My Secret Life as a Bass Player

By day, I’m a medical transcriptionist, a mom whose kids have grown and left home, an Episcopalian who prepares the weekly bulletins for the church service.

But a weekend or two a month, I play bass in a blues/rock cover band. We’re the “house band” for Jammer’s Bluenote Ballroom in Bemidji, Minnesota. We’d love to open for your blues band! Call Dawn Eve at 218-751-1565 if you want to play the blues in the pine woods!

I heard there was an “open stage” for this band, so I showed up and jammed with them…and I’ve been their bass player ever since. We’re Drew’s Cruisers: guitar, bass, drums, and a keys/tenor sax fellow. The other three have played together for a while so they are all tight with each other; it’s an easy job for me to fit in with them because they all know what they’re doing already. No egos, no hassles, just folks who like to make music.

This has been my peak experience as a bass player . . . classically trained as a flute player, but wanting to get away from the sheet music and just play, knowing the music and knowing what to do with it while listening to your bandmates to know what to do next. That’s exactly what I do in this band.

We play a variety of songs from Grateful Dead and Van Morrison to Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, plus some interesting original songs and instrumentals from the guitar player. He always introduces them as “a song of our own device…” reflecting that, even though the framework is his idea, the song becomes whatever the rest of us bring to it.

I’m having a huge amount of fun playing this music . . . but growing up as a non-smoking, non-drinking, classical musician, I’m playing music I never much listened to, in a setting I never would have frequented!

We have had a lot of interesting experiences in the few months I’ve played with them: the drunken bridegroom wanting to jam with us and nearly falling onto the keyboard onstage; the folks who didn’t like what we were playing and came up and screamed obscenities at us; playing at a music festival on an outdoor stage; opening for a band that never showed and for which we continued playing — for 6 hours total. But the best gig experience so far was the most recent one, where the appreciative audience bought the musicians a beverage!

That night it was a different gig; it was open stage hosted by the drummer, who this time played acoustic guitar instead of drums. The guitar player was off to his 10th high school reunion in town and hoped to bring some classmates back to the bar. Apparently they weren’t interested.

So it was the drummer on guitar and me on bass. What a different experience with just me being the rhythm section. I found I had to adjust my bass lines to be appropriate. Then another fellow well known to the drummer stepped up and wailed nicely on electric guitar with us for a while.

Then a fellow in town visiting his brother (a bar regular) admitted that he was a drummer, and sat in on the minimal drum set. Suddenly we were a band!

After a while the guitar player showed up and we did some of the songs we usually do.

The dynamics were so interesting and different with literally “a different drummer,” yet with our drummer still playing our songs on a different instrument. I’ve played with these guys long enough now that I feel that special, extra sense of how they play and how we play together. It’s so magical and wonderful and hard to put into words, but something marvelous happens when we all get together and play.

The bass gods smiled on me abundantly when they got me lined up with these guys. I feel so at home on that stage. The time just flew by; I had no idea it was as late as it was.

And I made $24 from the musician’s tip bucket! What a generous, appreciative (yet always small) crowd!

Slowly the word is getting out that there’s an old lady playing bass at the bar. After one gig, a young woman came up to me and said, “I was in your daughter’s class, do you remember me?” I did, after she told me her name! I explained that playing the bass was my “empty nest project.” Now I have to wonder what she’s telling her friends and her mom… “did you hear what Gwyneth’s mom is doing?”

Next gig is for a biker rally, the last A.B.A.T.E. get-together for the year, next month. The drummer promises me that the bikers will remember me for a LONG time. I’m afraid my secret is getting out!