.  Pay particular attention to Frank DiNunzio at the 1:12 minute mark. If that is not "clowning around" then I don't know what is:  

In my next blog, I will post more "clowning around" and more history of Slap Bass.


30 Years of Rockabilly - First paying gig - October 12, 1984


The year 2014 marks 30 years of playing "live" rockabilly for me in front of a paying audience or promoter.  My first rockabilly gig was with Chuck Hughes in the Fall of 1984.  We played outside on a flatbed trailer "on the hill" for the Colorado University Football rally the night before they played the Iowa State Cyclones on October 13, 1984.  I think the only reason Colorado University hired the band was because Chuck had the name of the band as "Chucky and the Cyclones" one really cared what we played, just that we made a lot of noise.  (They also wanted to use Chuck's PA system to make announcements) and of course have the cheerleaders up and do some cheers on the flatbed during the 1 break.

Chuck had hired me just 2 nights before the gig when he informed me that his bass player had quit the previous Saturday.  I was taking guitar lessons from Chuck on Wednesdays and he said if I wanted the gig, I had to be sure and bring my stand-up bass for the "Rockabilly" aspect.  He said it would also be cool if I slapped the bass as well, because Channel 9 news was going to be there.....and sure enough, that was the only part of the newscast of the rally that made the nightly news - me slapping the bass.  Little did I know then what I know now, but slapping the bass is absolutely fascinating to the average person.

The rest as they say is "History"