I first met Peter Davyduck a couple of years ago while I was searching for a bass guitar teacher. I had just started to play again after many years of infrequent practice and wanted some help to improve my skills. I was introduced to Peter at a local music store, Act One Music, where he worked (part time) and taught bass.
Peter is very skilled bassist. The first few times I heard him play I had to pick my jaw off the floor. I have very seldom heard the bass sound so good even in the most skilled hands. He turned out to be a very good teacher as well; flexible, articulate, encouraging and well rounded in different genres.
As I got to know him better though I've begun to realize there's another side to Peter that I didn't see immediately. He's an accomplished session player and sideman. Peter has worked with Canadian Artists Lianna Klassen, Stephanie Mainville, Graham Ord and Brian Doerksen. His credits include two CDs for Vineyard Music Canada "Believe" and "All I Need", the CDs "An Offering", "Waiting", "I Am", and "Regarding the Maker", Integrity Records releases "Today" (and its companion live concert DVD) and the 2008 Contemporary Christian/Gospel JUNO award winning CD "Holy God".
As a student I feel privileged learning from such an accomplished bassist. Peter has a wealth of insight into the art of bass playing that would benefit us all so, on behalf of BassPlaying.com, I asked him to share his knowledge in an interview.
I (PW) conducted this interview with Peter Davyduck (PD) by e-mail in July 2008.
PW: Thanks very much for agreeing to this interview Peter. I know you have a busy schedule and I appreciate you taking the time.
PD: Paul, no worries, it's my pleasure!!
PW: A little background first. Can you tell us what got you into music in the first place and what led you to the bass as your instrument of choice?
PD: Well, my dad plays guitar and sings and was in many Country bands and duos in his time so my first musical memories are of my dad playing and singing Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, all that stuff for us. Then, my oldest brother's record collection came in to play... Elton John and KISS!!!! ;p I was hooked on music for sure. My oldest brother is a great guitarist and so as I grew older he was always playing and there was always music happening in the house. My first instrument however was the tenor sax (thanks to seeing Clarence Clemmons play in the Springsteen videos) So that was grade 6 but then by grade 9 I had transitioned to electric bass and thus the self taught years began!!!! :)
PW: I know you play upright bass as well as electric bass but, if you don't mind, let's talk about the electric bass first. As a session player you need to play in a variety of musical styles and do them convincingly. But I wonder, do you have a favorite style? That is, what do you consider to be 'your' style when you aren't constrained by the demands of session work?
PD: Schizophonic? ;) nah, I always feel a little more at home with Alternative and Roots. Where I reeeeally love to live is getting together with a couple of buddies and just improvising, there's something about spontaneously creating that makes it feel a bit more like art and soul expression to me. At the same time, those situations can be great self-indulgent trysts that really do get some mojo out and happening but at the same time... they can be reeeeally lame and uninspired but hey, it's all music and it's all good fun.
PW: What bands and/or bassists would you consider to be your biggest influences in developing your own style?
PD: My biggest influences would probably be Eric Avery (Jane's Addiction), Muzz Skillings (Living Colour), Flea (RHCP). All of those guys and the bands they play for. Also I guess Adam Clayton and U2 but really, there are so many bands and styles that i listen to these ones are more the core guys that I listened to and learned their stuff in my first few years of teaching myself to play. Later on, two other players that really started to expand some horizons for me were Juan Nelson (Ben Harper) and the amazing Charles Mingus.
PW: Now to the upright bass. The upright bass always seems like a totally different instrument to me. The techniques, the position, the sound are all different. Is my impression correct? Or do you find more similarities than differences?
PD: Absolutely correct. There might be some who think the two are very similar but seriously, after we get past the fact that they both have "bass" in the name and are tuned in 4ths... that's about where it ends. With that said, it's maybe not as huge of a leap to get going on upright if you've never done it before but it definitely is it's own thing.
PW: Concerning the upright bass, do you have what you'd consider to be 'your' style when you aren't constrained by the demands of session work? How would you describe it?
PD: No, I still feel very infantile on the instrument but absolutely love it!! I've been blessed enough to continue to session with it a bit but it's always a little intimidating but that's mainly just my own crap. hehe. I just really absolutely love the instrument and when I get on it there's like this stupid abandon and bravado that I get in to. I feel like even if I know I would sound horrible, I'd play it solo in front of thousands because it's just such a great instrument. So expressive and sensory/sensual.
PW: What bands and/or bassists would you consider to be your biggest influences on the upright bass?
PD: Ahh, well of course Mingus, then there would have to be the usual suspects of Ray Brown, Scott LaFaro, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Garrison, and this amazing French player Renaud Garcia-Fons. Also Dave Holland, just a great great player.
PW: What electric basses do you currently own? Is there a favorite 'go to' bass among them?
PD: C'mon Paul, you know the real question is "ok Pete, what's the flavour of the week in basses for you?" hahahaha In all seriousness, lately, it's been a '75 P bass that's got a weird Odyssey Bass bridge retrofit as well as a brass nut and DiMarzio P with the phase switch, crazy vibey. Mainly however, Laurence Mollerup just finished up a bass for me that we've dubbed the "Big Duck 5" it's essentially an oversized J style 5 string. Heavy ash body, maple neck and board, and a set of Aero Js that came out of a Lakland Skyline Darryl Jones bass. Passive and fun. I've only had it a couple of months so I'm just starting to get to know it. It tracks well and plays great though.
PW: What upright(s) do you have?
PD: My only upright is an old plywood Engelhardt that's fairly beat up but just has a great pizz sound to it. Good for Jazz and Roots stuff.
PW: How about amps and effects?
PD: Amps, Hartke. I've been through tons and can get to like and see the positive out of almost any amp I plug into but last year Larry hooked me up as an endorsee with Hartke and I couldn't be happier. Great simple straight ahead tone and affordable amps. Sure there are some boutique amps out there that'd be sweet to have but really, I don't quite have the 5K kickin' around for that ;) as for effects. I've been quite inspired by your quest for gadgets so although I haven't picked the Chunk pedals up yet, I have been collecting more and more. Hopefully this next little phase of development will be putting some pedals together for more use live. I've been monkeying a bit with overdrive and chorus the last couple of road trips with Brian and it's been good fun for me. I can hear the subtleties and no one has complained of freaky tones so that's a good sign!
PW: Peter, you seem to have found an interesting way to make a living from music. You work as a session player, sideman, teacher, and have at least a couple of bands you gig with. That's a lot of things going on together. Do you find it difficult to keep up with everything? Does having all these projects on the go actually increase your opportunities? It seems to me like it might. Maybe there's some 'critical mass' where the number of projects suddenly multiply your musical/financial options? Are you happy with making a living this way?
PD: Like any portfolio, diversity is the key right? ;) There are a lot of things on the go but I must say that I'm really blessed to have a very supportive family first and foremost. Freelancing is fun and frustrating but ultimately it's making music and I get some fun calls and fun opportunities. My thing is to keep growing as a player and see if I can't scrounge up more work and make a few more connections. Yes, I couldn't be happier, more grateful to be able to do what I do and see it progress.
PW: Which areas are more financially rewarding? Are they the same as the ones that are most personally rewarding?
PD: hmm, given the nature of a lot of the gigs I do, they're personally rewarding in and of themselves. My wife and I have a "gig" policy and it's this. A) who's it with? B) how much is it? C) who's it with? ;) so you can see that pay is a consideration obviously but the gig itself and who it's with carries some weight too. That said, sessions usually do pay the most as compared to the live dates I've done thus far. Unless a tour is involved.
PW: I'd like to ask a few questions about the different areas you work, starting with session work. First off, how did you get into session work in the first place?
PD: Friends and recommendations.
PW: What is required in terms of skills and preparation? When called, how do you prepare for a particular session?
PD: I think the main thing that's been key is big ears and an easy-going/likeable attitude. Practical skills would be a decent grasp on a bunch of different styles as well as being able to read. As for preparing, if I have enough lead time (more than 2 or 3 days) I might check out a few similar genre artists that have the same vibe to their music (and preferably Grammys) ;) to hear what they do and what I might think about bringing in. Also, get a good night's sleep, wake up early and remember how amazingly lucky I am to get to put my stamp on someone else's art.
PW: Now to your work as a sideman. How did you start this work? Did it follow from your session work or did it develop separately?
PD: Kind of hand in hand. When I moved here to Langley I started to get to know some musicians in the Valley and playing out a bit, then got called for a couple of recording projects, then played out more, then recorded more, etc., etc. So I'd have to say that they have really stoked each other's fires.
PW: What made you decide to teach bass along with everything else you have going?
PD: The biggest would be the spurring on from a few friends and mentors. I do absolutely love all that is bass and figured that I'd like to get into a position to pass along some of the things I've learned and never had anyone there to show me as well as to hopefully be a resource to the musical community that I'm in.
PW: Can you tell us a little about the bands you gig with on a fairly regular basis? I'd be especially interested in the musical focus/genre and the future goals of each?
PD: My main "gig" is playing for Brian Doerksen. Stylistically it runs the gamut from James Taylor type acoustic intimacy to Peter Gabriel type multi-instrument/world music infused stuff. As far as focus goes it's completely spiritually motivated. Brian's a Christian artist and so when we do a show it's really an evening of worship, with a more 'modern' sound to it than pipe organs, pianos, or Gregorian chants ;p And rather than the "usual" set, Brian has quite a catalog of songs and so he gives quite a bit of consideration as to any given set of gigs coming up and will tailor the set to what he feels will be the best for the places we're playing. Other gigs I do on a regular basis would be with De La Terra which is a really fun "Nuevo Flamenco" group fronted by guitarist Doug Towle. Sometimes it's a duo, sometimes a trio. Really fun gigs that are usually restaurant gigs but the music is fun, the hang is good, and the pay is good as well. Plus it kicks my butt in the soloing dept.
PW: Do you have a favorite from a purely 'personal satisfaction' point of view?
PD: In all honesty, every time I get to pick my bass up and play it's a favourite time. But Brian's gig is a huge blessing/gift to my family and me. Anytime I gig where someone comes up and says how "your" music has carried them through the grief of the loss of a loved one, or through incredible hardships… well, that is inexpressible.
PW: You recently did some substantial touring including parts of Europe. How did that come about?
PD: That was all with Brian and was a blast. We played through Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and even played Cairo Egypt for a week!! It was an unusually busy year with Brian as all of us in the band have families and we usually keep road work to no more than 3-4 days at a go.
PW: How did you prepare?
PD: umm…. Planning babysitters and help around the place for my wife. That's always the biggest part for me is just trying to make sure that the home front is taken care of and functioning. Aside from that, just made sure that I had the usual stuff in order, passport and gear. With Brian it's a light load gear wise as we use in-ear monitors so all I ever bring along is one bass, the pre-amp/pedal flavour of the month, strings, and tools.
PW: How was the experience? Were there any particularly memorable moments?
PD: one of the most memorable moments would have to be Cairo. Getting the chance to play there as well as the sight seeing… the pyramids are completely indescribable. That, and the fact our drummer got a baaaaad case of Pharaoh's Revenge, not pretty.
PW: Recognizing that most of us will never be stars what advice do you have for someone who wants to make a living from music?
PD: Dude, I wanna know too!! ;p In all seriousness, the thing I constantly try to mind is integrity in life and a lust for it as well, that Iggy Pop tune is so great, to have a "lust for life" I think is not a bad thing, lots of good and inspiration in life. As for advice in a career, good tone, good time, persistence, and a good attitude.
PW: Briefly, in your capacity as a bass teacher do you have any advice for new players? What about those of us who simply want to improve our playing, any 'words of wisdom' for us?
PD: I would have to say, really find what it is about bass that drew you to it in the first place and mind that. If it was James Jamerson and Motown, then fill your ears and fingers with Motown! Along with that, look to new styles and genres to explore. With the internet there is so much available now to jam along with and learn from. I really would say to make sure you're getting maximum enjoyment out of it! Whether that means taking some lessons, checking out some new players, dusting off some old classics, getting some gear that inspires one to play, what ever it is do it! Music is an awesome thing and the bass, well, I'm biased but it's the best. hehehehehe
PW: On behalf of Bassplaying.com I'd like to thank you for your time and sharing your knowledge through this interview. I'm sure I speak for all the members when I say please feel free to drop in and chat anytime your schedule allows.
PD: Will do and thank you!!
You can learn more about Peter from his web site and MySpace page.